Dare to Dream

It’s approaching 2am and I’m awake.
My heart is beating faster than normal, I can’t calm my thoughts and they are bouncing around like pin ball in my brain.

No, I haven’t had a horrible nightmare!

Instead, I’ve come up with this crazy amazing dream for the next year of my life and I’m so excited about the potential it has that I can’t sleep. After an hour of trying, I decided that writing would be a better use of my time then laying in bed wide awake.

When I started this whole un-plan journey over a year ago, it was just that, unplanned. I didn’t know where it was going to take me, how I was going to get there or how long it would last. I didn’t know if I was doing the right thing or not, but I knew it would be the wrong thing not to try.

I’ve always said I’m more of a doer than a dreamer. Some people day dream their days away and never take action. Me, I get an idea in my head and I make it happen. Often though, I don’t really consider my ideas to be dreams. They are just the next step in my journey.

Tonight, I must admit, I feel differently.
The last time I remember having this strong, anxious-happy feeling was when I met Nora Gross and Brenda McAloney who inspired me to do my social awareness project – Young & Fearless – Inspiration of Cancer Survivors. The project started small and grew into two art shows and a published book. It gained a tonne of local media attention over the two years that I worked on the project, along with solidifying a strong connection with the Photosensitive project which gained me national exposure and publication in several other books. Now I feel like the time is right to follow this gut feeling again.

I’ve visited 11 countries in the last eight months. I’ve been on the road or in the skies more than I’ve been home. I’ve had so many amazing opportunities and experiences that many of them have never been told because I don’t have time to write about them all.

I feel like I have truly lived life in the last eight months. I’ve met amazing people. I’ve seen our beautiful world from boats, planes, trains, automobiles, bicycles, motoconchos and a hot air balloon. I’ve challenged myself and I’m sure I’ve challenged others (for better or worse!). I learned to surf. I can hold my own in Spanish. I’ve built life-long relationships with people I’ve met all around the world.

It’s not all roses though folks. I’ve been sick. I’ve dealt with the loss of important people in my life. I thought I found potential for love, but found out I was wrong (the hard way). All of this while being away from family and friends back home. Through all of the ups and downs though, I’ve learned an amazing amount and I have lived with my heart open.

After a short rough patch where I was feeling a little confined, sad and suffocated by the people and events surrounding me, I’ve emerged again. As I read about the devastation caused by the April 25th earthquake in Nepal, I was drawn to the images, the news, the search for survivors, the pain and the suffering of locals and volunteers who are living this horrible nightmare right now. I pondered if I could drop what I am doing in Argentina and head to Nepal to help out. However, two factors slowed me down. 1. I don’t do so well at altitude. 2. Nepal needs money not extra people at the moment. The thoughts of going to help these broken communities have been nagging at me, but I knew Nepal was not the best option.

I now feel like I’ve broken free from the confinement I had been experiencing and my brain has room to breathe. My mind went on overdrive in the opposite, but positive direction. After reading several articles about the Nepal earthquake, I found myself looking at volunteer options with a Canadian based organization Volunteer Abroad / Basecamp. I’ve worked with them before by sending travellers through their programs to work, including one girl to Nepal two years ago. I started meandering through the website and looking at placement opportunities.

There were two incredible volunteer opportunities (out of close to 100) that screamed for my help, my skill set and my attention.

The first one to catch my eye was the one that made the hair on my arms stand up and thoughts start jumping with excitement. It is a placement in Ghana, Africa to help educate women, children, and the community about the importance of education, to help stop the process of child and human trafficking and to discuss sexual health issues.

For quite some time women’s issues in Africa have caught my attention (from the missing girls in Nigeria to genital mutilation). I’ve often looked into various organizations or contacted people that I might be able to work with. Sadly, nothing has ever worked out, but maybe it just wasn’t the right time.

The second opportunity is in Tanzania, working with an orphanage to build a website / social media, including photography and writing. Then moving on to teaching local staff how to maintain it. This opportunity would give me hands on time with the local volunteers / teachers, as well as getting to know the children and their stories. Telling stories of people through photographs (and through blogging) is one of great passions. Here’s a chance!

Tonight as I chatted with a couple of friends on Facebook, my mind decided to dream …

What if I actually did decide to go to Africa and volunteer? What would that look like?
I’ll be in Nova Scotia this summer to get my yellow fever vaccine. I was already looking at the potential of staying away for a full year, just no solidified plans. And, I’ll already be in Europe for my Turkey Photo Tour come September / October which is a lot closer to Africa than I am right now!

Is this the year that I’ll see Africa and I’ll spend time making a real difference in people’s lives through a volunteer placement? Volunteering and travel together have been very important to me for quite some time, but somehow I haven’t made time recently to make it a priority. I’ve said for a long time that I should change this. Tonight the thought scurried out of the depths of my brain and had a little dance party.


NOTE: Initially this post was written at the end of April 2015 and I’ve revised it as of the beginning of June 2015 as I never got around to posting it. Shame on me!

Quick update: I have been in contact with Volunteer Abroad and am looking into several options for working with them later this year. I also have several new ideas that I am currently working on for potential projects with other Not for profit / Non-Government agencies.

Update coming very soon on my revised unplan for the next year of my life.

If you’ve been considering voluntourism, maybe this is your year too! Feel free to drop me a note to chat about your plans, or I’m happy to assist you in finding the right NGO/NPO to work with. Don’t be afraid to take the first step and get in touch.

My Travel & Adventure Wish List – Subject to Change

In order to fully understand the depth and importance of my travel and adventure wish list. You need to understand a little about my past. Let me catch you up …

Up until 2008 I thought I was never going to explore anywhere outside of the US and Canada. I had been in a plane crash in 1997 and was afraid to fly. In July 2008, I took my first flight since the plane crash. I still regularly find myself anxious over flying and scared during take off and landing, but I have vowed to travel far and wide and see as many places as I can see in my lifetime. In the past six years, through these challenges, obstacles and achievements, I have become a new person.

From July 2008 until today, I have visited the following places (by plane).
July 2008 – Bermuda – my first flight after the plane crash
October 2008 – New York City – 30th birthday celebration
January 2009 – Costa Rica & Nicaragua
August 2009 – Newfoundland
October 2009 – Bermuda
April 2010 – Cuba
June 2010 – Ottawa
August 2010 – St. Pierre & Miquelon, France (although it is off the Coast of Newfoundland)
November 2010 – New Orleans
March 2011 – Mexico, Germany & Poland
February 2012 – Ecuador & the Galapagos Islands, Peru
April 2012 – Dominican Republic
July – August 2012 – Dominican Republic
January 2013 – Toronto

As much as my perception of life changed because of the plane crash in 1997, my perception and perspective on life changed again as I sat admiring Machu Picchu in Peru in February of 2012. I was slowly embarking on a change of thought process, a better way to live my life and a self-discovery journey.

A year ago, my travel and adventure wish list consisted of Central and South America. I love Spanish. I love Latin culture and I wanted to explore this region in depth. I didn’t even really know which countries were located where, just that I loved the culture. It was a pretty broad wish list, honestly, with very little depth.

I went to the Dominican Republic for the summer (2012) to learn Spanish so that I could communicate better while traveling in Central / South America. I loved it!

While I was away, my life continued to change and my perceptions and perspectives were regularly challenged.

When I came home in September (2012), life changed, as it often does and I embarked on a journey to change careers. The journey had really started in February 2012 at Machu Picchu, but the first seven months were me figuring it out. Then from September to November, it was about me taking action to make a big change.

Since I started working at The Adventure Travel Company in November 2012, my broad and shallow wish list has exploded with energy and curiosity about places I never even knew existed!

Below, I am sharing with you my travel and adventure wish list as of March 2013. I have limited the list to 15 items that are top priority for me at this time. I look forward to writing another wish list in March 2014 to see what has changed, what I have checked off my list and where my dreams have wandered!

Shari’s Travel and Adventure Wish List
Very important to me are: sustainable travel, supporting (not harming) communities during my travels, living with locals, volunteering when possible, practicing my Spanish language skills, getting off the beaten path and not spending a lot of time in large cities.
*In their current order of importance to me.

1. Me to We Volunteer Trip (Kenya or India) – It is at the top of my list as it is extremely important to me, yet I don’t expect to go on this adventure until 2014.
2. Vietnam – including Sapa, Mui Ne, Halong Bay, taking part in the Full Moon Festival, cycling in the countryside.
3. Burma / Myanmar – I really want to go before it becomes an in demand destination. Cycling is on my to do list here as well as lodge at a monastery (not a hotel).
4. Croatia – including Split & Dubrovnik
5. Spanish school (Guatemala / Belize / Honduras / Nicaragua)
6. Gorilla Trek (likely in Rwanda)
7. African Safari (South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania or Botswana)
8. Cape Town, South Africa – because of Nelson Mandela
9. Hot Air Balloon ride – over Cappadocia, Turkey or the Maasai Mara, Kenya
10. Bhutan – Because of the happiness factor
11. Celebrating New Year’s in another country
12. Italy – Tuscany / Venice
13. Greece – Cinque Terre
14. Colombia
15. Morocco

Care to share what’s on your travel & adventure list?