How I Began My Life of Travel

It was 2002. I was back home in Liverpool having just left university with a degree in Contemporary Arts.

 I wasn’t interested in travel. I went on the odd holiday, but nothing out of the ordinary, and besides, I wanted to get my foot on the career ladder as an actor.

I was sure that before long my talent would be spotted and I’d be whisked off to Hollywood, become a national treasure (Dame Helen Davies), and live happily ever after. It didn’t really occur to me that this would not go to plan.

A few weeks after graduating, I was offered my first professional acting job, touring Britain’s primary schools as a Theatre in Education Practitioner.

Fast forward a couple of years and I was growing tired of life on the road. The job was grueling and we were doing 2 to 3 shows per day (which gets boring really fast) for hardly any money. I was staying in all these cool cities but didn’t have enough money to enjoy them.

I was sick of living out of a suitcase (how ironic, now) and I’d just started dating my (now) husband, so I got a temp job closer to home at a big company in Manchester. The money was good, I liked the people and after 6 months, the temp job turned into a permanent job. I bought a house and ‘settled down’. At the age of 26.

The following year, my nan had a very severe stroke. She couldn’t move, had lost the ability to swallow, and could barely speak. My wonderfully independent, dancing nana was now unable to do the things most of us take for granted.

She was always an adventurous woman. She was a Wren (a female Navy Officer) and moved to New York at the age of 21 to live in the Bronx – which wasn’t that common in the 1940s.

My auntie once bumped into her, alone, enjoying the music at the Mathew Street Beatles festival in Liverpool. She’d been wandering past and heard all the commotion so she just joined in! She was in her 80’s.

She was so young at heart and had always lived life to the fullest. After the stroke, she recovered to a degree and stayed with us for another 4 years after that, but life was never the same again.

It was horrible to see her like that and it got me questioning what I was doing with my life. Was I happy doing what I was doing? I’ve always had ambition, but I had no desire to climb the corporate ladder, so what did I actually want?

Around the same time, I’d started to find myself fascinated by TV shows, like Bruce Parry’s ‘Tribe’ and pretty much anything narrated by David Attenborough. I started reading books by travel writers like Bill Bryson and Tony Hawks. I went to talks by those same authors and was inspired by their stories.

It all sounded so exciting and challenging. Something which my life, currently, was not. I began to dream of what it might be like to visit places like Tanzania, Ethiopia, Mongolia, the Amazon or Papua New Guinea.

One quiet afternoon at work, I decided to work out how much time I’d spent commuting to and from the office over the last five years. No idea why I did this, perhaps some morbid curiosity.

I did the maths. And then I did it again because I’m rubbish at maths and it couldn’t be possible, could it?

I worked out that I’d spent around 4.5 full months of my life (approx 3,000 hours) driving to and from work in my car on the same stretch of motorway. I was 28 and this made me so unbelievably sad.

I realised that life was passing me by at an alarming rate and I hadn’t really done anything. I was angry with myself and I wanted those 4.5 months back.

So I decided to go to Africa. And I decided to go alone. Everyone else I knew who’d gone travelling had gone to Australia or Southeast Asia. I wanted to do something different.

It started with a month. I wanted to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, go on safari, and volunteer. I sponsored a little girl in Tanzania through ActionAid, so that was where I started my research. But the more I researched, the more I wanted to do.

One month stretched to six months, so I convinced my employers to give me unpaid leave from work.

As fate would have it, just before I was due to leave on my trip, my company restructured, so I was able to take voluntary redundancy and paid a sizeable severance package. 

I spent most of 2009 travelling and volunteering through East and Southern Africa, with some time in Southeast Asia, Australia, and New Zealand.

I came back to the UK in early 2010, but I couldn’t get Africa out of my mind. I’d had the time of my life. This trip opened my eyes and changed my life forever.

I worked as a youth worker for a while, but my old company came calling and made me an offer I couldn’t refuse… so back to corporate life I went.

In 2012 I got a job working in Malawi and Zambia for The Book Bus, an incredible project that works alongside locals (not taking any jobs), as a project leader.

The following year, contract over, I was back in the UK and the corporate world and missing Africa terribly. So I did the only sensible thing and I started planning my next trip to Africa, looking on the internet and travel blogs for inspiration.

I soon realised that there were a) lots of misconceptions about Africa and b) there were very few travel bloggers writing about or travelling in Africa because of those misconceptions.

Africa was seen as a dangerous (thank you media), difficult, and frustrating (sometimes true) place to travel. Or as a luxury, once-in-a-lifetime type of holiday. Or as somewhere that you could go as a volunteer.

There wasn’t much online about the real, incredible, everyday Africa that I had fallen in love with, or the backpacking side of Africa that I had experienced and witnessed firsthand.

So, I decided to start a blog for travelers just like you and me, to share information on how to travel in Africa, dispel myths about the continent, and encourage and help others to visit Africa safely, adventurously, and on a reasonable budget.

So welcome to…

Helen in Wonderlust Logo

Update: To see how this all turned out and where I am now… have a read of my story.

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    1. Thanks Emma! It’s all new to me, and you’ve completely made my day with your lovely comments! I love to write, but never sure if a) anyone is reading b) whether it’s any good! Thanks for giving me a much needed boost! xx

  1. Hi Helen,

    Your article has actually inspired me to look within, focus on things that I am really
    passionate about and share my travel experiences with everyone.

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