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Volunteering Abroad: The Inside Scoop

by Monday, September 14, 2015

Maddie and Evan with the kids at GoEco day camp in Cape Town, South Africa

Last month my 17-year-old daughter, Maddie,  and her best friend did some volunteer work in South Africa. I was initially super excited to let her have this amazing opportunity, but then was a little worried about her safety and the unknown, having never done volunteer work myself.

I have always wanted to do volunteer work abroad,  and now I would be letting my daughter be a guinea pig (if you will) by experiencing this first.




She was determined that this was going to happen and did all the legwork herself. She found an organization called Go Eco (http://www.goeco.org) that had a great reputation and offered a program that spiked her interest.

She chose the Cape Town, South Africa location that would have her working with underprivileged children at a day camp, teaching them life skills through sports, such as surfing. This was the one. She was to go for three weeks and stay at a volunteer house with other volunteers from all over the world.

She went from July 29, 2015 to August 18, 2015.

When she returned, I decided to interview her about her experience, not only for my knowledge, but to share with others who are also interested in volunteering abroad.


Here is a little insight on how her volunteer experience was:

Me:Was the GoEco organized with documentation and the transfers/airport pick up?

Maddie: GoEco was very organized. I was a little worried about not being picked up at the airport, but there was no problems at all and it was easier than I thought.


Maddie and Evan in their shuttle from the airport, heading to their volunteer house for GoEco in Cape Town, South Africa

Me: How were the conditions of the volunteer house?

Maddie: There were 4 connected houses with 8 people in each. They were very basic with no frills at all. There was no television, no radio and each house had one bathroom to share.  


Go Eco volunteer house in Cape Town, South Africa

Me: How many volunteers were there? And what were the age ranges?

Maddie: There were about 20 volunteers from all around the globe, ranging anywhere from 17-30, but mostly college aged. We were the youngest ones. There were only a couple other 17 year olds there.

Me: Did you feel safe in the area?


Maddie and Evan with their new friends Alex and Joey from London

Maddie: Yes, we felt extremely safe and anytime we went out in the town, we always stayed in groups.

Me: How was the work? Was it hard?


Maddie and her new friend Alex from London playing with the kids


The kids in the classroom, ready to learn

Maddie: It started out with a few days of training and then we worked everyday, all day (usually 8:30 am-4:00 pm). The mornings were in the classroom and afternoons at the beach doing swim lessons with the 12-14 year olds.  It was very intense and harder than I thought, mainly due to the language barrier and keeping the kids paying attention.  After our long day at project, we would often have lesson planning to do for the next day. Our nights and weekends were free to explore the area.


Maddie and Evan sightseeing in Cape Town on the weekend

Me; How was the food?

Maddie: The food was okay.The breakfast was yogurt and fruits and the lunches and dinners were simple, with a protein, starch and a vegetable. It was very Americanized type food, which I was little disappointed in. I wanted to try some weird foods. I did get to try a traditional South African sandwich called a”gwenya” though, which was like a puffy bread bun with french fries and some red spices. It was so good! 


A “gwenya” South African sandwich

Me: What did you like best about this experience?

Maddie: Making new friends from around the world and the kids. They were so adorable and full of so much love.  Every time we walked into the class, they would literally jump all over us hugging us nonstop. It felt great to make them so happy.


Maddie and her new friend David from Sweden making “friendship bracelets”

Me: What did you like least about it?

Maddie: I wish I would have gone in a different season. It was winter season when I was there so it was very cold for surfing and our volunteer house had no heat, so nights got extremely chilly.


Maddie and Evan hat shopping. Its winter season in August for South Africa

Me: What kinds of things did you do on your free time?


Maddie and Evan out with their new friend Julia from the Netherlands

Maddie: We went out at night to a local bar and socialized with other volunteers and backpackers staying at a surrounding hostel. It felt kind of crazy being at a bar at 17, but in South Africa, it doesn’t matter. I even ordered a drink (oops). On the weekend we went hiking and shopped in the town and I even went skydiving! (sorry Mom)


Maddie skydiving!

Me: Would you use Go Eco again to do volunteer work somewhere else?

Maddie: Yes! I plan on doing another one, probably somewhere in South East Asia when I am 18.

Me: Did you learn anything by volunteering abroad?

Maddie: Yes! I learned so much! I learned how to interact with people from diverse backgrounds and found ways to connect with them, other than by just talking (a language barrier was there in many cases). I also learned how to take care of myself and it made me feel more confident that if I can travel across the world at 17 alone, I can pretty much do anything. This experience also taught me to be grateful for everything I have. Seeing these underprivileged children being so happy with absolutely nothing, humbled me in a way that made me want to give back even more.


Maddie looking down at Cape Town, South Africa from a view point at Lions Head

Me: Do you think everyone should volunteer abroad?

Maddie: Yes! I think this experience is mind-opening and would be beneficial to anyone, no matter how old or young. I feel like volunteering abroad has changed my life in so many positive ways. I can’t wait to do it again!







Pet Friendly Vacations

by Monday, September 14, 2015

She hates when I leave her

Pet owners like myself, usually have to leave our fury friends behind while traveling. The biggest issue is trying to figure out who will care for your pets while you are gone. If that isn’t hard enough, leaving them can be even harder.

My dog Gabby always knows when I’m ready to go on vacation. She notices the backpack and pile of clothes I intend to bring (always way more than I should) and gets sad. She usually mopes around and most of the time, lies on my clothes (possibly hoping that if she is on them, I won’t be able to go).


Leaving my dog to travel always makes me feel bad, but what else can I do?



“Please don’t go Mommy”

Then I went to a travel bloggers’ convention and met a girl who works with an awesome company called www.bringfido.com. It is a site that gives heaps of information on traveling with your pets. I have heard about, so-called,  “pet friendly” hotels in the last few years, but I was overwhelmed by just how many there are, and not just in the USA, but worldwide too!

This site not only gives you the low down on accommodations that allow pets to stay in, but has information on air travel, attractions, dining, and event options that are all “pet-friendly”.

The only vacation I have ever taken my dog with me, was camping. If you want to call that a vacation? Now, with all of the options I have that allow my pooch to join me, I just might take her on my next adventure? Who knows, she may even catch the travel bug too?


Gabby (my dog) paddle boarding


Here are some links for other “pet friendly” travel information:







Have you even taken your dog on vacation with you?




by Saturday, August 22, 2015

Everyone knows that tattoo discrimination happens all the time, but did you realize it can happen while traveling and it could alter your trip and experience drastically?

Let me digress a bit:

The reason this subject interests me is yes, I have tattoos, seven actually. I used to be one of those people who said I would NEVER get a tattoo, and then something changed. I got one, then two, then three, you know how it goes. Like they say, once you get one, you kind of get addicted. I mostly got each one for a very specific and important meaning in my life, a few, not so much.  And although I may regret one or two tats that I am not in love with, I think of it as my journey.

My tattoos tell a story of my life and where I was physically, emotionally, and mentally at that time.  It’s like a timeline of events and a snapshot of art that allows me to remember that chapter, just with a glance. 

I knew when I got my last tattoo, that this was going to be the one that shows people’s true colors.  I was considering it for a while and it was at a time in my life that I was going through a huge change. I was in the midst of leaving my job as a dental hygienist and was going to pursue traveling, yoga and blogging.  I loved yoga-inspired tattoos and I fell in love with the idea of getting a Hindu Goddess on my upper shoulder, specifically, Goddess Kali.  It was a Goddess that I resonated with the most.  This was going to be very difficult to hide ( I was still a dental hygienist at the time), not to mention, people wouldn’t understand it.

Kali is the Hindu Goddess associated with empowerment, or “shakti”. Kali is the manifestation of the Divine Mother and represents the female principle. She is the destroyer of sin, ignorance, and decay and destroys in order to recreate. She removes ego and liberates souls.

The tattoo was discussed for a long time with an amazing tattoo artist named Elle, owner of http://www.bittersweettattoo.com in Manchester, NH. She was highly recommended and was a female tattoo artist! How fitting!


the finished product of my Goddess Kali tattoo-by Elle L’ Estrange www.bittersweettattoo.com

We had 2 appointments before even starting. How she works as an artist is to discuss the piece and what you want from it. She doesn’t just copy a picture out of a book, it is her art, and reflects her and her artistry.  She works on your inspiration by drawing up a sketch  (sometimes taking days or weeks, or even months!) and then she reveals it on the day of tattooing. I was a little nervous to not see it until the day of, but I trusted her and I knew that we were very aligned and both felt a spiritual connection. She also said that she was extremely excited to do this particular piece. It was Kismet!

We explored my thoughts for the tattoo. I explained to her that I was a yogi and loved Hindu artwork and was drawn to Hindu Goddesses.  I guess I could call myself a sort of feminist, but I also just loved the fact that in Hinduism women are the ones who are looked up to as the most powerful.


I can’t stop thinking of the lyrics sung by Beyoncé now 😉


The more I got into tattooing myself, the more I appreciated the true art it is. Some tattoo artists have talent that should not only be recognised but applauded.  It just doesn’t seem fair that the paintings hanging in the Louvre in Paris are World-renowned  and visited by millions of people every year,  while a talented tattoo artist is looked down on by much of society. Hopefully things will change in the future, it already has come a long way, but the prejudice still exists, very much so, here today without a doubt.

The trigger:

Last night I was scrolling on my Facebook page and saw a post from a friend with a picture and a quote that read, ” Sometimes the nicest people you meet are covered in tattoos and sometimes the most judgmental people you meet go to church on Sundays.”  This picture really struck a chord with me and I decided I needed to address this subject in a post. I have thought about writing about it for a long time, but always stopped myself because of worry of the “judgement of others” ironic huh?



I digress a little more:

Working in the dental field is very stuffy. This is so unlike my personality. I had to be something I was not. When I knew I was planning on escaping this life of someone else’s, is when I decided the time was right for this tattoo. It was like a rebirth (just like the meaning of  Goddess Kali) I got to shed the “ego” (of being accepted) to being “reborn” into who I really am.   It was an empowering feeling, just like how a Goddess should feel.  I knew then, there as no turning back, and for those in my life that judge me for it, I will forgive them and let it go.  If they don’t like my tattoo, it was their problem, not mine.

One day at the dental office (after my tat) my manager was looking at the schedule of who was coming in.  She mentioned a patient that I knew very well, after talking to her every 6 months about her life for the past 3 years, was on the schedule.  I said, “Oh yes, she is very nice. It will be good to catch up with her today.” My manager responded, “She has sleeve tattoos and looks so gross! She scares me!” I was kind of taken back on that comment, but then thought about how judgmental she was about everyone. It kind of got me angry, I mean, she didn’t even know her or would bother to, just because she has tattoos. I so badly wanted to show her my tattoo. She had no idea that I had seven, one being very large and on my arm. She only was aware of one, and I know she judged me for it. I decided to do nothing. There is no reasoning with a bigot.  She really wasn’t worth the time or effort.

By the way, this so-called scary sleeved tattooed patient, was an environmental lawyer with a degree from NorthEastern…..super scary, I know!



In the process of getting my tattoo, just the outline. I was still working as a dental hygienist and had to worry about it showing (luckily I normally wore long sleeves anyway) my hair was much shorter too 🙂
*the image is a bit blurry, but you get the idea (11/14)

Many in the dental field are prejudice about tattoos (as well as the health field in general) , most offices will not hire a tattooed person.  Although I temped one day for a great dentist, who, when he took off his lab coat at lunchtime, was covered with tattoos.  I yelled out in laughter and told him I loved it. He laughed too and said, “You should see the reactions of my patients when I bump into them at the beach.  They are shocked!!”  But that was an exception.


“This delinquent could save your life”

Where does this all lead me you ask? Well, since I left the dental field to pursue travel, yoga and blogging I came across an article that talked about a British women who was stopped at the border of Sri Lanka. She was not allowed to enter the country because of a tattoo of the image of Buddha!!! I was shocked and never even considered that. Some countries are very conservative and religious, especially when it comes to women.  It just never dawned on me that a tattoo would hinder you from traveling.  Oh, oh. Here I thought I was finally free of tattoo discrimination at the workplace when I left the dental field, and now come to realize that in my new career of travel blogging it is still present. Go figure!


A British woman named Naomi Coleman was deported from Sri Lanka for having an image of Buddha tattoo on April 29, 2014.

Here is the link:http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-27107857

There is really nothing I can do about this now, nor would I, but just like with anything else, when you go into another country, you need to be aware of their cultural differences.  For example, when I went to India and Thailand, I always covered up, especially in their temples, out of respect. Incidentally, I did already have my large tattoo at the time, but even if I didn’t, I would have covered up out of consideration for their culture regardless.  I didn’t have any issues.

With this being said, just because you have tattoos doesn’t mean you can’t travel the world. Just keep in mind that you may be discriminated against especially in countries like Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Japan (being rumored as the most prejudice against tattoos) . Lets face it, if you are tattooed you already know how that feels anyway.


my Goddess Kali tat today

This is surely not going to stop me from traveling all over the world, even Japan. I just plan to be very mindful of respecting other cultures and their beliefs.  I intend on doing some volunteer work on an upcoming trip and I am gravitating towards programs that work with underprivileged women in countries like, Africa, India, Morocco and Brazil, where women suffer gender inequality.  There are many great organizations that are involved with just this, such as gooverseas.comeliabroad.orgvolunteeringsolutions.comcrossculturalsolutions.org, and many more. With my new-found freedom of embracing the Feminine Divine in me and the Universe, working with  “women empowerment” will only help mine grow too.

At the beginning of this month (August 10,2015) in New York City, the image of Goddess Kali adorned the Empire State Building. Here is an article by http://yogadork.com that helps explain what the message was. http://yogadork.com/2015/08/10/kali-goddess-of-darkness-lights-up-empire-state-building-photos/


Goddess Kali adorns the Empire State building in New York City (8/10/2015)

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