when travel transforms

asia camera kidsMuch more than a break from work, a holiday has the power to change your life, writes Cayla Dengate in MX Escape

In the shell of a destroyed Sri Lankan hotel, three surfers join the circle of Buddhist monks as they start a prayer ceremony.

It’s one year after the Boxing Day tsunami, which killed more than 3500 people. The monks are saying a requiem for the dead and a blessing for those who continued to live there. “We all sat in a circle with our hands in prayer position and the monks wound a long length of red string between all of our palms,” Keith Barnes, 29, of Sydney, remembers.

“They all started praying in Singhalese, then the monks gathered all the string with the good
vibes and cut it to tie around our wrists, so you’d leave with some of those good vibes.”

It’s an experience the atheist engineer says shifted his views on religion and culture. “It was the most real experience I had overseas because it was part of their culture and traditions, not just drinking on the beach like most tourists do.” Barnes says.


Travel offers situations you d never find in your suburban life, and it’s up to each person to choose. Inspired by the best-selling novel Eat Pray Love, which is now a movie starring Julia Roberts, a traveller could be an “Eat Pray Lover” who takes part, or an “Eat Pay Leaver” who just wants cheap eats and a suntan.

So, can you plan such a transformative travel experience? Wedding photographer Deborah
Groves says yes. She was tired of her life on the Sunshine Coast and was inspired to connect with
Cambodian culture after reading a book about a woman who lived there.

“I booked into an Intrepid Travel tour from Bangkok to Ho Chi Minh City and I was particularly interested in the time we’d spend in Cambodia,” Groves says. After seeing the poverty surrounding tourist area Siem Reap, Groves found it hard to leave. “It was shocking to see just how poor these
people were, even compared to surrounding Asian countries,” she says. ‘I felt like this was a place where I could do some good. “In one of the hardest decisions I ever made, I decided to throw it all away, my business, my life and head back to Cambodia,” she says. She started charity organisation Helping Hands Cambodia, which teaches children English as well as basic hygiene and health.

Groves says she will fund the university degree of any child who makes it to the equivalent of Year 12, and she has sent several teachers to university.

“It’s likely that they will be the first in their village to go to university and, when you think the cost of a degree for a year is $365, plus maybe another $300 for books and uniforms, it’s a small price for an Australian.”

Groves hasn’t turned her back on photography either, she takes images in Cambodia and sells them on her website www.helpinghandscambodia.com to fund the charity work.

“My whole life is happier and more free now, thanks to that trip.”

For Lindy Hogan, a 2007 stint volunteering with Volunteers for International Development
Australia (VIDA) in Bangladesh led her to love. When my assignment ended, I was three years older, in love with a Bangladeshi man, married and pregnant,” Hogan says.

Initially, Hogan was looking for work in the humanitarian aid sector and volunteered through VIDA to get experience. When they asked her to stay on professionally, she jumped at the opportunity.

“Taking the time to learn about another country’s culture and traditions is a really important part of travel and working overseas.” Hogan says.

About the author

Sue Elliot - Like many of us, Sue contracted a serious travel bug at an early age. She's visited over 90 countries in search of a cure, but her wanderlust just seems to get worse. Thankfully at Intrepid Travel she's amongst people who understand the affliction and since 1998 Sue has enjoyed being our blog and newsletter editor. Here you'll find helpful travel advice and inspiring tales from Sue and other Intrepid travellers.

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Love it! Travel is the root to all awesome.

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