How Volunteering Overseas Changed My Life

How Volunteering Overseas Changed My Life

Be the change you want to see

TanzaniaIt’s been nearly a decade since I went to Tanzania. I applied on a whim to spend eight weeks promoting HIV/AIDS awareness in a remote village with a Toronto-based NGO called Youth Challenge International. I’m not sure what exactly made me sign up: the idea of traveling to an unfamiliar place, or believing that I could seriously make a difference in the lives of people overseas. “Be the change you want to see in the world”, is what I kept hearing, and this was my chance. I was an undergraduate student at the time, studying international development in between commitments as a varsity athlete. It was the summer after my second year of university and before I knew it, I was replacing my soccer cleats with flip flops and my school books with Swahili language guides. Off I was, bound for the African continent with a small group of people I’d never met and ready for anything. Hakuna Matata, right? It really does mean no worries – in case you were wondering.

Read the whole article via the new Volunteer-Database blog!

Quick Tip #12: Hotel checklist for travel with baby

Vacations with a baby can be stressful, but they can also be fun – if you have everything you need on site to make it as hassle-free as possible.

After coming back from two holidays with a three month old, I’ve learned a thing or two about questions you might want to ask the hotel before making your booking. Going away with the wee one? Here’s a checklist of questions to ask before you leave, to make sure you holiday with a happy baby on your hands:

Happy Baby

Where will your baby sleep?

Before you go, double check that the hotel can accommodate whatever sleep pattern you’ve worked so hard to establish at home. If your baby co-sleeps with you, then ask for a king size bed. If your baby is already in a crib, call in advance to see a) if your hotel offers cribs to guests b) if you can reserve one (sometimes they have limited numbers available) c) if they also provide sheets, or if you need to bring your own linens.

Where can you find medicine or get access to a doctor?

On a recent trip to Mexico, my daughter’s arm got caught between elevator doors and we had to call for the hotel doctor to see if her arm was broken – a new parent’s nightmare. Thankfully, the doctor was available for consultation, but I won’t hesitate in the future to call ahead to see if there is a doctor on-call at all times, just to make sure. It’s also good to know where the nearest hospital and pharmacy are, in case you need anything, from aloe vera to diaper rash cream. Of course, I also recommend taking along a mini-first aid kit for emergencies. Think of bringing things like: Children’s Tylenol for pain relief (thankfully I brought some with us to Mexico, and we used this to soothe her after her poor little arm got crushed); probiotics or over-the-counter medication for gassy tummies; syringes for giving medicine; thermometer to check for fever; a few band-aids; and anything specific to your little one.

Where can you find baby food?

Our Mexican holiday was certainly an adventure! Now breastfeeding moms won’t have this problem, but if you’re formula feeding, you’ll definitely want to take note! During our one-week holiday down south, not only did we have to call on the hotel doctor, but with a full day left on our trip, we ran out of formula! Before leaving, I made sure that I knew where the next  major city was – unfortunately it was an hour away, so when formula started to trickle down, my mind started racing! What do I do? Risk it and hope we have enough? Head to the village nearby and see what I can find? Or head to the city directly in search of something safe for baby? As it happened, there was one pharmacy open in the village nearby, offering two types of formula for newborns. Unfortunately, neither of them were lactose-free which meant an afternoon of tummy troubles. Lesson learnt: Next time, I will absolutely locate a store carrying the type of formula we need – before arriving on-site.

Of course, formula isn’t the only thing you could run out of. Scouting out local shops where you can stock up on diapers, wipes etc. is also a good idea, but at least with those you can improvise!

How will you sterilize both water and bottles?

If your baby is sensitive to cold formula, then it’s a good idea to inquire as to whether or not your hotel has a microwave on hand. Of course, this isn’t the only (or necessarily recommended) way to heat a baby bottle, but it sure does make things easier (plus you can also boil water and sanitize nipples in there, if you’r really stuck). If there’s no microwave available, you’re going to want to ensure there is a kettle on hand for purifying water and sterilizing both bottles and nipples – especially if you’re traveling in a region known for poor water quality. It’s also a good idea to inquire about where you can purchase bottled water for formula. Remember to buy water with the least amount of minerals, as those aren’t good for your little one and can do more harm than boiling the questionable water from the tap.

How will you keep formula/breast milk cold?

If you’re not making formula on the go – and especially if your baby is still getting up in the middle of the night to feed – you’ll want to call the hotel beforehand to make sure that there is a fridge or mini-bar in your room, suitable for storing formula that you can make ahead of time. Asking about an ice machine is also a good idea, since that will allow you to make and store bottles whenever you want to pick up and head off the resort.

Hotel dining: Know what to expect

While it may seem as if you can dine anywhere you go, having a little one does complicate things. In Mexico, for example, thanks to hoards of mosquitoes that decided to infiltrate the open doors of the dinner buffet, my husband and I took turns rotating between taking Luna back to the room, and bringing drinks and desert back to share. Had we known that mosquitoes were a particular problem that time of year, we probably would have looked for a hotel which restaurants that were better insulated. Instead, we ended up rushing through nighttime meals and scratching ourselves to sleep. Besides the mosquito issue, dining was never too much of a problem, until we went to book dinner at one of the “a la carte” restaurants available on-site. Never had it crossed our mind that children would not be allowed into the restaurant, but that’s exactly what we faced! Not to say that would have changed our decision to book where we did, but knowing how open resorts in places like Cuba are to families with children, it would definitely cross our minds the next time we looked at choosing between Mexico and other hot destinations.

One last suggestion? Scout out the bar as soon as you get there (if not before) and figure out where you can get coffee first thing in the morning, and wine delivered to your room at night. You’ll thank me later. Happy travels!

Street Eats, St.Petersburg, Russia: Cinnamon coated almonds… yum!

Street Eats, St.Petersburg, Russia: Cinnamon coated almonds… yum!

Welcome back to our Street Eats series, where we explore some of the world’s most delicious (and outrageous) street food. Today we’re venturing to St.Petersburg, Russia, one of the richest cities in the world.  Rich in history, the city boasts formidable architecture, from the hermitage to numerous palaces including Catherine’s Palace and the Peterhof, the wealth of rulers like Peter the Great visible at every turn. The gateway to Russia, the city continues to attract tourists from all over the world looking to enjoy a comfortable stay in modern Russia while taking a journey back in time through the era of the Tsars and the iron clasp of Communism that is still tangible in St.Petersburg today.

Restaurants within the city walls boast both local and neighbouring cuisine, the most famous being Khachapuri, a delicious Georgian cheese bread, in addition of course, to traditional Russian delicacies like Pelmeni, Borsch and Russian crepes! Yum-my. Outside of “sit-down” venues, St.Petersburg doesn’t really offer an assortment of food options. After all, you can’t sip on vodka and stroll at the same time! Fast food like Subway is, unfortunately, readily available for those in a hurry, but if you’re wandering around the city and in search of a little something to tie you over until dinner time, then here’s one sweet temptation you won’t want to miss.

#1 Street Snack in St.Petersburg: Cinnamon coated almonds

Cinnamon covered almondsWhat are they?

They are, quite simply, almonds (or hazelnuts, or pistachios depending on the stall and you’re favourite kind of nut) covered with a sweet cinnamon dusting. A satisfying way to start, interrupt, or end your day.

Where can you find them?

Available at most tourists hot-spots, cinnamon coated almonds can be found in any relaxing environment where people are bound to stroll. I sampled these treats while wandering through the  Mikhailovsky Gardens but encountered stalls many times throughout my trip for the bargain price of 50 rubles, or $1.50 CAD.

Want to read more about the beautiful city of St.Petersburg? Here are some blogs you won’t want to miss:

A 3-day discovery of St.Petersburg: Pre-departure, Transportation and Hotel

A 3-day discovery of St.Petersburg: A walk (and cruise) through the historic centre – Day 1

A 3-day discovery of St.Petersburg, Russia: Peterhof, Pelmeni and Swan Lake

A 3-day discovery of St.Petersburg: The Hermitage, Cafe Singer and the best souvenir shop in town