Our Home Community

We’re about to embark on our 4th visit to Our Home after spending a wonderful few months there earlier in the year. Those of you that know us will know just how passionate we are about the children and we’re planning to return on Boxing Day to deliver them Christmas presents and see in the New Year together, the excitement is real!

Whilst living at Our Home for the first part of 2017 we blogged about our unforgettable journey – you can read about our incredible experiences below:

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Where can we start with Our Home Community? There is so much to say about this incredible place that we really are stuck for words. Firstly, Chacko, Avi and all of the volunteers that make this place a home are now our family. There is something so magical about Our Home, and straight away we had a completely different feeling about being here in comparison to our other volunteering activities. Not that we haven’t loved and thoroughly enjoyed each and every one of them, but from the moment we stepped foot here, we felt this was where we belonged.

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During our three months in India during 2015 we actually visited Our Home twice, we originally found them when searching online to volunteer in India and came across their website. Being completely honest we were both a bit sceptical about volunteering in an orphanage in India, as we have heard horror stories about what goes on in some of them… Truly heart-breaking. So before arriving we both agreed that we would only stay for a couple of days at first, just to suss it out. From the moment we arrived we were, to our relief, completely put at ease. Chacko, who runs Our Home along with his wife Avi, is the most down to earth, forward thinking, beautifully souled, Indian man we came across throughout the whole of our travels. He instantly made us feel so welcome, and once we had met him we were so excited to get stuck in and help.

Our first introduction with the children was in the evening, so we couldn’t really see the land where they are based. We did however, get to visit the girl’s and boy’s homes, which are both fantastic and a lot more developed than we expected them to be. Clean, good toilets and beds for everyone. Yes, it was VERY basic, but these children were being provided with a roof over their head, and the facilities to sleep and live comfortably, unlike so many in India. After exploring the bedrooms, we went to the dining hall to be greeted with a completely fresh, delicious, healthy supper. It was amazing and we must admit, the food we had here was some of the best we have had in India. With what little ingredients they have and can afford, the women in the kitchen cook up some real tasty stuff! We met the children who range from two years to twenty-two years. The older ones do a variety of different things, some are studying, some help with the day to day duties and others no longer live there and have jobs in other towns in India which helps to support Our Home. The first thing we noticed about all of the children was how polite, well-educated and talented they all truly are. Their fantastic skills range from extraordinary artists, chess players, football players, readers, and their passion to study and do well is mind blowing. If they are given the right opportunity, we have no doubt that every single one of those children can make a good life for themselves, despite the awful start to their lives.

The children have lost their parents and been through traumatic life events very early on, witnessing things no child should have to. Some of them have life threatening illnesses including HIV, and if it wasn’t for Chacko and Avi, these kids would be on the streets with nothing.

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The next day we got to see the land that Our Home is on, and it is nothing short of beautiful. They have space to study, play, exercise, eat… whatever they need to do! They are in the middle of a beautiful little town, Vypaddi, which is not far from Kalpetta. Palm trees and mountain views, to us this was stunning; to them it was just their home.

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On site of Our Home they have a small school called the Good Shepherd Public School. It is for ages ranged from two to fourteen years, after that if the children are going onto further education they take a school bus to where they are studying.  The teachers at the Good Shepherd school do a superb job educating the children, who come from surrounding villages, and the funds received go towards the running of Our Home, it is a wonderful concept.

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Over the next couple of weeks we spent our time getting to know all of the children. We became completely relaxed and really felt like we were spending time with family.  We taught English classes, played football, helped with homework, went on walks, visited the local rivers, played games, and genuinely enjoyed every single minute we spent with the children. We grew to love each and every one of them, and as time went on we learnt about how they came to Our Home, it just made us feel so much more passionate about the incredible work Chacko and Avi are doing. The thing that made this place magical was that despite what these kids had gone through; they were all happy, smiling, and safe. The most important thing a child should feel is love and safety, and they have this here. We also became particularly close with a blind volunteer who lived and worked there, Reddy. He himself has had a hard life, and is the gentlest, kindest soul. We quickly learnt how intelligent he was and loved listening to his stories and teaching methods, it was a real joy spending time with Reddy, and we have made a friend for life in him.

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During our time with them we got to know their daily routines and how they dealt with day to day life, and once again it really, truly reiterated to us how lucky we are in the UK and what we take for granted. The boys washed their clothes in a dirty river; they all shared a bar of soap between them. They barely had any personal possessions, very few items of clothing and bits and pieces to their little names. No bed sheets or covers… All of the little luxuries we have here, we just felt we wanted to give to them. Simple things kids enjoy like watching films on a sofa with a hot chocolate on a Saturday night? Do these kids even know that Disneyland exists? No of course they don’t, and perhaps that’s why we loved them so much, they were so happy with the simple things in life, they didn’t moan about having to wash their clothes in the river, they took at is an opportunity to have fun!

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The time quickly passed and before we knew it we had to leave for Mumbai. It was the hardest goodbye we have both ever had to do, leaving these children we had both grown to love like our own family. Being completely honest it was harder than leaving our own families in London to travel the world, because we didn’t know if and when we would get to see these children again.

Over our next few weeks travelling around India we could not get Chacko, Avi and everyone from Our Home out of our heads. We eventually came to the decision that we just HAD to return. There was no other option. At this point we were in Shimla… North India, so we had to fly back to Kerala to make this happen. We wanted to spend our last week of our fantastic year with our family, at Our Home.

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Having told our friends and family in England this was what we wanted to do, before we knew it we were fundraising money so that we could surprise the children and give them an early Christmas treat! We didn’t tell them we were returning, and over a couple of weeks we made each of the 43 children of our home a packaged present and card, containing all sorts! From toys, card games, footballs, clothes, shoes, drawing materials, make up, jewellery and more, we put our heart and souls into giving these children a Christmas they deserved. As soon as we arrived back at Our Home, we instantly knew we had made the right decision. Seeing their faces when we turned up was absolutely priceless. They were SO happy to see us and the feeling was more than mutual.

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We told them we had a surprise for them after school, and with that they were beside themselves all day with excitement. Finally 3:30 came and we were able to give them all their presents. This was probably the most memorable moment of our lives. Watching them all open their cards and read them so intently, and the delight with the gifts they had been given. It was the best Christmas present we could have ever asked for in seeing them so happy. We were so content being reunited with the children, Chacko, Avi and Reddy we felt as though we would never want to leave.

The week flew by and we couldn’t think of a more amazing time to end our 2015 than with our new family. We’ve made a promise to the children and ourselves that we will visit them as much as we can, and do what we can to fundraise and financially support Our Home. These children are beyond incredible and deserve a real chance at life and we want to make that happen. If you’d like to be actively involved in making a difference you can visit their website here or for more information email us directly at khtravels15@outlook.com.

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Coming home … again!

Some of you may have read our blog on coming home back in 2015 after we returned from a year long backpacking adventure. We were finding it so difficult to adjust back to reality and tried to express our feelings for other travellers to relate to. We had to realise it was okay to feel like we didn’t fit in with our society anymore but we found it extremely hard to explain it to the people around us and somehow writing about it was easier.

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So what happened when we finally started to settle back in to normality? We established a routine at work, enjoyed spending time with friends and family and then… decided to go again!

After just 12 months of being home, we did exactly that, this time not to backpack but to spend a few months at Our Home Community, as well as squeezing in some more of India and ticking Sri Lanka off our bucket list too.

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It was harder to leave this time, although it was what we both wanted, we had more doubts about going, right up until the journey to the airport. Were we doing the right thing going again? At 25 & 26, are we too old? Should we be buying a house and settling down? All these questions went round and round in our heads, and when we booked our flights to go, we were really emotional, not excited. Scared.

If leaving to go away for our second time was hard, imagine how hard it was to come back.

As we left for the airport we were so incredibly anxious, especially with it being 3:30am, we were actually still saying it’s not too late to change our minds. However after a power nap in the car, something clicked and as we arrived to the airport excitement kicked in. OKAY, WE’RE GOING AGAIN! It was like the polar opposite of what we’d been feeling in the weeks building up to our departure.

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After the emotional goodbyes before we knew it we were back in India and this time it was even better than before. We had two weeks to explore before heading to Our Home and we kept expecting something bad to happen, but it just didn’t! You either love or hate India but for us, each time we go gets better and better.

The main purpose of our trip was to spend a substantial amount of time with the children, for them to really get to know us and feel that they have us there to support them, no matter where in the world we are. We wanted them to know that from the day we met them in 2015 we are always going to be there in whatever way we can. (read about our experiences at Our Home)

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What could possibly be bad about spending three life changing months with the most amazing children and community in the most beautiful place in the world? Leaving.

When we talk about Our Home if you know us, you know we’re so passionate, and it’s because we’ve found our happy place. This is where we feel like we belong, we were born to do this. And therefore leaving was one of the worst, and most emotional days of our lives. The week building up to it was unbearable in itself and we had plenty of conversations with the children about why we couldn’t stay forever which was truly heart breaking. These children needed us and to have to leave was awful.

We told ourselves when the day was upon us we would be strong and not get upset, but that went straight out of the window when we woke up at 4:30am to find one of the boys just sitting outside our room waiting for us. It was like a slap in the face that our journey had come to an end. Every single child woke up extra early to see us off and give us letters and flowers, their little faces were just too much to cope with and we couldn’t stop hysterically crying. So much for being strong.

We had to take contentment that we achieved more than what we originally went to do, not only teaching and helping with day to day duties but building relationships and bonds with them that can never be broken. They all know that we will ALWAYS be there to support them and we will visit as much as we can, although it was the end of this trip it was just the start for our future with them. We came away with the best memories, together we experienced not only fun, laughter and love but we also endured the rawness, truthfulness, tears, emotions and overcome so many firsts. In the words of the children “You going time you no cry, you going time you happy only.” As we pulled away from Our Home we turned back to see them all just looking longingly with such emotion in their eyes, it’s a memory that will stay with us forever.

We had just over a month left to travel some more of India; Hampi, Bangalore and Goa before heading to Sri Lanka. It took us a while to get over feeling sad and couldn’t help but feel guilty in everything that we did, we had to give ourselves a good talking to and realise if we weren’t going to enjoy ourselves we may as well go home there and then. Not going home immediately was actually the best thing we could have done as it gave us a bit of time to adjust before going back to reality.

Our incredible trip very quickly came to an end after a life changing five months. We had a wonderful last few weeks but not only did we stay in luxury hotels, see beautiful views and eat delicious new delicacies but our time sleeping on the floor with no water or electricity, eating boiled rice for days and experiencing first hand what a cruel world it can be was what made our trip. We shape our world and we have the power to change it. We feel so lucky to be experiencing life and all it has to offer together, hopefully doing something along the way to help.

Landing back in England was just as we imagined, I mean we knew right? We’d done it before. Wrong. This time was so much harder, and it’s because we’d left our family in India behind.

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How is it possible to even try and settle back into every day London life when you’ve spent months living such a basic life with orphaned children in India? How can we justify spending £15 per day to travel to work when this is enough to feed them all? How can we spend hundreds of pounds on new clothes or on a night out when there is still so much suffering in this world? Our lives are a daily struggle of trying to fit back into society but also not forgetting what’s going on out there.

There is no answer to these questions … we just don’t know and are still trying to figure it all out. The truth is we will never be the same again. Our friends and family tell us how we’ve changed, and of course we have, you couldn’t experience what we have and be the same person.

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It’s an overwhelming sense of emotions coming home, not only because we miss the children but because we’re back to our same old life where nothing seems exciting. Everyday we have an overpowering wanderlust and always find our conversation drifting to “do you remember when we did …” we will never not have the desire to explore and experience new things, but how far do we go? Do we keep going again and again when there is that pressure on us to settle down, buy a house, get married and have our own children? Why can’t we be that couple that goes and settles down in an orphanage an India? That may sound crazy to you, but to us it couldn’t make more sense.

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It’s a really confusing time, and honestly? We don’t know what we want. Yes it’s the perfect fairy tale ending that we’ve spent eight amazing years together, seen the world, volunteered in India and now we should have our fairytale wedding and do everything by the book. Sounds great right? We’re not so sure …

“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.” – Anthony Bourdain

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Clock Inn Hostel

During our two weeks exploring Sri Lanka we’ve chosen to do a mix of luxury and budget accommodation to get a feel of what Sri Lanka has to offer for a range of travellers.

Being a travel couple dorm rooms aren’t ideal for us therefore when we came across Clock Inn Hostel it seemed the perfect budget accommodation as it also offered double private rooms.

We booked to stay at Clock Inn Colombo for one night when we arrived as well as three nights in Kandy. We knew we had chosen the right hostel even before we set foot in the country having had several email correspondences with the management who so helpfully assisted with our route planning and very kindly booked our airport transfers. Everything you can hope for when planning to visit a new place!

Clock Inn Colombo offers budget conscious backpackers clean, cozy and well equipped private bedrooms and dorm rooms. Despite the fact we arrived at 4am we were greeted so warmly in the cutest reception space full of bright colours and quirky decor. Our room had a large bed (just what we needed after four hour flight delays!) AC, cable TV, towels, toiletries, bottled water and a hot shower! To most backpackers this sounds like a fantasy but trust us it’s real! After a couple of hours sleep we enjoyed our free breakfast which consisted of eggs cooked to your preference, bread/toast, cereal and fruit, accompanied with fruit juice and tea/coffee (which is free all day). Our stay at Clock Inn Colombo was the perfect welcome to the city.

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After a few days exploring we booked a train to Kandy. Located right in the centre, Clock Inn Kandy is within walking distance to most of the local attractions. As with the branch in Colombo, our private room was great and featured all of the same excellent amenities and even offered use of the MAC computer in reception. Although we didn’t have much time to use the common area it looked fab, clean and full of games, DVDs and books.

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If you’re looking for something different they also offer quirky little capsules which we’ve never seen anywhere else before! Perfect for solo, budget backpackers who occasionally need their own space.

All in all our stay at both Clock Inns were faultless and we couldn’t recommend them enough! If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact us.

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A weekend in Bangalore

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Visiting Bangalore was a strange place for us as it came immediately after leaving Our Home Community. Once we did finally manage to wipe away our tears and venture out of our hotel room we soon discovered we were in what could become one of our favourite Indian cities! Please forgive our lack of photos in this blog, we felt we just needed a few days away from smiley snaps and social media!

Where not to stay:

We booked to stay at Treebo Edge and being a business city, accommodation wasn’t cheap to come by and the location of this particular Treebo caught our attention.

The hotel was a short walk away from the grand UB City Mall and this was fantastic but unfortunately this is where the positives ended.

The room was small and stuffy with no windows. The staff were not helpful at all and borderline incompetent, we aren’t the most difficult travellers to please but the staff found it difficult to answer the simplest of questions.

The walls were wafer thin so you heard every conversation from the reception to the guests next door and all in between. The food was mediocre at best (that’s being generous) and we had to argue to get access to the wifi! All together Treebo Edge in Bangalore is a big no no.

What to do:

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Bangalore is one of the biggest cities in India but unfortunately we only had two nights to explore and most of our time was spent in the luxurious UB City mall and comfort eating! The whole layout of the place is exceptional and exudes class, we would suggest you leave the elephant pants behind for this outing and it’s by no means a cheap place to shop but even if you go for a walk and a beer you will enjoy your experience. Our top tip would be to save your ventures to UB City for the evenings and take advantage of the many happy hours on offer at the local bars during the day. Bootlegger was our preferred choice and we’d definitely recommend giving it a visit.

Where to eat:

Once again UB City was our saviour from the disappointment that awaited us at Treebo Edge. There is an abundance of incredible restaurants to choose from on the outside terrace and we decided to give Sanchez a try after being lured in by the scent of fresh fajitas!

Sanchez was reasonably priced considering its setting and the food itself was delicious. The staff were exceptional and it was the perfect pick me up as we drank our sorrows away in the Mexican surroundings.

We also visited Shiro for a drink and we were right when we guessed they would make one hell of a Pinocalada! *inserts throwback to Mauritius*

Shiro was especially busy and no wonder as the setting was one of a Japanese paradise with the dark shades contrasting with the giant Buddha as the white elephant in the bamboo enclosed room. We managed to get a seat on one of the sofas in the main restaurant but we would avoid waiting at the rooftop bar in the sweltering summer nights despite the soothing sounds of live acoustic music.

Cafe Mojo on St.Marks road was another great find. From the outside it doesn’t look the most appealing and you have to go up a set of stairs before reaching the restaurant, but when you enter you are immediately relieved! Goan themed this hidden gem wasn’t as busy as it should have been. Excellent service, cheap but delicious food and drinks with a good atmosphere. If you’re looking for a budget night out then this is your place.

Finally if you’re an ice-cream lover make sure you take a break from the scorching city heat and visit Fava. The most incredible menu of luxury ice cream for such reasonable prices!

We can’t really say we explored Bangalore as we missed out on many of the top things to do due to a lack of time. However we weren’t there for a long time, we were there for a good time and that’s just what we had.✌🏽

The last week at Our Home

It’s taken us a while to write this blog … we’ve been coming to terms with leaving Our Home and the last week was so emotional we’ve not known how to put it into words. However, having cried out all our tears and spoken to the children numerous times since leaving, we’re now ready to share our experience with you.

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The week was a beautiful one, filled with so many wonderful memories makers. We went on plenty of walks where the children picked us lovely flowers to “take back to England.” K enjoyed his last few football matches with the older boys, we sang songs and recapped over the amaxing few months we spent together. We took more photos and promised the children as soon as we returned to England we will print and send them as we did last time which gave them something exciting to look forward to.

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The children had many heart wrenching questions for us “when are you coming back?” “why can’t you live here?” “Do the airports check your bags? I was thinking I could sneak in and come to England with you.” It truly was so tough and we were just as upset as them, if not more. All we could do was reassure them that we would be back and told them that not a day will go by that we won’t think about them and that we will write, phone and do everything we can to stay in touch. It felt different leaving this time to before. It wasn’t just an orphanage where we volunteered at, it was family we were leaving. Our little bedroom became our home and we packed our bags whilst listening to music from the last few months that we had shared with the children… which probably didn’t help!

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To make things just a tad more difficult during the last few days there was absolutely no water or electricity. It was a really hard few days both physically and emotionally and the children needed a treat. We wanted to make our last evening as fun as possible and luckily during the afternoon the electricity and water finally came back. We brought some speakers to the dining hall to play music and H’s nan and granddad very kindly sponsored chicken biryani for dinner, the kids favourite! Although it was lovely evening enjoyed by all, we couldn’t get away from the feeling that we were leaving tomorrow, it felt very surreal.

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When the morning came around we woke up so heartbroken that our incredible journey at Our Home had come to an end. One of the boys was awake already at 5am and had come to our room to help us finish packing. That started the tears off and once they started they wouldn’t stop! It was by far the hardest thing we’ve ever had to do. Every single child woke up extra early to see us off and greeted us with letters, flowers and drawings. We said goodbye to each and every one of them although we could barely speak we were so upset. So much for keeping it together and being strong! We were so sad as as our car drove away and all of the kids stood looking on.

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We did however leave feeling content that we achieved more than what we originally came to do, not only teaching and helping with day to day duties but building relationships and bonds with the children that can never be broken. They all know that we will ALWAYS be there to support them and we will visit as much as we can, although it’s the end of this trip it is just the start for our future with them. We’ve made the best memories and together experienced not only the fun, laughter and love but we’ve also endured the rawness, truthfulness, tears, emotions and overcome so many firsts. In the words of the children:

“You going time you no cry, you going time you happy only” … Until next time Our Home.

A weekend in Ooty

Ooty, known as Queen of the Hills is famous for its cooler weather and beautiful views. We’ve visited twice and both of our trips have been a unique experience for us as we have friends there who warmly welcome us into there home. This meant a break from Trip Advisor reviews for the best hotel deals and instead we could focus on the really important stuff … exploring!

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We recently stayed in Ooty during the Easter weekend so it was significantly busier than usual but what a wonderful weekend it was. First stop was Ooty Lake as we took a tuk tuk through the hills on a sprightly sunny day towards the still waters.

We hired a pedal boat for an hour and once pulling away from the first time boaters and upon reaching the far end of the lake we felt an overwhelming sense of serenity as we took in the beautiful views. The only thing missing was a cool beer to go with that sea breeze, or lake breeze as it were in this case. It is 160 rupees for a 2 seater boat for 30 minutes, you’re also required to leave a depsosit, which you can claim back if you’re within your time.

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The whole area around the lake is full of great little food stalls and you can’t visit without stopping for a spring potato. Although the shops and stalls detract from what the lake once was it is still kept clean and in good taste, and we actually quite enjoyed the holidaymaker feel it has to it.

The Botanical Gardens were next on our list of places to visit however they were full of picnic goers. There was little room to sit and relax until getting to the high end of the hills so we would recommend going at a less busy time than Easter weekend! This wasn’t a problem for us though as we enjoyed strolling through this picture of natural beauty.

Dodbetta view point is situated just outside of Ooty but was recommended to us as a must see so we gave it a go. Travelling up through the mountains we bumped into a giant wild dear crossing the road. The tuk tuk driver screamed at us to take a photo as they are extremely rare to see in Ooty but unfortunately the best we got was strictly rear end focussed!

Once again the downside to our experience was the sheer number of tourists taking a break from their busy lives during the Easter weekend. After walking through a parade of stalls selling everything from hats and scarves to permanent tattoos we reached the summit. The view itself was good but not great and unfortunately there was just far too much litter scattered around. We’re sure this place is usually kept neat and litter free but the volume of people meant the authorities could not enforce rules as usual. We would still recommend you visit it if you have time but try a weekday instead!

If you want to know the real Ooty we would suggest taking a walk into the town, meeting the people and exploring the homemade chocolate shops. Being much cooler than most places in India you can enjoy a stroll through the streets without the hassle of the unrelenting heat.

Back in 2015 during our first trip we also took a ride on the Toy Train. If you have time we would definitely recommend it, the slow speed and gorgeous views really allow you some time to relax, however make sure you book tickets in advance as the train gets full pretty quickly. Somewhere else we were lucky enough to have dinner at was The Ooty Club, rumour has it that this is where snooker was first invented! When you step into the club it is like going back in time and you are completely in awe everywhere you look. Unfortunately you can only enter with a member so if you want to visit, we suggest you make some very good friends!

We love Ooty for its climate and uniqueness. Although situated in the heart of India the heritage of once being ruled by the British East India Company is still evident to its core and that blend of British/India is balanced just right in this uniquely mountainous town.

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9 Top Tips on Volunteering

We’ve volunteered in five different countries and have a huge passion for travel, charity work and most importantly; change. We’ve therefore combined some top tips and experiences from our fellow travellers and volunteers to help you when planning your volunteering trip. Sometimes it’s difficult to know where to start, who to trust and where to go so hopefully this will answer some of your questions.

1) Rox Oquendo; Former Director of Hands on Manila

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“You don’t always have to donate money to make a difference in small communities, your time can be much more beneficial. Contact NGO’s in the Philippines to find out how you can get involved with their ongoing programmes. If you have any special skills you think may be of benefit, for example if you’re a medical practitioner then make the NGO you are volunteering with aware, you may be able to help with specialist missions. By volunteering you’re exposed to the real Philippines and get to explore places off the beaten track.”

Our first volunteering experience abroad was with Hands on Manila and we can’t recommend them enough!

2) Skye Sandhu-Nelson; Community Champion

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“Each person has their own reasons to give or volunteer and you’ve got to have an affinity to the cause your supporting which will be unique to each individual. This needs to be taken into consideration before deciding on where is right for you to volunteer.”

Skye is an incredibly experienced volunteer and as has supported the YMCA, Salvation Army, The Citizens Advice Bureau, local schools and play groups, Womankind Worldwide and many more.

3) Emily Hudson; Explorer

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“All I would say is get stuck in as any little job goes a long way, get to know the locals, learn their ways and work with them to help your cause. Don’t forget to keep in touch even after your time volunteering has come to an end. It’s such a buzz to get updates and see how things are progressing when you’re back home. Also, do some research on how you can continue to support your project from home through online tasks and spreading the word.”

Emily volunteered at The African Impact, Marine Conservation Project in Zanzibar, Tanzania.

4) Sam Rees-Davies; Backpacking Biker

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We met Sam in February 2017 on our first day returning to Our Home Community. Unfortunately it was their last night volunteering there but although we had very little time together we instantly knew we shared the same passion about Our Home.

“Our first and most important tip when volunteering is always plan your route before you set off on your journey. Initially getting to Our Home seemed impossible as we were travelling by bike from Ooty with nothing but road signs! When we finally arrived we were mobbed by so many excitable children. One of the most refreshing things when you speak to anyone at Our Home is that they never refer to it as an orphanage, it is quite literally their home. The sense of community and family is breathtaking. Never have I seen so many children with such a zest for life, and if you need inspiration to volunteer, this is it!

We spent our days playing football, painting, cooking and also took the children on a trip to the local dam. Reflecting on my time at Our Home my biggest advice is get involved as much as you can and think of something new to introduce, cooking macaroni cheese was certainly a first time experience for these Indian kids and it was great I could give them that.”

5) Chloe Leach; Backpacker

“If I was to give any suggestions to someone wanting to volunteer abroad I’d say first and foremost – do your research. There are a lot of ‘volunteer projects’ that are scams, especially in SE Asia. They take your money and it doesn’t go to benefiting the cause they ‘stand for’. Please ensure you look for ethical projects.

I’d also say, GET STUCK IN. You’ll probably be given some tasks that aren’t as enjoyable as others. However, it is what you make it and at the end of the day you’re there volunteering to benefit the lives of others and not yourself.”

Chloe has volunteered at SchoolsWorldwide, a charity that runs volunteer trips through schools in Namibia, and Elephant Nature Park in Thailand where we also had a fantastic experience.

6) Sofia Candy; Backpacker

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Sofia volunteered with the Soi Dog Foundation, Thailand in 2015 and has incredibly now adopted Sansa, a dog they fell in love with during their time there. Sansa has been living in the U.K. for almost a year and is loving her new family life.

“If you wish to volunteer at Soi Dog make sure you contact them in advance to arrange your dates as they get booked up quickly during busy seasons. Take some dog treats with you in a bum bag for when you walk the dogs, they love a treat! Wear comfy shoes and clothes you don’t mind getting dirty and smelly … Hanging out with the dogs and cats all day can get messy but it’s an amazing experience and you’ll hear lots of stories about how these animals were saved from torture and cruelty. It’s a fab life experience you will never forget.”

7) Thuy An; Community Outreach Coordinator; YMCA Vietnam

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“Vietnam is a great place to volunteer and have a life changing experience. To make sure you have the most enjoyable time possible and not too much of a culture shock, this is what I would recommend:

  • First and foremost make sure you participate in a voluntary experience that will excite you. This way you will be able to put 100% into everything you too.
  • When planning to volunteer make sure you obtain necessary visas and documents required before you arrive to avoid any problems.
  • Be prepared to eat all kinds of food in Vietnam … the infamous durian and fish sauce is typical for daily meals, if you’re a picky eater or dislike smelly food Vietnam might not be the place for you!
  • Most Vietnamese people are nice and friendly but always be aware of scams and rip-offs when shopping in local or tourist markets.
  • Don’t get run over by a car! The traffic is crazy. When crossing the streets be alert, confident and steady.
  • Lastly, equip yourself with some local knowledge about wherever you go. The Vietnamese people will love that you’ve taken the time to get to know their culture.

Thuy An organised our brilliant voluntary trip with YMCA Vietnam in 2015.

8) Swostik Pandey; Student and Entrepreneur

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“Whilst volunteering in Vietnam I often found myself being so thankful for the opportunity to give back. My main advice for volunteering abroad is to be as passionate as possible. Most people only volunteer once or twice in their lifetime so give it all you have and make sure you don’t forget to embrace the culture. Not only does this teach you about the local people, food and lifestyle of where you are volunteering but it also makes you appreciate everything you have in life. My second tip would be to be outgoing. Being able to create memories is great but always remember the people around you are the ones who help form those memories. Whether it is sharing a smile or attempting to speak an unknown language, every little thing will go a very long way!”

We volunteered with Swostik in 2015 as part of the YMCA Vietnam Overseas Community Project.

9) KHTravels; Blogging & Volunteering Couple 

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Our ultimate tip would be to prepare yourself for the hardships that go alongside the incredible experience you will have whilst volunteering. Volunteering isn’t easy and can be a very emotional journey.

Your accommodation will be very basic with no luxuries; uncomfortable beds, no fans, mosquito bites, squat toilets, hand washing clothes, no TV and no wifi! Culture shock can also be daunting and you’re often in remote communities that may not have seen foreigners before so expect a mixture of responses. These are the first things to come to terms with and the rest will fall into place. We of course do not want to deter your from volunteering but you need to be aware of what you’re letting yourself in for and if this doesn’t put you off, then you’re ready to go!

So there you have it, from some of our most trusted friends from around the world, we hope you’ll find their suggestions and advice helpful. If you still have any unanswered questions then please get in touch.

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A weekend in Mysore

Mysore is one of those places in India where you just feel welcome. Let’s not forget that India isn’t for everyone but there is a slight chance that Mysore might just be. Being voted the cleanest Indian city for two years in a row definitely has something to do with that!

Where to stay:

We’ve stayed at Hotel Aditya a few times now and we’re never let down. The location is perfect as it is within walking distance of the Mysore Palace and Devaraja Market while also being opposite More. More is like finding a needle in a haystack in India as it’s a supermarket that sells beer! Hotel Aditya is a 10 minute tuctuc ride from the KSRTC bus station which makes coming and going very easy. The staff are helpful, the rooms are decent for a reasonable price and they have cable TV, wifi, and free breakfast! Just what you need if you’ve been backpacking in hostels.

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What to do:

If you want to see India in all of its glory then Devaraja Market is the place to be. From Holi paints and flowers to gem stones and exotic oils, you can find virtually anything at this market once you’ve shifted through the furore of people, cows, dogs and stalls outside, a great place to get those insta pics.

Chamundi Hill is a great spot to get a view of the whole city, especially at sunset or sunrise. The sunlight reflects across the whole city and it feels like you’re sitting on the edge of Pride Rock. Take the 201 bus to the peak and for a few extra rupees we suggest you wait it out for the air con bus which is a lot less busy and much more comfortable. Once reaching the top follow the steps to find yourself a secluded spot and the view will speak for itself.

If you have some spare time the Mysore sand museum is a good place to visit with some awesome sculptures for only 40 rupees per person. It’s located just a few minutes’ drive from the Mall of Mysore and features some amazing artworks based on religion, history and Disney!

The Mall of Mysore is a basic mall, but offers some tasty treats, a good supermarket and a cinema with English movies.

Finally, Mysore Palace is what you visit this city for, built in 1912 it is incredibly well maintained and attracts six million people a year. If you want to get the full experience make sure you explore the inside of the palace to experience life as a Maharaja in India. If you’re just there to get some snaps then avoid paying the full entrance fee and wander the grounds leisurely with a picnic but we wouldn’t recommend going in the middle of the day unless you want to remember your experience with some semi-permanent sunburn! Everyday except Sundays the Palace holds a sound and light programme between 7pm & 8pm where you can see the palace illuminated in all its glory.

Where to eat:

Having been in India for over three months were always on the lookout for our next western meal so hearing of a dominos, KFC and McDonald’s was music to our ears. We know this isn’t the most cultural thing to do but what says India more than a Maharaja Mac?!

There is also a great little pizza place by the name of Sadananda’s Wood Fired Pizza within walking distance of Hotel Aditya. It doesn’t look the busiest or the most appealing place to eat but looks can be deceiving and we can’t recommend this place highly enough.

Mysore is a wonderful Indian city with some much needed home comforts. If you just come along for the palace and a Maharaja Mac it will be a day well spent but as with the rest of India there’s something special about this city with plenty to see and do.

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Volunteering isn’t easy

Something we’ve seen with lots of bloggers and are guilty of ourselves is only sharing the good parts of volunteering… Those unforgettable moments or cute selfies with the kids.

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The truth is volunteering isn’t easy and can be really tough. Of course the good bits are incredible and it’s natural to share these moments with family and friends but you tend to keep the bad bits to yourself, it’s easier that way. It’s hard to explain but you feel if you share your negative experiences that you are letting yourself down.

We’ve volunteered several times internationally and each experience has had its difficulties. We’ve decided to share some of our hard days with you and how we’ve overcome them. If you’re considering volunteering abroad it’s good to know what you’re letting yourself in for!

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Firstly prepare yourself for very basic accommodation with no luxuries; uncomfortable beds, little sleep, no fans or AC, mosquito bites, squat toilets, hand washing clothes, no TV and no wifi! Culture shock can also be a little daunting, when volunteering you’re often in remote communities that may not have seen foreigners before so make sure you do plenty of research into local customs before your arrival. These are the first things to come to terms with and the rest will fall into place.

In Vietnam and Cambodia we experienced extreme language barriers. We struggled enormously, particularly in Cambodia where the children were not very well behaved. Teaching classes of 30+ students that do not even understand ‘sit down’ was frankly a nightmare! We quickly realised we couldn’t improvise and had to spend time planning for each class. Using pictures was very helpful so we spent the nights hand drawing in preparation for the next day. Action songs are also great to keep the small children occupied whilst engaging them in learning English. One thing for sure is don’t assume the children will know basic English, especially in the poorer communities because… they don’t! There will also be very few facilities so pack what teaching materials you can as it will make your life a lot easier.

In the Philippines we experienced extreme poverty. On the daily commute to our volunteer placement we saw so many street children that we wanted to help, but what could we do? We couldn’t just walk past and found giving the children food was a great way to help. We often bought snacks for them to eat and always took away any food we had left over in restaurants to give out. Also after days of deliberating we started talking to them. They are children after all and much of their day is spent begging or sitting on the streets bored. Taking the time to chat and play simple games we soon had them laughing and although the simplest thing, a smile sometimes makes everything feel better.

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We’re currently at Our Home Community Orphanage in India. It’s our third time volunteering here but this time we are spending almost three months living at the orphanage. It has exposed us to their everyday life and the real struggles they face each day that you just wouldn’t know about from visiting for a few days.

The days are long and hot, especially now it is the summer holidays. The children wake up very early, some at 4:45am and do not sleep until after 10pm. Previously we worked in London and without our daily commutes and working hours we realise how much time there is in a day. With limited resources there is only so much you can do and quite often we find ourselves looking for something new to do with the kids but without the energy to do it because of the heat.

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Being with children 24/7 is also pretty tough. Don’t get us wrong, we absolutely adore them but anyone with or around children at home will know this themselves, sometimes you need a break especially when it’s 42 kids you’re trying to occupy! We have found ourselves missing adult company, family, friends and ‘normal’ things that we do at home. It’s a huge lifestyle change that we’ve had to adjust too.

The lack of water in Wayanad at the moment is a big problem, being here in the height of summer means extreme water rationing. We are experiencing a drought and often have not had water for two or three days so no flushing the toilet after a number two, no showers after sweating all day … there’s nothing worse right? Wrong. This is the children’s drinking water so there’s us upset we can’t shower whilst the children are thirsty which makes us feel even worse. As well as the water the electricity also comes and goes as it pleases, usually at night so food cannot be prepared and dinner can be very late.

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This brings us on to money issues. Living at the orphanage we’re exposed to the day to day money stresses they endure and some days all they have to eat is boiled rice. We don’t even eat rice at home so having that as the only food option is tough and we spend nights dreaming of Pizza Hut takeouts!

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Spending so much time with the children we have formed some really strong relationships. It is only natural that they feel that they can open up to us and although we’ve never asked them questions, a few have told us about their past experiences and how they came to be at the orphanage. Sitting listening to some of the horror stories they have been through is absolutely heartbreaking and probably the hardest part of all. We’ve sat holding back the tears whilst they have opened their hearts to us. All we want to do is cuddle and protect them from ever being hurt again and take away their painful memories. These stories just play over and over in our minds and we have spent a few nights sobbing at the thought of what they have been through.

Finally, saying goodbye. Everywhere we have volunteered it’s always been tough saying an emotional goodbye to the children we’ve formed bonds with but Our Home is completely different, these children are our family. The past two times we’ve left have been hard enough, we dread to think how we’re going to leave them this time.

So how do we overcome these difficulties? We do what the children do and get on with it. You never hear them moaning “there’s no water” “I don’t want rice” “I’m bored” they are our biggest inspiration and motivation to get through the hard parts. Each day is a new start and we always find if we’ve had a bad day after a sleep we wake up feeling better and a positive attitude can change anything. Remember this when you’re feeling low because coming home is just as hard if not harder. You miss everything you hated, you find it so hard eating the pizza you wanted because you’re thinking of the children eating their rice and all of a sudden your ‘normal’ isn’t so normal anymore.

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Our biggest advice would be to enjoy every single minute of it. Volunteering is an amazing, life changing experience despite the fact it isn’t easy. Accept all of the bad parts and try to enjoy them the best you can, remember why you’re there. Don’t pretend to yourself and others that everything is always okay, it’s not and that’s what makes your journey. Express how you’re feeling and don’t bottle up those hard parts, embrace them.

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Life brings tears, smiles and memories. The tears dry, the smiles fade, but the memories last forever.

Backyard Cinema

Whilst travelling the world, would you believe one of the things we really enjoyed doing was checking out each country’s cinemas. Every single one we visited, from Oz to the Philippines and India, were SO much better than British cinemas. Tickets at less than a quarter of our price, a huge range of snacks all less than £1 and the quality of the  cinemas themselves were second to none.

When we returned home we were not looking forward to paying way over the odds at Vue, or sitting in a hot, stinky room at Premiere. So, when we discovered Backyard Cinema, we were overjoyed! With tickets starting from £16.50  you’re not only seeing a film, but you’re getting a fantastic experience too. The first time we visited we saw Jurassic World in an exclusive jungle themed set up, venturing deep through the jungle before taking our seats in comfy beanbags!

More recently we saw Home Alone in their Winter Night Garden extravaganza, and the set it self was like being in a movie; fairy lights, Christmas woodland, themed cocktails and blankets to snuggle with and get in the festive mood!

If you’re travelling in London we can’t recommend you visit this place enough. We’re super excited to see what ideas they come up with next! You can check out all of the packages and film screenings they offer here.

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