Travelling and Volunteering in Malawi: An Interview with Rory Gillett
I think many people have the dream of leaving their big city lives behind and going off to live a simpler life in a faraway country, at least for a while. But that takes courage or a set of circumstances to give you the right nudge. Today we feature an interview with Rory Gillett of Turn It To Trvl, who did just that and travelled to Malawi, and managed to combine volunteering with freelancing while experiencing the local culture and life to the full extent.
Let’s have him describe the experience in his own words.
How did you end up in Malawi?
I went to Malawi for the first time in 2015. Around February of 2014 I started looking for working opportunities abroad. I eventually applied for a position in Malawi but didn’t get it. About 6 months later I was made redundant in my job. Emailed the company, who had earlier rejected me, and informed him of my situation and he said come on out – we could benefit from your skills.
What was your first impression upon arrival in Malawi?
My first impression was ‘it’s a lot greener than I expected’. We are told Africa (this huge continent) is dusty and deprived and we think that means everywhere in Africa, which of course, isn’t the case. So, I was surprised how green it was, the roads were much better than I expected and I was hugely amazed by how welcoming the Malawians were.
How easy or difficult was it to adjust to life in a very different country from where you were born?
It was surprisingly easy. When you are made to feel welcome somewhere, any external variables don’t really matter too much. The Wi-Fi wasn’t very good, so I didn’t bother connecting the internet for about 5 days. I was just fully immersed in the experience.
One thing that was hard to adjust to, which developed overtime, was the power cuts. We had days when we wouldn’t have power for 36 hours. Usually, it was 6 hours a day. That’s frustrating when you are working in online marketing…
Is there any particularly memorable experience that stands out during your time in Africa?
I will always cherish the relationships I made. Especially, with kids I met on the beach. I stayed at a lodge for 6 months and saw these kids every day. When I left, they gave me a bracelet and I still wear it today. They just wanted to hang out, play in the lake and just cause mischief. When I had been away from the lake (Cape Maclear) and was returning by car, many kids would run after the car shouting ‘Yuri’ – close to Rory. That’s such a nice feeling to know you have impacted on several people’s lives. And I can’t wait to visit again and see if they recognize me and if I recognize them.
What kind of a traveller are you in general? Do you prefer luxury or budget travel? What kind of experiences do you prefer to spend time/money on?
I was always a budget traveler but now I have had a taste of luxury through the work I did in Malawi, I can see why it’s so much more expensive and why people like to stay and high-end lodges. I will always travel within my means.
I prefer to spend my money on experiences rather than material goods. When I went to Victoria Falls, we did the bungee and Devil’s Pool, it was expensive (for me) but I didn’t know when I’d go back so best to do whatever I could afford to do.
What are some tips for other people who would like to do something similar to what you did: move to a developing country, start freelancing etc?
Work for free. I got to Malawi by working for free (volunteering) in return for free food and accommodation. I started freelancing by working for start-ups who needed my expertise but couldn’t afford it.
Do you consider yourself settled for now? In other words, are you planning to stay in Malawi for the foreseeable future or do you already have sights on some new destination?
I left Malawi last September and am now in Europe. Figuring out which country to live in next. Certainly, not settled.
To find out more about Rory, head over to his blog: https://www.turnittotrvl.com/