What was most important to me in introducing this travel series was to get at the heart of the stuff that travel is really made of – not a vacation, per se, but travel as exploration, lifestyle, and experience. That can be incredibly fun, but it can also be incredibly challenging. I think it’s the challenging experiences, though, that are often the most mind-blowing and rewarding. I hope you’ll enjoy reading Catherine’s story as much as I did.
Catherine works in malaria prevention in Africa but lives in Seattle with her husband Micah, and their dog Izzy. Catherine and Micah are documenting their adventures in house building, home making and building a life together on their blog Forty20Four.
Like most people, when someone tells me they are traveling for business,
I think they are staying in a nice hotel for a few days somewhere to
attend meetings or a conference. I imagine them taking trips with a
colleague or two and being gone for a week. When I travel for work,
it’s nothing like that. About 85% of my trips are done alone and last
a minimum of two weeks but usually, more like 4-5 weeks away. I
average about 2-3 months away every year.
Traveling for my work is interesting and exciting, but can be
incredibly lonely and tiring. I am blessed to travel to countries
most people I know (outside of work) will never visit. Malawi,
Tanzania, Zambia and Ethiopia are incredibly beautiful countries with
warm people but they are places hurt by disease, poverty and
Children in at a Zambian orphanage. The kids who are raising their hands have had
malaria at least once in their lives.
I think the hardest part of my job is traveling alone. Sometimes I am
lucky and I’ll go places where I have colleagues that I already know
who invite me out and make me feel like one of their family members.
Going to Ethiopia and Zambia are a joy because my colleagues there –
my friends – are so wonderful. They bring me home with them to share
meals with their families. They call me each morning to see how I’ve
slept and offer me rides to the office even when I’m out of their way.
They make sure I see as much as their cities and countries as I can
because they are proud to share it with me.
Other times I go to places where I don’t know anyone. I am there to
problem solve or assess a situation which means I don’t spend a lot of
time making friends in the office. In those cases, I spend a lot of
time left to me own devices. I spend evenings by myself watching TV,
catching up on work or hoping to catch my husband on Skype. I don’t
often venture out alone in the evenings as it can be dangerous or
uncomfortable being a western woman out unaccompanied. You get a lot
of stares, a lot of creepy men approaching you and sometimes a lot of
hassle from street vendors depending on where you are.
When I can, I do try to explore on the weekends. It usually means
going to a museum or going shopping. If it’s safe, I’ll even take
weekend trips alone – though that has only happened twice in 4.5 years.
Earlier this year I did manage to make it to Zanzibar, which was
absolutely amazing. I got some strange looks from the hotel staff
but once they understood why I was in Zanzibar alone, they were very
accommodating and made an effort to help me plan my time there. I
hope to return to Zanzibar one day with my husband.
View from a small boat off the coast of Zanzibar
earlier this year.
This is a picture of Victoria Falls
– a side trip I took on my first trip to Zambia in 2007.
It’s gotten harder over the years because now when I travel, I leave
my husband behind. I think being married makes the trips lonelier.
It’s hard leaving your best friend and the person your share
your life with, for weeks at a time. It’s hard coming back to the
hotel and not having someone to share your day with –especially when
it’s been a particularly tough one. I’m truly lucky and blessed to
have a husband that is supportive of my career and understands that it
means me being away from home a lot. I wish I could take him with me
when I travel but he is a teacher and can’t take time off during the
We make it work though. Before I leave, my husband makes an effort to
clear his evening schedule of grading papers, so we can spend
dedicated time together. I try to do what I can to make my time away
easier for him. I stock the kitchen with food for a week or two, cook
a few meals for him, take
care of any housework that needs to be done and arrange for our dog to
go to my parents house every weekend so he has time to do lesson plans
and grade papers. Izzy, our dog, is growing out of her puppy stage,
so the weekends away aren’t as necessary as they were before. When we
first got her, she needed a lot of attention and it was hard for my
husband to get work done in the evenings.
We email daily and every Sunday connect via Skype when I’m away. With
him teaching all day and the time difference, calling during the week is
complicated. I send him pictures of the places I go and try to be as
descriptive as I can in emails. I know he loves to travel to so we
make a point to taking lots of weekend trips away during the year and
taking at least one big trip abroad. I would love for him to join me on a
work trip one day, but until then, vacations together will have to do.
With all the hardships of traveling alone, I am still so grateful for
having my job. I work on a project that does important work to
prevent malaria, I meet wonderful people, and see
places I never thought I would. And at the end of the trip, I get to
come home to a husband and dog who love me.
Community health worker in Malawi telling a little
boy he has malaria and needs to take all the medicines he’s being