Why volunteering helped change my lifestyle for the better

Tammy on Cambodian beach

Enjoying a Cambodian beach

I love a good “changing my lfestyle” story. Tammy and Chris have a great one when they packed up and headed out for a volunteering gig. The decision was easy because “they could always go back.” But that was two years ago and they’re still out there. Enjoying life to the fullest. Here’s Tammy to tell you just how that happened:

Just eighteen months ago I was a typical UK commuter. I got up at six every morning, started my epic 1.5-hour commute to work in London, usually didn’t have time to have a proper lunch break, finished work around 6 and then did my epic commute back home again. By the time I had dinner it was 8.30 and I only managed to stay awake for another couple of hours before falling asleep completely exhausted.

I did this day in and day out for seven years. I did it because I actually really loved my job. It was interesting, fulfilling, I had fantastic colleagues and a great boss. But because of the daily commute I was constantly grumpy, tired and didn’t have any spare time to do the nice things that other people seemed to be doing all the time. It was a very stressful life and I wasn’t really happy.

getting water from a well

Getting water from a well

Fast forward1 ½ years and I am now home at 5:15 most nights and have all evening to catch up on hobbies, meet friends, or go out for dinner or drinks. I have a great job and I am genuinely happy and content with my life.

How did I make this transition and what did I change? I took a sabbatical from work, my hubby was lucky to be able to take voluntary redundancy and then we left the rat-race in London behind. We wanted to take a break, but didn’t just want to travel.

We wanted to do something meaningful that could also enhance our careers, so we decided on volunteering abroad. We found a placement in Cambodia, packed up all of our belongings into storage, rented out our house, and bought a one-way ticket to Asia.

Of course I did have some fears about leaving my job, my house, and my friends and family. A lot of people thought we were crazy to give everything up we had established over seven years. Why would anyone leave a job they like and a lovely house behind?

At one stage I doubted our decision too, but there was also a surprising number of people who encouraged us. Many said that we were still young enough to do such a thing and that we were doing what most people only dream about. I also came across more and more blogs of people who were doing similar things and all of the sudden it didn’t seem all that complicated anymore. After all, our house will still be there when we come back, so will our family and friends, and I also have a job to go back to.

with youth club in their library

With the youth club in their library

Initially we were only planning on staying in Cambodia for 6 months, but then we got offered paid jobs in the international development sector so decided to hang on for a bit longer. We loved our new-found freedom and lifestyle so much that we extended our stay again and again and again.

We have been living in Cambodia for almost two years now and have completely and utterly fallen in love with the country. We love the smiley, friendly people, the gorgeous children who are always eager to practice their English with us, and we love the country’s hidden gems off the beaten track. One of the best things about our move here is that we have a life again – a life away from delayed trains or packed tubes, but a life with the perfect synergy of working and traveling.

Looking back, our stint to Cambodia really taught me to make more of my life. Life is not all about just a career, a nice house or lots of pointless belongings. I don’t need two TVs, a car and an endless supply of kitchen gadgets. Everybody has got a dream and in my opinion everybody should follow theirs. Of course there will always be logical reasons why you shouldn’t follow your crazy dream, but I came to a point in life where, for once, I wanted to make a decision based on my heart and not my head. And I haven’t looked back since.
Tammy from Tammy & Chris on the Move blogs about her voluntary work, travels and misadventures across the globe. Follow her journey on her blog Tammy & Chris on the Move, on Twitter or on Facebook.

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

About Nancy Sathre-Vogel

After 21 years as a classroom teacher, Nancy Sathre-Vogel finally woke up and realized that life was too short to spend it all with other people's kids. She and her husband quit their jobs and, together with their twin sons, climbed aboard bicycles to see the world. They enjoyed four years cycling as a family - three of them riding from Alaska to Argentina and one exploring the USA and Mexico. Now they are back in Idaho, putting down roots, enjoying life at home, and living a different type of adventure. It's a fairly sure bet that you'll find her either writing on her computer or creating fantastical pieces with the beads she's collected all over the world.

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3 Responses to Why volunteering helped change my lifestyle for the better

  1. marquita herald June 17, 2013 at 7:32 pm #

    Oh I love this story! I’ve done a lot of volunteer work and have a few life-changing stories of my own, but I’ve never taken it to the extreme of heading to another country. Truly inspiring.

  2. TammyOnTheMove June 19, 2013 at 2:18 am #

    Thanks again for putting my guest post up Nancy. I really enjoyed writing the post! 🙂

  3. Daniel Teaching in Asia July 27, 2013 at 2:45 am #

    Tammy, nicely done. I loved reading this story. It was very touching to see someone who took life by the horns and made lemonade (or some such thing). It was a very brave thing that you did, and I’m glad you and your husband are happy in Cambodia. When I moved to Taiwan, I’d just finished university. I was in a transition period and couldn’t figure out what to do next. Waiting tables and bartending didn’t seem like viable careers with two university degrees. So I live and work Taiwan. Have to 8 years. I hope that you are as happy in Cambodia as I have been in Taiwan all these years.

    But I’m curious about the langauge… How easy is it to pick up? Or get around without it? Cambodia seems to be pretty cool, but I always like to know some of the local language before I visit a place.

    Thanks for the post, both administrator and writer! It was lovely.

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