Whenever you travel, it’s somewhat expected that you’ll head straight to the major tourist attractions at your destination. As a travel blogger, those expectations are even higher, as reviews are assumed from everywhere you go.
I’ve never been that way though.
Rather, I prefer (to an extent) avoiding the big sights and instead getting to know the community with which I have temporarily become a part of. I figure, by travelling this way, I am able to share and provide my peers with more honest and insightful feedback and stories.
My recent trip to Vanuatu was much the same. If I’m being honest, I actually entered the country with absolutely no expectations or great desires to visit the ‘must-see’ sites – I was there for a friends wedding, what I was seeking was simply some time to relax and get back home. Upon landing and arriving at my hotel in the South Pacific Island, I became overwhelmed with loneliness. I mentioned this trip was for a wedding, what I didn’t mention was that I was going completely alone. The rest of the wedding party were on a cruise (a phobia of the open sea meant that that wasn’t an option for me) and Henry wasn’t able to join me as he had university commitments. Honeymooning couples and families surrounded me, as did advertisements targeted at honeymooning couples and families – it became very clear that this wasn’t a common destination for the solo traveller. Alas, I still had another 5 days to go, so I sucked in my utter loneliness and owned my solo-ness as I sat at my table-for-one dinner.
It had become apparent to me that Vanuatu, similar to a lot of Australia’s neighbouring countries thrives off of the tourism that Aussie’s provide them with. How Vanuatu differed though, was that despite the exploitation, the local people were amongst some of the friendliest people I’ve ever had the pleasure to be around. Everywhere I went I was always welcomed with a huge, heart-warming smile. Despite being warned, I wasn’t harassed at all.
So what do I think of Vanuatu as a holiday destination?
Vanuatu has a lot to offer. It is probably best known for its appeal as a honeymoon island, but there is so much beyond that everyone can enjoy. My only advice would be to be mindful of the locals. While Port Vila and its immediate surrounds are very touristy and seem luxurious, Vanuatu as a country is actually one of the least developed countries in the South Pacific.
A walk I went on with a local through the village reinforced just how undeveloped Vanuatu really is. The local school had been depleted in Cyclone Pam, so classes were taught in tents, with little to no ventilation. Electricity was sparse. And employment is so limited that it’s not uncommon for family members to leave their families for months on end each year to do seasonal work in Australia.
Despite all of this though, as I walked through the village, the happy sound of children laughing filled the air. There’s something so touching about the resilience of people despite the circumstances. While my stay in Vanuatu was only short, it was incredibly moving. It reinforced my gratitude and reminded me of what’s really important – family and health. Just as I’d felt overwhelmed upon entering the country, leaving the country was much the same. While I wasn’t feeling overwhelmed by loneliness, this time I was overwhelmed by a bittersweet sadness. I was sad to leave, but felt happy, as my heart had filled with love for the boldness of the people I’d been surrounded by.