A Different Kind of Travel

Sometime in high school - possibly before I even applied for my first passport - I decided that I wanted to travel for my job. At the time I planned on becoming a doctor, so I had visions of moving from country to country, providing medical care where there was none. Partway through college I decided the doctor life was not for me, but then I discovered global public health! It seemed like the perfect mix of my academic interests, my desire to help alleviate suffering, and an opportunity to explore the world. I followed that path through grad school and into the Peace Corps. Before I left for Honduras, I gave away EVERYTHING. I thought I might not ever be back to live in the US full time again, or at least not for many years.

Honduras was hard, though. Not for the obvious reasons of having to take bucket baths and getting dysentery - those are par for the course, part of the adventure. It was hard because I realized how much you give up when you live far away from your family and friends. I missed a few big events like weddings and milestone birthdays, but I also missed out on hundreds of small events like Tuesday nights spent giggling with girlfriends or Saturday morning walks with my mom. By the end of two years, I was tired of missing out on those things. And so I moved back to the US and took a job working in domestic health, where I stayed for the next 6 years. 

I loved what I did, and I loved exploring new parts of the US as I eventually settled down and made a home in Portland. But every time I traveled abroad, I felt a tug back to the international health world. And so now, here I am, finally arriving where I always thought I would be: I have a public health job that pays me to travel!

Red Red (black eyed peas with tomatoes and onions) and fried plantains
I am so, so grateful for this opportunity. And I really love the project that I'm working on in Ghana, and the fact that the field team values me enough to want to have me out there for weeks at a time! But it's a very different kind of travel than I've ever experienced. 

I made my first trip to Accra in March, and when I came home everyone asked "How was Ghana?" and I had no idea how to answer - because I spent most of it in an office, and most of the rest of it in a hotel. Yes, I went to Ghana without SEEING Ghana. I am the worst kind of traveler. But I quickly realized that when you travel for work, your time is not your own, and there is always more work to be done than there is time in country to do it.

I more or less knew this going in - I have enough friends with jobs like mine that I was under no illusions this would be anything remotely like a vacation, or even like Peace Corps. But it was still shocking to come home from a three-week trip realizing how little I'd seen or done.

I'll be traveling back to Ghana plenty over the next months and years, and of course I hope to remedy this. I've promised myself that during my next trip I'll get out of the expat haunts in Accra, get out of the city, maybe even to travel to neighboring Togo or Cote d'Ivoire and learn more about the region. But I know that the if I don't make a concerted effort to do that, it would be all too easy to spend my next trip inside the same hotel and office confines.

The one time I saw the beach. We stopped for lunch near Cape Coast between meetings. 
It's an admittedly privileged "problem" to have - I'm so busy at my job that's paying me to be in Ghana that I can't leave my nice hotel and go lay on the beach for a couple of days and drink coconuts - OH NO. And I'm really not complaining - it's a pretty sweet gig! But I would like to figure out how to get to know Ghana better on these trips - both to satisfy my own curiosity, and so that I can have the context I need to do a better job supporting the Ghanaian health system.

site visit to a primary care facility in Central Region

Do any of you business travelers have good tips for making sure you actually experience the countries that you're working in? Any Ghana recommendations? 


  1. Since you've experienced dysentery before you could pull off some convincing fraud, wait for coworkers to depart, then sneak out of the hotel for an afternoon.

  2. Whenever I travel for work, I usually fly in the weekend before so I can check out the city I am supposed to be at. My flights are already paid for by the company and it doesn't cost me any vacation days, so why not take advantage of this perk? Of course, I am responsible for my accommodations, food and whatever activities I partake in, but those costs are kept in check are rarely reach the cost of the flight itself.


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