Anne Smellie

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Anne has dedicated the last 10 years of her life to travel, both in the personal and the professional sense. She has worked, volunteered, backpacked and holidayed in almost 40 countries, although there are plenty more still on the bucket list!

Anne started her travel adventures with Oyster Worldwide as a volunteer at a bear sanctuary in Romania - she has not looked back since, and now manages all animal welfare volunteer projects for the organization.

What is your favorite travel memory?

Gosh that's a tough one - there are so many! If I had to choose one, I would tell you about the time that my brother and I backpacked around Myanmar (Burma).

It was 2011, and only shortly after the travel ban to the country had been lifted. We travelled to a country that westerners had not been welcome in for many years, which allowed us to have one of the most unique travel experiences I could ever imagine. Throughout our travels there, whether we were in towns or backwaters, people came up to us to say hello. Many people touched my blonde hair, asking what color that was and how it came to be that way. One man bought us a drink to thank us for coming to his country. We met monks whose temples had been attacked by the army, and who had risen up to overcome the dictatorship.

There was no internet access or phone signal, so we travelled spontaneously, unable to book anything in advance or make any plans. We travelled simply, around an exceptional country that had no other foreigners as far as the eye could see. We had incredible scenery, history, culture and cities almost all to ourselves. It is a trip that I will never forget.

What is the best story you've heard from a return student?

Several years ago, an 18 year old female contacted me wanting to go on a gap year. Her father was adamant that she would study at the London School of Economics - something that she wasn't sure that she wanted - and she managed to agree with him that she could take a gap year before committing herself to these studies.

On her gap year she travelled to Africa, working in schools, sanctuaries and research projects. She was gone for many months and really immersed herself in her new life. Upon return, she called me up in excitement to thank me for the amazing experiences on her gap year, and to tell me how much it had given her confidence and independence.

Most importantly, she told me that she now had the confidence to tell her father that she didn't want to take up her place at LSE - she instead wanted to be a nurse and work in developing areas, mainly war torn areas. This year, she graduated as a nurse. I was so moved.

If you could go on any program that your company offers, which one would you choose and why?

I love so many of our projects, so that is a really tough one! As I have already volunteered on all of my animal welfare and conservation projects, I would probably choose to do something a little bit different. I would love to go trekking in Nepal and visit Tibet - this would be an amazing experience.

What makes your company unique?

Care, commitment, passion, experience. We offer all of these to everyone that goes away with us, indeed everyone that enquires with us! Our team is absolutely wonderful, as we will always try to pull together and make a success of things. Even on the toughest days, we always manage to find a smile, a laugh, and most importantly, a biscuit and a cuppa!

What do you believe to be the biggest factor in being a successful company?

All of the people that I work with at Oyster Worldwide are passionate travelers. We have all experienced the nerves of being a first time solo traveler, nervous of the unknown. We share that journey with all of our participants, and hopefully inspire them to do more in the future. We often get repeat volunteers coming back to us, and we are really proud of that.