Where the experts holiday: Hugo Chittenden aka The Volunteer

Following a near fatal illness at the age of 31, Hugo gave up his career in the city and decided to transform his life by dedicating himself to helping raise awareness, funding and support for charities and projects overseas. He has since become known as The Volunteer, volunteering and documenting projects for causes across the globe. Here Hugo shares his life in travel with Just About Travel readers

What do you like to do on holiday?
I like to volunteer on holiday. The reason being that I get to know a new culture - and often a new language and new traditions. This allows me to broaden my knowledge while having the feeling of being on holiday. At the same time I am giving some back, and doing something worthwhile with a cause and a reason attached. Also I can take some down time, to enjoy different tours, sight seeing and attractions of the country that I am visiting and volunteering in. On departure I then feel fulfilled in so many ways!

Where did you last go?
I last went to Lebanon at Christmas where I was travelling between Beirut and the Beqaa valley, volunteering in refugee camps for Syrians. Lebanon is a fascinating country - a mix match of cultures and religions in disarray - while still being the gateway to the Middle East. The problems are vast, but so are the wonders of the country from the famous Cedar trees, the vineyards and the Roman ruins to the Mediterranean Sea and all its glory.

Do you know where you’re going this year?
Yes, I am planning to go to Cuba where I want to do a challenge which involves cycling around the island for 10 days covering over 350km for charity. I have always wanted to visit Cuba and with the recent trade embargo lift I am keen to see it before it changes, as it inevitably will.

Of all the places you’ve been to, what was your favourite and why?
My favourite place is Bali, simply because it is an island where you go into a time warp which involves surfing, good food, calm people, nature and excellent weather. A place which offers the mountains of Ubud where you can relax and meditate while also offering the action of the surfing beaches of Canguu, Balangan and Uluwatu. There is also Lombok island just across the way which has some great surf, and is a even more of a step back from modernity.

Which destination do you wish to travel to, but haven’t yet been?
India: this is a country that has escaped me and which fascinates me. I realise that it is the last territory for me to discover while I still have the energy and I am just working on finding the right time to visit and experience.

In your own country, what would you recommend tourists see that isn’t in the travel guides?
I am from England, and my favourite place and where I have my fondest memories is Cornwall. I am sure it is in the tour guides however there are certain areas such as Padstow and Rock which offer the best pubs, views and fun to be had in that area. If you travel between the two of these places you can find some absolute gems.

How do you plan your holiday? (Guidebooks/website/agent/recommendations etc)
Usually I plan my holidays off the back of what someone has said at a dinner party or out and about. I do not research places or actively look for places to visit. I wait for the place to come to me, and it is usually in conversation or a story that someone tells me, which sparks the interest and then I act on it.

How often do you go away?
I travel a lot, and often for long period of time. I can't usually stay put for more than one month at one time. And this includes if I am overseas at the time. For example I have just spent the last few years in Russia, and during this time I visited Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan and of course travelled extensively through the wonderful country of Russia.

Who do you travel with?
On long travels where I am staying for long period of time, always on my own. But if it is a short break I usually travel with a friend or my girlfriend. I feel that I get much more done and I can open many more experiences when I am on my own. It has also become a bit of a habit over the years, so one gets accustomed to it.

Where do you see tourism in your country, in 10 years?
England will always be a fascinating place to visit for tourists, predominantly due to the rich history and tradition that the country offers. Although the shift of power in the world is moving east and to the emerging markets of the world, England will always be a special place for people to visit and experience the old world.

Hugo's new book Volunteering: a guide to volunteering (which includes contributions from famous figures plus a foreword from Bear Grylls and an introduction by David Cameron), is due for publication in April 2015. The book features the remarkable real-life experiences of volunteers who have chosen to widen their circle of compassion and make a difference to the lives of people around the world. Highlighting the efforts of different individuals and charities overseas that are often operating in difficult and dangerous circumstances, the book is a lesson in endurance, teamwork and humanity. From a hospital in rural Malawi to an orphanage in Eastern Europe, each chapter is as educational and inspiring as the next.The book, which aims to incite its readers to volunteer, is also full of handy tips such as "Always check your boots for mice, spiders and cockroaches before you put them on", catalytic quotes "You must be the change that you see in the world," and information that answers the who, what, why, where, and how of volunteering.