Saturday, 30 March 2013

Canada, eh?


The great white north.

The world’s second largest country. A land bordered by the Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic oceans. A nation of Anglophones, Francophones, inukshuks and Tim Hortons.


The land of my forefathers.

My grandfather’s home, my own home for three unforgettable years, and a home away from home that I’ll continue to return to whenever time and budget allows.

Canada is an itch I will always need to scratch.

Ten years ago, it became our first expat home when we left the UK as Canadian permanent residents set for a life in the far reaches of the Pacific Northwest.

Several years later, we filmed our new life for the popular US television show, House Hunters International, as we settled down on the Northern Beaches of Sydney, Australia. We were given an opportunity to shoot the early scenes in Vancouver and the perfect excuse to return.

Now I’m going back.

The Canadian Tourism Commission are kindly sending me back to Canada so that I can share this breathtaking country with you once again.

Prominent bloggers from around the world will be travelling to Toronto in early June to attend one of the world’s premier travel writing conferences and, as part of this very special opportunity, some will also take part in familiarisation tours across the country.

I’ll be arriving in British Columbia in late-May to spend several days in Vancouver where I’ll sample the local cuisine, scale the heights of the local mountains, and soak up the many flavours of downtown Van. Taking a train across the province and into neighbouring Alberta, the next stop will be Jasper where I'll experience whitewater rafting, motorbike touring, and cable car rides to the peak of the alpine region. From Jasper to Winnipeg for a feast of culinary and cultural delights before travelling to Canada’s largest city, Toronto, at the end of May for TBEX, the world's largest gathering of travel bloggers, writers, and new media content creators.

But I won’t be making this trip entirely on my own.

My wife and young son will be coming with me for the beginning and end to this extraordinary trip. This is my chance to show Elliot the home of his great grandfather and the country that stole our hearts. And while I’m touring across this vast landmass, Sarah and Elliot will spend time with family and friends in Eastern Canada before we come together to enjoy a final few days in beautiful Muskoka at the heart of Ontario’s cottage country.

This will be one of those rare and memorable journeys where a writer gets to unleash his or her craft and show you a country through their own eyes. It’s a golden opportunity for me to indulge my passion for this superb country and a chance to show you exactly why it means so much to me and to many others like me.

I want you to see the real Canada from the ground up – the sights, the sounds, the people, the wildlife, the wilderness, the jaw-dropping beauty. I want to show you the country that continues to take my breath away and the country where my expat and travel adventures first began back in 2003.

My Canadian experience begins on the 18th of May and, here on ISOALLO, I hope you'll indulge me by following along.

Have you been to Canada? Are you a Canadian or an expat in Canada? Tell me what you think makes Canada a great place to see.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

That One Defining Moment

If I hadn’t been in that place, on that day, at that time.

Looking back on ten years of living abroad, I wonder what the turning point was that led to this life. What was the trigger or event that led to the decision to travel, explore the world, and live in countries far removed from my own?

Life is full of defining moments, of turning points that pivot us in unanticipated directions. What was my own defining moment? Or was there a series of moments cascading into one not unlike a row of dominoes toppling over?

Was it the time I looked ahead to my impending university life and to the gap year that would surely come before my studies? I remember picking up a travel magazine in a newsagents and gazing intently at the array of travel options in front of me. I dreamed of backpacking through Asia, spending six months working in Australia, and even partaking in one of those innovative tours from Australia to China. I visualised treks in New Zealand then North America, eventually returning home as the long lost voyager. I'd ultimately do none of these things, my sensible side choosing academia over adventure.

Photo credit: Judy van der Velden (Flickr Creative Commons)

Was it before then when the French teacher at sixth form college suggested a degree in European Studies? Did she inadvertently pique my curiosity in living abroad by recommending a course that would set me up as a bureaucrat in Brussels? An innocent nudge towards a career in Europe and suddenly expat life beckons.

Or was it earlier than this? The school exchange I went on to Normandy, France as a fifteen year old boy. Living with a French family, meeting local students, experiencing diverse food, soaking up the Francophone culture. Did my interest in foreign places and people start with a childhood visit to the Continent?

Or earlier still? The day my grandmother whisked me off to the Black Forest region to meet my Canadian relatives based in Germany with the Air Force. During two weeks away from the UK, a door was unlocked. I walked into unfamiliar territory where the residents spoke a mother tongue I couldn't comprehend. The Schwarzwald was a land of fairytale castles and ancient forests where a skinny young English boy quickly discovered how jaw-droppingly beautiful this world could be. One unique experience as a youngster which may have set in motion a passion for travel, growing and expanding like a snowball tumbling down a hill.

I'm certain these experiences framed who I am and led me to a certain point, but the pivotal experience occurred in a less exotic environment. It wasn’t a moment when the light bulb went on in my head and I suddenly knew it was time to ship out and move overseas, but a point in time when my world changed and when it dawned on me that life as I knew it would never be the same again.

It was the year 2000, on an evening like any other, as I headed over to my local gym. After a light work-out, I bumped into a friend in the corridor. As we caught-up, a pretty girl and her friend interrupted us to ask a question about the gym. Two girls, one quite different accent.

I’m a believer in fate. Things happen for a reason. And in that gym corridor on that average midweek night, I’d just met my wife.

Vivacious and bubbly with an infectious smile, she was the chalk to the cheese of my English reservedness. Full of the energy of life – enthusiastic, passionate, highly motivated – at a young age, she'd already grabbed life by the horns and wrestled it from one continent to the next, from the east coast of Australia to the east coast of the US, from east on to west, then across the pond to the UK.

I’d been waiting patiently for her my entire life.

She freed me from the shackles of my comfort zone and encouraged me to look at life with eyes wide open. She wasn’t solely responsible for the decisions and life changes that soon followed but, without her, they simply wouldn’t have been made. We were instant partners and soul mates with a common purpose and outlook on life.

Thirteen years later, after six years of marriage, three houses on three continents, two dogs and finally our beloved infant son.

On Saturday, we'll celebrate the sixth anniversary of our marriage to each other but this year's celebration will be for so much more than just that. We will celebrate our life together, our achievements, our incredible journey and the miracle that is our sweet darling boy.

There was only ever one catalyst for this life, only ever one defining moment that started it all. I may have been hardwired deep down for overseas adventure, but this one person was the spark that changed it all.

If I hadn’t joined that gym. If I hadn’t trained that night. If I hadn’t bumped into my friend. If she hadn’t walked through those doors.

That gym on that day at that time.

That girl.

That one defining moment.

Did you have a defining moment which led to moving overseas? What was the turning point that made you decide to leave?

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Friday, 8 March 2013

The Great Australian Airfare Rip-off

Here in Australia on his annual holiday, my wife's uncle told me about the growing number of deals to be found in the UK when booking a return flight from London to Sydney.

"So what's a typical airfare with one of these deals?" I asked him, knowing full well that long-haul airfares have been on the increase for some time both here and there.

"Well, I received an email just last week promoting return flights to Sydney for less than £700."

I did the conversion in my head. £700 was roughly equivalent to $1,000 AUD. $1,000 AUD! I couldn't book a flight from Sydney to London for anything less than $1,500 on a good day. I might be able to find a cheaper flight but I'd stop over in nine countries and it would take me four weeks to get there.

Photo credit: Milolovitch69 (Flickr Creative Commons)

I decided to investigate further online and found one reputable airline advertising direct economy flights from London to Sydney for £796 during the English summer, while a rival airline had return flights to Sydney priced at a mere £681. Granted, these flights were scheduled for a time of year when the Aussie winter would be in full swing but, nonetheless, it represented a huge contrast to the airline fares advertised in Australia for that same travel period.

A search on the Australian arm of Expedia for similar flights but this time from Sydney to London revealed an average price of $2,000 or about £1,350. Deal or no deal, this was a significant discrepancy and one with no accompanying explanation as to the reason for the vast price differences.

I asked my wife's uncle to try booking a pair of Sydney to London tickets from the UK in an attempt to take advantage of the lower fares, but the online booking systems wouldn't allow it. What about a one-way flight from Sydney to London, then a return ticket to Sydney taking advantage of the lower prices in the UK, and we'd then save the additional leg back to London for a future visit? Again, no joy. The price of a single ticket was almost as expensive as the full return ticket.

I was beginning to sense a conspiracy.

Having lived in Australia for a number of years, airfares have always been something of a bugbear for me. It's financially punitive enough trying to fly back to see loved ones from the other side of the world, but no-one wants to feel blatantly ripped-off. So why is it costing more for us to fly long-haul from Australia than for people coming the other way?

I've lived in Canada and experienced fairly consistent flight pricing between there and the UK - and vice versa. Ditto for the US. Double ditto for pretty much anywhere else I've lived in or have travelled to. I get it that the cost of most things in Australia, especially in Sydney, has been on the rise for years. From books to house prices, movie tickets to car parking, it's not hard to see why Australia has become one of the most expensive countries in the world to live in. I suppose that's the price you pay (no pun intended) for living in a country where the robust economy continues to buck the trend of poorly performing financial systems elsewhere.

But when it comes to flying home, and with no other available option, you can't help but feel overcharged and short-changed at the recurring sight of these exorbitant airfares when compared to the prices that folks are paying back in the UK. And this peculiar pricing framework doesn't discriminate because you'll pay just as much in the off-season as you will during the peak times of the year.

The airlines are for the most part silent on the issue. When it appears in the media, there's no response or explanation. The gross inconsistency in airfares here seems to exist because that's the way things are and the way they intend for them to stay.

It's accepted that airlines can do whatever they want to do and, as long as Australia-based Brits need to travel back to the UK regularly, they'll keep charging you what they like, when they like, and without any excuse. Which means that, for the foreseeable future, flying to Britain will remain financially painful yet unavoidably necessary for expats living in Australia.

Is this a problem you’ve found? How did you get around it? Do you think those of us here in Australia should pay the same as the rest of the world for long-haul flights? 

This article appeared in the Weekly World edition of the Telegraph (Issue 1, 133, April 10-16).

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Friday, 1 March 2013

The Expat, the Writer, the Worker

Are we inspired to do things we wouldn't normally do because we live abroad? Are we driven to increased creativity because of where we now call home?

Some people might say that travelling overseas and living abroad changes us. That moving away from our country of origin unlocks something inside that brings out the explorer - we yearn to get out there and see unusual sights, sample exotic foods, meet interesting people, and explore where, previously, we would have stayed indoors.

I wonder if living overseas unlocks another door.

As explorers, we consider options that we wouldn't have considered before, that may have been hidden in our previous lives. We see new possibilities and we spend time investigating avenues that once were disregarded out of hand. We encourage skills that lay dormant and we look at opportunities through a different lens - the lens of a traveller, the lens of an expat.

For some, it can mean bringing out the entrepreneur from within. For others, it's about working cleverly and innovatively in a way that suits the lifestyle best - working virtually as a consultant, coach, translator, graphic designer or social media guru. When we're away, we might start to identify with less traditional roles or we simply think about work differently.

Whatever the role or skill set, it seems to me that the life of an expat or traveller (or someone whose world revolves around their unique lifestyle) is a life that somehow encourages us to try careers or projects or ways of working that we wouldn't have tried in the place we left behind.

In my case, living abroad brought out a desire to work intelligently and to write.

Photo credit: Spaceamoeba (Flickr Creative Commons)

It wasn't always this way for me

In the UK, work was work.

Career was the be all and end all, job status and title was king. I commuted, I worked, I commuted some more. I asked no questions, never challenged what I did. It was all that I knew and I was happy to settle.

For a while.

I don't remember a specific time at which I had the urge to explore work in a different light or to write with passion - not in my work or in my private life. I worked in the office, drafted letters, sent emails, created reports and presentations, fact sheets and templates. It was routine stuff and not particularly inspiring.

And I didn't have that much to write about. With a handful of travel experiences under my belt, I had no real motivation to share.

I needed inspiration. I needed something different.

Living abroad changed me

I suddenly wanted to share my stories of life overseas. It started with a blog, led to articles and interviews, guest posts and features, eventually culminating with a decision to write on a regular basis.

There was something about the grand adventure of living in a foreign country, a sense of being able to give almost anything a go, and the realisation that after going through this much emotion and upheaval, I was capable of more. This finally gave me the motivation I was secretly looking for to dabble in writing about my life and consider options for truly embracing my expat lifestyle.

I'm currently going through a major transition process.

I'm working with the team at Global Niche to understand how I can be passionate about my life and my work- and how this could look on a full-time basis. What is my niche, how can I build on what I've already done, and how can I share my value on a broader, international scale? Two weeks in and I like what I've seen from this community of globally-minded people working hard to create location-independent lives.>

I'm also writing fiction.

Since last year, I've been part of the #38Write workshop series designed for place-passionate writers around the world. I'm writing fiction, I'm developing storylines, and I have several novel ideas that I'm working to develop. It feels good to say that I'm finally writing in a particular niche that fits me.

We're two months into 2013 and this week has already seen a flurry of unexpected offers that have left me chomping at the bit and eager to share.

Call it karma or basic fate, I'm starting to believe that if I hadn't made such a monumental shift to my life back in 2003, then I wouldn't be sitting here writing this down right now.

The truth about expats and travellers

The thing is this. Expats and travellers have undergone a massive life change - and generally they were well up for it.

They've taken calculated risks and tried something radically different. On the whole, they're not risk averse, they're not especially hesitant, and they've demonstrated a desire to embrace change.

The day I moved abroad I made a statement: I wasn't afraid to step outside my comfort zone. I was available for opportunities and game for trying new things. For me, it was only a matter of time before I documented this journey and I feel that expat life was wholly conducive to this. This blog gave me a means to share and, with it, ignited a deeply held passion for the written word and for seizing opportunity wherever it lay.

And I'm hooked.

Look across the online world and you'll see thousands of people like me who are also hooked. A world of bloggers and global nomads sharing their stories, engaging in virtual conversation about overseas travel and expatism, while constantly innovating and experimenting with their working lives.

It's exciting to watch and even more so to be a part of.

Has living abroad nurtured your creative and entrepreneurial side? What are you doing now that you couldn't have imagined doing before?

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