One Wedding and a Funeral

In the space of a month I went to two of the biggest occasions that result in the reunion of many families, especially those that are spread out across a country or across the world, a wedding and a funeral. Neither of which were actually for my direct family at all, but rather I was lucky enough to be allowed in on these special, very personal occasions.

Taking the time out to go for a long weekend in Germany for a close family friend just under 2 weeks before leaving the country was probably one of the most stressful occasions in the run up to leaving home. Having nightmare issues with my India visa and not feeling anywhere near confident that my passport was going to be back in time to even get to Germany my hair was starting to feel like it might turn grey very quickly. I’d also panicked in the back of my mind that it might be just a bit too much, too close, but I knew my mum was really keen to go and felt bad if I didn’t go with her. So despite my own misgivings about the dates I told my mum to sign me up and booked our flights! And despite a last minute stress at London Luton airport that we were going to miss our flight we made it on board and had a fantastic weekend. I’m glad I went despite my original misgivings, we had fun, drank too much and I got to spend some quality time with my mum!

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On arriving in Canada the family friends I am staying with were in the process of organising a memorial, celebration of life, for Lib’s mum who had passed away 4 days after her grandmother. You can’t make these stories up. It’s fascinating to watch the scenarios that occur as all the members of the family descend for this one day. The stress of hoping it will turn out all right and the relief when no one says anything they’re not supposed to and it all goes relatively smoothly. As a friend of the family it was interesting to sit back and watch all the different dynamics and despite people saying they were fine and they didn’t need so and so on the day the realisation dawned that they actually did. It also reenforced the idea that no matter what ‘family is family’ you can’t always live with them but you can’t live without them.

It’s also made me gutted that I am not at home this summer for family weddings of my own that I am not able to attend. Being away for an extended period of times aloes you to createsome great memories and visit fantastic locations but you miss out on the memory making moments of those close to you. And I especially love a good wedding!

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Parades, patriotism and parties!

I currently have no plans to defect from my dear home country of the United Kingdom, despite it’s often stereotypical rainy, grey, dull weather and many peoples beliefs that we are not always the most friendly of bunch it is still for me where I want to call home. However despite only being away so far for two and a bit weeks there are a few things I have come across that have led me to believe Canada is doing it right. Having finally had an opportunity to celebrate a foreign national holiday in its own country a large part of this post has bee inspired by that said day.

The few times Canada so far has trumped the UK:

1. The first is kind of obvious as it’s what we often seem to be lacking in the UK, highlighted recently as we bombed out of the World Cup, patriotism and pride. Canada I found out on Tuesday 1 July just turned 147 years old. Maybe it’s its historical youth but people here even in the relatively small town of Jasper love their country and their town. They hadn’t won anything, they weren’t attempting to win anything but for the whole day the town was awash with people in red and white combos, faces painted, hat wearing, flag wearing the town was covered! You looked a little odd and stood out just a bit if you weren’t wearing red and white! And everyone sang their national anthem during the flag raising ceremony.

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2. Parades. To further highlight the above, after the official flag raising and speeches and serving to the crowd pieces do white and red birthday cake the town was then taken over by its annual parade, que even more red and white, giant bubble blowers, confetti, flags, sweets and balloons. Virtually every single community outlet, large company, tourist attraction (and the mayor) was in the parade from a simple truck to floats bedecked with bears (unfortunately, no that’s not conservation minded of me at all, fortunately, they weren’t real ones!).

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3. And how in Canada do they finish a day like that off, they throw a bloody big firework display and have a party! Kind of obvious really. And it’s not just piddly little fireworks it’s great big whoppers that went on for forever (no exaggeration obviously). Not necessarily to everyone’s taste but it sure was good. Then everyone who hasn’t already drunk to much goes and drinks some more.

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4. Weather and scenery; apparently slightly out of character for this area of the Rockys, I have so far been blessed with glorious sunshine and heat pretty continuously, long may it continue! And get to wake up everyday to snow topped mountains, raft in rivers, trail ride through forests on the stables doorstep and even visit the odd lake beach. Hang on a minute maybe I don’t want to come home!?

5. And finally, this is a little two sided, but back home I always buy 2for1 offers drawn in by a saving and then often never use it all or get fed up of it after a while. Here if something’s on
sale offer but you only want one, you just pay half of the 2for1 type sale price. Bargain! However the down side of the food shops here, my favourite food, cheese, costs a million bucks and isn’t so great or you can buy something decent from a deli and pretty much kill anything left of your bank account.

Visas: the good (the bad and the ugly) – Part1

The bane of any trip, whether long or short term is generally in the planning or the admin. Other than trying to plan a route and buy plane tickets for the cheapest price possible (my recommendation is monmondo.com) the biggest hurdle to cross we’ve found so far is visa applications!

So starting with the good, Vietnam! If you’re planning a trip here currently the visa process is pretty dam simple, especially if you’re happy to do a bit of it online and pay a little bit more. Despite their website saying you could only apply six months in advance of your trip one email to the embassy later and we had been told we could apply whenever,

Me

I noticed in your email that it says you can apply for a visa 6 months before traveling. I will land in Vietnam on 4 January 2015 but wanted to apply for my visa now as I will be travelling before landing in Vietnam, so won’t be able to apply for the visa in the UK 6 months before I land. Am I alright to submit my application now anyway? Or can you recommend an alternative?

Reply

You can apply for visa now.

And it was as straight forward as that, one scanned A4 form later, a bank transfer and a copy of my passport. Three days later we went into London, queued for about 15/20 minutes tops and had our first visa in the passports. Yay, so we took the rest of the afternoon to shop and drink cocktails :D. Our total cost for the visa was about £60 excluding travel expenses to collect. The only real downside of the process is the embassy is only open in the mornings and on weekdays. They also seem to have a lot of bank holidays, they close for UK and Vietnamese holidays.

Other very straightforward countries for UK citizens/passport holders; Australia, if you’re not planning on working you can do a pretty simple online form and they mail you what you need to print out, I think it was sorted in a matter of days. New Zealand, if your not planning on working it’s basically all sorted on arrival and Canada is again stamped on arrival. I was majorly concerned coming to canada for 3 and half months with no plans to work and no work visa as it is quite easy for them to assume I’ll try to work anyway, but I was asked all of about 3 questions, 1: where are you staying 2. Who are you staying with? 3. How are you getting there? I was so nervous and so over prepared just for that. I was in shock at how simple it had been as I stood waiting for my rucksack to appear.

**Please note these are only my experiences and visa requirements for individual countries change quickly and with little notice, make sure you check with your local embassy for full details**

Outside the Vietnam embassy and with my first visa!

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Settling in!

Day 2 & 3 Thursday 19/ Friday 20 June 2014

Firstly a big shout out to my not so little brother Harry who turned 18 today, this is the first big event of the next year that I’m going to have to get used to not being around for. HAPPY BIRTHDAY though, I hope you had loads of fun and look forward to celebrating next year!

My first whole day in Canada is now complete and so far if I’m honest it feels a bit like I am just on holiday. I am missing my regular internet access already, hence these posts are already behind and coming out a bit post humorously shall we say. Fingers crossed the wifi will be back up at the house soon and I will sorted on my phone in the next week so it’ll feel a little more normal. But this is good practise for when we reach countries and connection is really bad. For today I was down at a good old internet cafe (that also couples as a launderette) to get my fix for an hour of social media and email catch up. Unfortunately it also meant I was online in time to see us loose horrifically to Uruguay in the World Cup :(. Japan however managed to secure a draw, so in terms of my sweepstake team I was much happier.

Spent the afternoon chilling out and relaxing in the garden, but don’t get to jealous, I’ve already been bitten and it’s only been one day! The biggest reminder in the world to but bug spray on first thing in the morning. I avoided one bugger by it kamikazeing itself into my glass of Chardonnay. The day was ended by a lovely meal curtsy of Greg and Libby’s friends and a few alcoholic beverages and a late night chat by the fire. I think I’m being lulled into a false sense of security as next week the real work might be starting :/

Friday saw more of the essentials happening, went food shopping, cannot believe how expensive things like cheese are here, not sure how I will survive, definitely going to have to go for in moderation only!

Attempting to be of help has led to me trying to brush up on some culinary skills, so far they’ve stretched to a tabbouleh salad, veggie kebabs and preparing humous! Not a lot but I’m a little bit proud. Oh and boiling eggs, what more could you need to know?
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Hitting the Road – Day 1 of the big adventure, Wednesday 18 June 2014

This morning was tough, as one friend aptly put it, ‘you’re probably feeling 1000 different emotions right now, but enjoy every one of them!’ I needed to receive that text, along with all the other messages of encouragement and good luck to remind myself that I was doing the right thing, however scary and horrible it felt at that moment to be leaving all my family and friends thousands of miles away. In many ways I was thankful that my mum and Christian were both heading of to work in the morning as it meant you couldn’t hang around saying goodbye for hours and my dada and brother are much better at airport drop off quick goodbyes, so I avoided any tears at the airport, which is good going for me.

I left English soil at 13.20 UK time on a 2 hour 40 minute flight to Reykjavik. I was pleasantly surprised at how smoothly it all went at the Heathrow end, and even happier that I could charge my phone and access wifi while I waited. The first part of my flight was glitch free, apart from the screaming baby a few rows back, who every time you thought had calmed down, would start up again. I have a real issue with screaming babies on planes but now probably isn’t the time to go into that. I whiled away the journey with my first celeb glossy magazine in a long time, thank you goes out to Luke, turned out to be a pretty good choice for plane reading having not managed to download a book I’m really interested in yet on my iPad.

Landing in Reykjavik I was starving so went on the standard hunt for food to accompany the rolls I’d carried from home (anyone planning on travelling with IcelandAir in the future, I highly recommend, however unless your travelling economy comfort upwards you have to pay for all your extras, pretty much like easyjet, but a bit nicer and comfier). Stopover was for all of an hour and a half and if you have a flight connection here it is a fab little airport, unlimited wifi again being a massive bonus. Leaving here it was another 6 and a half hours to reach Canada, not helped by the fact we were delayed for 45 minutes as the baggage count just wasn’t adding up. For I think the first time ever, I’d ended up with some amazing seats on the plane, turned out my row was right behind economy comfort so even though I didn’t get their perks 😦 I did get an excessively large amount of leg room! 😀 so much leg room I could travel the whole way with my legs stretched out, I didn’t feel smug in the slightest. The only downside to effect my feeling of glee was that I was right next to the toilet. Never the best spot.

Landed in Canada 6.30 their time, so my body was thinking it was 1.30am, thankfully went straight through security with absolutely no glitch at all, despite the fear from Kathryn’s mum that they might want to interrogate the hell out of me. I’d come prepared with bank documents, letters, emails, addresses etc etc and ended up not needing any of it. The journey from the airport was another 4 hours but boy were some of the views worth it!already it was reminding me why everybody at some point needs to see some of the world! Finally crashed into bed after. 24 hour travel stint – I can’t say I’m overly looking forward to some of the other journeys that are to come, but if there as easy as this one, I really shouldn’t complain!

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The Prologue: Life is what you make it

“Definition: the preface or introduction to a literary work” Merriam-Webster.com

I would hardly dare to call this writing a piece of literary work, but I see today’s blog as very much the introduction to the, what feels, very imminent traveling escapade. My last post talked about how it all came about, the practicalities in a way. This one looks at the why and goes right back to the very beginning, almost.

When I was young and care free, before starting and during the first year of university, I was adamant that I wanted to do a study abroad year. No one talked about work placements for my course (English Lit & History for anyone wondering) so study abroad was pretty much the only option. The plan was always to go away, preferably somewhere hot. A conversation with my mum went something like this:

“Mum: So where are you considering going to study abroad?
Me: Well, turns out the uni is linked to another uni in America based in California.
Mum: Oh ok cool, why is it you want to choose that one?
Me: Because I was thinking, if I went there it’s nearly always hot and sunny and nice, so I’d ultimately get an all year round tan
Mum: That’s seriously how you’re making this decision??”

I think it’s safe to say she was slightly concerned!! And as you may have guessed, I never made it to do the one thing I was at that stage adamant I would. If I’m going with excuses, life got in the way. If I’m being brutally honest, in a nut shell, it’s because I allowed myself at that age to be dissuaded and not go as some one else didn’t want me to. I promised myself I would never let feelings for a guy stop me going anywhere else ever again. Hence the following summer I completed a summer school in Germany. A fantastic experience, I would highly recommend, I met a life long friend from the other side of the world, which as allowed me to have to brilliant holidays in the USA, but it wasn’t quite the same.

So after that delve into my personal history lets fast forward to about late October 2013 roughly. After (possibly a few too many) drinks at a local pub establishment in the Hemel Hempstead area I was being walked home by a friend, when talk turned to how was life in general. I made the fatal mistake of claiming it was fine but work was stressing me out. BIG MISTAKE. Que an onslaught of your life isn’t stressful and you don’t know what it means to be stressful etc etc, which wasn’t really what I wanted to hear, but actually kind of true. The conversation was a kick up the bum/reminder, without getting to philosophical, that life is what you make it!!! I could get by and survive outside the bubble of Hemel.

As this conversation sank in and sat within my subconscious I hosted a presentation at work from the company USA Summer Camp. Images circa The Parent Trap (Lindsey Lohan version) started to go through my head and I thought maybe that would be something I’d enjoy doing/would kick start seeing the world a bit (or the Americas at least). The more I thought about it the more I thought yep that’s it, I’ll do that, just need to figure out taking 4 months off work. Until another fatal night, at another local pub, again in the Hemel Hempstead area. A trend may be emerging here. Except this time considerably less alcohol was involved, when a dear friend kindly reminded me:

“But you hate children!!”

That’s not strictly true, but in context she had a point, 24hrs a day with and looking after children was not my preferred activity here in the UK where they went back to their parents after an allotted time, so why would America make it any better? Apart from the obvious, hotter, sunnier weather! And so instead the idea to attempt to do a bit of animal conservation work and travel for a year was born. And I applied for the afore mentioned Leave of Absence. At least animals can’t talk back!

Taking the all important first steps…

Back in December 2013 I found out that my long time dream to go travelling was about to become a reality! After not taking a gap year before or after university I had started to convince myself that going to a new place each year on holiday would be fine. I would eventually get to see the whole world. However it didn’t take long for the realisation to kick in that that really wasn’t how I wanted to do it. A beach holiday somewhere hot, sandy and beautiful, followed by a few long weekend trips away with friends, possibly something family based (all of which are great and I love lots) but suddenly all your leave is gone and that dream of visiting somewhere new, exciting and culturally different for a substantial amount of time is gone with it.

So how have things now changed you may ask? If I’m honest a owe a little of it to my time working in HR; that may not be the starting point you expected. I spent 15 months in a job where I had great colleagues and friends but knew I didn’t want it to be my long term career. HR is however a great area to become familiar with everything your company has to offer you, I became highly familiar with company policy and the fact that after working for the company for so long you were able to apply for an extended leave of absence. Often used by academics for research it was also open to anyone who had a valid request and reason for wanting to take 6 months to a year out! A year after leaving HR to work with students in the university’s Careers and Placements service a lightbulb moment took place in the depth of my brain as I realised I could now apply for said Leave of Absence (LOA).

There was a few things going through my head in the run up to applying for my LOA which I will go into in another post, as with anything travel orientated, I am learning fast that things change a lot! But for now, as you have probably guessed, my request was approved just before Christmas and yes it has taken me almost 4 months to tell as many people as possible and write my first ever blog post (2014 looks set to be a year of many firsts).

I have to thank my manager at the time for her amazing support as I really was bricking it when I finally plucked up the courage to talk to her about taking a year out and of course my family for being 100% behind me as soon as I told them my ideas to go travelling, as they always are!!!

And the all important date, first flight = 18 June 2014, 1pm take off, London Heathrow to Edmonton, Canada 😀

Take off countdown: 85 days