Things I’d forgotten about the UK

It’s funny how quickly you adapt to your surroundings. I never realised just how quickly until I returned home from two years living in Canada. There are the obvious differences  between the two countries such as the accent, or driving on the other side of the road and there were more subtle differences such as the overall happiness and politeness of the people.

However, you find yourself becoming more and more accustomed to the differences without even noticing. In fact you after a while you start forgetting your everyday routine from home and adapting to your new life.  For example, I got into the habit of saying ‘for sure!’ at the end of every sentence or not looking in both directions while crossing the road as I knew that the cars would stop for me!

But over the few months I have been back in Shropshire there have been a few things that make me go.. ‘Oh! I’d completely forgotten about that!’ For example:

Switches on Sockets

black socket on white switch besides white socket converter

Photo by Markus Spiske temporausch.com on Pexels.com

The amount of times I have put my phone or tablet on charge, walked away for an hour or two and returned to find my tech with even less battery than before is outstanding. All because I keep forgetting to flick the switch on. With North American sockets you simply pop the plug and you are good to go whereas here in the UK you have to turn it on too.

Pennies

cash coins money pattern

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The penny was eliminated in Canada in 2013 and what a good idea it was, the smallest coin is for 5 cents. I went two years without having largely unused coins in my wallet and it was a delight. I’m trying not to amass them now I’m back in the UK but there are already a few jingling away. I would definitely sign a petition to get rid of the 1p and 2p pieces.

Having to pay for carrier bags

The UK introduced the 5p bag charge for plastic bags in 2015. There was about a year of this before I left for Canada where for the most part there is no charge for them. In fact they were quite liberal with giving plastic bags away at the grocery store. In Canadian supermarkets they tend to pack your bags for you (something I never got used to, but did enjoy) and when packing they would often double bag items or only put a few in each bag. I do keep forgetting my bags on the way to the store but am enjoying using less plastic.

People don’t stop for pedestrians

busy downtownThis one has nearly got me run over a few times. I always look both ways before crossing the road but here in the UK I find myself being extra cautious as cars are far less likely to stop and let you cross… even when they legally should. Whereas Canada, for the most part, was extremely pedestrian friendly, stopping even in places they didn’t have to!

There are People everywhere

Birmingham Grand Central

Canada is huge with an area of 9,985 million km²  and a population of 36.71 million  (2017), whereas the UK has an area of 242,495 km² but has 66.02 million people crammed into it. Before moving I never noticed that there were people everywhere and it’s been quite unusual to walk through town now thinking ‘where have all these people come from?’ At first I just thought it was because it was Christmas and everyone was out doing their festive shopping. But it seems to be busy and bustling no matter where I go. 

You can’t buy huge jars of salsa

I just assumed that on my return I could continue to consume salsa in the same volume that I had been in Canada. With fajitas, crisps, tacos, in wraps… it was putting it on everything. In fact I bought a container the same size as a 4 pint milk carton full of the stuff and indulged. If any Brits know where I can bulk buy salsa please let me know!!!

It’s great to be back and rediscovering all the things that have changed and all the things that have remained the same.  I’m hoping that eventually my brain will reconnect that to drive I need to go to the the right hand side of the car. And you never know I many even find a jar of salsa the size of my head!
Have you ever lived away from home and things have changed on your return? Let me know in the comments below. Thanks for stopping by my blog… if you like it give it a little share, like or comment!

How to Prepare for a Long-Term Trip

Yay you’ve decided to take the plunge and do some long term travelling! But what next? Planning a long-term trip takes more than time than your average holiday. When planning our two-year working holiday to Canada I found each week that there was a new thing I’d forgotten to sort out. Everything from where my goldfish were going to live (thanks Matt’s parents!) to contacting the student loans company (boooo!) needed to be considered. In fact, by the time I’d finished all the boring paperwork and logistics I was well and truly ready for the adventure!

So, I thought I’d share a few tips to help the run up to your next holiday go smoothly. At this point you’ve chosen your destination/s, here’s what to do next:

Save, Save, Save

You will always need and will never have enough to do everything so save as much as you possibly can. You don’t want to be heading out in debt so tackle that first. Matt and I would put a certain amount into our savings on payday and would never touch it. There are many ways you can save before you go and whilst it may be difficult the rewards will be beyond worth it!

Check the validity of your passport

No one wants a last-minute dash to the passport office to get a new passport. It not only costs money but also wastes time you could be spending with friends and family. Some countries require your passport to run for a certain amount of time past the validity of your visa so check before you leave.

Get rid of stuff

I found that coming on a longer-term trip has taught me that we all have too much stuff. There are many things that are packed away in boxes back in the UK that I haven’t even thought about over the past 15 months. So, start getting rid of stuff you haven’t used, its pretty cathartic. My sister came around and raided my wardrobe and DVD collection and I have a feeling she’ll be keeping most of it. But after not even thinking about most of it, I think I’ll be ok with less things.

Donate or sell

Now this one ties in with getting rid of stuff and saving money. If you have things that are worth anything it might be worth selling them to put money in the savings pot. Matt sold some of his childhood collectables and whilst he didn’t make millions, he did get rid of some old plastic toys in exchange for something we actually needed. So, head over to ebay, schpock, or facebook buy and sell groups to make some extra pennies. Even better go to a car boot sale.

Secure your home

What to do with your existing home before the big trip is usually the hardest decision. Do you leave it empty and get a friend or relative to check in? Do you rent it out? Do you get house-sitters? Take the time to consider you options and figure out what is best for you. If you have pets a house-sitter is a great option as you can save on pet care. Don’t forget to give yourself plenty of time to complete this step.

Notify your bank

This is a must do and I cannot stress this enough. You do NOT want to be left with no cash supply. So take the time to pop into your local bank and mark your account with the countries you intend to visit. If you are visiting more than one country tell them this. Any unusual activity on your account can cause it to be frozen and calling home from a foreign country to sort it out can cost £££. It’s happened to me so it’s a mistake I won’t be making again!

Contact Student Loans Company

This one you only need to do if you’ve taken out a student loan and still have to pay it off. If you don’t drop them a line they charge your account a default amount, which can be much more than you would usually pay. To avoid this, you can nominate someone to be in charge of your account before you leave. Now unfortunately this does not mean that they pay, it just means that they can be your point of contact, so saves expensive phone calls. After being abroad for 3 months you must fill out an Overseas Assessment Form and return it to SLC.

This information was correct at my time of travelling I am by no means an expert on the subject so please seek the correct advice before leaving.

Cancel any memberships

If you are going somewhere with no internet connection you’re not going to need your Netflix account so, get rid of it. Same goes for the gym membership you never use! Give plenty of notice when cancelling things such as car and home insurance. By doing so all paperwork will be completed and returned to you before you leave. I know it can be boring but it is necessary.

Make time to say goodbye

When you’re leaving for a long time you’ll want to say goodbye to your nearest and dearest and this can take time. Ensure you make room for everyone and schedule your diary accordingly. It can get pretty busy and expensive so also make sure you budget for this too. This is a hard part of travelling, but if you don’t leave you can’t return. I found it particularly difficult to leave without saying ‘see you soon’ after every meeting!

Hopefully these pointers will help you prepare for your journey of a lifetime. What steps did you take before leaving? Or are you off on a new adventure soon?

Should I Feel Guilty for Missing Out on Major Events Whilst Travelling?

Anyone who has travelled at some point has had to miss a major event for family or friends. Whether it be a birth, death, or marriage, life continues when you move away from home. It can be frustrating to miss out on seeing your best friend walk down the aisle or seeing a new niece come into the world, but it is an inevitability. However, I know deep down that the people involved are ok with us not being there and know that when we return we will fully celebrate their new lives with a drink or two!

It’s not just happy occasions either, you feel guilty for not being there in times of need. Not being able pop around the corner and comfort a loved one is a down side to being away from home.

Things change over time, some only slightly and some beyond recognition, I’d thought I’d share my experiences with you:

  • When we left the UK, my beautiful nephew was only 7 months old. He had just mastered the art of rolling over (although he was reluctant to show me this!) and was getting to the fun stage. I was going to miss out on seeing him develop over the next two years and for that I felt quite guilty. I missed his first Christmas and birthday, missed him walking and talking for the first time. But the wonders of technology have come to my rescue. Kids these days are amazing with technology and me and the little man love playing with different filters and talking gibberish to each other over facetime. I can’t wait to get back and introduce him to my fave Disney films whilst we do arts and crafts!
    EJ 1st birthday

    Sneaking into the celebrations

  • There has also been an addition to the family as my sister had another baby in December. Not only did I miss her entire pregnancy, but I also missed the birth of my new niece. This was the most emotional time on our trip. I am very close with my sister and would loved to have helped her more during this time (not that she needed it, she is amazing!). The news of baby’s arrival came through just as I was getting to work so I frantically got to the nearest coffee shop with WIFI to try and get hold of someone, a few teary messages were left on various social media platforms, but everyone was occupied! I had to wait until the next day to get a glimpse of my wonderful new niece. I’ll have to wait even longer to get to hold her as we won’t be returning to the UK until November when she’ll be nearly one year old.pexels-photo-266011.jpeg
  • Relationships change massively in a two-year span. When we left the UK quite a few of our close friends were in relationships, but now they are engaged or married. Unfortunately, we have had to miss not one but two weddings already. The first being just six months into our trip and for one of Matt’s oldest friends. The other more recently and again for a close friend of Matt. He deals with the missing out well (sorry guys he’s not a huge fan of weddings!) and knows that we can celebrate soon with the new Mr and Mrs. I however, love a good wedding and a boogie on the dance floor!pexels-photo-256737.jpeg
  • I am also in fact missing my own graduation. Having completed my Master’s degree last summer I am due to graduate in July. It would have been great to be able to complete the process with a picture of me in my cap and gown but logistically its just not possible. I confirmed my graduation by absentia a few weeks ago and my certificate will be arriving un-ceremonially at my parent’s house soon.
    BA Graduation

    One graduation is enough right?!?!

Luckily, we haven’t had to deal with any family deaths and I don’t know what I’d do if it did happen. The grieving process affects us all in differently ways and coping with such an event thousands of miles from home would be difficult to say the least. All I can say is keep safe and healthy guys!

Missing out on these events does teach you a few things. It makes you let go of the ‘fear of missing out’, sometimes its just not meant to be. Moreover, it makes you appreciate the moments in life you do have. Matt and I will never forget this trip and all the amazing things we’ve done along the way. I look forward to returning home and seeing all the changes. Its going to be a whole new adventure.

Have you ever had to miss a major event due to travelling? How do you cope in these situations?

A-Z Travels : H is for House sitting : Pros and Cons

House sitting is when a person is leaving their home for a period of time and they entrust their home and usually pets to ‘house sitters’. The home owners can travel knowing their home and pets are happy, safe and well looked after and the sitters get to stay in the home free of charge (usually!), it’s a mutually beneficial agreement.

There is a lot written about house and pet sitting across the internet, it is not a new phenomenon by a long shot, however, with the help of the internet it has become more prominent. Assignments are more readily advertised through various websites making it easy for anyone to start a new adventure. Furthermore, many digital nomads utilise house and pet sitting to explore the world and save money whilst earning online. It’s a wonderful way to discover unique locations whilst making new furry friends along the way.

Matt and I are by no means house sitting experts, we started properly house sitting (other than for friends and family) when we first arrived in Canada. It seemed like a fantastic way to save money whilst travelling on our two year working holiday visas. As we did not want to settle in one area for our entire stay it fitted out plans perfectly and we have been able to secure sits across the entire country, from British Columbia to Nova Scotia.

House sitting has been a fun experience for us, but it may not be for everyone. You must expect the unexpected. It’s not always an easy ride, things can go wrong; pets get ill, things get broken, and you are responsible. So, I’ve compiled a list of our personal pros and cons to help you decided if it’s for you!

Pro: You get to stay in beautiful locations

House sits are available across the world in many stunning places. We started our journey in Calgary just 45 mins from the jaw dropping Rocky Mountains and got to see views such as this:

Who could say no? We got to visit these beautiful mountains several times during our four month stay.

Con: It may not always be the location you wanted

Availability of locations varies and it’s not always guaranteed that your dream destination is always going to be obtainable. Throw in variables such as dates, length of stay and visa requirements and it can get a little confusing. However, it’s nothing a little planning and research can’t solve.

Slave Lake (1).JPG

For example, we would never have chosen to go to Slave Lake in northern Alberta but the dates suited us so we took the opportunity to visit a different location.

Pro: You get to make new furry friends

This is my favourite part, even though I’m allergic to most furry little creatures! Whilst some pets take a little longer to adapt to their new human parents, after a good walk, some treats and a few pats on the head they tend to come around. On the longer sits in particular, you become quite attached as you’ve more time to bond. Nothing beats being greeted by a wagging tail or soft purr!

(ok…this is my parents dog Billy, but I pet sit for them regularly when I am in the UK so couldn’t resist sharing a few snaps of my favourite pup dog!)

Con: confined by pet schedule

Pets like to keep to their routines. This can be anything, for example early morning get -ups, long/multiple daily walks or sharing a bed. We enjoy cat sitting as they can be more flexible than dogs. They tend to be ok being left a bit longer as they don’t need to be let out for the bathroom. Each animal is unique so make sure to check with home owners before agreeing to anything.

Pro: usually you stay for free

Matt and I only tend to apply for sits which do not require paying for bills, we feel that looking after pets in exchange for board is a fair deal. We always talk with home owners about this beforehand so there is no confusion. Occasionally, home-only assignments are listed and often these are the ones asking for bill money. To me, this is too near to renting, particularly with some of the amounts I’ve seen asked for!

Pro: enjoy the comforts of home

Things such as a sofa, fully equipped kitchen and laundry facilities can be a joy after spending time on the road. But its also the little touches such as books on shelves, photo frames and plants that make it feel far homelier than the average hotel room.

Con: you are likely to be in your location during the ‘off season’

Heading south for the winter months is incredibly popular so chances are the home owners are jetting off because of the weather and seasonal closures. For example, whilst we are currently less than twenty minutes from Peggy’s Cove, one of Nova Scotia’s top attractions, it is often too cold to go exploring. The town itself is all shut up and won’t wake up until after we’ve left the area. However, we have been able to go a few times and capture the beautiful lighthouse.

Pro: healthy lifestyle

Having a kitchen means eating out less and therefore being healthier. You can venture out to local markets to get fresh produce to prepare at home. In addition, walking the dog for at least twenty minutes a day is great for your fitness.

Its easy to start your adventure, you can sign up to any of the below websites for a small charge and get housesitting.

www.trustedhousesitters.com

www.housecarers.com

www.nomador.com

These sites are not country specific. If you have a place in mind its worth checking if there is a platform for this country. For example, we’ve used www.housesitterscanada.com

My best advice is to do your research thoroughly by asking lots of questions to make sure you are a good match. By doing so you can have an enjoyable experience, visit new places and make good friends.

Have you ever done house and pet sitting? What did you enjoy or dislike about the adventure?

Thanks for joining me again for A-Z Travels next week is going to be J for Joffre Lakes, a stunning provincial park in British Columbia. Happy Travels 🙂

A Tale of Two NYE House sits

Last week I shared my experiences of house sitting at Christmas, you can check it out here (A Tale of Two Christmas Housesits). So, naturally the second part of A Tale of Two House sits leads to how I spent New Years Eve. I’m not a massive fan of the evening, it often disappoints as you spend most of the night trailing around bars and pubs trying to find a place to comfortably stand. Therefore, the past few years have been spent in the company of family either playing games, messing around with glow sticks or dancing in our onesies.

As Matt and I have spent our winters in Canada pet and house sitting this has presented fresh challenges for our new years celebrations. We no longer only have ourselves to think of, we had a variety of furry friends too.  I thought I’d share our stories of how we rang in the new year during our winter assignments.

There are a few things to consider when looking after pets and house sitting at new years, for example, are there going to the fireworks locally? Is the pet happy being left alone at night? Are you going to be able to get back in time, battling traffic after the celebrations? These considerations have led to two very different evenings.

I was worried about fireworks when looking after a fourteen-year dog last year in Calgary. What if the shock of the noise tipped her over the edge? Even though I was pretty sure she was at least partially deaf it was something I was worried about. However, after discussing Guy Fawkes and Bonfire night with colleagues it became apparent that fireworks are illegal within the city limits of Calgary.  Excellent I thought, one worry out-of-the-way.

The next thing was leaving her at night. Again, we struck lucky, as she didn’t mind being alone for a few hours. She slept for ninety percent of day, she is 98 in human years after all! Even more of a bonus was the fact that the property was equipped with a doggy door, therefore she could freely go out for bathroom breaks without having to wait for us humans to open the door.

With these two worries out-of-the-way we got planning. Neither of us being big party-people we planned to go for food and to an ice hockey game. The Calgary Flames were playing the Arizona Coyotes at the Scotiabank Saddledome downtown so my next task was finding parking in the city. Once again luck was on our side and I found a restaurant that was not only a five-minute walk away from the Saddledome but that also provided free parking for patrons going to the game. And this is for every single game not just for New Years Eve.

The restaurant, Naina’s Kitchen,  came onto my radar after finding it on a ‘You gotta eat here’ list.  Guy Fieri’s suggestions are usually great Mom and Pop places filled with good hearty food smothered in cheese. Naina’s did not disappoint in the slightest.  Their specialty is stuffed burgers that you could put anything inside. I went for a cheese burger stuffed with bacon, grilled onion, BBQ sauce and cheese with a side of fries. It was so good we went back again when I had a poutine stuffed burger!

The game finished before midnight so we headed back home, through the snow, to bring the new year in with the dog. It was a great way to celebrate our first few months in Canada.

Fast forward to this year and our situation is slightly different. We are located forty-minutes from downtown with no access to transit. Furthermore, we are looking after an energetic dog who requires a lot more attention.  Therefore, we decided to split the day, Matt and I would spend the morning hiking and I would head downtown with a work friend to catch a local band on the evening.

What was unexpected was the cold. It was -12 degrees with a real feel of -20 degrees. So, we ventured twenty-minutes down the road to Polly’s Cove, a nice short trail with excellent coastal views. I’ll be doing another post on the trail at some point so make sure you keep an eye out for it. Needing to warm up we went to Upper Tantallon (a small community on the Lighthouse Route) to have hot chocolate at an old converted train station café, Bike and Bean. If you like to cycle this place is not only a café but also bike shop and the start of a great trail.

The hot chocolate was eagerly enjoyed and we headed back, stopping along the way to look at the ice covered sea.

Now I know it may seem unusual for a couple not to spend new year’s together, but Matt was not bothered by going out and therefore willingly agreed to stay in with the dog while I went downtown.  A friend and I had a drink in a pub on Argyle Street, The Loose Cannon, as we were trying to time it just right to be able to see A Tribe Called Red (a Canadian electronic group who mix several genres with First Nations music). Unfortunately, the cold struck and we chickened out thirty minutes before midnight and headed home. Just as we were driving past the square, the band came on so we rolled down the windows and were able to catch thirty seconds of the headliners.  Not a bad night at all, despite being beaten by the Canadian weather twice in one day!

Leaving early did mean when midnight struck I was driving home. However, many of the communities along the road home were setting off fireworks which I was able to enjoy from the warmth of my trusty Dodge.

Hope you all had lovely evenings. Where and how did you bring in the new year??

A Tale of Two Christmas Housesits

Hopefully you all had a lovely Christmas day, filled with family, food and festivities. I for one am suitably full of turkey, pigs in blankets and chocolate. For Matt and I it was our second Christmas away from home and all its comforts. All family and friends know how much I love Christmas, from the food to the decorations to buying the perfect gifts, so being away from home has its challenges.

We have been fortunate enough to secure two fantastic long-term winter housesits for our Canadian adventure, one in snowy Calgary, Alberta looking after a beautiful 14 year old sheltie and this year in coastal Halifax, Nova Scotia, looking after an energetic dog and two cats. They have provided us with unique experiences and ones we will treasure forever.

 

As ever, the time between Christmas day and New Years Eve often leads to one reflecting on the year that has just passed. Today I’d thought I’d reflect on our two Canadian Christmas’ and how they’re different from home.

Housesitting at Christmas can be unusual, you are not in your natural environment and doing your traditional Christmas routine, whether it be going to your local pub or putting up the same decorations each year. This was most apparent last year when we sat for a gentleman who escaped to Mexico each winter and as a result didn’t have a Christmas tree. This was a struggle for me as I love to make my own decorations to add to my home each year. Knowing we were travelling around in the summer meant that we were reluctant to invest in anything too large. So, a trip to the dollar store resulted in a 20cm plastic tree and some snowflakes to make me feel a bit better.

christmas tree ns

This year, however, has felt more festive. The homeowners don’t go away every year and were kind enough to let us put up their gorgeous tree and fill it with their traditional baubles and tinsel.  Far more festive!

Not being in your normal surroundings leads me onto food. Canada may not seem that different from the UK, but many things we love at Christmas are not over here.

 

For us Brits the prospect of Christmas dinner without pigs in blankets (bacon wrapped sausages, NOT pastry) is an outrage. I attempted to make my own in lieu of classic Marks and Spencers ones.  Last years effort was awful as the bacon didn’t stay on my sausages, mostly due to the fact they were constructed after bucks fizz and half a bottle of wine. This year I prepared in advance and they were top notch. My other favourite is honey-roasted parsnips. Calgary seemed to be in a parsnip drought and I had to go to four stores before I found my favourite veggie. This year two stores in and I found a pack of four for $4 (£2.40!!) I didn’t care that they were much cheaper at home as tradition is tradition and I was having my parsnips!

 

 

As for Matt instead of going to the local pub he filled the fridge with local craft beers and was quite happy.

One of the major differences is the weather we have had during our winter housesitting. Last year we were walking in fresh, fluffy snow, whereas yesterday we ventured out in the freezing sleet (which was, believe it or not, the nicest part of the day!). It was fantastic to have a proper white Christmas, which never happens in the UK. It meant we could make snow angels and attempt a snowman.

 

However, the winter weather can also bring along some unexpected moments. Yesterday, just as I was about the press play on Chicken Run, the power went out! For over five hours we sat without power as Halifax endured 110km/hr winds resulting in falling trees and power lines. Luckily, the turkey was all cooked and everyone at home had been video called. Furthermore, we had an abundance of torches from our summer camping and a few tealights to keep us going.  As a housesitter its always a worry when things like this happen, but there has been no damage to the house and all animals are safe and warm. It has given us truly unique experience we will never forget!

 

 

The most important thing at Christmas is friends and family. For me this is the hardest part of being away. As Calgary was eight hours behind we scheduled video time in advance so no one missed out. This year being only four hours behind meant we got even more time with our loved ones. My family has been growing thanks to my beautiful sister and this year was the first for my brand-new niece (born just days before Christmas) and last year was the first for my gorgeous nephew. Technology has meant I didn’t have to miss these special moments, as I was propped up the Christmas dinner table on the iPad. Later in the day we called Matt’s family to complete the family tradition of the Radio Times quiz. This year was tough as we haven’t been able to watch good British TV for over a year, so we had to guess quite a few.

Whilst I have thoroughly loved our Canadian winter experiences, I am looking forward to a good British Christmas next year! I hope you all had a fantastic day yesterday and wish you all a happy new year.