Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Never Stop Searching

At 23, I worked in a job going nowhere. At 25, I'd spent the best part of my early years in a place that didn't inspire me. At 27, I led a lifestyle that left me wanting for more.

By 30, I had changed it all.

In my twenties, I quickly realised I'd given up any control over my life. I only saw longing and regret stretching out before me.

I needed to take the control back.

I knew there was more to life and I wanted to discover my calling at work, home and play. I needed to go out into the wider world and find something different. Discover my true passion. Create the life that I desperately wanted to lead.

I knew I had to search for my life less ordinary.

Ten years on and I know one valuable thing. I couldn't wait for someone else to create the life I wanted for me. I had to go out there and create it for myself.

I also learnt that I could never stop searching, exploring or looking for more so I could constantly grow as a person and achieve the most from my time on this planet.

I think about and work hard to create the life I want to lead every single day. 

It's not a one-time decision or sudden flash in the pan.

I didn't move abroad to rest on my laurels once I got there. I didn't find my own tiny piece of paradise to then sit still and kick back. I didn't choose to work the way I do only to tread water without progression. I'm always searching for ways to make life better.

For me, the path to a more meaningful and fulfilling way of life rests on three key elements:
  1. Location - finding the environment that brings out the best in you, both home and away.
  2. Lifestyle - being active, healthy, with family and generally outdoors.
  3. Occupation - the job that lets you live that lifestyle and a way of working that gives you the freedom to lead the life you truly want.

I work on these areas every day to create the life I want to lead. And they are at the core of everything I write about and everything I do.

Location. Lifestyle. Occupation.

L. L. O.

Life. Less. Ordinary.

I look at where I live and whether it's still right for us. Are we connected to, and inspired by, this environment? Can we afford this life without losing our quality of life? Is it right for us longer-term?

I consider lifestyle and challenge whether I'm travelling enough? Am I active? Spending enough time with family? Healthy in body and mind?

I assess my business and how to make it better fit the way I want to work. Do my clients match my life philosophy? Have I created true location independence? Am I writing the kind of content that keeps people coming back for more?

I review, revise and move forward. Search, discover, create.

I've found that unless you're one of the lucky few that always knew what they wanted or were happy to accept their lot in life, you can't afford to sit back.

You have to be curious, open-minded and action-oriented. But, most of all, you have to be brave.

The brave strive for more, push harder, look deeper. The brave don't accept the way things always have been and the way they will always be.

The brave want more.

If you think you've created the perfect life, don't stop there. Adjust the edges, widen the boundaries, broaden the mind.

Never stop searching. Never stop discovering. Never stop creating. 

Never stop looking for more.

How do you ensure life is lived the way you want it to be? What do you do to make sure this is the case? Share with me in the comments below.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

The Most Interesting Thing You'll Read Today

This year’s 47th Sydney International Boat Show was another resounding success, with thousands of people descending on Darling Harbour and Glebe Island over five days for an annual fix of all that the boating life has to offer.

Currently on my travels on the other side of the world, I was unable to attend but keen to learn more about this show and what makes it such an important event for outdoors enthusiasts and exhibitors alike.

My good friend, David Ingram, kindly agreed to head down in my place. 

David is a successful entrepreneur based in Sydney and a fellow British expat with a real passion for all things boating-related. Who better to go in my place and try to explain why a show like Sydney’s is worth heading to.

Here’s his take on the event.

It never ceases to amaze me how quickly a marina jammed full of the latest boat craft can spring up in the heart of a cosmopolitan, bustling city for this one event. Although relatively small by international standards, the show makes for an impressive sight smack bang in the middle of Sydney.

The sunny weather brought the crowds out and literally thousands of people turned out for the event. 

Under a perfect blue sky, you can’t help but wonder if the pontoons might be compromised with the sheer weight of people walking on them – I’ve seen this almost happen at several UK boat shows! – but this marina was far from overwhelmed and the crowds safely navigated the many stands and exhibitions.

We were met by the staff at d’Albora Marinas who know a thing or two about building marinas and who put on an excellent stand at this year’s show with fun photos being taken and plenty of helpful information for interested parties.

It’s not the first time we’ve been pleased to see d'Albora. If you sail along the east coast of Australia, you’ll recognise their sign as a welcome site at the end of most long passages, always be assured of great facilities ashore, as well as a secure place to stay the night.

Boat shows are great places for dreamers and most of us are simply content to wander the pontoons, as we imagine sailing away on the weekend. 

One stand that never fails to impress is the Sunseeker stand. Made famous by the James Bond movies and a string of famous owners, the powerboat brand from Poole in England continues to provide the ultimate in pin-up luxury performance boats.

Further round the dock, we started to see some real sailing boats. Although largely dominated by French, German and US production boats, at least they’re more about being out on the water than just being seen on the dock.

For those unfamiliar with boat design trends, what you should know is that the influence of powerboat design is steadily creeping into the sailing production boat market, evident in the ‘apartment style’ of the Beneteau Senses and Oceanis range – both a far cry from the style of traditional sailing boats.

The prettiest boat at the show, for my money, was the Tofinou. 

It’s a great looking boat for Sydney Harbour twilight sailing but only if you have deep pockets to match! The Solaris 42 provided a blend of good looks, promising performance and cruising comforts at a price.

For something more affordable, the Barvaria Vision 42 and 46 design was a standout at the show… now where did I put that lottery ticket?

If I had to sum up my experience at the Sydney Boat Show, I’d say that this is a great annual event for both the experienced enthusiast and those new to boating. 

There was an exciting buzz about the show grounds and no end to the stands, stalls and exhibitions on offer.

That said, I’m still surprised that more people at the show aren’t buying boats given that we have some of the best sailing and boating on our doorstep.

While it is more expensive here than in Europe and boat prices aren’t helped by tax and import duties imposed by the government, my advice is to consider charters, boat shares and other ways if you are keen to get on the water for less.

You can also see the boats at d'Albora Marina's The Spit near Mosman for a close encounter of the boating kind.

The best way to see Sydney from the water is to head down to your local sailing club and offer to crew for a twilight sail. 

And it’ll probably only cost you a beer or two.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Sliding Doors, Parallel Lives

I'm fascinated by the different lives we can lead through the choices we make.

Every day, we're faced with decisions and possibilities. 

Every day, the choices we make can create new outcomes and drastically change our lives - or keep us steady where we are. Some choices have less effect, while others are more dramatic.

When Helen Quilley is fired from her job in the film, Sliding Doors, we're shown the two paths her life could take depending on whether or not she catches that train.

Two paths with two contrasting outcomes.

Just how many sliding doors do each of us make or miss every day in our lives? What would life have been like if you had taken an alternate path earlier on?

Sliding Doors by Shutterstock

Some of us go through life without realising what we may be missing or turning down. We might not know that a door is closing as we walk past or that another may open if we look hard enough for it.

It's often a choice between sticking with the status quo or trying something new. Looking around and opening your eyes to the opportunity and possibility evident in every move you make.

In my own life, I've become more conscious of these sliding door moments and how, with a word or two, a nod in the right direction or a persuasive comment, I can affect the direction of our future lives - where we live, what we do, how our son grows up, who he grows up with.

It's that simple and that impactful.

Did I know that a chance encounter with a fellow gym junkie would one day lead to a move to Australia?

Could I have known that the decision to write in my spare time would eventually lead to a full-time career?

And when we sold our house, did it always mean we'd head back to the UK?

These moments are unpredictable but it's about spotting them when they arrive and deciding how to act upon them. Recognising their power and significance, and often relying on instinct to make a call when the time comes.

In life, there are so many of these sliding door moments - decisions we make on a whim or as a result of an outside influence.

You can't always control the moment but you can control which road you'll follow.

This extended travel trip has made me more aware of these moments and I find myself daydreaming about alternate lives.

What if we choose to head to Europe for a little while on the way home and see what turns up? What say we travel back via Canada and reconnect with our former home? And what about returning directly to Australia and carrying on with life there - the same life as before but with a few variations?

I see parallel lives with completely different outcomes.

So I ask you to think about the last time you were faced with a decision or remember back to when you stood outside your own sliding door and then ask yourself this question.

Have you ever wondered about the version of you if you'd chosen a different path?

Friday, 15 August 2014

Second Impressions of a First Home

England can be a funny place when you've been away for a while.

Things that were once normal now seem odd and quirky but, as the visitor (the 'outsider'), you're the only one who thinks so.

Take the people for a start. Once you've peeled away the layer of politeness (and we English are polite to the extreme), you discover the talkers. Because the English love a good chat and a gossip.

The shop assistant wants a natter. The guy in the petrol station loves a chinwag. And the plumbers, carpenters and electricians can't resist the urge for a cup of tea and conversation. It's a wonder they get anything done.

When it comes to children, the English like to turn up the volume. The streets ring out to the sounds of "Amelie this" or "Charlie that", followed closely by a stern word or two, and then an impatient bark or scream.

The Pub and the Phone Box. Icons of England.

But at least they're not talking about the weather, one of the national pastimes.

Because in three short months, we've had heatwaves and hurricanes, tropical storms and the occasional typhoon. While this summer will live long in the memory for its regular supply of sunshine and heat, I still won't call it a heatwave. Because it's not. It's really not.

Food is both familiar and peculiar.

The national dish is the packet of crisps, while the national drink is whatever you find at the back of the store. I'm not complaining because I prefer to feed my vice wherever and whenever. No bottle shop closing at 7pm. No government-owned liquor store. I can quench my thirst in supermarkets and petrol stations, at newsagents and by street carts.

The country's roast lunches and dinners always impress. Delicious locally-reared beef, pork or lamb, accompanied by over-sized Yorkshire puddings swimming in a sea of thick brown gravy. In this, no other country compares.

The current political dish of the day is immigration served with Scotland. It seems that we still don't like immigrants and we remain undecided about the north.

Then there's town and country, the two being distinct and far removed.

England's villages remain the jewel in its idyllic crown. Peaceful and perfectly maintained, I could spend my entire summer meandering around England's country laneways and meadows.

The towns are another matter. Inland, they seem rundown and bland. On the coast, they don't fare much better. In this country, I don't like to be beside the seaside, but I do like to be beside the sea.

Travelling around the land isn't a preferred English sport. If your journey is longer than an hour, then it's no longer a journey but an annual holiday excursion.

And you might still need deep pockets to live here. While the shopping is cheaper than Australia, property prices continue to climb. Meanwhile, wages stay low.

But for all the money it costs me to be here - all the 1p's and 2p's, 5's, 10's, 20's, 50's, $1 and $2 coins - and for all the issues I raise and unfair comparisons I might make, I know one thing: my head tells me England is a former home but my heart tells me to start being true.

We plan to shortly leave this fair isle for a return to Australia but I don't really believe this is a final farewell.

It's a goodbye but I hope to see you again soon. There's unfinished business here but I don't yet know the what, how, when or why.

Have you returned home and found familiarity and differences? Things you liked and disliked, preferred or ignored? Share with me below.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

A Life On The Water: Home Or Away

Unless you've been under a rock, you'll know that I'm on a sojourn to the UK.

I've been getting reacquainted with my old home, travelling around the land, revisiting places from a former life. On other trips, it didn't seem so important but on this visit, it feels like I need to do so.

With this craving to wander, I visited the west of Wales and Ceredigion county, where coastal paths were hiked, inland waterways photographed and the region's estuaries viewed from afar. At North Devon and Cornwall, I returned to the holiday destinations of my youth: to Bude, Croyde, Woolacombe and Saunton Sands.

It's not surprising that most of my route has taken me close to the shoreline because I've lived by the ocean for the last eight years and the pull of the water has always been strong.

But it's as if I'm trying to find locations similar to Sydney's own beaches and waterfronts that I now call home.

Is it mission impossible or plain unfair?

Photo credit: PomInOz | Shutterstock

Sydney is a showy, sparkly affair with deep blue bays and harbours, golden sands and an unrelenting sun. The British coast is a much different animal with close knit coastal communities, ancient port towns, tidal waterways and slightly less sun.

There are similarities, especially in matters of lifestyle, and there is a shared passion for being out on the water.

Walking around the coastal communities of Australia and the UK, you sense a desire among the local people to be out on the water. To get away from it all. To be free of the land.

Back when I first arrived in Sydney, I learned to sail at one of the nearby clubs and it was a sublime, memorable experience. Exhilarating? Yes. At times unnerving? Absolutely. Would I do it again? Without a doubt.

Photo credit: PomInOz | Shutterstock

Because for the first time, I discovered what it meant to be removed of restriction, able to travel where the mood took you, wherever, whenever.

Back in England and watching the locals out on the water reminds me of those early sailing experiences and the boating lifestyle you can have here and there - and I think I want more.

Sailing in Sydney is a unique experience to be treasured by those who get the opportunity to do it.

I'd argue that the best way to see the city and surrounds is by boat, with coastal routes and inland rivers offering plenty of options to escape and simply meander along, while taking in the beautiful scenery.

And the temperate climate means the city has great sailing all year round.

Photo credit: PomInOz | Shutterstock

From renowned Rushcutters Bay and The Spit in Sydney to pristine Akuna Bay on the Hawkesbury, there are countless places of tranquillity and beauty across the wider Sydney area in which a lifestyle on the water can be enjoyed - by boat, on a cruise, ferry, sailboat, yacht or kayak.

The options are endless.

Sydney really is the capital of the Australian sailing world and the Aussie passion for watersports make this 'city by the water' a superb destination for experiencing this kind of lifestyle.

In celebration of all things water-based, Sydney's premier boat event, the Sydney International Boat Show, kicks off in a couple of weeks.

Photo credit: d'Albora Marinas

d'Albora Marinas, one of Australia's largest marina groups and a business local to where I live, will feature at the show. Offering everything mooring-related from innovative rack-and-stack facilities to swing moorings and premium floating berths, d'Albora are based at Akuna Bay and The Spit, but also at other locations in New South Wales and Victoria, including Nelson Bay and Victoria Harbour.

I'll be reviewing the show in a few week's time to try to find out more about a boating lifestyle on the water in Sydney and whether it can offer a realistic alternative to the routine life on land that you or I might be more accustomed to.

Have you ever considered spending more time on the water? Or have you sailed on Sydney harbour? Let me know what you think below.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Minimalise Your Life

Minimalism is often seen as a dirty word.

Getting rid of everything you've worked hard for. Giving up prized possessions for little or no return. Ditching the radio, phone or Internet. Losing a cherished car or abandoning the beloved TV.

The truth is that it's none of this.

Minimalism is about reducing "stuff". Minimalism is eliminating unnecessary acquisitions. Minimalism is decluttering, eradicating, freeing, cutting back, letting go.

I've become increasingly minimalist over time. To declutter is to cleanse. Removing unnecessary items brings me a sense of peace, of calm. I can think. I can breathe again.

I think that moving around the world led me to this.

Minimalise Your Life: Venu Gopal (Flickr Creative Commons)

When we travel, we need less. When we move, we have to take less on the road. We become stricter with our choice of belongings and we make decisions to leave certain possessions behind.

Travelling and moving abroad forces us to be minimalists. They dictate that we approach our lives without clutter and meaningless things.

Longer-term travel to the UK has brought minimalism to a head.

We've left behind our worldly goods. We carry only what we need and what is important to us. This trip has taken us out of our comfort zone but helped us question the things that we thought added value to our lives.

In fact, they didn't. None of them did.

I haven't thought much about the house we sold or the excess items we packed away. I don't miss the material possessions I left behind in the storage depot and I don't pine for the earlier symbols of our Northern Beaches home.

It's funny how you don't miss these things when they're gone. And to think they seemed so crucial not long ago.

Gone are the materialistic excesses that meant nothing and added no value. We've learnt to live with less and made room for better things.

We spend more time together on the things that count. We have less distraction and increased time together as a family. We've learned to care about more.

We've simplified our lives and it's a freeing sensation. Our homes are often overrun by stuff that threatens to overwhelm and creates additional noise. So we've cleared a path for the things that matter most: relationships, health, well being, growth, passion, experiences, time.

Minimalism needn't be a bad word.

It's just a different way of saying I don't need this anymore. Because I want room for more.

What will you get rid of today so that you can live with less and care about more?

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Dear England, We've Arrived

It starts with the announcement on the tanoy.

The polite greeting at the passport desk. Then the careful apology at the carpark ticket machine.

Bushy trees and overgrown hedgerows flash past on the drive south.

Passing through villages and hamlets, the smell of cut grass as we wind down the windows, stirring memories of summers past.

The thumping of a Chinook as it flies low overhead, the reverberations interrupting the countryside quiet.

Then gentle, persistent calls from tiny birds flitting between seed trays. The sleepy coo-coo of a pigeon on top of a neighbouring roof.

Photo credit: English Countryside by Shutterstock

In the calm of the garden, a water fountain burbles. The whir of an electric mower. Bumble bees buzz lazily around the lavender.

The kettle boils. The tea is made. The TV turned on. The news delivered in a solemn tone.

White, pillowy clouds gather on the horizon but the sun remains. It is high in the sky and will stay that way. The dark refuses to come for the solstice is here.

Football beckons and the tennis is on its way.

Summer festivals approach, with long weekends in pub gardens, at the coast, camping in fields and pastures, watching and winning at the races, contemplating short trips further afield.

Sat in this garden oasis, memories come flooding in, threatening to overwhelm, as one cherished event from the past is replaced by the next.

Memories that have been locked away for the last three years, pushed aside by more dominant new world adventures.

I can sense the arrival of summer. The return to an earlier life. The familiarity of a former home.

Back to the tanoy announcement, as we descend over a patchwork quilt of fields and farms.

She welcomes us here. To this place. This country.

She smiles, jokes, reveals the day as hot, sunny, blue skies, not one cloud.

She announces that we've arrived. Welcome to England.

Dear England.

We've arrived.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

The Double Life of an Expat for Me

Did you hear the one about the two women in my life? One is the girlfriend and the other is the mother.

Bear with me a moment while I explain.

Living abroad is like having two lives. You slip into your international life, which is exciting and energising. And it's not unlike having a new girlfriend, where every moment together is original, each experience to be savoured.

But fragments of your former home remain.

Its comforting presence lingers, trying to lure you back to a place of familiarity and favourite things, to the safety and security of the family home. It's not unlike a mother, nurturing and ever-present, a cherished part of your life.

I'll shortly be returning to the comfort of Mother England, grabbing my plane tickets, passports, travel insurance, warm pants, brolly, and Pounds and Pence to make the long journey home.

So what will I be leaving behind and who am I going to?

Photo credit: Expat Key from Shutterstock

The lover

Sassy, confident and intriguing, Australia is fun, fun, fun. She's relaxed, carefree and, of course, divine to look at. But she's not just a pretty picture.

She's interesting to hang out with and bursting with positivity. She's dangerous, dramatic and often unpredictable. She's a charm and a keeper, and I know I'm lucky to have her in my life.

With Australia, I'm a different person.

I adopt an adventurous spirit and embark on thrilling things. I feed off the environment and embrace opportunities that may have been avoided in the past. She's not always easy to be with and I watch what I do in her company, always careful with what I say and how I act.

With Australia, I'm still me but I'm not quite the same.

Am I a better "me"? A more content "me"? Whatever it is, it works. We work. And I know she makes me the envy of some.

Yet still my thoughts return to Mother England and the life I had with her.

The mother

I can't forget her because she's important to me, a part of who I am.

It's as if a piece of me still belongs with England and, when I visit, that piece surfaces with a vengeance, resurrecting the person I was before I left long ago.

England is steadfast and homely, recognisable and reassuring.

It's easy to slip back into my life with her - simple, straightforward, uncomplicated, without effort. Familiarity quickly takes hold. She is the calm, unchanging presence in my life, as reliable and consistent as the setting of the sun.

Around her, I eat my favourite foods. Rekindle friendships. Visit old haunts. I think that I'm more sensible around Mother England. I challenge less and I'm content to accept the status quo.

I am the person of old when I return to England. I find the earlier me. But I'm not sure if it's the person I want to find and, after a while, I realise much has changed.

Something inside me has shifted and things no longer seem as they were.

Living with both

I am split, divided, assuming two identities instead of one.

Half of me belongs with my sweetheart but a part of me remains in my old home, only to be revived whenever I return.

I lead a double life. I have two places to call home, two locations, two families, two groups of friends. I am incomplete.

Or not.

Because you can love both people in your life - each offers you different things. Living with both is difficult, each one fighting for your attention, each laying on their own form of guilt.

But we expats and travellers are blessed, not cursed.

We get to enjoy the best of both worlds.

We love where we live, with passion and zeal. We wander along beaches, hike through forests, sail across harbours. We sit under stars in the four corners of the planet and we soak it all up, inhaling each personal adventure.

Still, we're taunted by thoughts of returning to where it began, comforting and familiar memories persisting. A deep down yearning for a former life. A natural instinct to go back. An inner voice telling us to go home.

We will always have two lives, two identities, two homes, two conflicting personalities occupying our journey.

It comes down to whether you choose to embrace these many lives or struggle until one lone person remains.

Oh, the double life of an expat for me.

Humour me. How many lives do you have? Who is the girlfriend/boyfriend and who is the mother or father in your life?

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

The Storm Before The Calm

This always happens.

Organise a major international trip and the weeks leading up to it can resemble the effects of a violent storm.

Have you heard the saying about London buses? Because it's been a bit like that lately. After a period of relative quiet, thirty bright red buses arrived at our house in a matter of minutes and dropped off a cargo of crazy at the front door.

In the build-up to our 'grand tour' of the UK and Europe, life has become a tad frenetic.

The calm is coming.  Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons (Jonathan Brazil)

For one thing, we're only a few weeks away from moving house.

Not only are we preparing for our holiday abroad but we're also packing up the house, disassembling, de-cluttering, selling online, giving away, storing, chucking out, loading up, and filling box after box with our treasured possessions.

It's been tough to find any sort of routine or rhythm in amongst all this cardboard chaos. We cook less and eat out more often. We order food delivery online and we spend increasing amounts of time inside.

We've also had our fair share of sickness.

Our beautiful, bouncing baby boy has turned into a teething, tantrum-laden toddler with a sudden tendency to collect all manner of illness and, in turn, pass the different ailments on to us.

I used to consider myself healthy and fit, with a strong immune system and an uncanny ability to avoid the common cold or pesky flu. Then my son arrived and changed all that.

In the last month, we've experienced gastro, chest infections, ear ache and a hacking cough. My wife's best friend is the bathroom while I hide in the garage downstairs, sucking in lungfuls of fresh air, eager to avoid our plague-ridden home.

Then the teething re-appears.

Molars, incisors, eye teeth and more. Less than two weeks before we enjoy the delights of a 14-hour plane ride with infant child on lap and his teeth have decided to appear all at once. We wake to tears, go to bed with tantrums, and supply a steady stream of teething gel through the cold, lonely nights. And while I have no doubt that his gums are red hot, our sanity hurriedly waves us goodbye.

Combined with a job change for my better half (au revoir to the boss from hell!), a rush of friends wanting to say their farewells, plus a writing business that is prospering much to my joy and delight, it's fair to say say there's a lot going on.

But the winds of change are blowing and I can already sense the calm on the horizon.

Knowing that any period of change is often chaotic and unsettling, and that serenity will come soon after, I'm happy to take the bad with the good and visualise those calmer days that will follow.

I can see the cool water lapping at the edges of the hotel swimming pool. I can hear the excited conversation of guests gathered on stools by the outdoor bar. I can smell the emirate's northern coast, whose pungent ocean odours quickly remind me of home. I can almost taste the dry summer heat of the high-rise city with its imposing presence never far from my gaze.

I might only be dreaming but I can already feel the calm that follows this particular storm.

Because we're almost there.

Friday, 16 May 2014

Space Glorious Space: Road Tripping With A Yakima Skybox

If you've ever loaded up the car for a road trip, you'll know how much of a challenge it is to find space for anything. From suitcases to backpacks, kids' toys to food and other provisions, it doesn't matter how big the car is because nothing ever seems to fit in.

Since moving to countries as vast as Canada and Australia, our time on the road has increased when we take our holidays. I've also been fortunate to experience some epic road trips to a number of inspiring destinations thanks to this blog.

Anything that can make my time on the road easier and more comfortable is always welcome. I'm therefore excited to reveal that Yakima Australia has come on board as a travel partner, providing a Skybox 18 cargo box and Whispbar Rail Bar roof racks for upcoming trips around Australia.

Given our passion for travel, I don't know how we survived for so long without storage car equipment like this.

It's as if somebody gave me an extra car to store things in. The guide tells me the Skybox has 18 cubic feet of storage but, to you and me, it simply means space, glorious space. And 510 litres of it, freeing up precious room for me and mine.

I can load four suitcases into the cargo box, or beach toys and accessories, or a tent and all of our camping gear, or sets of 215cm skis if we like. We even used the cargo box when we moved house.

Once the Skybox is mounted on the roof (quick and easy to do - lift the box onto the racks, then tighten and lock the four internal clips), I can get into it from either side thanks to a unique double-sided hinge system.

There's no reaching across trying to stuff everything in from one end. Just pick your point of entry and open the box up. Plus it's lockable, which means everything is safe and sound.

My issue with any cargo box was always going to be the weight - getting it on and off the car, but also when driving. This doesn't seem to be a problem with the Skybox as it's lightweight but with a sturdy frame, which doesn't flex and vibrate when the car is moving.

I can't hear a thing once it's up there.

There's no wind noise, it doesn't move around on the racks, I can't feel any drag and our things remain immovable inside. What's more, it's completely waterproof so everything remains dry when it rains.

Above all else, the Skybox is a sleek piece of design and looks great sat on top of the car, matte black on black. Yet it's not the only streamlined travel tool in town.

The Whispbar roof racks are a design revelation.

We once purchased a car manufacturer's own racks - clunky, not at all aerodynamic and kind of ugly. Times have changed and the lockable Whispbars sit snug against the Mazda's rails without a bump or a burr. Again, easy to install and ditto for taking them back off.

The only slight gripe with the Skybox is that when you secure one side shut, you have to double-check the locks did their thing. Otherwise, when you open up the other side, both sides can open causing a bit of chaos if not dealt with quickly.

This aside, I love exploring this country and I'm going to love it a lot more with the extra comfort and ease of travel that the Skybox 18 will bring to our journeys.

So bring on the travel and here's to more road trips because this Skybox needs a decent work-out and we need our next Australian travel fix.

For more information on the complete Yakima range of cargo boxes and roof racks, visit the Yakima website here or the Whispbar site here.

Are you a keen road tripper or do you prefer other styles of travel? How do you like to travel and where's next on your list?

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

The Simple Act of Saying Goodbye

Saying goodbye is never easy.

It doesn't matter whether someone or something is the focus of the farewell, change can be difficult.

Goodbyes don't have to be easy but they can have a positive influence. They can remind us of the good times we had and how lucky we were. They can remind us how important something was.

As the author A. A. Milne once said: "How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard".

In four week's time, we're farewelling our Northern Beaches home of nearly seven years. We will embrace a change of direction. Our home will welcome the next owners. And a set of new beginnings will take shape under its sturdy roof.

This house is a basic structure of timber, bricks and mortar, but I feel it was more than that for us. Life changed in many unexpected ways in this home and we will carry precious, cherished memories with us when we leave.

Although this is a simple act of saying goodbye, it's fair to say that the feelings run much deeper.

Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons (Emily Mucha)

This was a house of firsts for our small family.

The first home we owned in Australia. The first step up the ladder on what was (and still is) an extraordinary property market. The first time we lived near the beach. The first place we owned as husband and wife. The first time we lived in any property for longer than two years.

It was also a house of highs and lows.

We welcomed our son into the world but we said a bitter sweet goodbye to our beloved companion, Milo. I launched this blog and my writing business from the back bedroom of our home then, one morning following a violent storm, the ancient ghost gum in the back yard crashed suddenly to the ground nearly causing a catastrophe.

This was a house of routine and a steady rhythm.

Leafy green vegetables flourished out the back and we took delight in witnessing the onset of our first fruit. The seasons came and went, and we worked, renovated and socialised. We hosted friends for dinners on the deck and encouraged overseas family to spend time here.

This house was a base for the next step of our expat adventure and a launchpad from where we could embrace a uniquely Australian way of life by the water.

This was our house. Our Australian house. And a home we grew a little bit older in, as we watched our family multiply, putting roots firmly down into the ground.

It occurs to me that this house is so much more than a basic structure of timber, bricks and mortar. More than a square building with walls, a floor, roof, windows and doors.

This house is a treasure chest for our memories and secrets, a cauldron of shared moments, love and laughter, sadness and loss. This house tied us into our immediate environment. It connected us to the local area and we, in turn, connected it to a fledgling Australian dream.

With such a profound impact on our lives, the simple act of saying goodbye was never going to be easy, especially when the next steps can not truly be known.

Do you find goodbyes easy? Is it a simple act for you?

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

The Tools of My Travelling Trade: Prepaid SIM Cards

With our visit to the UK looming on the near horizon, I've turned my attention to the prospect of working remotely while travelling there.

This is, after all, one of the key drivers behind the decision to create my own business writing company, The International Writer.com - to be able to work flexibly and independent of any location, both when and where I choose.

Remote working sounds great in theory but putting it into practice can present a swathe of challenges to cut through. Without the firm foundations of a permanent base and lacking the mod cons of my home office, I could be left hanging in the wind if I don't get this right.

So that I can work remotely without interruption to either my clients or myself, I've started to visualise in my mind exactly what a location independent set-up needs to look like.

For a start, any virtual office must have a reliable laptop with back-up drive to work from. Readily available and fast WIFI access to work over. Headphones with inbuilt microphone to use for calls to clients and colleagues. A smart phone to remain accessible to others and to access my business online. And that's about it.

Or is it?

The costs of mobile working

The main issue I have when I travel and work overseas isn't logging onto WIFI or using a reliable laptop or PC, but the lack of local mobile phone access when I'm out on the road or temporarily away from WIFI's gentle caress.

To fix this, I've given various international roaming services a go but I often come home to a super-charged mobile phone bill. If I switch roaming off and rely on WIFI alone, then it's never available when I urgently need it and I spend most of my trip lurching from one local hotspot to the other.

A relatively new addition to the traveller and remote worker's arsenal is the travel SIM card and I wonder if I've discovered a more reliable remote working solution.

The idea behind a travel SIM is that you switch it with your phone's existing SIM card and make the most of reduced rates and the ability to make easy top-ups when you need it while based overseas.

A new addition

The Australia Post Prepaid TravelSIM is one of the latest generation of travel SIMs to hit the market, offering travellers a way to keep in touch with loved ones, while avoiding any unexpected phone charges.

Because this is the problem with using your regular mobile phone service - whatever the stated roaming rates, you never really know how much you're using or what you'll find on your mobile phone bill when you get home. And we've all experienced how using data can be a major suck of your roaming allowances.

The Prepaid TravelSIM offers a smart choice to keep your mobile phone bill under control. When away, you place the SIM card in your phone and access reduced rates for phone calls, SMS and data. It's relatively easy to top up through a dedicated website or app on your phone, and your credit balance is read out to you each time you make a call meaning you always know how much you've used and what you've got left.

And the installation process is a breeze.

With a handy little user guide and a slick online activation process, enter your card's details and, after a few simple clicks, the card is activated and ready to use abroad. Then a day or two later, one of the team calls to take you through the process ensuring there are no surprises when you're overseas. It's a nice touch and a personalised approach that I haven't seen with other similar cards.

What I also like about the TravelSIM is the absence of any contract or hidden charges, plus the fact that it's prepaid - I will always know where I stand in terms of usage. It's only $49 AUD so it won't break the bank and doesn't cost a thing to receive calls or for others messaging you through the Web.

The more tricks, the better

As with all travel SIMs, there are a couple of things I often struggle with, through no real fault of their own.

While the TravelSIM offers a phone number for friends and family to reach you on (they dial the card number), the fact that you lose your regular phone number is a bit of a problem when taking your business on the road. Call diversion is available so you can keep your existing number and this seems like a fair and workable solution to me.

The high cost of data usage when abroad is the other issue, regardless of SIM card or phone. I plugged the card in to set it up and was immediately notified that my credit had already reduced after only a few minutes of use. I therefore wonder how often I'll need to top up the SIM card while away.

On balance though, I've decided I'm going to give it a try.

Combined with regular WIFI access, I feel that the TravelSIM offers an additional tool to my travelling and remote working trade. And when you're away from a permanent base and determined to work independently of any location, the more tricks you have, the better.

For more info on the Australia Post Prepaid TravelSIM, visit the website at: http://auspost.com.au/travel-id/prepaid-travelsim.html.

Have you ever used a travel SIM card when overseas? What solutions have you found for when you're on the road or working remotely?

Disclaimer: this is a sponsored product review.

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