Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Positive Habits Can Make a World of Difference

We travel. We visit. We explore.

For most people, this starts out as a dream and often without a concrete plan.

For the lucky few, affording the dream isn’t a problem but for the rest of us, embarking on an international adventure – whether it be a holiday, long-term travel or moving abroad – has a price tag.

I believe in seizing the day and chasing an opportunity, wherever that might take you and whatever that might be. That’s my definition of success.

But what’s the point if we can’t afford it?

To make the adventure realistic and achievable, we need to plan and we need to save.

And we need to do it fast.

Savings Habits by Shutterstock

Positive savings habits can turn a dream into reality, a thought into an outcome, the kernel of an idea into a plane ticket for a remarkable journey with endless possibilities.

Positive savings habits can help you achieve your goals in life, be they travel or closer to home, and I’m a firm advocate of sensible action to create the life of your dreams.

The very definition of travel means we generally return. But who wants to come back to financial woes and no chance of hitting the road again anytime soon?

Still, it’s not just about travel.

It might be saving for a house, a new laptop or a car. Whatever your dreams or aspirations, we all need that extra bit of help to keep us focused on the ultimate goal.

MoneySmart, a division of the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC), have just launched a new free personal finance App called TrackMyGOALS.

The aim of TrackMyGOALS is to help you track and meet your money goals faster - and turn that dream into an affordable, achievable reality. It can be downloaded from the App Store, Google Play or the MoneySmart website.

The App draws on the habits and techniques of successful savers. 

You can set, share, track and review your personal savings goals. You can also view daily savings tips and upload inspirational pictures of your goals in order to stay motivated.

As latest polls reveal that savers who regularly review, remind themselves and publicly commit to their savings goals are most likely to achieve them, the TrackMyGOALS App is a timely addition to your arsenal of helpful tools and gadgets.

Go make your dream a reality today.

How do you save for your lifestyle dreams? (you just do; you plan, plan and plan some more; or you worry about it later) What other useful Apps have you discovered lately?

This post was sponsored by ASIC’s MoneySmart. Visit their website at moneysmart.gov.au.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

What Does Success Look Like to You?

I always wanted to be the high-flyer. I saw myself as someone who would excel in the corporate world or become a leader in international business. But I eventually accepted that being a major corporate bigwig wasn't my thing.

So I dropped the idea.

I've wasted too much time trying to impress others and gain the respect of people who feel that money and jobs and houses and cars are the be-all and end-all in this life.

I towed the line and I never challenged the status quo.

Then one day I realised how much time and energy I was spending on seeking the approval of others for ambitions I wasn't even that vested in. I wasn't focused on the things that should have been important to me and I wasn't content with this idea of success.

So I revisited what being successful meant to me.

And I recognised that it wasn't about money or a job title. It wasn't about power or the pats on the back from admiring colleagues. These long-held ideas on success no longer sat well with me.

I don't think they ever did.

Corporate Success by Shutterstock

Success was, and still is, about how I look after the things that matter most in my life - my wellbeing, family, the way I live my life, how people remember me.

Not jobs or houses. Not the area postcode or the label on a new shirt.

It was always going to be hard returning 'home' this summer because wealth and possessions still matter to a lot of people I know.

Popular opinion these days says you must have a top job and talk about it. Often. Your house must be sizeable and close to a good catchment area for your kid's school. And you must drive a fancy car.

I felt inadequate at times with my lack of 'things' around me. And certainly not their idea of a success. 

I lost track of how many times I was told "so-and-so now works as a Director for that bank in London" and "did you know how much ole whatshisname's house is worth?"

Don't get me wrong, I live in a place which has taken wealth and expense to a brand new height. But I asked myself whether I should compare the life I've created and talk about on this blog to these wealthier, more powerful lives? And should I then consider mine a failure because of income or personal wealth, the age of a car and whether I own a big house?

Or should I judge myself against other criteria?

The life experiences I've had, places I've seen, the family I've helped grow and the life I'm building from our dreams.

Importantly, the space I've created by ditching things to ensure I'm always around.

Should I take note when people ask what I do and remind me of the dizzy heights others have reached in their careers - the frequent business travel with first class airfares, the posh nights out in London and the five star holidays?

Or should I accept the way things are?

The fact that as my beautiful boy grows up, I can look him straight in the eyes and know that I chose what was best for us based on values other than the size of my job title and the price of the meal at the swanky lunch.

I know which life I choose.

I choose the life built on my terms with no regret.

What about you? What life would you choose? What's important to you?

Monday, 29 September 2014

Best of Both Worlds: Why Australians Love Snow in Summer

It's that time of year when anticipation grows as Australians gear up for the start of summer and almost six months of sunshine, blue skies and summer sports.

You might be surprised to learn that while most of us are looking forward to the dog days of summer, others are waiting in eager anticipation for a taste of the cold.

They're not waiting for the Australian cold, which is far from now and, even then, not easily found. They're looking forward to the mid-winter climates of Europe, North America and Japan.

It's yet another quirk of the Australian psyche, much like Christmas in July and the BBQ on Boxing Day.

Because, for a nation of heat seekers and sun worshippers, there's nothing better to do at the height of those sultry summer months than head abroad in search of the snow and ski slopes.

Seeking respite from the oppressive heat, it's not unusual to find large numbers of Aussies making their annual pilgrimage to Lake Tahoe in the U.S., Whistler in Canada and, closer to home, Niseko Powder Connection in Japan in search of sub-zero thrills.

Australians love the snow in summer.

Sampling Japanese winter fare.

Only several weeks ago, Qantas announced plans to put on extra flights to Canada from December to February to meet growing demand for travel to key Canadian ski resorts.

No matter what they tell you, while Australia may be blessed with near-perfect warm weather, the average Aussie can't get enough of the cold.

They're drawn to the cheap overseas skiing and deep powder when compared to the hefty price tags and meagre snow lauded by the Australian equivalents.

When it comes to ski and snow, everything is bigger and better abroad.

Head to places like Japan and you get the added advantage of a different culture, more interesting apres-ski and less of a pinch in your pocket, even if the Australian Dollar is currently on a bit of a low.

It's a no-brainer and, personally, I think they're a lucky bunch.

Not only do they experience incredible summers but they can also take time out to fly across the pond and enjoy an idyllic snow-filled winter.

The reverse is also true during an Australian winter.

You can ski in New South Wales or Victoria during the cooler winter months but take time out and head to North Queensland to soak up the sun.

If you're looking for the best of both worlds in summer and winter, Australia is a unique place. 

As far as lifestyle choices go, what more could you want? I may even take advantage of these lifestyle choices and sample a little far-flung snow for myself this year.

Can I hear Japan calling?

So where are are you headed this Australian summer or Northern Hemisphere winter? Ever considered swapping one climate for the other?

Last week, I asked what works best for you on this blog and what you want to see more of. Don't forget to let me know here.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

It's Time To Give This Blog A Makeover

I nearly quit blogging last year.

The average blog has a lifespan of two or three years and I thought it might be time to retire In Search of a Life Less Ordinary.

Because the blogosphere can be a lonely place. You never can tell if what you're doing truly works. Feedback is rare and the reaction to your work doesn't always makes sense. A post can bomb one week but a similar one will excel not long after.

And it's a hefty commitment. Keeping that well of inspiration full, drafting, writing, editing, tweaking the site, updating the content. We do it because we love it but it can often feel like a solitary place.

During those moments of solitude is when the doubt creeps in. Am I a good enough writer? Should I have quit the corporate job for this?

Does anybody even care?

Emerging Butterfly by Shutterstock

A voyage into the unknown

I'll probably never know the answers to those questions. All I can do is keep writing, keep sharing and keep doing what I do.

For what started out as a journey from one location to another, from London to Sydney, has become a journey of another sort. A journey in life - in location and lifestyle, health and fitness, travel and expat life.

Writing the blog has also been something of a life-changer.

Putting my deepest thoughts out into the unknown has a scary thing but I don't regret a thing. I rediscovered my passion for the written word and purpose in life - to write, create and share with the hope of inspiring others to strive for more.

But, after nearly four years, it's time for a change. ISOALLO is in search of a makeover.

How you can help

I haven't updated the site in a few years and, to be honest, it needs a damn good clean-up.

Before I go ahead and revamp the site, I'd love to pick your brains about what works best on the site and the kinds of things I could do to make it better.

I've got a few questions for you because this blog is as much about you as it is me. You tune in every week, you read my words and you comment and share. Therefore, you can, and should, play a part in determining its future direction by responding to any or all of the questions below.

The posts

What do you like about the blog and what do you want to see more of? Do you prefer the travel posts or the ones about life here in Sydney?

Are you looking to be inspired and wanting to learn more about how to live a different kind of life? Or are you mainly interested in following what I get up to? Am I sharing too little or too much about my own journey? Would you like to hear more from others in similar situations? Please let me know.

The look and feel

The logo is in need of an update and the structure of the site will change. So are there changes you'd particularly like to see?

What are the topics that matter most to you? Is expat life your thing? Or are you more of a wanderlust traveller?

Are you interested in learning more about the ways to lead a healthier, more active life? Or is your preference for all-things work-oriented i.e. less traditional ways of working and a better work-life balance? I'd love to hear your views.

The format

How do you feel about the current style of content i.e. mainly posts on the site and a mix of images and links on Facebook? Would you be interested in an eBook or two? Some freebies to take away when you sign up? Even a members-only area to the site where you could receive unique articles and updates?

Is there anything else that you wish you could see? Videos of my lifestyle? A podcast or two? How about more brand partnerships and campaigns relevant to the site? Your feedback is invaluable so please share with me.

But, wait, there's more

I also need some expert help and advice.

In Search of a Life Less Ordinary needs a new home on Wordpress and this is where my technical know-how falls behind. A new template, new logo and a bit of a tasty redesign.

I'm searching for a skilled website designer who knows this site, who gets me and my message, who can see where the blog is going, who could support the site for the long-term, and who have ideas for how any of this might look.

If you're great at what you do and have a treasure chest of ideas, please get in touch, let's talk some more and hopefully work together to give ISOALLO the blog makeover it needs and deserves.

Okay, over to you. What feedback can you give me?!

Monday, 22 September 2014

The Things To Love About Britain

Oh Britain. You know, you get such a bad rap.

I'm forever told how your food is no good, your beer is too warm, your weather is too wet and your landscape just too small.

I've lost track of how many times I've defended you. 

Told the Australians that the local produce is better than they believe, that the pub fare has improved quite a lot, that the summers can be decent if you give them time to heat up.

I've defended and argued, got annoyed then given up.

After three years away, I started to believe the hype and returned to your shores convinced you'd let me down at every twist and turn.

I said to myself that if I spent three long months with you, maybe you'd show me something else? Maybe you'd help me put to bed the negativities and insults? Banish the misconceptions and untruths?

With that, my family and I left Sydney, passport in hand, Sterling in back pocket, Southern Cross travel insurance taken care of.

We were on our way.

And so we flew into London, only to be delayed mid-air and circling above the M25 for an hour until able to land. Heathrow was loud and chaotic. And the escape route from London's inner circle was painfully slow. And the memories returned, while the doubt remained.

Britain, were you ever that Great?

Determined to try harder, we set out from your centre. From London, that ever-expanding metropolis, to get away from the workers, the tourists, the traffic and the smog.

We drove south into the heart of the Home Counties, seeking out the hidden jewels in your British crown.

The Home Counties (Hampshire, South Coast)

We stumbled upon Alresford, a tiny market town set deep in the English countryside. Brightly coloured gardens bursting with wild flowers, 'chocolate box' cottages with thatched roofs and white walls, public houses with their doors thrown wide open, boisterous laughter and the sound of clinking glasses within.

You looked just as I remembered you in the peak of a good summer. Bright with colour and picture-postcard perfect.

From there, we headed to the South Coast, avoiding the renowned holiday traffic and diverting towards Hayling Island and the Witterings.

While not the prettiest part of Britain, nothing beats the feeling of sea spray on your face, the wind in your hair and a chance to blow those cobwebs away.

And you... what are your experiences of the south of England in a British summer? Where else should we have gone?

West Wales (Ceredigion, Pembrokeshire)

With our fill of the English South, we headed onwards to the western reaches of Wales, the land of my grandmother. A place I hadn't often visited during my youth, but you didn't disappoint us.

Craggy mountains and dense forests, deep green valleys and rugged, jagged coasts, you had it all. Staying in Ceredigion County close to the port town of Cardigan, we trekked coastal paths, spied grey seals, bottlenose dolphins and even the odd harbour porpoise.

The tiny cove of Mwnt was a highlight, with its steep cliffs and treacherous pathway through the rocks to a crescent-shaped sandy beach and spectacular views of the ocean.

We couldn't resist a quick dip in the ocean, shocking our bodies to the core but rewarding us with a glimpse of passing dolphins as they swam through the water.

From dairy farm to sailing club, fishing village to countryside community, the Welsh cultural identity proudly stands tall - its unique language is spoken everywhere, local traditions closely protected, the rugby union adored. The West Wales region - from Aberporth to New Quay, Cilgerran to Dinas Head - was an outdoors delight and yet we barely scratched the surface.

A final dish of rare Welsh beef accompanied by all the trimmings - broad beans and green peas, crispy roast potatoes, lightly buttered carrots and soft, tender pumpkin - plus a few bottled beers rounded off with a glass of port and a hearty rhubarb crumble.

A fitting farewell to three weeks in Cymru and our first month back in the motherland. You hadn't let us down.

Have you visited the Welsh coast recently and what were your impressions? Where else in the region is a highlight?

South West England (Devon, Cotswolds)

I can still remember those wide sandy Devonshire beaches and long days spent playing in rock pools but I wanted to know if Devon continued to hold the beauty and charm from childhood holidays spent there.

On then to the mid-Devon countryside and the forgotten village of Ashwater with its lone medieval church and idyllic setting in the rolling countryside, not far from the bustling market towns and farmers' markets of Launceston and Holsworthy.

Bideford also called to us on this trip with its quaint laneways and shops. It was here that we enjoyed a favourite experience from our visit - the chance to ride along the ten mile Tarka Trail from Bideford to Barnstaple. Free of traffic, passing under bridges, along tiny cycle paths and through open meadows, this was a perfect outdoors treat.

After a week in Devon, we set out east towards Cirencester and the tiny hamlet of Cerney Wick in search of Cotswold country.

A quintessentially English region unspoiled by time and people, ancient limestone villages and rolling wolds countryside greeted us as we explored the waterparks area, rich with beech woods, river valleys and beautifully built homes.

If I had to sum up a typical English countryside setting, the Cotswolds would be it.

Had I missed an opportunity by not travelling into Cornwall and southwards to the South Hams of Devon and the English Riviera? And what of the Forest of Dean and the Wye Valley - have you experienced these beautiful locations?

South East England (Kent, East Sussex)

From the Cotswolds, we travelled cross-country to the south-east corner of Britain - to Rye, Royal Tunbridge Wells, Hastings and Ashford.

Rye is a delightful ancient port town known for its many medieval buildings perched atop a small mound not two miles from the English Channel and at the confluence of the Rivers Rother, Tillingham and Brede.

What fascinated us most about Rye was its history.

A Cinque Ports town, Rye provided ships for the King's service during times of war. It was involved with the smuggling gangs of the 18th and 19th centuries. And its setting is close to the site of the Battle of Hastings.

Rye is also home to some wonderful castles, including the almost fully intact Bodiam Castle, one of Britain's finest national monuments. And there were other experiences worth mentioning, including visits to local farms and to a unique rare breeds centre among the best.

Have you visited the south east and what stood out for you? What other gems or nuggets could I have discovered in Sussex or Kent?

Twelve weeks in Britain. Twelve weeks of memories.

Spoiled by consistently good weather, delicious food and the welcome company of family and friends, we flew out of the country in early September all the poorer for having said goodbye to a land that is beautiful and beloved.

In twelve weeks, we explored its countryside, cities and towns, enjoyed its food and drink, visited its landmarks and gorged ourselves on its music, culture, even its shopping and TV.

This post can't come close to doing the place justice but I wanted you to get just a little taste of where we went and what we did. Don't get me started on the many little quirks and whimsies I rediscovered, which Bill Bryson describes best:
Suddenly, in the space of a moment, I realised what it was that I loved about Britain - which is to say, all of it. Every last bit of it, good and bad - Marmite, village fetes, country lanes, people saying 'mustn't grumble' and 'I'm terribly sorry but', people apologising to me when I conk them with a nameless elbow, milk in bottles, beans on toast, haymaking in June, stinging nettles, seaside piers, Ordnance Survey maps, crumpets, hot-water bottles as a necessity, drizzly Sundays - every bit of it.
I created an opportunity to reconnect with my home, a place that has become increasingly distant to me as time passes. And I took that opportunity with both hands, discovering once again that there are many things to love about Britain.

What do you love about Britain? What do you miss most about being away from the UK?

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.

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