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 - 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:

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.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

What Travel Means to Me

Travel is my drug.

When I haven't travelled for a few months, I find myself needing a travel fix. It calls to me.

But when I travel too often, I need a break - a quick time-out and a chance to retune and refocus.

Travel can come in all shapes and sizes.

It can be that short trip across the country, a two-week vacation overseas, or a longer and more extensive period away. The thing is that it doesn't matter because travel is travel and a regular fix is all that I need... whatever size or shape it comes in.

Travel is important.

It lets me know there's a wider world out there. If I've become too comfortable in my own neighbourhood, it calls to the spirit of adventure that lies buried within me. It is unknown, not always predictable. It challenges, pushing further each time.

Travel is a release.

It lets me leave stress behind, lets me run away, escape, explore and disappear into an environment far removed from home. It lets me temporarily forget and it refuels creativity and imagination.

Travel is fun.

Because if it wasn't, why would we keep coming back for more?

Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons (shivapat)

I haven't travelled since late last year. I haven't travelled in six months and that feels like a long time between drinks.

I'm not the kind of person who returns from one trip and immediately begins planning the next. I don't spend hours dreaming about my next destination.

The need to travel creeps up on me, often after a prolonged period of work or related activities.

I recently launched my writing business and we sold our house last week so it seems like a good time to head off for some well earned rest and relaxation. Browsing online for a travel bag yesterday, I discovered In Luggage, which confirmed it. A new suitcase equals a new adventure.

Travel is my drug and I need my fix.

Yet where do we go? Well, it's a no-brainer really. It's time to show my son his father's home, time to show him what makes it special and why it will always be his second home.

So we're heading back to the UK.

It's been more than three years since my last visit and at a time when this blog was still in its infancy. I've travelled across North America, covered much of Australia, and hopefully shown people what travel adventure and opportunity generally means to me.

But I've never shown you my place of origin. Never described in detail my first true home.

On an extended visit, I'll share the places that have deep meaning for me and have become some of my favourite parts of England and Wales. I'll take you back to where the journey began and I'll reveal more of what travel means to me.

Because travel is my drug.

What does travel mean to you? How long can you go between travel fixes? 

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

How a Trek in Nepal Changed My Outlook on Life

"I'll lead the way. Watch where I place my feet and copy me," he said. "And, above all else, don't look down."

We waited at the start of a terrifyingly narrow ledge carved into the side of a ridiculously steep mountain.

Lakpa, my surefooted Himalayan Sherpa, wearing nothing but flip flops, an unwashed long-sleeved t-shirt, a pair of well-worn cargo pants and a bright orange rucksack on his back. Sarah and I kitted out in our new hiking boots and shiny North Face jackets from Cotswold Outdoor.

We looked the part but it's safe to say I was petrified.

I've never been good with heights. In fact, I don't like heights at all. Yet for some reason, we'd booked a 17-day high altitude trek through Nepal, circuiting a renowned and dangerous group of mountains called the Annapurnas.

A different kind of challenge

We've always liked to challenge ourselves, both in the workplace and in life in general, but this was something else. I'd completely underestimated the size and nature or this trip. I'd pushed my fear of heights to the far reaches of my mind, choosing to focus on the cultural and scenic aspects of the trek instead.

But this was a high elevation circuit considered one of the finest in the world. Nearly three weeks of hiking and climbing up 8,000-plus metre high mountains and across rivers on suspension bridges made of mere rope and sticks.

It wasn't a trek for the fainthearted and I felt woefully unprepared as I stood with my wife and our Sherpa, ready to tackle one of the more technical and distinctly frightening parts of this Nepalese adventure.

As Lakpa picked his way along the steep ledge, carefully choosing the best rock to stand on and the ideal crevice to use as a handhold, I waited my turn and dared to look down below me.

A river raged hundreds of feet down, a near vertical cliff face dropping away from me to meet its angry passage. No guardrail, no safety net, nothing. If I stumbled or tripped, I would tumble down to the rocks and river below. The remnants of a bunch of flowers laid at the cliff edge reminded me of the ever-present danger.

Paralysed by fear

I followed Sarah as she set off behind the Sherpa.

My legs shook as the adrenaline coursed through my veins. I felt unsteady and unsafe, my boots too large and too clumsy, footsteps that didn't seem like my own. I could sense Sarah's own fear as she stayed close to Lakpa, mimicking his foot placement step by painfully slow step.

As I followed, I found myself falling behind, unable to match their pace as my fear of heights gripped me. I could picture the sheer drop beside me even though I refused to look down. I could feel the ravine pulling me towards it and fought the temptation to turn around. But then I did something stupid.

I stopped.

Hugging the wall of the trail, I didn't dare move forward and I couldn't go back. The others were unaware of my situation, concentrated as they were on reaching the end of the precipitous ledge.

To my horror, I spotted an old lady coming towards us from the nearest village carrying a bundle of firewood in her arms. With barely enough room on the ledge for one person, I couldn't see how she would pass us but she did.

Deftly navigating her way around me, she had the bundle balanced upon her head. I dared to look at her as she passed by and she smiled back - a warm, comforting smile that radiated from her eyes as well as from her mouth.

And just like that, my fear eased and my strength of purpose returned.

All about the journey

This was no ordinary travel trip. This was an adventure of a lifetime, quite possibly the most rewarding travel experience I would have.

Here, in this place, as far from home as could be, it wasn't about reaching the endpoint, getting to the chosen city or tourist site at the culmination of my journey, but about experiencing moments such as these along the way. Those encounters I would remember for the rest of my life - the ones that would test me and push me and often terrify me.

It was about living in the moment.

And so I pushed on, heart in my mouth, hands clinging to the rock face for stability. Of course, I made it past the mountainside ledge - and past many other frightening trails just like it.

As we climbed to the circuit's summit of the Thorung La pass at 5,500 metres, we travelled through the world's deepest gorge and witnessed Buddhist villages and Hindu holy sites.

Traversing the pass at high altitude was extremely difficult yet immensely satisfying - near impossible to get a decent lungful of air, whilst being spoilt by typical Himalayan mountain views that are hard to adequately describe.

This trip was more than four years ago, yet the memories and emotions - images, events, people, places, colours, tastes and smells - are still as fresh in my mind as the day we set foot there.

My fear of heights remains the same but the way I view my life - from travel to work, lifestyle to family - has changed. Travel changed that. The trek in Nepal changed that.

For me, it's no longer about the destination I've always tried to reach, but about the journey that I take to get there. It's about being present in the moment, cherishing each day and enjoying the here and now, rather than focusing on what may or may not occur in the future.

Can you relate to that?

Have you faced something unexpected and found ways to confront it? Have events in your life - large or small - changed the way you look at things? 

This was a sponsored post.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Why I Can't Accept Australian Attitudes to Women in the Workplace

She's called in to the office to meet with her manager.

She has no idea what she's done or why he wants to see her but she waits patiently while he makes his point. He adopts a caring tone, asking how she is feeling and whether her workload is too much but his tone seems condescending rather than compassionate.

He says he has a couple of concerns related to her performance. Even though she works out of a home office, he wonders why she doesn't come in to the office every day and, when she does, why she doesn't arrive earlier in the morning and why she doesn't stay until the team leaves at night.

She says that she works from home as that is her base and she prefers to come in when the traffic has died down at 9 rather than 8. This seems reasonable enough and he looks down at his notes, nodding to himself, although it's plain to see that he doesn't agree with a word she's just said.

He asks how she is handling her work generally and she says it's all fine - she enjoys the tasks and the challenges. He asks why then are her reports always an hour late on Mondays and why doesn't she respond to his phone calls within a fifteen-minute timeframe. She has no answer other than to ask whether it's an issue to call back thirty minutes later, rather than fifteen, which is what she usually does.

She's starting to feel anxious, worried that her responses aren't good enough. She's on edge and feels as if she has something to hide. The way in which he questions her makes this seem like an interrogation, not a catch-up, and she scrambles in her mind to understand what the problem is and why he isn't satisfied with the answers she provides.

He queries a particular call she didn't immediately respond to and then she slips up.

Photo credit: Cat Sidh (Flickr Creative Commons)

I didn't call you back right back because I was collecting my son from daycare, she says. He looks up and smiles at her knowingly. She realises something has been confirmed in his mind but she doesn't expect what happens next.

How are you handling full-time work now you have a baby, he asks. It seems to me that you probably came back to the workplace too early, he adds. I get the sense that you're struggling to manage your work with your duties as a mother. Satisfied, he sits back and watches her face for a reaction.

She sits there dumbfounded.

She runs through everything in her mind. She works five days a week. She gets her work done on time, even if not always within his strict timeframes. She drops her son off at daycare then starts her work, often finishing in the early evening and rushing back home to make sure she doesn't miss his bedtime bath and evening stories.

If she stops working in the daytime for any reason, she makes sure she catches up in the evening when her son is asleep. She travels regularly with her job - almost too regularly given her circumstances - and never complains to her manager about the time away from her son or the burden this places on her husband.

She realises this is the way it has been since she decided to start a family in Australia. She has always been fearful of revealing her plans to have a child. She was nervous about mentioning her pregnancy. When she did, she was told there would be no maternity leave payments or any flexible arrangements made for her.

When she did reveal her "situation", the manager was disappointed and did not bother to hide his displeasure or irritation - in his view, he was now a worker down. Upon her return to the workplace only five months after the baby's birth, she was expected to re-join the workforce with no excuse or complaint, with total commitment and dedication to the role.

Now she sits here with her manager, him bemoaning her work ethic and demeaning her parental situation, she wishing for anything but this.

Then the nail in the coffin.

He asks how her little friend from the office is getting on. You know, the other girly that left us in the lurch to have a kid or something.

If only this story was unique to this one woman in Australia.

But it isn't.

Archaic attitudes

This is commonplace across Australia.

And, if I'm honest, the attitudes to women in the workplace - especially relating to pregnancy and maternity - just stink. They really do.

According to Australia's workplace watchdog, the Fair Work Ombudsman, pregnancy discrimination is now the number one complaint against the country's employers and this comes as no surprise to me.

Stinking attitudes have been a common theme since arriving in Australia many moons ago. From immigration to the environment, science to education, the views of certain elements of society leave a distinctly bad taste.

I'm not sure whether distance and isolation has led to a sense of detachment from more progressive nations and a feeling that "what works best for us here in Australia is all that matters". I'm fairly certain the macho culture plays a large role in determining who does what and how.

All that really matters is that attitudes here can be archaic and completely out of step with the rest of the world.

Treated differently

When it comes to motherhood and women in general, far too many employers have out-of-touch perceptions about females and a lack of desire to create more flexible work environments for mothers (and fathers), whatever stage of parenting they may be at.

According to the Ombudsman's figures, a sizeable proportion of women feel their family or carer responsibilities result in them being treated differently in the workplace.

Under Australian workplace laws and standards, employers are not allowed to make women feel uncomfortable for being pregnant or returning to work and seeking flexible work arrangements. In fact, employers should make sure that work is modified to suit the woman's situation.

However, it's clear these laws are being ignored.

While there are many Australian employers who offer bonuses and subsidies to help out with childcare and returning to work, a large number are promoting what the rest of us refuse to accept - that archaic attitudes to women in the workplace are okay in the modern Aussie workplace.

This resonates with broader studies into the views of Australian communities that show a movement towards more conservative, not liberal, attitudes towards women in the workplace.

People are moving towards the view that a working mother is less effective at doing both jobs - being a mum and having a career - than a woman who stays at home and cares for her child full-time. Incidentally, the notion of a man being the main breadwinner has gained ground in this country.

Look around my neighbourhood on the Northern Beaches and spot the high numbers of women at home full-time and the lack of childcare facilities for working mothers - and you start to wonder if there's an underlying backlash against the working mum.

I have nothing against the "stay-at-home" mum but I do have a problem if she stays at home because local attitudes dictate this is where she should be.

Workplace realities

I'm bored of hearing arguments about the impacts of pregnant women and maternity leave on small businesses and employers. My response is to "get over it".

Women and men choose to start families. Women fall pregnant and have kids. It's the way things are. These same women can also contribute to the workforce and provide valuable skills and experience, co-creating a strong, balanced, high-performing economy.

Whether the attitudes towards women date back to the 1950s or to Australia's refusal to join the modern, flexible working world, we may never know. But it's seriously time for this country to move forward.

A major change in attitude towards flexible work is the first step.

For many employers, working part-time is still seen as something women do when they've had their babies before eventually returning to the full-time ranks. Part-time work isn't taken seriously and is seen as not suiting someone committed to their career.

As a result, women are scared of working flexibly - or even asking the question - because they don't want to be known as the "part-timer" or "home worker".

Pregnancy and parenting discrimination is alive and kicking in the Aussie workplace, and it's obvious that attitudes to women need to progress. If not, women will continue to be discriminated against because of the simple fact they fall pregnant and have children.

More and more women will then avoid asking for flexibility or consideration of their situation for fear of reprisal or lack of remorse.

And women like my wife in this story will continue to lose out.

What's your view on attitudes to women in the workplace, particularly in Australia? Have you experienced this? Do you think attitudes need to change? 

Do share below.

Monday, 3 March 2014

Learning to Settle For More

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Laura Fortey, a journalist who has travelled extensively while reporting for Metro News. Laura is currently based in Burlington, Ontario, although she also calls the UK and Australia home.

The words hung in the air heavy and meaningful like the smell of rain on a spring day. What did they mean? What could I do or was I doing in my life to make it less ordinary? And most importantly, what insights did Russell share that I could learn from?

I began feverishly reading and I was hooked.

I first stumbled upon “In Search of a Life Less Ordinary” in summer of 2011 when I was going through some “life less ordinary” searching of my own. I had just moved from the absolutely stunning shores of Vancouver's lower-mainland, back to my old neck of the woods; downtown Toronto. I could not be further from the freedom and beauty I had just left behind. After applying for a visa by visum usa-ESTA, I had also lived in pure bliss in the US in the 2 years prior.

Coming “back home” felt so wrong, so unnatural, but everyone did it right? Everyone who went away to university and had a world trip adventure returned home one day; right?

Photo credit: Katherine H (Flickr Creative Commons)

It's what I was told we were supposed to do. And this societal expectation is precisely why the decision felt so wrong for me. My family and friends were happy that I was finally home and had landed in my hometown to settle my life.


That small, two-digit word was, and will continuously prove to be my nemesis. When people applauded my choice, I pushed away, isolated myself. When jobs were offered to me, I chose to manipulate them to preserve the feeling of not having to “settle” to someone else's standards.

With each passing day, I felt increasingly like the drone I never wanted to become.

Through much soul searching, I discovered living a life less ordinary for me meant obtaining pure FREEDOM. The freedom to choose working to live versus living to work. To choose firsthand experience, over being a voyeur to life.

To me, living a life less ordinary means living my life by the great Greek philosopher Epicurus' three keys to happiness; friends, freedom and an analysed life.

Here I was in Toronto with a small amount of friends, not much freedom (as I always felt bogged down by societal pressures in Ontario) and I had shut my brain off and began thinking that maybe everyone else was right. Maybe I should settle? It's what everyone else did, so could it be so wrong? I stopped analysing my life.

After about 18 months, I ran.

I ran fast. I ran far. Everyone thought I was crazy. I ran all the way to UK. But what I see that others don't is that I didn't run away. I ran toward; toward a life that was really and truly me. After all, only I am responsible for my happiness, my choices and I had to take the control back.

Leaving Toronto and moving to UK proved to reinstate my three keys to happiness.

I was once again living a life that I believed served me and allowed me to be the real me. I was still searching for the right career path, but my life less ordinary was becoming restored. I had fun, I laughed, I learned new things. I reconnected with great people. I began to clear my head of what and how I should be and allowed myself to be my best me, once again.

In the words of E.E. Cummings, It takes a lot of courage to grow up and be who you really are. To me, this is the pinnacle of living a life less ordinary.

What does a life less ordinary mean to you? Are there certain societal expectations that you struggle with? Can you relate to my story?

In the last post, I ran a competition to win a $50 gift voucher with NOVICA, a global marketplace for unique artisans from around the world. All those who commented on the post were entered into an online random name picking tool and the winner was revealed as Michelle so congrats to you! I'll send over further details of your voucher.   


Laura Fortey
Laura is an expat married to an Englishman who have lived together in Canada, the US, UK and Australia. She has worked for the Metro Newspaper since the Vancouver Olympics and understands firsthand the perils of international relationships and the stresses of moving around the world, yet she wouldn't trade this life in for anything else.

You can follow Laura on Twitter or through her website.

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