Starting to plan the Unplan

The Unplan has always been that I would get 100% debt free before making any decisions about where / when I would travel, with the ‘loose’ idea of Central / South America this coming fall / winter. As you can see, that’s not much of a plan at all, hence calling it the Unplan.

Now that I am officially debt free. (Can I get a whoop! whoop!?) It is really time for me to buckle down and start making some slightly more firm plans about my upcoming travels. So, here’s take one at my plans for the fall and how they came to be.

Before I went to Vietnam to lead the photo tour in April 2014 I found out about a FAM (familiarization) tour with Intrepid Travel for Chile and Argentina. These are trips sponsored by a supplier for travel agents only to experience a new destination and their products. This was a great fit for me. I was planning on heading to South America in the fall sometime, I’ve never travelled with Intrepid and I’ve never visited Chile and Argentina. BINGO!

I sent my application in to Intrepid, and sadly, was told that this particular trip was already full. boo. I was really disappointed, but I knew there would be more opportunities.

I went away to Asia for three weeks and lead my Vietnam: Through the Lens Photo Tour which was a great success. A few days after my return to work I noticed that Intrepid had posted on their internal Facebook group that there were still spots on the Chile & Argentina tour. I immediately wrote to our rep to ask if it was a mistake, or if someone had cancelled.

Sure enough, there had been one cancellation. My heart started racing and I got super excited. There was room for me and I was sure it was meant to be! So, I re-submitted my application, waited a couple of days and then received confirmation that I had been accepted on the trip.

Yipee! These were the only travel plans I was willing to commit to prior to the closing of my house. After all, it was a trip to Chile & Argentina for free (+ cost of flights). Even if something fell through with my house, I was pretty sure I could find the money I needed to cover my flights to get there. So very little risk in taking on this awesome opportunity.

So, Nov 16 – 23 I’ll be doing a tour similar to this one, with other Intrepid staff and travel agents.

That decision was made back in May (seems sooooo long ago) and since then, I’ve been flirting with all kinds of ideas around it.

Next up is my next Photo Tour. I decided as soon as I came back from Vietnam that is was time to do another PERU: Through the Lens trip. I immediately put plans in place, created an itinerary and got it off to marketing. Dates were decided for Oct 18 – 28th and I am currently looking for a minimum of eight people to take part, maximum 15. I already have a couple of spots sold on the trip and am looking forward to finding the last few that are required to guarantee it. Deposits are due by July 18th, so I’m down to about three weeks to find six more people. If you are interested in coming along for a great combination of photography and tourism, get in touch and book soon!

Now, with the photo tour up in the air (needing 8 people to guarantee departure), I can’t make any specific plans until after deposit date (July 18th). So, everything else at this time is tentative and I’ll do another update mid July to see what has changed.

Through connections, I have been introduced to a tour operator in Turkey. Through discussions, we’ve discovered that we have a lot in common. He is working on arts tours of Turkey; photography, painting, drawing, weaving, pottery etc. Of course, I’m interested in the photography section of it. So, he’s offered to host me for 7-9 days in Turkey this fall so that I can check out the products that he offers and see the great country. How could I possibly pass up that opportunity??

It definitely comes with a small hitch though … the only time he can host me is in October. And my Peru photo tour is also in October. What this means is that I will have to go to Turkey for a week and then almost immediately head to Lima, Peru for the beginning of my photo tour.

Yuck! I only say yuck because it is a 17 – 24 hour travel time from Europe to South America. I’m looking at a few other options though. And, with this whole fall travel thing I’ve been trying to make plans so that I have time to rest and continue my travel agency work. I don’t want to be on the go all the time or I’ll burn out. The last thing I want to do is burn out early on in the trip! I need some stamina to get through everything that I’m looking forward to.

I have decided that I will take the opportunity in Turkey. I can’t pass it up. It is just a matter of arranging carefully for travel so that I don’t have to rush or get too tired.

Having said that, who goes all the way to Turkey for one week? Not me! With a great opportunity in Turkey, all I can say is that since I have to pay for my flights there anyway, I might as well make it worth while. Which brings me to the next part of my plans.

With Turkey tentatively scheduled for the first two weeks of October, I’ve been thinking about heading to Europe in late September to take in some of the other countries that I want to see. Mainly, Croatia where I have been considering doing a photo tour. So, I’ve begun researching options for Croatia. Do I do it in a small group tour? By land? By sail boat? By small 7-8 person sail boat? By larger 100 person sail boat? Do I do JUST Croatia or do I tie it in to the Balkans including Croatia, Serbia, Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia & Hertzagovina? And do I try to fit Greece in for a few days too seeing as it sits between Croatia and Turkey? Phew! How’s that for a lot of decisions to make?

I’m looking at the following tours for this section of my trip:

G Adventures
Western Balkans Adventure – Sept 19 – 30 – $2999 – Croatia / Bosnia / Montenegro

Sailing Croatia – Split to Dubrovnik – Sept 20 – 27 – $1499

Bamba
Croatia Ways – Zagreb to Dubrovnik – $494 USD – Hop on Hop off – This is a totally different experience than the others. It is transportation and a few activities included, but is independent travel and hotels are not included. Can start any day as long as my travel is complete by Sept 30th. And schedule is flexible so I can spend more time in some areas than others. Suggested 14 days.

Split to Athens – $989 USD – Suggested 18 days – Hop on Hop off

Dubrovnik to Athens – Podgorica Ways – $769 USD – Suggested 14 days – Hop on Hop Off

Croatia to Greece Road Trip – $925 USD – 6 day Adventure Trip – Departs Dubrovnik Saturdays only

Intrepid
Balkan Adventure – Sept 13 – 27 (1 spot left) – Bosnia & Herzegovina , Croatia , Hungary , Montenegro , Serbia – $2615

Dubrovnik to Santorini – Sept 13 – Oct 4 (1 spot left) – Croatia, Montenegro, Albania and Greece from Dubrovnik to Santorini

Sail Trogir to Dubrovnik – Sept 20 – 27 – Croatia – $1478

Dubrovnik to Athens – Sept 13 – 27 – $3225 – Albania , Croatia , Greece , Macedonia , Montenegro

Star Clippers
Croatia & Montenegro (Venice to Venice) – Sept 20 – 27 -Croatia, Montenegro, Slovenia. Sadly, I expect that this option is going to be too expensive for me to do on my own. If you want to be my travel partner … drop me a note!

Departing Halifax sometime between September 11 (at the earliest) and 19th ish – Seems kind of crazy. Don’t know I’m ready for that. It’s only 12 weeks away!

So here’s an overview of what I’m considering … tentatively ….

Sept 13 / 20 – October 1 – Croatia / The Balkans / Greece – undecided exactly where yet.

Oct 1 – 12 (ish) – Instanbul / Cappadocia, Turkey (possibly Gallipoli / Troy & the Mediterranean coast by Gulet boat)

Oct 12 / 13 – Fly from Istanbul to South America – possibly stopping back in Canada or US depending on flight routing.

Oct 14 – 17 – Relax in Lima, Peru prior to the start of the Peru: Through the Lens trip

Oct 18 – 28 – PERU: Through the Lens (Lima / Cuzco / Sacred Valley / Machu Picchu)

Oct 28 – Nov 15 – Not sure what to do in this time yet, but likely will be a combination of a few places that I haven’t seen in Peru + settling down for a week or more at an apartment somewhere new where I can relax, explore and concentrate a full week on working. I have to continue to sell travel while I’m away – that is my job. So, if you are planning to travel, you can support me by contacting me to book your travel. It will help me immensely!

Nov 15 – By this day, I need to be in Santiago, Chile where I will start my next tour on Nov 16th.

Nov 16 – 23 – Intrepid FAM (Santiago / Mendoza / Buenos Aires)

On Nov 23rd, I will end all of the organized portions of my trip and will be in Buenos Aires.

Nov 23 – Dec 15 (ish) – Undecided

Dec 15 (ish) – Jan 30 – Dominican Republic – In an apartment, not traveling around much, except that I want to get to Samana, as well as visiting friends in Punta Cana / Santo Domingo. Those are weekend trips though! And, if I find some friends to travel with, I might want to get to the lesser visited parks throughout the country. I’m photographing a friend’s wedding on Dec 28th near Cabarete in the Dominican. This is the same area where I studied Spanish for seven weeks in 2012 and I CANNOT wait to return!

Between Nov 23rd and approximately Dec 15 I have the following options (or combination of these):

Return home to Canada for a couple of weeks (although not sure where I would stay … parent’s in Fredericton? Maybe my sister’s?) And, flight wise, it is probably the most expensive option. South America to Dominican Republic should be much cheaper than South America to Halifax to Dominican Republic.
Settle down in Buenos Aires; many people have told me I will love it there.
Do a short trip to Iguazu Falls – on my bucket list.
Explore Patagonia (southern tip of Argentina & Chile) – this is the one I’m leaning toward.
Fly to Colombia and spend a few weeks exploring or studying Spanish, as it is an area I think I’d like to spend a longer period of time in.

Then, come the end of January I will have to decide if I want to stay longer in the Dominican or if I am ready to start moving around again. I love the Dominican and it feels like home to me, so staying is easy. It is a busy time of year for the travel industry so I will need to be somewhere with good internet and that I don’t feel the need to go out and explore every day. However, I am considering possibly heading to Nicaragua or Colombia for February and March.

Honestly … after traveling for four and a half months (mid-September to January), I don’t think there is any chance that I’m going to WANT to come back to Nova Scotia in the middle of winter. So, I might as well make the best of it and see a couple more places … Right?

Closing Day

Here it is, closing day (Wednesday, June 18, 2014). To me it seems like it has been a LONG LONG time coming, but yet in some ways it all came together too quickly. It is so hard to believe that I put this plan in place at the beginning of February and here it is June 18th and the planned part of my ‘Unplan’ has come together.

Now, things certainly didn’t just fall into place. Almost everything has been a challenge. Let’s not forget the pain of renovations, the frustrations of the kitchen cupboards being redone at least four times and having no livable space for weeks (felt like a year). Or, me doing last minute touch ups until midnight the night before I left for Asia for three weeks. And, don’t even get me started on the crazy week of packing, lifting things that were too heavy for me, 20+ trips to the storage unit and enough trips up and down stairs with heavy boxes that I should have a rock hard ass. (I don’t though … ha ha)

I had planned to have everything moved out and the place cleaned by Sunday. Wow! Did I ever mis-calculate the time needed to get everything done. The biggest challenge wasn’t physically packing items, but more so trying to figure out what to pack and what to throw away. Going through boxes / papers / CDs / clothing / kitchen supplies … You name it, I had to sort through it.

It is one thing when you are packing to move to a new house and take everything with you (unless it is broken). It is a whole new ball game when you are moving, considerably downsizing your life in an effort to simplify, travel and be happy.

Keep in mind I moved from a two bedroom condo – approximately 1100 sq ft to a 12 x 8 already furnished, bedroom. I downsized by about 1000 sq ft!

I hired Cheaper than the Rest movers (if you hire them, make sure you let me know & tell them I sent you – they have a referral bonus!). They were great and certainly gave me a good deal. They disassembled two beds and packed those up along with two dressers, a night stand, a bookcase, a tv, four SUV tires, photography backdrops some boxes and totes. They dropped one bed off at my sister’s house in Hammonds Plains and then everything else to the storage unit in Bayer’s Lake … All for about $175.

I have a storage unit that is 5 x 10 ft (about $100 per month) and if I hadn’t given my spare bed to my niece, I don’t think the unit would have been big enough. It is fine for now though and when I decide where / what I’m doing in the fall I may have to consider a larger unit in order to fit everything from my current room into storage.

Yesterday was a very difficult day for me. On top of underestimating the amount of time it would take me to pack and clean, I had a photo shoot scheduled for the evening and hadn’t even thought about the fact that leaving my condo for the last time, closing and locking the door would be very emotional. How did I miss that?

So, after packing and cleaning for a fourth day in a row, I finished up at around 3pm, dirty, exhausted and sore. I had everything out except for one bag of garbage and a vacuum that I simply couldn’t stuff into my SUV that was bursting with random items to go to friends, to storage, to my new ‘room’. I dropped stuff off at the storage unit (for the 2nd time that day), went home to clean up before my photo shoot and then at 8:30pm headed back to the condo for one last walk through to make sure there would be no hiccups with the final walk through.

I was getting close to the condo when it really hit me that I was going to leave my keys inside the condo, lock the door and never return again. By the time I unlocked the door to go in that one last time I was crying. It was completely overwhelming. I did it to myself, this was all part of the plan, but none-the-less, it was difficult to leave behind the first place that I had purchased on my own, the only place I’ve ever lived for more than two years. A place where I had many memories, many frustrations and really, a place that I loved. I sat down in the empty living room with my back against a wall and cried. Yup. I did.

Half way through 2014 I can easily say it has been one of the most chaotic years of my life.

From the beginning I’ve said that the first step of my whole Unplan was to get debt free. I refused to make any significant travel plans before making sure that I had full financial freedom so that I could move forward without any real commitments.

Today is that day everyone.

9am – the final walk-through of the condo by the buyers was complete.

9:07am – I had a message from my fantastic realtor, Richard Payne from Keller Williams telling me it is ‘time to celebrate’ as the buyers were happy and the documents were all signed and in the lawyers hands.

1:30pm – I received a call from my Mark Charles Law to let me know that the deal was fully complete and a cheque was waiting for me.

4:30pm – Funds were deposited in my bank account with no hold so I could start paying off debts right away.

Closing day was actually pretty calm for me in comparison to yesterday when I was still cleaning and packing. Today was just the cherry on top of all of the hard work.

Now comes the freedom part … that deserves a blog post all of it’s own (coming soon).

The Unplan – OMG What have I done?

OMG What have I done?

I’ve been planning the steps to get debt free officially for four months and unofficially tossing around the idea for 8 months to a year.

Here I am less than three weeks away from my debt-free plan coming to fruition and I think I’m losing my mind.

OMG – less than three weeks!!!!

Luckily, I think it is a normal freak out. If you were all of a sudden about to have no commitments, no debts … wouldn’t you freak out a little too?

I don’t have kids, but I liken this to being a mom or dad who has been planning for a couple of months for the grandparents to take the kids for a week … then that week approaches and panic sets in. ‘OMG what do I do without my kids?’

Well … that’s kind of the feeling I have right now … I am excited for financial freedom. Being debt free is something not too many people can lay claim to. However, I’m doing so by choice. I am excited to be able to design my life and choose where I want to go next. On the other hand, having no fixed address and an overwhelming number of options for what to do with my life leaves me sometimes nearly paralyzed with fear. I’ve learned when there are too many thoughts in my brain, a few things happen …

1. I get frustrated which can lead to me crying (yes, I’m a girl. And yes, I cry out of frustration – deal with it! I’ve learned to accept it)
2. I get sleepy (apparently if your brain is in overdrive, you use a lot of energy!)

My mind is racing with all of the things I have to do in order to move (purging & selling items, changing address, finding a post office box and a storage unit, physically moving, packing & unpacking, changing insurance policies, disconnecting power / internet etc). All the while, continuing to keep my photography and travel businesses running so that I can make money to live. After all, being debt free doesn’t mean being rich or having no bills. It simply means I will have no debts hanging over my head. It means living more simply with a goal in mind to keep me on track.

And, now that being debt free is within reach (week! I can’t believe I’m saying that!) I’ve started day dreaming about the possibilities for what my fall travel will look like. Of course, this is the fun part, but it can be totally overwhelming too.

Pssst … I’m not sure if you know this, but there is a whole world out there waiting for you to discover it!

Trying to decide where to start, what to see and what to leave out is kind of a big deal for me. And, trying to balance that with the fact that I do not want to be constantly on the move. I want to settle down for a few weeks in a couple of yet to be determined places so that I can really get a feel for that area, as well as being able to continue working as a travel agent remotely.

I know for the many of you out there who are living vicariously through me and those who are incredibly excited for this journey of mine, you read all of this and say ‘you go girl’ and ‘that’s so exciting’. You are right. All of this is very exciting, but please don’t forget that it is also incredibly overwhelming. At this point I go through daily moments where I think ‘OMG what have I done?’ Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t take any of it back, and in fact, if I wanted to, I could kibosh the entire traveling plan, but I’m not. The ‘what have I done?’ is just me being overwhelmed with all that I’ve accomplished and all the lies ahead of me. Not in a bad way, just in a way that most people don’t understand because they’ve never set a plan in place to get debt free and travel.

Sure, I am by far not the first person to do this! But, I bet for most of you I’m the first person you know who is doing this! And quite honestly, it often happens before starting your life and career or after your kids graduate and you retire. Of the small percentage of the people in the world who sell everything and go travel, I’m the even smaller percent who is doing it in the middle of my career, before I have children and long before I retire.

Brave? Yes.
Stupid? hmmm … I sure hope not.
Will I regret it? Not a chance.

The Unplan – Life Changing Decisions – Part 10

For the last couple of years I’ve certainly had wanderlust. Since I first got back on a plane after surviving a plane crash in December 1997, I’ve gotten stronger and stronger and have wanted to explore further and further.

First, a trip to Bermuda to see if I would lose it completely on a plane. (2008)
I didn’t.

Then a trip to New York to celebrate turning 30 and that I didn’t lose it on a plane! (2008)

Then on to Costa Rica and Nicaragua – a whole new continent for me. Also the first time that I started thinking about studying Spanish.(2009)

Next thing I knew I was traveling to photograph destination weddings. (2010)

And then another new continent as I flew to Germany and Poland to photograph Coalition for Kids International, granting wishes to terminally ill children in Poland. (2011)

My little wings that had been weakened by 11 years of non-use, were getting stronger.

Why not take it further and create Photo Tours in far away places like Peru and Vietnam? (2012 – 2014)

With all of those great destinations under my belt, a lot of take offs and landings and no further plane crashes … I decided it was time to really take a leap and off to Southeast Asia I went with my longest flight being 12 hours and 50 minutes from Narita, Japan to Chicago, USA.

Looking back, it’s incredible to see that all of this (and much much more) has happened in the past seven years.

So, it really shouldn’t be any big surprise to anyone what I’m about to tell you …

I’m sure if you’ve been reading my series of Life Changing Decisions, you are starting to put it together.

1. Decision to get debt free.
2. Work at a job that can be done anywhere in the world (or confirm that your current job can)
3. Do renovations & put condo on the market
4. Dream of travel

What do you get when those things all come together?

You get the UNPLAN! (and a really happy Shari)

In my head, and to my close friends and family, my plan since the beginning of this was not really to have a plan at all, hence the UNPLAN.

What exactly does the UNPLAN look like?

Like a leaf in the wind (or a paper airplane), I can go wherever the wind takes me. Sounds crazy doesn’t it? Well, it’s a semi-calculated type of crazy if that makes it any better!

I am setting my life up to be debt free and with fewer commitments. This will allow me to travel when and where I want and discover our amazing world. I don’t want to live my life waiting 12 months for my next vacation. I don’t want to be on vacation all the time, but I do want to live my life to the fullest and for me, a big part of that is seeing this amazing, vast, beautiful world we live in.

The UNPLAN has always been somewhat calculated. I’m not jumping off a cliff without checking for a soft landing. From the beginning, although extremely hard for other people to understand, I have made very few decisions about where / when / how long I would travel for. I would tell people I’m getting debt free so I can travel and they would of course ask ‘Where are you going to go?’ Although I had narrowed it down to a starting point of Central and South America, that’s as much as I was willing to commit to. When they asked me ‘How long are you going for?’ My answer has always been ‘I’m not sure. An undetermined amount of time. I’m not debt free yet.’

I have flitted back and forth between ideas such as a year-long around the world trip, a SWAP working holiday in New Zealand, settling in for a couple (or several) months somewhere in Central or South America, or simply living in Nova Scotia and traveling whenever I possibly can. These are big, amazing options. Don’t you dare say I’m ‘lucky’ to have these choices. This has nothing to do with luck folks, I am making these choices, they aren’t just magically happening.

You see, there are doers and dreamers in this world. I’m a doer. Yes, I have big dreams but I don’t sit and daydream unless I’m actually going to make something happen. So, being realistic about it all, I absolutely, flat out refuse to make any travel decisions until I become debt free. (with one exception – see below)

Although I still dream of where I want to visit, where I might like to stay for a little while and what great adventures are out there waiting for me, until I achieve my first, and most important goal of being debt free, I can’t move forward with achieving this undetermined amount of travel. This is a calculated UNPLAN!

I’m designing my own life. I’m making choices for me, based on my passions, what’s important in my life and how I can find happiness. Isn’t the true meaning of life to live it to it’s fullest?

So, let me give you the big announcement(s) …

1. Knock on wood, my condo has sold. Barring any complications with the condo financials, it is a done deal with a mid-June closing date. It was on the market for less than one month. I got reasonably close to asking price. I got slightly more than I needed in order to get completely debt free, set aside my down payment for my next home purchase and set aside a bit of money for travel. I think the universe is encouraging me to continue with the UNPLAN!

2. I confirmed a long time ago that I would be able to continue to be a travel agent, but work from anywhere in the world with my current employer, The Adventure Travel Company. Today, May 15th is my last day working in the office and as of tomorrow I will be working remotely. I’ll post a blog about this transition in a couple of days, but for now, all you need to know is that I am still a full service travel agent, specializing in adventure travel. I am affiliated with the amazing Adventure Travel Company and I hope you’ll support me by trusting me to help you plan YOUR next adventure. You can email me at stucker@atcadventure.com

3. I have been accepted on a travel agent familiarization tour with Intrepid Travel for one week in Chile and Argentina in November. This is the one concrete travel plan that I allowed myself to make before all of my other plans came together. I knew that once the condo sold, I would likely head to Central or South America, so this was a natural fit and gave me dates to work with when I would already be in that part of the world. This trip is free (except airfare) and gives me the opportunity to experience these two countries with a great supplier. I knew that even if my condo did not sell, that I would be able to either find the money for the flights or I have enough Aeroplan points to get me there. There were too many benefits for me to pass up. I had originally applied but it was full. A couple of months later, someone had to cancel and one little spot opened up. It had my name all over it! I applied within minutes of finding out a spot had opened up.

4. Having confirmed that I would be heading to South America in November, I shortly thereafter made the decision to launch a new Peru: Through the Lens Photo Tour. I’ve just released details to my photo email list and full details will go public next week. On my first day to announce the new tour, I already have the first person signed up! Tour dates are Oct 18 – 28, 2014. If you’d like more information, please contact me, or sign up for my photo tour newsletter.

There it is folks …

My condo has sold.
I start work as a home-based travel agent on May 16th, but remain under the umbrella of The Adventure Travel Company.
I have a tour booked to Chile and Argentina in November, so if nothing else, I know where I’m headed in late fall.
I am about to go full force promoting my next Peru: Through the Lens photo tour for October 2014.

My UNPLAN is starting to shape up.

Now, of course, in the spirit of an UNPLAN, I have not decided how long I am going for or what other countries I will visit. And, as with everything else, those decisions all depend on many variables. My condo sale still needs to finalize and all of my debts must be completely cleared. I need to find a place to live for the summer and early fall. I must find at least eight people to travel with me on the Peru: Through the Lens photo tour. And, let’s not forget that nice man who walked into my life back in February (see Part 8 of this series). I can’t leave him behind for a year while I go gallivanting around. And no, sadly he can’t come gallivant around with me for a year due to commitments here! It’s still new and early, but it wouldn’t be fair to him or me ignore him in all of this!

Like I said … it is still an UNPLAN with many choices and decisions yet to be made and too many variables still lurking around. Don’t worry, I’ll be blogging about it all along the way!

Now that the big news is out there … let the questions begin! Feel free to post questions and comments below on this post … share with your friends … send it to other people you know who are currently on extended travels or those who dream of doing so …

I’ll be posting updates about my struggles, preparations, decisions and triumphs until departure day (whenever that may be). After that, I’ll transition into sharing my travel adventures of whatever fantastic countries I visit. Some will be exciting, inspirational and likely funny. Others will be boring and simply there for me to keep track of my thought process. I invite you to sign up for my blog updates (top right of my blog) and follow along as often (or not) as you wish.

The first five months of 2014 have certainly been filled with amazing challenges, laughter, tears and some of the biggest decisions of my life so far … but wait … at least all of those things are my choice … so really, how bad can it be?

Just like a leaf in the wind … I’m about to go on a crazy ride.

I hope its a warm, southern wind not a Nor easter!

Another Life Changing Decision – Part 3 & 4

It’s your lucky day friends! I’ve had soooo many lovely messages, comments, questions and sooo much encouragement that I’ve decided to speed up my posts just a little bit.

Today I’m posting two blogs in one just for you!

Apparently I have many friends that are sitting waiting for me to continue my story, so … moving on …

** Please note: Although I am posting this on May 8th, it was written back in January … it is the continuation of a series of how my thought process has worked to get me to the decisions that I am about to announce. Please keep in mind that none of the ‘ideas’ are, or were ever carved in stone … simply thoughts and possibilities.

The What’s Done List – Jan 22nd, 2014

So, if you’ve been following along, you know that I’ve been considering living abroad. I’ve been picking away at a to do list to try and make this a possibility. To date, here’s what I’ve accomplished:

Made appointment with a real estate investor to chat about selling vs renting.

Made an appointment with a real estate agent for her to view my condo and talk about options / pricing etc.

Found out the current balance on my SUV loan and did a little research that says my vehicle should be worth $17000 – $20000. This is excellent news as I thought I was going to lose a considerable amount of money on it if I sold it!

Contacted a friend in the car industry to see if there is anything she can suggest or assist with.

Sent a reminder to my upper management to get details on working while living abroad.

Contacted a TEFL provider for further information on certification. (Teaching English)

Looked into TEFL in Halifax and found that it is cheaper and can be done on Saturday’s and Sunday’s! This might be the perfect option for me … considering doing it locally in May.

Made an appointment with my financial advisor to discuss all of these plans.

Made a goal (although slightly flexible) to be debt free before embarking on a living abroad experience. Profit from my SUV sale and condo sale (if I sell) will go toward paying off my lines of credit with the remainder being invested … not to be used for travel.

Decision / realization and preparation for the fact that if I sell my vehicle I will need to begin using Metro transit for daily transportation. However, I can arrange some car pooling (especially for the winter), I’ll be away nearly all of April in Vietnam and then when I come home the weather should be much nicer. And, if I decide to work from home, transit won’t be needed as much. Using transit will also force me to get more exercise as I’ll either walk to where I need to go, or walk to the bus stop. Lots of people do it, why not me?!

If I go the route of selling my condo though, that is a bit of a different story as I’ll need to find a home for the next few months. hmmmm … I haven’t really thought about this one too much, but I’m sure I can make it work. A friend somewhere near a bus route must have a room they could rent me for a few months.

Next steps? Other than the meetings I already have set up?
Work on purging some things from my house. Any of the money from things I sell will go directly on my line of credit.
Start advertising for a few weddings (or assisting other photographers).
Signing up for CESO volunteer program
Begin cleaning up my computers / organizing files (a never ending, but much needed task)

The What’s Done List – Jan 25th, 2014

Had an appointment with one Real Estate Agent and learned some important things:
. Great time for me to sell because my mortgage renewal is due in August, so very little breakage fees
. Condos in my area have recently gone up in value and are selling for about $15 000 – $20 000 more than what I purchased for
. Rent for a 2 bedroom condo / apartment in Clayton Park area runs about $800 – $1000 which is not enough to cover mortgage and condo fees, let alone the hassle of renting while I am away. Looks like selling is the best option. Double checked the rental rates on kijiji and it appears to be correct.
. Average time a property is on the market is approximately 90 days.

Went to Hyundai to find out how much they would offer me for my vehicle as an outright sale, not a trade in.
. They said he would give me about $12000 and that it would be put on the lot for about $15999. Sadly this is nowhere near the $17000 – $20000 that I thought I might be lucky enough to get. I guess this is because it is not 4×4 and is not a V6.

Received email / blank contracts from my boss regarding how an outside sales agent job works and confirmation that I can work from abroad.

Emailed friends in UAE about their experiences in Abu Dhabi and Dubai and any knowledge they have of TEFL work. Two of the three friends wrote back very quickly telling me how much they love living in UAE. I learned the following:
. Very westernized
. Very safe (leave purse on table, leave house unlocked)
. Mostly foreigners, only 20 – 30 % of population are locals in Abu Dhabi
. Very expensive for housing and employers offer housing compensation or packages
. Public transport is questionable because the infrastructure isn’t fully developed
. People who live there tend to have high incomes and travel a lot.
. Teachers can save $10 000 – $15 000 per year while working in UAE

Found out that UAE REQUIRES a BA + TEFL for teachers, therefore I am not eligible to apply for jobs there. So much for that idea! It was fun to consider for a day or two, but in the end, I’m not really that disappointed over it. It would have been a money maker, but not necessarily my ideal travel situation.

My wonderful financial advisor, Emily Rae at Assante Wealth Management, told me that she knows someone who is currently traveling the world and working. She can put me in touch so that I can pick his brain about lots of things.

At this point, all I can really do is gather as much information as I can to try and make an informed decision.

The research continues …

Another Life Changing Decision – Part 2

The To Do List

On January 11th, 2014 I was off on a girls trip to Mexico with my sister and some of her friends. It was just a standard resort trip. Not really my type of travel as I’m more adventurous, but none the less, I had a fabulous time and rekindled my love of Latino culture, the Spanish language and latin dancing. Not that any of them had really gone away … just subsided slightly.

Over the week’s vacation, I didn’t do a whole lot of thinking about how I was going to make it all happen, but in my mind I was trying to sort out how to leave Nova Scotia winters behind and live abroad for awhile. On the five hour plane ride from Cancun to Halifax I began writing a list of what I would have to do in order to make this all happen.

Here’s my list:

Sell or rent my condo – research options – contact real estate / property management companies
Sell my SUV – research balance owing on loan, current value and how to sell it (private / dealership)

Save money – consider taking on a few weddings over the summer, teaching photography classes, not eating out, looking for free exercise options not the gym (i.e. skating / walking, at home)

Find out about options for working abroad
Research teaching English abroad – TEFL certificate
Research jobs for foreigners in destination (such as Mexico)
Research running my own photography business (weddings / photo tours etc)

Research work visas (but this can’t be done until I decide on a country)

Determine some sort of time line / goal (currently I have loosely set this for Sept / Oct 2014)

Start selling / clearing out anything extra in my house that I haven’t been using or could make a bit of money from.

There’s nothing at all overwhelming about this to-do list is there?!

** Please note: Although I am posting this on May 7th, it was written back in January … it is the continuation of a series of how my thought process has worked to get me to the decisions that I am about to announce. Please keep in mind that none of the above ‘ideas’ are, or were ever carved in stone … simply thoughts and possibilities.

Another Life Changing Decision – Part 1

Let me start with saying that I am starting to write this post on Jan 22, 2014, but have no plans of actually posting it for 2-3 months. I want to keep track of all of my thoughts and processes, but I am not in anyway ready to announce these to the world at the moment. So … here it goes!

Just what is going on in my head?

A couple of months ago, I began thinking about going abroad for an extended period of time. It started one day when I was at work in November and a client contacted me about the SWAP New Zealand program. For some reason, when I read the eligibility it hit me … You can apply for your visa and must have it in hand before you turn 36. Yikes! Suddenly I was feeling old, a little lonely for not being settled with a husband and kids and I was staring at this opportunity that I could only possibly do sometime in the next 10 months of my life.

The pondering began.
Could I really go away for a year and live in another country?
How could I possibly make that work with so many responsibilities here?
Am I too old? Really? Do 35 – 36 year olds move away to another country for a year to work and travel?

I dropped the idea to my family throughout the coming weeks. I’m sure they all thought I was crazy, but yet were not really surprised that an idea like this would come from me. Over Christmas I dropped the idea on friends and family again to start to prepare them that I was really serious about going to work abroad for an extended period of time. At this time, I’m thinking 6 months to a year, but with full knowledge that I could decide to stay for 2 years or 10 years … who knows.

In early January, I met with my friend Andrea who had just done a volunteer assignment with CESO. She had gone to Guyana for almost four weeks and told me how much she loved the work, the experience and the organization. Even better, they pay for your flights and living expenses while you are there. They offer lots of interesting locations, so I vowed that I would start the process of becoming a volunteer. As of Jan 22nd, I have not yet started that process. This is a mental note to get on that. No matter what I decide to do over the next year, I think it is an excellent opportunity to travel and give back. So, what am I waiting for? Maybe it’s a project for this weekend.

On January 9th, I had the opportunity to speak directly to my upper management at my job. I was scared to death, but decided to take a leap and just put it out there. We sat down and chatted for an hour or more and I brought up my concerns about working in an office environment. Although I left my home-based photography business because I was craving the stability and companionship that an office environment would provide, after a year I’ve decided that I might just be better suited to being an entrepreneur.

This led into the conversation about the possibilities of continuing to work as a travel agent, but doing so from a home office instead of our store front. My manager was receptive, knowing that I had already approached her about this once in the past. We discussed how the program works along with the benefits and downfalls. In that, I also decided to approach the subject of whether it is possible to work as an at home agent while living abroad. Can I live in Mexico or Costa Rica, but still sell tour packages and custom itineraries to clients in Canada? This is the question that I am currently awaiting a response on. I’m crossing my fingers for a yes.

Regardless, I have informed my manager and upper management that within the next few months I will be aiming to become an outside sales agent, rather than working in the office. There is way more flexibility for me, higher wage potential, the ability to do a little bit of photography on the side and possibly, the opportunity to work from abroad. Downfalls … no regular salary, back to working from home and likely going a few weeks without a pay cheque. Not quite sure how I’m going to manage that one at the moment.

** Please note: Although I am posting this on May 6th, it was written back in January … it is the beginning of a series of how my thought process has worked to get me to the decisions that I am about to announce. Please keep in mind that none of the above ‘ideas’ are or were ever carved in stone … simply thoughts and possibilities.

Myanmar Highlights

Fishing on Inle Lake, Myanmar

In 2013 I visited South East Asia for the first time. I remember people asking what were my Myanmar highlights and it was impossible to narrow it down to one specific thing! The best answer I could come up with was ‘All of Myanmar’. It amazes me to realize that I have visited this beautiful, largely undiscovered country before the rest of the world got to it. The experiences and wonderment still feel fresh in my mind.

Take for example the morning that a small group of us did a little photo tour to an area just outside the downtown area of Yangon. We walked for about 15 minutes and were outside of the business district, watching the city wake up and begin bustling with locals preparing a small market. We were there before sunrise and saw the monks lining up for their morning rounds and collection. I’m really not sure who was more curious, them or us. It is so incredibly interesting to go to an area where tourists are so rare that they actually become an attraction in the place they’ve gone to visit. I’ll admit, I was a bit shy, not knowing how to approach or talk to the monks, but soon enough I came to understand that they were happy to see us and happy to practice their English skills.

I wandered around taking a few photographs and then one of the locals invited us in to the monastery to enjoy a local breakfast. A few minutes later the group of us were taking off our socks and shoes and following the kind man into a large dining area filled with locals. Barely with our bums in the seats, local men and women were coming out of the kitchen area with various dishes in hand and filling the table with typical breakfast consisting of rice, noodles, fish soup and then sweet sticky rice came along a little later. They filled our bowls and when we were done, they immediately appeared to fill them up again. They certainly didn’t want us to leave hungry. These were the community members who came together to cook food for the monks at this monastery, but the monks were all out on collection at the time. After we finished our meal, we were surprised as the locals gathered around and wanted their photos taken with us. It was only my second day in Myanmar and I was already learning that tourists were as much of an attraction as the attractions were to the tourists.

Yangon, Myanmar
Yangon, Myanmar

With an open mind, even the simplest of pleasures can turn out to be a highlight of the trip. I expected extreme poverty. After all it is one of the poorest countries in Asia. To my surprise, our overnight bus from Yangon to Mandalay was beautiful, high end and even had a hostess on board. It was comfortable, with reclining seats to a much better decline than standard buses. Each of us was given a thick warm, fuzzy blanket and a hostess was available for questions and assistance throughout the night. On top of that, the recently built divided highway was mostly smooth sailing and despite the rain, I didn’t feel fearful or uncomfortable at all throughout the night. I just laid back and slept.

Most of the tours that are offered to Burma / Myanmar, range from 12 – 17 days. Sadly, I was on a shortened version and had to pack as much as possible into only 10 spectacular days. Because of the shortened itinerary, we had only one full day to explore that wonders of beautiful Mandalay. Although the core of the city itself isn’t really a highlight, there are lots of beauties to enjoy on the outskirts. A few hours to half a day can be spent enjoying the beauty, history and culture of the ancient U Bein bridge in Amarapura. Just simply watching the way of life, traveling by boat across the lake and then returning by walking across the 1.2 km ancient teak wood bridge. Along the way you can stop and taste local delicacies, take in the spectacular views and meet a few new local friends selling souvenirs.

Snacks along the U Bein teak wood bridge
Snacks along the U Bein teak wood bridge

Don’t be put off though, despite the fact that they are there to make a living and sell their wares, I found the local kids particularly respectful, friendly and interesting. We only had about an hour to spend, which was far too rushed for this beautiful spot, but in that hour I managed to take a boat ride to the middle of the lake and then return on foot across the bridge. I met a young girl who walked back to the main land with me. We chatted about her family, her schooling and life on the lake. Her English was excellent, she was friendly and she didn’t ask me to buy anything until we were nearly back to the main land. It was at this time that I bargained with her a little and purchased two necklaces … one with jade elephants and the other with amber.

We spent the remainder of our day in Mandalay crossing the Irrawaddy river to Mingun, a small community with some big claims to fame. The tiny community hosts the world’s largest bell (over two tonnes of iron), the unfinished, Pahtodawgyi pagoda and the beautiful Hsinbyume pagoda. We spent a couple of hours wandering around, visiting the sites and dodging rain, which came and went in fits and spurts. Although the rain slowed us down a little as we waited for it to stop under the cover of a big leafy tree, it certainly didn’t ruin the experience and I wouldn’t change it for a second and replace it with a mass of tourists. I’d much rather travel in green season dodging a bit of rain than dodging hundreds of tourists. Having said that, it’ll be quite some time before Mingun sees hundreds of tourists at one time.

IMG_1071_ShariTucker

IMG_1147_ShariTucker

Possibly the largest and best known attraction in Burma is the community of Bagan where they boast over 2100 pagodas, temples and structures in 42 square kilometers. The desert landscape dotted with structures of all shapes and sizes is absolutely spectacular. Take the time to see it at sunrise and sunset; it is truly spectacular. You can spend hours biking amongst the structures on dirt roads winding through ancient old Bagan. But, beware of the heat. Make sure you have sunscreen, lots of water and a hat to keep the sun off your face. Although the land is nearly flat, the heat adds it’s own challenges to your physical abilities. Stop often and discover as many of the structures as you can. Each one is unique and the art and architecture will amaze you time and time again.

IMG_1337_ShariTucker

After enjoying the beauty of Bagan for a couple of days, we were off for a short visit to the Mt. Popa area. Mt. Popa is a volcano and an area that you can hike, but we simply passed over and twisted around the big mountain with a stop in the community to hear about the spiritual nats that are worshiped at the pagoda atop a mountain. Oh yes, and to meet the cheeky little Macque monkeys that scatter the town. If you have time, you can climb the 777 steps to the beautiful monastery at the top of the mountain, but beware as the monkeys live and play along the way, so I hear it is dirty and smelly.

Our next stop was a lovely lunch and visit to an elephant conservation camp. Hearing the story of how the organization started and how they have retired five or six elephants from the lumber industry to live peacefully and well taken care of until the end of their lives was inspirational. This organization has purchased these elephants, each of their handlers (Mahoot) and the Mahoot’s family. Not only have they given the elephants a respectful home, but also have created a community and schooling for the Mahoots and their families. We had the amazing opportunity to feed the elephants banana snacks and then help bathe them in the river. They are so large, yet so quiet and gentle. I stood mere inches from their mouths, which were big enough to swallow me whole, and I grinned ear to ear with excitement the entire time.

Last, but not least, we visited beautiful Inle Lake, which had different, yet incredible feel. As you can imagine, life on a lake is quite different from life on land. From the local market that we visited to the leg-rowing fisherman balancing on one leg on their flat boats, to the craft industry workshops – seeing the local way of life was eye-opening and incredible. And I bought two of the most beautiful hand-made fine silk scarves! We were a bit rushed as our trip was a condensed version, but we managed to see the highlights and even take in the largely undiscovered and quiet Indein where there was not another tourist to be seen amongst the many hundreds of stupas and structures. Magical is not a word strong enough to describe the experience.

Fishing on Inle Lake, Myanmar

At the end of the trip we asked if it was possible to visit an orphanage or monastery and arrangements were made for our last evening in Yangon. We made a donation to the orphanage and had a tour of where schooling takes place, where the children sleep and the communal areas. Then we had the amazing opportunity to dish out food as the young monks gathered for supper. Young boys as little as four years old walked up to the serving area perfectly mannered. If we gave them too much of something, they politely put a portion back. It was a great lesson in humility and understanding to only take what you need and leave the rest for someone else. Of course, the monks were allowed to come back for seconds, so no need to waste food! Take only what is needed and if they are still hungry come back for more.

It’s simple, every single activity, every single day was a highlight. There was something new, exciting and simply beautiful around every corner and I just couldn’t get enough. 10 days was a great overview and a taste for the amazing destination, but easily I could spend a month exploring just the nooks and crannies of the ‘tourist’ areas, not to mention the lesser visited areas. And, as tourism begins to grow, more and more areas will be open for exploration by foreigners. In my opinion, Myanmar is a destination to be visited now, before it explodes in popularity, and then visited again and again as the economy gets stronger and new areas open up. There’s nothing quite like seeing a destination that isn’t used to tourists and getting an authentic feel for the people, the culture, the food and the beauty without the corruption of the tourist traps. Go see this destination soon to get an authentic feeling for the country. Then, explore it again later as more destinations open up. You won’t be disappointed.

If you are interested in visiting Myanmar, please get in touch. I would love to help you plan your next adventure.

South East Asia – Chapter 19 – Lady I don't want your money.

*** I’m catching up on blogging & posting stories. They are a bit out of order and I’m not currently in Asia. This particular post was written while I was there though.

Today we arrived in Siem Reap at around 3pm. After a dip in the hotel pool, I headed out to explore a bit of the city. I followed the map to the market area, stopped for a cold smoothie at Blue Pumpkin and then wandered around a bit more. People were out and about doing chores, selling fruit or street food and massages were being offered everywhere. Not to mention the plethora of drivers trying to get you to take their tuk tuks.

After a wandering around for about an hour, I headed back on a slightly different route through the side streets.

A little girl, who was about eight years old, walked up to me and touched me on the arm.
“Lady, I don’t want your money” she said in a soft voice. I looked down at her and she was carrying her little sister who seemed to be about a year old.
“I just want some milk for my sista. Can you buy some milk?”

I never give children on the streets money and I rarely buy anything from them unless I really want it. I know it is a different way of life in other countries, but I don’t like that kids learn to beg for money from tourists because they assume we are rich and that their parents force them to do this. I am, however, more than happy to give a child or family food instead of money.

I agreed to buy the little girl milk.

She quickly took me by my hand and led me in the direction of the nearest grocery / convenience store which was about ½ a block away. Along the way she held my hand tight and helped me safely cross the street, assuming that because I was a tourist I wasn’t familiar with the crazy traffic and lack of driving laws. It was really cute that she was insistent that I not cross before her and that we do so safely.

As we got closer to the store, the girl explained that she wanted powdered milk … Similac, as it would last for a long time for her and her two sisters. Her English was really good for a child of her age. She obviously must be attending school for her English to be so good.

We walked into the store and she took me directly to the powdered milk section, pointing out the exact kind of Similac that her sisters needed (for 6 – 24 months). I asked her how much they cost and she didn’t know, so I took one to the counter and asked the staff. The can that she had pointed out was $23 US.

I turned to the little girl and sadly explained that it was too much and that I didn’t have that much money. (I only had a $20 bill on me) I asked if there were smaller cans, but there were not.

The little girl pleaded with me as I put it back, saying that it would feed them for three months and that it was not too expensive. I tried to explain to her that I didn’t have the money, but she did not seem to accept this answer.

“How much you have?” she asked.

I wasn’t going to play that game with her. They are taught well to try and get every penny from you. Nor was I going to take my wallet out and show her.

“I’m really sorry, but I don’t have enough. If they had a smaller can I would buy it for you, but they don’t.”

The little girl continued to argue and plead with me, so I began to leave the store. She grabbed my hand and forcefully pulled it, begging once again for me to buy it for her. When I firmly said no, that I could not, as I did not have enough money, we continued out of the store with her saying “Give me $5 then and I can find money from someone else to buy it.” (Not a bad suggestion from an eight year old, but I only had a $20 bill)

As I headed to cross the street, the girl grabbed on to my hand with all her strength, it actually hurt a little bit! She continued to plead with me. I continued to say no.

She yanked on my hand and I stopped in my tracks as it honestly hurt and surprised me.
“I come with you to get more money.” She suggested.
I said “No, I’m sorry. I can’t. Will you be here tonight? Still on the street?”
“No. no. no. I won’t be here lata. Everyone says they will come back lata and no one ever does.”

Her English really was quite amazing for a young girl and she certainly knew how to shame you into helping her.

Still tightly gripping my hand, she again insisted on helping me cross the street. As I continued to walk away, she continued pleading with me, repeating everything that she had already said. Her new tactic though was to also pinch me to try and get my attention. She had let go of my hand after crossing the street but had begun pinching my arm and begging. In fact, she began to get very angry with me.

Getting increasingly annoyed at being pinched by a little girl and not wanting to cause a scene, I stopped and looked at her.

“Why won’t you help me? You said you would buy me milk.” She whined
“It is too expensive. I do not have enough money for it.”

She pinched my arm again to which I said “You were being nice and now you are not. I’m sorry, but I do not have the money and pinching isn’t helping.”

Finally, the little girl stopped pinching me. She didn’t stop whining and she let me go on my way.

I felt absolutely horrible about walking away. I truly had wanted to help the girl and her sisters. I had no idea how many tourists she convinced to do this on a regular basis, but buying them milk was so much better than giving them money.

So many tourists give into the pleading eyes of these children. I’m not at all saying it is wrong to help, but just how much money are you willing to give away and not know what it is being spent on or who the money is going to. These children learn their way around the streets and make a living for themselves and their families by begging on the streets from ‘rich’ people like you and I. What kind of life is this for a child?

I want to help them. Their pleading eyes cut through me too, but I try to see the bigger picture. Instead, I try to give them food or water. I try to support fair trade organizations or not for profits who teach or employ children and youth. There are so many ways to give back without giving money directly to a child.

In Cambodia alone, I’ve already eaten meals at two restaurants that support youth. Veyio Tonle and Friends, both in Phnom Penh. I also have purchased souvenirs and gifts from a couple of not for profit organizations, including Friends who have a great store with many recycled items, hand made by the children and youth that they support. You can also have a $3 – $5 manicure or pedicure at the Friends store and spa where youth are learning skills that can help them earn money.

The next time you travel, source out some reputable organizations to support, be strong and don’t give in to the children begging on the street. Rather, give back to an organization that teaches skills so that the children can earn a living and hopefully make a change to end the vicious poverty cycle that they currently live in.

Giving money to one or two children in the street may feed them for a day. Supporting a not for profit organization or charity may not help that same child, but it will help many children have a better life by gaining skills so that they do not have to live and beg on the streets.

South East Asia – Chapter 18 – One Day in Mandalay – Working Hands

After our overnight bus ride, we had a short time to freshen up and then we were back on the bus for our one-day adventure in Mandalay. Our guide told us that often tourists don’t like Mandalay because the city is spread out with no real ‘centre’ district. All of the attractions seem to be in different directions. It isn’t really a great city just to have a stroll in. Having said that, the attractions in the area are fantastic and I wouldn’t want to have missed Mandalay. In fact, if you are open minded and want to explore, I’m sure that 3-4 days would be time well spent in the city and surrounding area.

We headed off for a quick stop at a gold leaf workshop where the process was demonstrated and explained. On one side of the workshop, the men were hard at work pounding the materials to flatten them and increase their size. The methodical and melodic steady pounding of the metal would likely drive me crazy after any amount of time, but these folks work and sweat through it for hours every single day. On the other side of the workshop there were women busy laying gold leaf over various items that were for sale. This gold leaf is also used in most of the temples and pagodas throughout Myanmar.

Next stop was a silk weaving workshop where women were hard at work on their weaving looms. The amount of physical labour that these people do for mere dollars a day is absolutely astounding.

I believe in supporting not for profit organizations and the people that they assist, so I bought souvenir items at both of these locations, knowing that the money was going back into the community rather than being handed through several channels, such as a kid selling something at a market, to their parents, to their boss etc.

I enjoy buying items that I’ve seen the process behind and paying for an artisans work rather than buying souvenir items from a market where they have likely been mass-produced for pennies a day rather than dollars a day. I support fair labour where I can.

We also visited a weaving and marionette shop. I really wanted to bring marionettes home for my nieces, but they were large and made of wood, so I decided not to. I didn’t want to take the chance that they would be confiscated at the border. And they would be difficult to carry for the next two and a half weeks.

Besides the vast array of unique marionettes, the shop had all kinds of interesting ironworks, weaving and decorative wall art. Even such things as opium weights, animal skulls, and statues.