Sunday, May 12, 2013

'Britain Basks in Glorious Sunshine!'

It's a headline my fellow countrymen back in the UK could only dream of a few weeks ago.

After what seemed like 22 months of unending cold winter weather, Britain is finally emerging from its annual deep freeze. With a brutally determined cold snap lasting until late April and records tumbling as the country shivered its way through one frigid month after the other, the Brits can finally breathe a sigh of relief.

For winter is over.

And the weather isn't the only tell-tale sign. There is one other sign those dark days are behind the British.

People are coming out of hibernation.

Facebook is buzzing with activity, status updates glowing with stories of sunburn, unbearably hot weather, and impending heatwaves.

The talk is of an end to those desperate days of January, February, March and April, and the arrival of better times - long weekends away, Spanish holidays, hosepipe bans, summer festivals, fruit picking in farmer's fields, and the triumphant return of the British BBQ, charcoal briquettes n' all.

A visit back to the motherland suddenly looks much more appealing. There'll be alcohol-fuelled beer garden stop offs, lazy afternoons spent paddling in local rivers, and an Australian summer tan topped up and finished off by the persistently hot summer sun.

If we head back while this stretch of high temps continue, we'll take advantage of off-peak airfares, a strong Aussie currency, cheap car hire in the UK, rent ourselves a quaint cottage by the beach, drive down to the coast, and seek out some Vitamin D in these unusually warm days.

The long awaited British summer is here and the people are waking from their slumber. Life is good.

Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons (Peter J Dean)

I hear hearing nothing for months from loved ones and close friends, wondering where they've gone to and why they've hidden. It's as if a deep freeze sets upon the British Isles like the coming of the second Ice Age and only now, with the onset of a late thaw, are people surfacing from their burrows to breathe in the fresh spring air.

I'm suddenly contacted by folks I'd long ago assumed were missing or worse.

And the cycle repeats every year.

As winter hits in early November, emails drop off, online contact disappears, and all attempts at positivity seem to be abandoned. Then the sun arrives and the country erupts in a much improved frame of mind.

The weather is such an important part of life in the UK and the mood shifts and turns with the weather's own movements.

The return from the summer holiday, the autumnal depression, the growing quiet and negative mood as winter approaches, long absences from the electronic airwaves, then a glimmer of hope, a flower, a green tree bud, an early outburst of colour, followed by a sunny day, temperatures in the 20s, unexpected heat, obligatory sunburn and obvious relief.

Then the dismay returns.

Because the weather does what it always does best in Britain. It never stays the same. It changes and it often disappoints.

I take it for granted in Australia because the weather often delivers - consistent, generally according to plan, with not many surprises. And because of this, I forget about it, don't talk about it - it simply doesn't crop up in daily conversation the way I remember it did in England.

If things were different here, I'm certain I'd be more vocal.

As I watch my countrymen and women share their joy at the recent run of good weather, I remember back to how important something as simple as the sun is - the warmth, the feeling on your face, the positive impact around you, and the flicker of hope that maybe, just maybe, this year will be different and the summer will persist and endure.

According to the Telegraph this week, after one of the dullest winters for decades "sun-deprived Britons must worry whether they are D-deficient. Vitamin D, the "sunshine vitamin" being crucial to good health".

When that sunshine fails to last and when the weather changes for the worse, I too worry for my fellow Britons because it won't be long again before, in the words of Game of Thrones' Ned Stark, winter is coming. Again.

Have you recently come out of hibernation where you are? How important is good weather to you? Is it the be-all and end-all?

Monday, April 29, 2013

How Sydney Got Under My Skin

I still remember the day, time and place.

A typical summer's day - expansive blue skies, not a cloud in sight, and the world around us painted with colours so bright they seemed almost unnatural.

Directly below, the harbour water sparkled under the intense gaze of the sun. As the plane banked to the right in the direction of the ocean, I pressed my nose to the small oval window and peered down. Before me, I could see one yellow strip of beach after the other forming a chain of golden lines running off into the distance. Gaining altitude, I could still pick out the people on the beach, towels, umbrellas, marquees for the surf life savers, children in the water, surfers and boogie boarders further out, then sail boats, fishing boats, power boats and cargo ships.

I watched and I wished.

Wished that I wasn't leaving. Wished that I wasn't returning to frozen Ottawa in the middle of a Canadian winter. Wished I could stay longer. Wished I could live in Sydney and experience these summer's days for longer than an annual three-week holiday. Something about the startling natural beauty of the place had got under my skin.

I knew I had to live in Sydney.

Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons (Gino)

Other things about Sydney affected me over the years making it difficult to forget or give up. Other things got under my skin.

When we holidayed there, I would watch people running in the Royal Botanical Gardens and along the harbour wall at lunchtimes in the sunshine. I remember thinking what a fabulous experience that would be, so different to the occasional chilled jog along the south bank of the River Thames.

After moving to Sydney, I joined a running squad that ran a Botanical Gardens circuit during lunch. The heat in the middle of summer was unbearable and I regularly forgot to put on any cream, but there was something magical about running along the harbour wall with the Opera House and Harbour Bridge ahead of you, yachts on the water at Farm Cove to your right, huge ancient Moreton Bay figs on your left. As white ibises scratched around beneath the vast canopy of these trees, I couldn't help but marvel at my unique environment.

Weekends in Sydney had always been something of a treat. When I worked by day in the city, the last place I wanted to be at the weekend was back amongst the office blocks and deserted alleyways. However, we occasionally treated ourselves to the odd night out in town, staying at one of Sydney's many varied hotels dotted around the harbour - at Woolloomooloo, Darlinghurst, Circular Quay, the Rocks.

We'd spend a night at one of these hotels - stepping out to browse the night markets in the Rocks, walking arm-in-arm along the Quay admiring the diversity of the street performers, sampling the growing number of small bars cropping up in the CBD - and I'd always feel as if I were on foreign soil for the first time, the vibrant pulse of the city never failing to invigorate me.

There's also something about the light in Sydney.

The way it seems to give the water a deeper tinge. The endless blue skylight making the lagoons and ocean appear bluer. The plumage of birds like the lorikeet and rozella exploding in a variety of greens, blues, reds and yellows. The never-ending sunshine, lighting the sand a hundred different shades of yellow. Colours seem magnified in Sydney. The light is extraordinary.

It's an extraordinary city all round.

From its location on the banks of a deep water harbour to its lengthy summers, diverse immigrant influence, outstanding coffee culture, exuberance and confidence, sheer over the top-ness, exotic and traditional dining fare, passion for the great outdoors, love for anything linked to sport, and its position on the edge of a vast landmass at the far reaches of the earth, Sydney is quite simply unique.

As a city, it got under my skin many moons ago. As a city, it's a national treasure that needs to be discovered and explored, wherever it is in the world that you currently live.

What is it that you love about Sydney? What are the things that have got under your skin where you live?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

No More Office Cubicle

No. More. Office. Cubicle.

I didn't even think twice about the decision. The opportunity came out of leftfield and I seized it with both hands, running hard and fast until I reached the point of no return. I knew it was time to quit that tiny grey box and when that time came, it felt right... and completely surreal.

So I've done it. I've quit the life of the city commuter, fled my government cubicle in a remote corner of the Sydney CBD, and I'm finally living the dream.

My dream.

Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons (Michael Lokner)

Craving change

I never wanted to be that pin-striped guy who works in the city from dawn to dusk. The kind of guy who leaves home in the early morning, bleary-eyed and in a state of 'just-climbed-out-of-bed' shock. I never felt comfortable donning a suit and tie, participating in the daily pow-wows, lengthy team meetings, liquid lunches and late nights in the office.

I don't like working in cities and I prefer time with my family rather than with my job.

We're not all built the same way and I simply crave a different life. One with location independence. One where I can work on my terms, not theirs. One where I can work until I get the job done, irrespective of how and where.

I left my blue-chip corporate job in the UK in 2003 confident that I'd finally quit the world of office workers and routine 9-5's. I was set on the path to adventure and travel, leaving behind the 50-hour work weeks, motorway commutes and wasted time away from family that I could never hope to get back.

It was never going to be that easy.

Before long, I was back in the office, this time working for government and in a slightly different shade of grey office box. For the next eight years, I would change my location, alter the view out the window and improve the lifestyle at the weekend, but I couldn't break away from the traditional office role no matter how hard I tried.

It was all too ordinary.

When the planets align

Family and lifestyle are so important to me, not money or career path.

Every minute I spend away from my wife and son, every minute I spend away from this Northern Beaches way of life we've fought tooth and nail to build around us, is a minute lost and a moment gone forever.

I couldn't live with that.

I soon realised it wasn't about work-life balance, but about work and lifestyle - and being passionate about both on my own terms. I wanted flexibility, a role that allowed me to be closer to home, less micro-management and more freedom, a job that built on the interesting things I did in my free time - blogging, social media, building communities and writing for love (and money).

Then I met Alison Michalk.

An innovator and true believer in reforming the way we work, Alison runs a global company comprised of location independent professionals who work in towns, rural communities, by the beach, in the country, whatever, wherever. She also works remotely and has successfully grown a business that is built on the very things I believe in and write about here - flexibility, innovative work practices, an emphasis on work and lifestyle passions, working smarter not harder, working away from crowded cities.

We shared similar visions and ideals about how we wanted to work, where we wanted to work, and with whom. On that regular working day in that average Sydney cafe, Alison was searching for someone to help run her company and I was searching for a drastic change to my working world.

The rest, as they say, is history.

I joined Quiip as its Operations Director in early April. A global leader in community management, social media moderation, and content creation services, Quiip is an innovative, exciting and fun place to work.

I now operate out of my home on the Northern Beaches, with no more Sydney commute. I hear the dull roar of the traffic in the morning and I selfishly smile. I'm done with all that.

Occasionally, I take the ferry from Palm Beach to Quiip's Central Coast office. I work remotely using a range of online platforms. I manage the day-to-day business and I work with a group of highly talented and intelligent young people. I'm enthused and invigorated by my work environment, I continue to write, and I'll continue to travel. I plan exotic retreats for our employees in far-flung destinations and I sit in front of my laptop wondering if this is all just a dream.

Lessons learned

I learned several things from the past four years of soul-searching and trying to figure a way out of the office cubicle.

  1. I learned that I couldn't handle being a city worker any more and I needed to break free. 
  2. I learned that if you want change, it'll happen, but not without hard work and a bucketload of patience. 
  3. I learned to network like crazy and use social media as a means to navigate my potential new career.
  4. I learned there are plenty of other people like me who believe that career is important, but having a certain way of life close to family and home is more so.
  5. I learned that this change was never about the money, it couldn't be - this was about doing something I loved and escaping that office cubicle.
  6. I learned that my writing remains important to me and this major life change had to allow for that - I'll continue to freelance, blog, and develop relationships with brands and other bloggers (Canada, here I come!).

And the most important thing I learned?

I learned that I went in search of a life less ordinary but I wasn't living it. Not entirely.

And now I think that I am.

Have you taken a risk to achieve happiness and have seen it pay off? Are you seeking a big change in your life? Did location independence or a significant career change work for you?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Ten Years and Counting

Remember the book Marley & Me?

A young couple, John and Jen, move to the south of Florida and set up home near the beach while working as two local reporters. They get a dog as a practice run for parenthood and Marley the yellow labrador retriever arrives on the scene causing destruction and chaos wherever he goes. Later in the book, the couple have children and the family eventually moves to a rural farm in Pennsylvania where, after falling ill some years later, Marley is put to sleep and laid to rest.

It’s a heart-warming and tender story.

On reflection, the parts that resonated with me weren’t just Marley’s journey through his short canine life, but also the contrast between the couple’s early life with the sun, sea, and hustle and bustle of Boca Raton, and their eventual relocation to a quieter, more tranquil country setting.

In their Florida life, they spent long days on the beach with Marley, soaking up the glorious weather but also working hard as two early career professionals, crammed into a house that quickly grew too small for their family’s needs. They lived in the thick of it, young and adventurous, and I look at our own life here in Sydney as we grow our small family, and I wonder if parallels can be made.

Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons (Mel1st)

Like them, we live in a lively and active corner of the world. We enjoy a fantastic environment on the ocean’s doorstep with near-perfect weather all year round. We appreciate the vibrancy and youthfulness of Sydney, and we practically live outdoors, barely watching the TV, always eager to get outside.

We're witness to a robust and thriving economy. Wages are high even if the cost of living is also. We’re lucky to live where we do and our hard work to make a home for ourselves on the Northern Beaches is starting to pay off. We have friends and family here, established routines and practices. Our son will grow up spoilt for distraction and it seems obvious that this location is a sensible place for us to be.

But a part of me wonders if, like Marley & Me, this story of ours will one day change.

Marley's family expanded and they yearned for greater space. They needed peace and quiet away from the intense, hectic early years of their life. They sought out a gentler, less pressured existence and I wonder whether we should now consider the same.

I’m soon to celebrate my tenth year of expat life.

Ten years is a long time to be abroad. It’s long enough that you start to feel comfortable with being displaced and less comfortable with the notion of returning to your original home. Still, I occasionally allow myself to daydream about what life could be like if we ever went back.

As John and Jen did, I imagine a life in the country. I see my son in his uniform ready for the first day at his village primary school. I see us reconnecting with dear family and friends, returning to the favourite haunts of our twenties. I see walks in the countryside, annual ski trips to the continent, weekend getaways in London. I see us experiencing the different seasons in a picture-postcard kind of way – be it enjoying the spring blossoms, sampling lazy picnics in the peak of summer, Elliot's attempts at 'trick or treating' in the autumn, or relaxing as a family by warm and cosy firesides through idyllic winters.

I see our home - a period house oozing with character and charm on the outskirts of a quaint English village. I see us arriving in the warmer months, settling in to our new environment, sitting down at a large kitchen table, carefully arranging the utilities, car purchases, home insurance, household finances and so on. Life moves forward and, as we ease ourselves into a very English way of life, I see a quiet, regular existence. Nothing extraordinary. Simple. Easy. Routine.

Something niggles away at the back of my mind.

I’ve been away a long time and I know, deep down, that I’ve changed as a person. I'm fairly certain this life won't make me happy - living abroad has shifted my outlook on life, changed what I want and what I appreciate. I’ve seen and done too much, and I can't settle for this dream anymore. These memories of home aren't even real any more - I’m remembering what I want to through rose-tinted glasses.

After ten years abroad, I’ve grown comfortable with this expat life, wearing it like a much-loved jumper or a treasured pair of shoes. Packing up, removals, relocation, upheaval - these are emotionally and physically draining things and, with age, I want simplicity, easy living, and a heck of a lot less stress.

Unlike John and Jen, I don't think I need any more change. My heart might occassionally encourage thoughts of a possible return, but my mind tells me things are no longer quite what they seem.

Have you considered a return home? Did you do it? If not, why not and what stopped you?

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Saturday, March 30, 2013

Canada, eh?


The great white north.

The world’s second largest country. A land bordered by the Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic oceans. A nation of Anglophones, Francophones, inukshuks and Tim Hortons.


The land of my forefathers.

My grandfather’s home, my own home for three unforgettable years, and a home away from home that I’ll continue to return to whenever time and budget allows.

Canada is an itch I will always need to scratch.

Ten years ago, it became our first expat home when we left the UK as Canadian permanent residents set for a life in the far reaches of the Pacific Northwest.

Several years later, we filmed our new life for the popular US television show, House Hunters International, as we settled down on the Northern Beaches of Sydney, Australia. We were given an opportunity to shoot the early scenes in Vancouver and the perfect excuse to return.

Now I’m going back.

The Canadian Tourism Commission are kindly sending me back to Canada so that I can share this breathtaking country with you once again.

Prominent bloggers from around the world will be travelling to Toronto in early June to attend one of the world’s premier travel writing conferences and, as part of this very special opportunity, some will also take part in familiarisation tours across the country.

I’ll be arriving in British Columbia in late-May to spend several days in Vancouver where I’ll sample the local cuisine, scale the heights of the local mountains, and soak up the many flavours of downtown Van. Taking a train across the province and into neighbouring Alberta, the next stop will be Jasper where I'll experience whitewater rafting, motorbike touring, and cable car rides to the peak of the alpine region. From Jasper to Winnipeg for a feast of culinary and cultural delights before travelling to Canada’s largest city, Toronto, at the end of May for TBEX, the world's largest gathering of travel bloggers, writers, and new media content creators.

But I won’t be making this trip entirely on my own.

My wife and young son will be coming with me for the beginning and end to this extraordinary trip. This is my chance to show Elliot the home of his great grandfather and the country that stole our hearts. And while I’m touring across this vast landmass, Sarah and Elliot will spend time with family and friends in Eastern Canada before we come together to enjoy a final few days in beautiful Muskoka at the heart of Ontario’s cottage country.

A number of recognised and talented travel bloggers and writers from Australia will be taking part in this unique visit, including Caz and Craig from yTravel Blog, two people I’ve connected with online on many occasions, but haven’t yet had the pleasure to spend quality face-to-face time with.

This will truly be one of those rare and memorable journeys where a writer gets to unleash his or her craft and show you a country through their own eyes. It’s a golden opportunity for me to indulge my passion for this superb country and a chance to show you exactly why it means so much to me and to many others like me.

I want you to see the real Canada from the ground up – the sights, the sounds, the people, the wildlife, the wilderness, the jaw-dropping beauty. I want to show you the country that continues to take my breath away and the country where my expat and travel adventures first began back in 2003.

My Canadian experience begins on the 18th of May and, here on ISOALLO, I hope you'll indulge me by following along.

Have you been to Canada? Are you a Canadian or an expat in Canada? Tell me what you think makes Canada a great place to see.

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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

That One Defining Moment

If I hadn’t been in that place, on that day, at that time.

Looking back on ten years of living abroad, I wonder what the turning point was that led to this life. What was the trigger or event that led to the decision to travel, explore the world, and live in countries far removed from my own?

Life is full of defining moments, of turning points that pivot us in unanticipated directions. What was my own defining moment? Or was there a series of moments cascading into one not unlike a row of dominoes toppling over?

Was it the time I looked ahead to my impending university life and to the gap year that would surely come before my studies? I remember picking up a travel magazine in a newsagents and gazing intently at the array of travel options in front of me. I dreamed of backpacking through Asia, spending six months working in Australia, and even partaking in one of those innovative tours from Australia to China. I visualised treks in New Zealand then North America, eventually returning home as the long lost voyager. I'd ultimately do none of these things, my sensible side choosing academia over adventure.

Photo credit: Judy van der Velden (Flickr Creative Commons)

Was it before then when the French teacher at sixth form college suggested a degree in European Studies? Did she inadvertently pique my curiosity in living abroad by recommending a course that would set me up as a bureaucrat in Brussels? An innocent nudge towards a career in Europe and suddenly expat life beckons.

Or was it earlier than this? The school exchange I went on to Normandy, France as a fifteen year old boy. Living with a French family, meeting local students, experiencing diverse food, soaking up the Francophone culture. Did my interest in foreign places and people start with a childhood visit to the Continent?

Or earlier still? The day my grandmother whisked me off to the Black Forest region to meet my Canadian relatives based in Germany with the Air Force. During two weeks away from the UK, a door was unlocked. I walked into unfamiliar territory where the residents spoke a mother tongue I couldn't comprehend. The Schwarzwald was a land of fairytale castles and ancient forests where a skinny young English boy quickly discovered how jaw-droppingly beautiful this world could be. One unique experience as a youngster which may have set in motion a passion for travel, growing and expanding like a snowball tumbling down a hill.

I'm certain these experiences framed who I am and led me to a certain point, but the pivotal experience occurred in a less exotic environment. It wasn’t a moment when the light bulb went on in my head and I suddenly knew it was time to ship out and move overseas, but a point in time when my world changed and when it dawned on me that life as I knew it would never be the same again.

It was the year 2000, on an evening like any other, as I headed over to my local gym. After a light work-out, I bumped into a friend in the corridor. As we caught-up, a pretty girl and her friend interrupted us to ask a question about the gym. Two girls, one quite different accent.

I’m a believer in fate. Things happen for a reason. And in that gym corridor on that average midweek night, I’d just met my wife.

Vivacious and bubbly with an infectious smile, she was the chalk to the cheese of my English reservedness. Full of the energy of life – enthusiastic, passionate, highly motivated – at a young age, she'd already grabbed life by the horns and wrestled it from one continent to the next, from the east coast of Australia to the east coast of the US, from east on to west, then across the pond to the UK.

I’d been waiting patiently for her my entire life.

She freed me from the shackles of my comfort zone and encouraged me to look at life with eyes wide open. She wasn’t solely responsible for the decisions and life changes that soon followed but, without her, they simply wouldn’t have been made. We were instant partners and soul mates with a common purpose and outlook on life.

Thirteen years later, after six years of marriage, three houses on three continents, two dogs and finally our beloved infant son.

On Saturday, we'll celebrate the sixth anniversary of our marriage to each other but this year's celebration will be for so much more than just that. We will celebrate our life together, our achievements, our incredible journey and the miracle that is our sweet darling boy.

There was only ever one catalyst for this life, only ever one defining moment that started it all. I may have been hardwired deep down for overseas adventure, but this one person was the spark that changed it all.

If I hadn’t joined that gym. If I hadn’t trained that night. If I hadn’t bumped into my friend. If she hadn’t walked through those doors.

That gym on that day at that time.

That girl.

That one defining moment.

Did you have a defining moment which led to moving overseas? What was the turning point that made you decide to leave?

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Friday, March 8, 2013

The Great Australian Airfare Rip-off

Here in Australia on his annual holiday, my wife's uncle told me about the growing number of deals to be found in the UK when booking a return flight from London to Sydney.

"So what's a typical airfare with one of these deals?" I asked him, knowing full well that long-haul airfares have been on the increase for some time both here and there.

"Well, I received an email just last week promoting return flights to Sydney for less than £700."

I did the conversion in my head. £700 was roughly equivalent to $1,000 AUD. $1,000 AUD! I couldn't book a flight from Sydney to London for anything less than $1,500 on a good day. I might be able to find a cheaper flight but I'd stop over in nine countries and it would take me four weeks to get there.

Photo credit: Milolovitch69 (Flickr Creative Commons)

I decided to investigate further online and found one reputable airline advertising direct economy flights from London to Sydney for £796 during the English summer, while a rival airline had return flights to Sydney priced at a mere £681. Granted, these flights were scheduled for a time of year when the Aussie winter would be in full swing but, nonetheless, it represented a huge contrast to the airline fares advertised in Australia for that same travel period.

A search on the Australian arm of Expedia for similar flights but this time from Sydney to London revealed an average price of $2,000 or about £1,350. Deal or no deal, this was a significant discrepancy and one with no accompanying explanation as to the reason for the vast price differences.

I asked my wife's uncle to try booking a pair of Sydney to London tickets from the UK in an attempt to take advantage of the lower fares, but the online booking systems wouldn't allow it. What about a one-way flight from Sydney to London, then a return ticket to Sydney taking advantage of the lower prices in the UK, and we'd then save the additional leg back to London for a future visit? Again, no joy. The price of a single ticket was almost as expensive as the full return ticket.

I was beginning to sense a conspiracy.

Having lived in Australia for a number of years, airfares have always been something of a bugbear for me. It's financially punitive enough trying to fly back to see loved ones from the other side of the world, but no-one wants to feel blatantly ripped-off. So why is it costing more for us to fly long-haul from Australia than for people coming the other way?

I've lived in Canada and experienced fairly consistent flight pricing between there and the UK - and vice versa. Ditto for the US. Double ditto for pretty much anywhere else I've lived in or have travelled to. I get it that the cost of most things in Australia, especially in Sydney, has been on the rise for years. From books to house prices, movie tickets to car parking, it's not hard to see why Australia has become one of the most expensive countries in the world to live in. I suppose that's the price you pay (no pun intended) for living in a country where the robust economy continues to buck the trend of poorly performing financial systems elsewhere.

But when it comes to flying home, and with no other available option, you can't help but feel overcharged and short-changed at the recurring sight of these exorbitant airfares when compared to the prices that folks are paying back in the UK. And this peculiar pricing framework doesn't discriminate because you'll pay just as much in the off-season as you will during the peak times of the year.

The airlines are for the most part silent on the issue. When it appears in the media, there's no response or explanation. The gross inconsistency in airfares here seems to exist because that's the way things are and the way they intend for them to stay.

It's accepted that airlines can do whatever they want to do and, as long as Australia-based Brits need to travel back to the UK regularly, they'll keep charging you what they like, when they like, and without any excuse. Which means that, for the foreseeable future, flying to Britain will remain financially painful yet unavoidably necessary for expats living in Australia.

Is this a problem you’ve found? How did you get around it? Do you think those of us here in Australia should pay the same as the rest of the world for long-haul flights? 

This article appeared in the Weekly World edition of the Telegraph (Issue 1, 133, April 10-16).

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Friday, March 1, 2013

The Expat, the Writer, the Worker

Are we inspired to do things we wouldn't normally do because we live abroad? Are we driven to increased creativity because of where we now call home?

Some people might say that travelling overseas and living abroad changes us. That moving away from our country of origin unlocks something inside that brings out the explorer - we yearn to get out there and see unusual sights, sample exotic foods, meet interesting people, and explore where, previously, we would have stayed indoors.

I wonder if living overseas unlocks another door.

As explorers, we consider options that we wouldn't have considered before, that may have been hidden in our previous lives. We see new possibilities and we spend time investigating avenues that once were disregarded out of hand. We encourage skills that lay dormant and we look at opportunities through a different lens - the lens of a traveller, the lens of an expat.

For some, it can mean bringing out the entrepreneur from within. For others, it's about working cleverly and innovatively in a way that suits the lifestyle best - working virtually as a consultant, coach, translator, graphic designer or social media guru. When we're away, we might start to identify with less traditional roles or we simply think about work differently.

Whatever the role or skill set, it seems to me that the life of an expat or traveller (or someone whose world revolves around their unique lifestyle) is a life that somehow encourages us to try careers or projects or ways of working that we wouldn't have tried in the place we left behind.

In my case, living abroad brought out a desire to work intelligently and to write.

Photo credit: Spaceamoeba (Flickr Creative Commons)

It wasn't always this way for me

In the UK, work was work.

Career was the be all and end all, job status and title was king. I commuted, I worked, I commuted some more. I asked no questions, never challenged what I did. It was all that I knew and I was happy to settle.

For a while.

I don't remember a specific time at which I had the urge to explore work in a different light or to write with passion - not in my work or in my private life. I worked in the office, drafted letters, sent emails, created reports and presentations, fact sheets and templates. It was routine stuff and not particularly inspiring.

And I didn't have that much to write about. With a handful of travel experiences under my belt, I had no real motivation to share.

I needed inspiration. I needed something different.

Living abroad changed me

I suddenly wanted to share my stories of life overseas. It started with a blog, led to articles and interviews, guest posts and features, eventually culminating with a decision to write on a regular basis.

There was something about the grand adventure of living in a foreign country, a sense of being able to give almost anything a go, and the realisation that after going through this much emotion and upheaval, I was capable of more. This finally gave me the motivation I was secretly looking for to dabble in writing about my life and consider options for truly embracing my expat lifestyle.

I'm currently going through a major transition process.

I'm working with the team at Global Niche to understand how I can be passionate about my life and my work- and how this could look on a full-time basis. What is my niche, how can I build on what I've already done, and how can I share my value on a broader, international scale? Two weeks in and I like what I've seen from this community of globally-minded people working hard to create location-independent lives.>

I'm also writing fiction.

Since last year, I've been part of the #38Write workshop series designed for place-passionate writers around the world. I'm writing fiction, I'm developing storylines, and I have several novel ideas that I'm working to develop. It feels good to say that I'm finally writing in a particular niche that fits me.

We're two months into 2013 and this week has already seen a flurry of unexpected offers that have left me chomping at the bit and eager to share.

Call it karma or basic fate, I'm starting to believe that if I hadn't made such a monumental shift to my life back in 2003, then I wouldn't be sitting here writing this down right now.

The truth about expats and travellers

The thing is this. Expats and travellers have undergone a massive life change - and generally they were well up for it.

They've taken calculated risks and tried something radically different. On the whole, they're not risk averse, they're not especially hesitant, and they've demonstrated a desire to embrace change.

The day I moved abroad I made a statement: I wasn't afraid to step outside my comfort zone. I was available for opportunities and game for trying new things. For me, it was only a matter of time before I documented this journey and I feel that expat life was wholly conducive to this. This blog gave me a means to share and, with it, ignited a deeply held passion for the written word and for seizing opportunity wherever it lay.

And I'm hooked.

Look across the online world and you'll see thousands of people like me who are also hooked. A world of bloggers and global nomads sharing their stories, engaging in virtual conversation about overseas travel and expatism, while constantly innovating and experimenting with their working lives.

It's exciting to watch and even more so to be a part of.

Has living abroad nurtured your creative and entrepreneurial side? What are you doing now that you couldn't have imagined doing before?

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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Why I Hate It When A Blog Post Bombs

Every blogger fears that moment when a blog post goes live and then...  nothing.

Not a comment, not a tweet, no significant page hits, nada. You can almost sense the tumbleweed blowing down the street.

Your blog post has bombed. You've missed the mark.

I had one of those moments last week when I wrote a post about life in Sydney. I liked the angle I'd taken and I thought it was a little on the funny side and might elicit a few laughs. I published the post on Wednesday, scheduled a bunch of tweets that same day, shared the post on Facebook and LinkedIn, and watched and waited.

Nothing. Not a peep.

No reactions, a meagre couple of retweets, and Facebook was as quiet as a graveyard.

I was concerned. Was the post that bad? I re-read it to make sure I hadn't offended any person or particular ethnic group, did a quick scout of the blogosphere to check that my fellow bloggers were still alive and breathing, and waited once more for a reaction.

Two days passed and I had one lonely comment and a paltry number of page visits.

The sound of a cricket chirping could be clearly heard and more tumbleweeds blew down the road. Meanwhile, I continued to cringe in my blogger's chair.

What had gone wrong and why did I care?

Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons (jypsygen)

It's not all bad

Who knows what happened.

Maybe I posted too often on that choice of subject and my readers simply weren't interested. I could have overdone the sponsored post angle which was turning people off. Or it could have been a simple case of poor writing and bland content.

Although it gave me some cause for concern and left me a little bruised, it wasn't necessarily a bad thing.

This poorly performing blog post gave me a gentle kick up the rear.

It made me look at what I'm putting out into the blogosphere. It made me assess the stuff I'm writing about and how well I'm writing it. It made me to sit down and do all of this, which was surely no bad thing.

A healthy thing in fact.

Why I care so much

This blogging business is an uncertain thing.

On any given day, you might think of yourself as a competent writer, putting out killer posts and garnering comments and page views imagined only in your wildest dreams. The next day, it all changes with the push of a button. Your 400-word post chokes and you're thrown violently back to blogging basics.

Last week was a timely reminder that ISOALLO needs to remain interesting and relevant, a good read and unputdownable. This is why I do what I do.

I've worked too hard to create a dedicated community of readers and followers, and to deliver my own individual outlook on life, to see it wasted on the basis of a post that bombed.

I'd like to think that I have a budding reputation to protect - as a writer and creator of this site - and poor readership and participation acts like a flashing headline: 'Russell, be warned!'.

What can be done

All bloggers hate the dud blog post. Me particularly so.

I'd rather pull out my own teeth than experience the quiet that followed last week's post. But, on reflection, it was useful in reminding me of the need to do the following:
  1. Early on, understand what works and what doesn't on the blog - and apply those rules consistently.
  2. Regularly review the content - too repetitive, too obvious, too much navel-gazing?
  3. Refresh the posting strategy from time to time - if it ain't broke, don't fix it; however, if the site is starting to stagnate, it's time to try a different approach. Try posting less often or, conversely, posting more regularly, consider introducing new topics, or try out a different angle to keep the site moving forward and the content fresh. 
  4. Seek feedback from blogging peers - ask them what they think works well or what doesn't work quite so well and seek out suggestions for future content.
  5. Continue to research the subject area - see what others are creating in this field of blogging. It's not about plagiarising or ripping-off from others, but about looking for new ideas and understanding trends and topics that are proving to be a hit with the community out there.

Have you had a blog post bomb recently? What did you do to fix it? As a blog reader, what turns you off and, equally, what floats your boat?

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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

More Than A Love Of The Raw Prawn

"Enthusiasts bang on about the marvellous Aussie 'lifestyle', which basically comes down to eating shellfish outdoors in your pants. Or going to the beach at 9am on a Wednesday covered in zinc cream", writes Victoria Cohen in her column in The Observer.

It's a humourous piece, entirely tongue-in-cheek, pointing a cheeky finger at some of the real reasons you might leave Britain for Australia, following the revelation that Professor Sprout from Hogwarts (Miriam Margolyes) recently took on Australian citizenship, citing 'class distinction' as one reason for her UK departure.

It got me thinking about the lifestyle here in Australia and about shrimps, barbies, and the great Aussie outdoors. And I wondered... there really no more to life here than a love of the raw prawn?

Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons (paintnothing)

Of course there is.

For a start, we don't eat shellfish outdoors in our pants.

We eat everything outdoors in our pants. We eat breakfast outdoors in our pants, we eat in winter outdoors in our pants. When the air temp reaches a balmy 43 degrees, would you ever want to wear anything other than your birthday suit accompanied by a small pair of undies?

We don't head down to the beach at 9am on a Wednesday.

We head down to the beach every day and even earlier if possible because, by 9am, the sun is already flambaying my flesh thanks to the oil lathered across my shoulders. What else can you do and where else can you do it in a country where the temperature averages 99 degrees Celsius during the hotter months and the words 'furnace' and 'summer' often appear in the same sentence?

So we float in beach pools on our backs, suck on skinny lattes outside Italian-sounding cafes, and grill the best bits of farmyard animals on our public BBQs. And all of this usually before 9am.

The lifestyle here does not include an obsession with our thongs.

It includes an obsession with our thongs and our sunnies, our boardies, our rashies, even our Uggs. If Bear Grylls went man versus wild in Sydney, these are the essentials he'd carry in his survival kit. Highly fashionable, socially acceptable, and an absolute necessity when venturing to the beach. And to the supermarket. And when in the car. And during a work-out. Except for the Uggs of course. In most cases.

We're certainly not just fans of seafood but we are all fans of eating everything, everywhere.

At an average suburb in my neck of the woods, you can dine on Chinese food, Thai food, Indian food, Italian food, American food, Brazilian food, Portuguese food, Lebanese food, Turkish food and, of course, seafood. We love our food to be cooked by someone else, be it takeaway or eating out with a BYO bottle of plonk.

We also like to eat cheap and the Returned and Services Leagues (RSL) clubs crowding the streets of Sydney seem fairly popular. Dinner is purchased at rock-bottom prices, as long as you don't mind listening to the meat raffle, weekend bingo, and vast array of poker machines next door.

With all this food, is it any wonder that we're all getting fatter as rates of obesity and diabetes soar across the country?

But we're not all unhealthy.

Some of us love to exercise at ungodly hours of the day, in all climates, and on all terrains. You'll find us running in the sand, up the stairs, around the headland, and over the dunes. We're in the water and on the water. We're boxing, planking and pushing up. We're far too active in a climate that should force you to slow down and enjoy forty winks in the shade.

I considered myself fit before I moved here. Then I trained with triathletes, marathoners, ironmen, champion windsurfers, beach sand runners, football league legends, and more. I stopped considering myself fit and now consider myself lucky to have survived - and keep on surviving. They do things a little differently here.

So there you have it. Multicultural dining on every corner, a beachside sense of fashion far removed from that of my former home, and an unhealthy love of self-inflicted pain to stay, well, healthy. I rest my case. There is much more to life here than a mere love of the raw prawn. Isn't there?


What are the stereotypes where you live? What cultural habits, good and bad, have you developed over time?

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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

I Crave Change

I recently tweeted the mantra below as part of a writing workshop I participated in.


Good for the mind. Food for the soul. A positive thing.

But change can be a fearsome beast in the wrong hands, easier to hide from instead of facing front on. Easier to stick with what you know, not what you should be doing.

I used to be something of a change embracer.

Over the past decade, I changed location, house, even my passport. It's not always been smooth sailing, often emotionally fraught, generally riddled with unknowns. On balance though, change has been a good thing and key to the process of moving forward.

I've found one aspect of my life difficult to change.

My working life.

Photo credit: Bits of Truth

Fix it when it's broke

I've been an office worker my entire adult working life. I've been in government for ten years, in a blue chip corporation prior to that. In both sectors, I've worked in traditional office jobs, devoid of flexibility and misaligned with my outlook on life.

Both roles have been a means to an end, a way to pay the bills while I worked on the other aspects of my life abroad - family, lifestyle, our home.

In the past twelve months, I've reached something of a tipping point. A craving to change this final piece of the puzzle. When a job leaves you feeling like a square peg being bashed into a round hole, it's time to fix it.

But how to do it?

Change isn't easy

Change doesn't happen overnight - you have to work at it, chip away at the edges, shape and mould it until it feels right. Even so, I still wonder why it's taken me this long to change such a major part of my life.

Fear of the unknown? Uncertainty about what comes next? Indecision and procrastination?

Or maybe all of the above.

I advocate the need to live life differently and I blog, write and share about living the dream, but I haven't entirely practiced what I preach. I still work the 9-5 grind and I yearn for the day when I no longer sit in the early morning carnage otherwise known as peak hour traffic. In my experience, you can tweak and fiddle with your life here and there but, if the working day isn't right, then the total experience doesn't quite add up.

In part, I blame this blog. It's opened up a can of worms.

It's reignited my passion for writing. It's shown me that when I write, I feel alive. Motivated. Fulfilled. Content.

Not only this, but it feels right.

Writing doesn't pay the bills. Not yet. It's a passion that may one day become something more. As the primary earner in our family, it isn't enough. It's an indulgence and a good habit but it isn't a full-time job.

So what to do about that day job?

Aiming for location independence

Something I heard recently that piqued my curiosity was location independence or the ability to work from wherever you want, whenever you want and in a number of fields.

But is it realistic or just another new fad?

It seems that location independent roles are an entirely flexible way of working but they only suit certain careers or job choices. If you want to work from your log cabin in Northern Ontario, you can. Booking cheap holidays to Rhodes and planning to work from the beach? No problem.

Location independence is a fresh take on the way jobs are defined and offer complete freedom and independence. But are these roles only useful for travellers or freelancers hoping to earn a minimal wage if they're lucky?

Is it realistic in this day and age, with the financial and physical constraints that come with daily life, to work independently and forge a meaningful and sustainable career?

Increasingly, with expats like myself, we look to find new ways to increase and share the time we spend with family and friends in the countries that we live in and have loved. The ability to work between the UK and Australia is a case in point. Six months here, six months there. It sounds like the ultimate flexible working arrangement... or is it?

So I put it to you.

Have you worked independently of any particular location? Have you worked the 9-5 office job and sought out such a change? If so, how did you do it and what did you do? Is location independence a realistic goal?

Or do you simply crave change in your life and is fear of change or the unknown stopping you?

Please do leave your thoughts below.

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Monday, January 14, 2013

Lost in Babyland

It's been a while.

Four weeks in fact. Four weeks since I last posted on this blog. Four weeks since I last sent out a stream of tweets or pinned a little something special. Four weeks since I last sat down and wrote anything at all. Four long weeks since I last came up for air.

But what a ride.

I made the conscious decision to have a month-long break from my writing.

No, that's a blatant lie. I made no such conscious decision. I haven't made a conscious decision in weeks. I haven't thought about much at all because I've been away. On holiday, if you like. I've been somewhere other-worldly where time has come to a standstill, nothing gets done in a hurry, and where little boys puke on you.

I've been to Babyland.

Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons (Gwen Harlow)

Dear sweet God above, please help me because I've never been to a more crazy, insane, wildly out of control place in my entire life. It's an unfathomable land of noise and mess and all-out household carnage.

In Babyland, I'm up to my eyes and ears in disposable nappies and baby shit. In Babyland, I no longer have adult conversations but smile and coo, blow raspberries and tickle chins. My reading material consists of 6-page books with short sentences and pictures of cartoon animals. Lots of cartoon animals. In Babyland, I somehow manage to lose whole chunks of my day... and to what? I couldn't even begin to tell you.

In Babyland, the highlight of my day is a trip to the loo where I can gather my thoughts and count from 1 to 10. Very. Slowly. In Babyland, achievements are measured on a lower scale to that of the real world. For example, did I manage to have a shower and wash some clothes today? If so, then that has been a successful day.

My absence from the digital airwaves in preference for this land of tiny people with grasping hands and chubby legs has not been without its emotions. I love and I loathe Babyland. I can't get enough of the mini-hugs and milk drunkenness, but I yearn to do regular things with regular people generally larger than my dog.

As a reader recently pointed out, it's ironic that my less ordinary life has actually become more ordinary. I change nappies. I tidy rooms. I sterilise bottles. I hang seventy small flannels on the washing line (which, by the way, takes approximately two hours to do).

I've also become rather adept at sitting with a baby balanced on my lap, bottle in my left hand, TV remote in my right. I'm a modern man with many new-found talents and a new-found love for Ellen. I never knew she could be this good and I now know she's coming to Australia. Woo hoo.

You see I don't mind this 'ordinariness' because, in it's own small way, it's absolutely extraordinary.

A year ago, I'd never have believed I'd now have a two-month old baby, thriving and fattening-up, inquisitive and vivacious. With a long Sydney summer stretching out before us, 2013 will be a year of learning curves and, no doubt, some tears, but at the very least it will be a year of new beginnings and hopefully many more wonderful adventures (in Babyland).

Have you been to Babyland recently? Was it good for you? What goals or adventures do you have planned for this year?

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