Embrace

It’s a natural thing, surely. People find comfort in familiarity. It’s normal to miss your favourite things, if you can’t get your hands on them wherever you are. But isn’t that part of the point of travelling, of living abroad?

Photo Credit: Tim Binks

Photo Credit: Tim Binks

People hear about Banff around the world and, when young adventurers get an opportunity to travel or work in Canada, it is a popular destination for them to choose. Banff is full of people from across Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the UK, Germany, the Philippines, and countless other countries.

They (and I) have come to Banff, to this part of Canada, to experience life in the mountains, to get amongst the culture, to live a certain kind of lifestyle. Yet so often I hear about what’s missing rather than what’s here.

The cheese sucks, groceries are expensive, the fries are different, TV is worse … Often the exact same complaints I heard from North Americans in Australia. Surely the fries can’t be worse in both countries at the same time. It’s just different. And that’s the point. You wouldn’t have wanted to come here if it was the same as wherever it was that you just left.

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I’m not, by any means, saying I’m immune to this trend. I have most certainly wanted for things, and verbalised this, on my travels. I’ve complained about  Australian TV commercials, about Costa Rican cheese. Yet I have noticed the tendency to do this, in myself at least, diminishes with a greater leap in cultural differences.

Barbecue

It can be easier to compare and then – often – to criticise, when two worlds are, in so many ways, similar. For Australians in Canada, or vice versa, things can look very much the same. We speak the same language, have similar socioeconomics, and are, in the grand scheme of things, young Commonwealth countries. Then, when the cheese and the fries are different, it seems to have some real significance.

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Travelling El Salvador, or Morocco, or Vietnam, one expects everything to be different and is, I believe, more willing to embrace that. You’re not expecting the comforts of home, so you’re not as bothered when they aren’t there. You respect that this is a completely different culture, and you are there to explore it.

Hammocks

That’s not to say I haven’t heard complaints about the food, the transit, the relaxed view of time, or that I haven’t struggled with these things myself at times, but it’s less of a narrative.

Chicken Bus

So here’s the challenge. Wherever you are from, and wherever you may be going, whether it’s a different province, state, country, or continent … embrace. Embrace the people, the culture, the food and the drinks, the language, the traditions, even the weather. You’ve gone exploring for a reason, to see things and do things that are different. So when you get to somewhere and it is different, be thrilled that you found what you were looking for.

Photo Credit: Tim Binks

Photo Credit: Tim Binks

Set Up

It feels like it’s been a whirlwind couple of months. After Brazil, I returned to Canada while Tim extended his holiday for a few more weeks to meet up with some friends in Europe who were trotting around with a tiny house towed behind a car.

It worked out quite well in my favour that flights from Rio to Canada were significantly cheaper to Toronto than to my hometown in Saskatchewan, so I could easily justify adding on a mini-holiday in Toronto to visit one of my best friends who I hadn’t seen in over two years.

I hadn’t been to Toronto since I was about 13 years old, and I wasn’t sure what to expect from the city – I’ll admit my expectations weren’t high. Though smoggy and a bit clogged up with traffic, Toronto had a much more interesting feel than I expected, and I thoroughly enjoyed spending a few days catching up with old friends (one who had made the trip to Vancouver to reconnect) and exploring interesting corners of the city, browsing in great markets, and fulfilling all of the cravings for food I’d been having that were either too expensive or simply non-existent in Latin America (think, mainly, Brie and sushi).

Coming in to Toronto and catching up with some of nearest and dearest was the best way to return. It helped me ease into the idea of being back in Canada, helped enormously by generous quantities of wine and girly movies. Too soon, it was time to end the reunion and continue on my journey “home.”

Home is home because I grew up there and my parents are there. But I won’t be moving back there and the ties that bind slowly fade, as more people adopt new lives and move away. One day, not right now, I’m sure I’ll have to figure out a new place to label home.

As I flew over the checkered fields of the Canadian prairies I realised, once again – as one often does after stints like these away – how beautiful home really is. Saskatchewan is known as Land of the Living Skies and for good reason. I’ve never seen a sunset, anywhere in the world, that rival those from home. The area is simply vast. The flat, and occasionally rolling, prairies stretch for hundreds of miles, and it is far off into the distance before land meets sky. My dad tells a joke about a prairie native complaining about the view in the Rockies – the mountains block the views. And it is true, in a sense, for those of us who are used to endless sky and being able to see distances too far to run. I believe this is why I am now drawn so much to the ocean – you get the same expansive view, the sense of endlessness, the feeling of freedom.

After a lovely month or so of catching up with friends and family, doing life admin tasks such as buying a car, getting a job, and such, TIm joined me in Canada and we quickly set off towards Banff where life in Canada was to truly begin.

As the Rocky Mountains rose up to us in the distance, I tried to envision how and explorer would feel, having reached this part of the country – having had smooth and flat travels for thousands of kilometres, and then seeing the mass of cold stone rising in the distance, thickly forested and seemingly impassable. It would not have been a good day.

We stayed in Canmore, which is about an hour west of Calgary and twenty or thirty minutes outside of Banff, for about a week. My mom has an incredibly generous friend who let us stay at the condo they own in Canmore while we sorted out where we were living. Banff, and Canmore, I had been told – repeatedly – were incredible tricky places to find somewhere to live. The vacancy rate is approximately 0%, and we certainly viewed a few duds before finding a great condo to move into, which we share with three girls from Australia.

Arriving in Banff after the summer season helped – it is such a transient town, and summer is much busier than winter. Many people were leaving as we arrived, at the beginning of “shoulder season,” which worked out rather luckily, rather than something we planned. I would certainly recommend this strategy for anyone planning on turning up in a tourist town any time soon.

And here we are, settling into Banff and enjoying all that mountain has to offer before our world becomes blanketed in snow. Busy, busy, will try to keep the words flowing!

Coming Home

I am touching down on Canadian soil after one year, nine months, and two days away. It’s a different person arriving today, really, than the one that left almost two years ago.

Yogi on a Cliff

I haven’t cut or coloured my hair in almost a year, and I’m still living out of the same 60 litre backpack that I left with, though its contents have shifted a bit. My feet spent more time aching from long shifts at the bar, or overnight hikes in soggy trail runners, than from dancing into the wee hours in 4-inch stilettos. A lot has changed. And that’s just the surface.

Abel Tasman Since leaving home after high school, I have moved 17 times to 7 cities in 3 countries. For my university years, four months was the standard length of time to spend anywhere. After a year in Calgary in the same apartment, I responded to my itch to move in a big way and haven’t look back since. For a long time, this transience has been the only real constant.

IMG_1448 My first year was spent in Australia on a Working Holiday Visa; three months travelling, three months working in a tiny beach town in Queensland, and six months working truly excessive hours yet still managing to love life in Sydney.

Waddy PointDuring my year in Australia, I flitted between easy travel, working in a laid back beach town, splashing out on expensive sailing trips, and then buckling down for six months to somehow earn enough to travel for ten. Of course, I learned. Tangible things: how to bartend, SCUBA dive, repack a backpack in record time. And then the other stuff. I either learnt how or tapped into my ability to work extremely hard to reach a goal. I learned how to listen to my body after an injury when it was telling me I needed a break.

Dive & Sunset In those first few months in Australia, I met Tim. We’d gone our separate ways for a while, as we both had plans and adventures and things that needed to happen. In April, we both returned to Sydney and we jumped right in. Moving in with someone I’d spent about two weeks with was a decision that the freedom of travel allowed me to make. It would have been very easy to both think we should take it slower, or that things could go wrong, or that it was a bit crazy, but we did it anyway. I felt free to make the decision for a number of reasons. I didn’t have a network of friends on the ground who, for better or worse, would judge it. I was literally lightweight enough to move out at a moment’s notice if it all turned sour. We took a chance, because we could, and we wanted to. And it worked.

Car Those six months in Sydney were some of the fullest of my life – literally and metaphorically. I was incredible busy, routinely working 50 – 60 hour weeks which included 5:30 a.m. starts and 1 a.m. finishes. And I still managing to squeeze in weekend trips and after-work activities. Tim and I grew incredible close incredible quickly, and I developed fast and strong bonds with a number of people I know I’ll be lucky enough to know for years to come. Tim and his friends introduced me to an entire world of activities I had never even considered. Where, in the past, I would have spent my time with friends out at martini nights, shopping, at a cottage for a weekend, having moving nights, dancing at clubs, drinking sangria on rooftops … Now my weekends were full of rock climbing, hiking, and canyoning trips. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this undiscovered life.

Climbing - Wanaka 2 In October, a year after I had arrived in Australia, the real adventure began. I would be travelling for the next nine or ten months. My family visited for a month, and we had an amazing time exploring Australia and New Zealand.

Kata Tjuta with FamI returned to Sydney for a bit of relaxation and a lot of packing, and then Tim and I were off for a jam-packed month of adventure in New Zealand, culminating with an absolutely amazing family Christmas in Auckland.

20131213-IMG_5224 We were in Mexico in time for New Year’s Eve, and we spent the next six and half months travelling south, hitting every country in Central America, with a finale in Brazil during the World Cup.

20140618-IMG_0109 Saying it’s been an amazing trip, and incredible experience, a once-in-a-lifetime adventure doesn’t capture it. We saw things that surely must rival the beauty of anywhere in the world. We’ve done some of the most amazing things I could ever hope to do. Yet I know we will still be having such adventures for the rest of our lives.

Fuego Smoking And now, I’m not sure I’m ready to go home.

20140513-IMG_1638 I’m beyond excited to see my friends and family. I’m excited to be in a land that is familiar. To know how to ask for what I want. To understand, and to be able to communicate. I’m excited for hot showers, good cheese, and nice pillows. But I also know I will get my fill of all of those comforts very quickly.

Barbecue We are going to Canada, as it somehow seemed to become the place to go. Tim can get a visa and is excited at the prospect of work on a mountain. I’m meant to be putting in some career time – I’m sick of traveller jobs and want something more challenging, fulfilling. But now I’m not so sure. I had a moment, on my last flight, when it was taking off from Panama and jetting me to Toronto, when all I could think was, “Leave me here.”

Photo Credit: Tim Binks It’s not travelling that’s the hard part, it’s stopping. So the only way to survive the transition back to what many of us refer to as “the real world” is to think about it was the next great adventure. Have I lived in this place, worked at this job, known these people? This is what we, with our restless feet and our packed bags, must remember. We are always on the next part of our adventure.

Photo Credit: Tim Binks