Upcoming Adventures – 2017 Edition

At the start of each year I like to start thinking about my travel plans for the rest of the year, places I know I’m definitely going to go, and places I’m dreaming about going. I’ve been meaning to write this post since New Years Day, but in classic last-minute Leah style I’ve procrastinated and now it’s February! This year I have a trip home to which is going to eat into most of my vacation time from work (damn you Canada and your stingy vacation allowance) but I’m hoping to squeeze a couple of weekends away into my travel plans for the year, and as always there are plenty of stat days coming up so if I’m strategic I can squeeze in a three day weekend or two for exploring.

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The Definities:
England
I have a trip home to look forward to at the end of May. It will be nearly 18 months since I’ve been back to England by the time this trip rolls around and I cannot wait to catch up with family and friends. I’m looking forward to spending some relaxing time at home as well as going to Gloucester, London and anywhere else I can squeeze in during this trip.

Spain
Whilst in England, I’ll be heading over to Spain, more specifically the Costa Blanca, to celebrate a friends wedding at the end of May. Myself and another friend are flying into Alicante and then heading down to the port town of Denia, where we will be based. I know we are both looking forward to seeing the ancient castle in the town and explore the surrounding area’s, as well as squeezing in a few trips to the beach and plenty of sangria.

Los Angeles
I’ve been to LA and many of the surrounding area’s before but this year I’m heading back for an extra special reason; my bestie’s bachelorette weekend. The process of planning is in full swing, and without giving too much away; we will be heading down to the LA area for a weekend, of sunshine, cocktails and laughter!

Pemberton/Whistler
The wedding of the aforementioned bestie is taking place in the beautiful area of Pemberton, British Columbia in August. I know I will be spending a weekend up in ‘Sea to Sky’ country for the wedding and taking in the beauty of Whistler and Pemberton in the summertime.

The Maybe’s:
Gulf Islands
I’ve been to Galiano Island and Bowen Island, but there are so many more Gulf Islands to explore right on my doorstep, top contenders include; Salt Spring and Pender. Watch this space …

Canada
I’ve said it before, and no doubt I will say it again, but I haven’t made the most of living in this beautiful country and I want to attempt to rectify that this year. Even if I just explore some more of British Columbia I will be happy.

Weekend’s Away
I know I will probably have a weekend away with two of my best friends at some point in the summer. We go away together every year, last year we went to Harrison Hot Springs which was lovely and relaxing, and I’m looking forward to seeing where we end up this year.

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Whilst I have lots of exciting stuff to look forward to this year, I don’t have any big epic trips coming up. I’m more focused on taking smaller weekend breaks and local days out, in a never ending effort to try and save money. We’ll see how it goes …
What are your travel plans for the year? Let me know in the comments, happy exploring!

Moving to Canada – My Experiences

What brought me to Canada in the first place?

This story starts many years ago, 2009 in fact. I had graduated university and had no idea what I was going to do with my life, my degree didn’t lead me to any set career, and I had no yearning for any particular pathway.

That summer I had gone on a Contiki tour of America, the southern states to be precise, where I met some amazing people. One of the people I met had just been living in Whistler for a year, and by the sounds of it she had had an absolutely amazing time, and another girl was heading to Canada for a year following our trip. That was it; the seeds had been planted! I returned home and immediately started researching moving to Canada. From there I contacted BUNAC (who used to have the monopoly on visa’s) and filled out all of the appropriate forms and sent them off. It was all straight forward.

I was accepted, I booked my flights for November and I waited. Then in August, I freaked out … I hadn’t saved enough! What if I didn’t make any friends? What would I do for work? How would I quit the job I currently had? What about leaving my family? I knew I had to enter Canada by January 31st 2011, if I wanted to use this visa, so I moved my flight back to January 11th. It was one of the last group flights (basically, you’re on the same flight as other people with working holiday visas, and get transfers from the airport and the first nights accommodation sorted)  BUNAC had left, and those extra few months gave me enough time to sort myself out, save a bit more money and make peace with my choices.

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The view from the top of Whistler Blackcomb.

My story!

This isn’t as straightforward as I moved to Canada, loved it here and never left, when is life ever that simple? My original plan looked a little something like this; fly into Vancouver, work for a few months save a bit of money, travel across the country, check out some of the sights along the way, end up in Toronto, work there for a few months, fly home. Obviously, that plan didn’t get seen through to the end, in fact I’m still on step one.

I arrived January 11th 2011 and lived in a hostel for three weeks. Then I found an apartment share and moved in there, I was feeling a bit nervous because I still didn’t have a job and I’d spent a lot of money having fun in those first three weeks. The apartment was alright, it wasn’t great, I was living with a stranger I’d found on Craigslist, it definitely wasn’t an ideal situation. Then after what felt like a lifetime I got a job (five years later I’m still there!) it was only part time to start with but it was a step in the right direction, after a month or so I went up to full time. From there I moved into another apartment, it was still a flat share I found on Craigslist, but it was closer to work, with a nicer roommate and just a better fit for me. About half way through the year, I was starting to feel like maybe a 12 months wasn’t long enough. I knew I was able to apply for one more one year visa, so I started the process, only it wasn’t as easy as it had been before, getting access to a printer was a pain, and I was having to ask my Dad to go to the bank and get a letter that I needed, or send out a certificate that I didn’t have with me. Then came the realisation that I had missed the deadline to apply for a new visa … by a day!!!!! I looked into different options to stay in Canada while I applied for a new visa once mine had expired, top and bottom of it is that I couldn’t. So I made the most of the time I had left, and eventually the time had come for me to leave.

On January 10th 2012 I flew back to England, promising my friends and colleagues that I would be back in no time, six to eight weeks tops, after all it had been so simple and effortless last time I applied for a visa. Oh how naive was I? You see 2012 was the first year that the International Experience Canda visa’s came into play, and there was a massive backlog of applications. I’ll admit it didn’t help that I missed a signature on my first set of forms and had to resend them, but all together it took six months there about for my new visa to come through, finally I was heading back to Canada. Ultimately I was lucky with my timing, when I originally came to Canada I came on a Student Working Holiday visa. Then, in 2012 the IEC visa’s came into play, and mean that regardless of having had previous visa’s, applicants were allowed to have two one year visa’s, under the IEC working holiday program. This ultimately allowed me to live and work in Canada for three years whilst I decided that I wanted to become a Permantent Resident.

What kept me here?

It took a while for me to realise that Vancouver was where I wanted to be for the foreseeable future, and I think that that stems from the fact that for me, this was always going to be a temporary experience. It took me going back to the UK for six months to seriously consider that Vancouver could become my home. Don’t get me wrong, I love England, but for me I have a much better quality of life here in Vancouver, and I honestly think I am a nicer, better version of myself living here (that sounds so cheesy!)

The process of becoming a Permanent Resident!

Ugh, I’m not going to lie, there are a lot of forms involved, and I mean A LOT!!!! That said, it is doable, don’t be put off by thinking it’s to hard to do. I did it by myself without the help of a lawyer, and I have plenty of friends who did too. The route I took to becoming a Permanent Resident was through the BC PNP (Provincial Nominee Program) which simply put, is where you apply to the province you live in who then (hopefully) say yes we want you, from there you go on to apply to Canada, and after a lot of paperwork and waiting you receive a letter in the mail that will make you do a happy dance. There was, of course, a bump in the road for me. My final one year IEC visa ran out during my PR application, so I had to apply for a bridging visa, which was another set of forms, but gave me two years to continue living and working in Canada whilst my application for Permanent Residency was being processed.

In all seriousness, I am very lucky that one of my best friends had gone through the exact same process 18 months before me and was amazing at answering all of my niggling questions. The internet was also surprisingly helpful, there are tons of blogs and forums dedicated to immigration, and they are there to help you … use them! If I can do it, anyone can!

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The first photo of me as a Permanent Resident at the Canadian boarder, possibly the happiest I’ve ever been!

Why I love Vancouver!

Where to start? The views! Those days when the clouds lift, the skies are a beautiful shade of blue, and I am walking to work and see the city with the mountains in the background, it is hard to imagine loving a city anymore than I love Vancouver. It is an incredibly easy city to live in, people are friendly and there is an inherent sense of safety that is unusual in cities. Vancouver is also on the small side when compared to other major cities, it is incredibly simple to navigate, transit is (for the most part) painless, and a lot of the time you can walk from A to B very easily. Most of all I love the life I have made for myself here, I am proud of what I have got, and I can honestly say that coming to Canada was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I came on a plane with 38 strangers, and today I have a lovely rented apartment, a steady and fun job, and the most amazing group of friends, I’m definitely in a good place!

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Views from the bus in the summer – what’s not to love?

What’s next?

Now I’m a Permanent Resident I feel as if I have a lot more freedom and opportunities, meaning that I have the option to move to a different part of Canada or live in a difference country for a year or two and still maintain my PR status. At present I’m happy to keep Vancouver as my home base. It’s such an easy city to live in, and it’s so easy to access the West Coast, and most of the States, a definite perk! That said, I’m definitely open to the idea of living in a difference city or even country should the mood take me, I guess only time will tell …

Upcoming Adventures

It’s nearly March (where did January and February go?) and I haven’t been on a proper trip yet. Actually, that isn’t necessarily true, whilst I was back in England for Christmas and New Year, I did visit with friends in Gloucester and Manchester for a few days. But, I’m not counting those little jaunts as they definitely counted as social visits. So, with that in mind I decided it was time to nail down a plan of action for the rest of year and give myself something to look forward to.

The Definites

These are the trips that are already booked, or may as well be and are definitely happening.

Seattle

My first trip of the year is coming up very soon. I’m off to Seattle, more specifically Ballad and Capitol Hill with some of my best adventure buddies, we went on one of my favourite trips ever to Hawaii together back in 2012. All of us have been to Seattle numerous times before (one of the perks of living in Vancouver) so I’m excited to get out of the downtown area to explore some new neighbourhoods and find some fun breweries and coffee shops to fill the days.

Harrison Hot Springs

Harrison Hot Springs is a unique little town that is less than two hours drive from downtown Vancouver, and yet it feels like a world away. It is a tiny little town situated in the Fraser Valley around the south end of Harrison Lake. I have been there briefly before, and by briefly I mean a few hours where we stopped for an ice cream and stretched our legs. So I am thrilled to be heading back there for a weekend in June with two friends for our annual weekend getaway. In previous years we have gone to Seattle, Vernon and even attempted camping at Cultus Lake, so it will be great to be able to relax and explore the surrounding areas a bit more in depth, and maybe even spot a Sasquatch.

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Last time I went to Harrison I made a friend.

The Definite Maybes

These are safe bets that they (most likely) will happen this year, but nothing is booked yet.

Silicon Valley, San Francisco and the surrounding areas

My cousin and her family have just moved to Silicon Valley through her husbands work. So I will definitely be taking advantage of this and giving them a visit at some point this year, once they are all settled in. San Francisco has been on my list of places to visit for some time so this seems like the perfect opportunity to kill two birds with one stone and even explore a bit further afield; Berkley, Napa Valley and Carmel are all on my list.

Cabin Christmas

It has become a tradition in our friendship group that we go away for Christmas to a cabin in the woods, for the past few years we have gone to a lovely little cabin in Mount Baker, Washington. Last year I went back to England for Christmas and that was fantastic to be surrounded by family and old friends, however I couldn’t help but feeling like I was missing out by not being at the cabin. I was offered some constellation that due to the weak Canadian dollar my friends weren’t at “our cabin” and instead had gone to a cheaper alternative. There has been some discussion already about Christmas 2016, and even though the Canadian dollar isn’t looking so great at the moment, I’m sure we will find a cabin to suit our needs, even if it isn’t “our cabin” that we love so much!

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Our Christmas cabin in Mount Baker.

The Maybes

These are the places that I would like to go to this year, but it will all come down to funds and the amount of vacation time I can get from work. Some are a lot more achievable than others.

Montreal

As I’ve already said in this post, the Canadian dollar is weak at the moment, which means going down to The States isn’t as cost effective as it once was, not that that is stopping me, but it is definitely making me think. That said, domestic travel is extremely expensive in Canada (the country is huge after all) so traveling between provinces is not as easy as I thought it would be when I first moved out here. I’ve lived in Canada for five years now and have yet to leave the British Columbia and explore some of the other beautiful provinces in this stunning country. Top of my list is definitely Montreal. I have got a couple of friends who have been and loved it. From all the research and pictures I’ve seen it seems like a city in a bubble with some beautiful building and a bit of a party atmosphere, plus it’s the home of Poutine, yum!

The Rockies

Once again, a part of Canada that I am yet to experience, and definitely up there on my list. I’m not into winter sports or super outdoorsy, so I think a trip in the summer would be more up my alley, and the chance to see Lake Louise in the sunshine, is something I definitely want to do. I know my mum is planning on coming out to visit this summer, so I think this trip would be a nice thing to do with her.Plus the road trip to there would be pretty epic in itself.

Iceland

Iceland has been a country that I have wanted to visit for years, and it is definitely one of the countries I wish I had visited when I was still living in England, where it is a lot cheaper to get to. Having done some research, it is definitely still a doable trip even from Vancouver, but it might also be something I save for the next time I go back to England and make an extended stopover.

Costa Rica

Costa Rica is one of those countries that constantly comes up when I am browsing through the travel section of Pintrest. Not only does it look like there are some stunning beaches (I’m a sucker for a beautiful beach) and glorious lush rainforests and jungles, but it seems like there is a new adventure around every corner.

 

I definitely feel a lot better about not having a lot booked so far, having written this all down. I know I am not going to be able to go on all of these trips this year, unless there is a lottery win involved, and my vacation time through work doubles, but I am going to do my best to see and explore as many new places as possible. I will be making the most of the three day weekends coming up in the summer and attempting to explore the beautiful city I live in a bit further.