How I came to appreciate the UK again

During my travels I saw many sights and met many people from all different kinds of backgrounds. As I reached my final destination, back in the UK, I had learnt one very simple but important thing:

No matter where you go, the story’s always the same.

In each country across the world there will always be someone moaning about:

  • Immigrants
  • House/Rental prices and ‘foreigners’ buying them
  • Big companies buying up all the produce/land and hiking up the cost of food

It’s sad, but it’s true. As human beings, we can’t all get along and agree on the exact same thing; that’s what makes us human!

In learning that the rest of the world appears to have the same issues as home, I started looking at what the UK has, to appreciate it once again.

Free Healthcare – The NHS gets a bad rep, mostly by Conservatives, but if we didn’t have the NHS I don’t know how we’d survive. Over the years I’ve needed them for surgery, check-ups, injections etc. and although you get the occasional hiccup with waiting times, I’ve always felt looked after.

Food – We have such a large variety of food here in the UK. Not only do we have amazing restaurants bringing us cuisines from all over the world, but we also have great variety in our supermarkets.
I found Australia’s shops missing a lot of items which I thought were staple products, and their curries were nothing but heartburn to me. In Dubai however, they appear to have everything, and they have it beautifully presented. I’m always amazed at how neatly the fruit is stacked whenever I shop at Waitrose in Dubai Mall.
When you reach places like a remote island in Fiji you’re once again reminded of the ‘Western World’ we live in in the UK, and the amazing choice we get. For 10 days straight we were fed whatever the local fishermen had caught, and at some points the chefs struggled as it was the stormy season and no boats could come near us. Our fruit plates became banana plates, and the main courses diminished in size. Being based in the UK we have all of Europe growing fruit and veg, and we even have the specialised shops offering (highly priced) imported foods from America or China.

The BBC – Whilst living in Oz I couldn’t watch BBC TV over the net because I wasn’t in the UK. When I went on the BBC news website whilst in Oz, it was filled with adverts. When you’re in the UK looking at these things there are no adverts allowed as it is funded by us, the people of the UK. Other channels and countries have to have adverts all over their stuff to make money. I’m happy to pay for the Beeb as it’s given me Attenborough, Sherlock, as well as many classic TV comedies such as Blackadder and Only Fools and Horses. Now who can compete with that?!

The Countryside – I grew up in the countryside but have spent the last 10 years based in cities, rarely stepping out into a woodland or field. Over this time I completely forgot the fact that the UK is still at least 80% countryside.
When we drove around New Zealand I was amazed at how much was untouched. In the entire country there are only a few places heavily built on, the rest was just little towns or villages surrounded by mountains or lakes. It was stunning but also similar to the views of Britain. So as our plane flew in circles coming into land at Gatwick, I looked out at the land below and took in the fields and trees I’d forgotten about for so long. Now I’m back, I plan on seeing the country I grew up in.


We may all have the same problems of mass corporations buying everything out and hiking the prices, people buying out all the properties to invest and make more money, and an ever-increasing population from both immigrants and procreation, but the point is we ALL have that, and we’re ALL just people. If we can learn to respect one another and accept what’s going on around us (to an extent), then we will find a happiness within ourselves. I’m still working on this one but at least I’ve come to appreciate the land I grew up in and all it has to offer.

A Pommes Perspective of Australia

During my travels in Australia I came across many wonderful and weird things. Here’s my view overall of Oz.

Roads – Brilliantly signposted! When I arrived in Australia I was so relieved to see maximum signage on the roads. They direct and warn you about everything.

aussie-road-sign

TV Promos – ‘You’re not going to believe what happens.’ ‘What they did next will amaze you.’  One thing I’ve noticed about Australian TV promos is; they’re all the same. Even if the programme doesn’t contain any drama, they’ll make a promo to make it look like it’s one filled with it. Coming from a background of working in the TV industry, I know the deal, but in the UK they certainly seem to mix it up a little bit more than over here. The UK certainly doesn’t try to make a home decorating show look like a dramatic reality TV series. I’ve not watched a lot of American TV in my time, but the Oz promos certainly seem to be heavily influenced by the American way.

Walking side – Where in some countries you have a bike path and a pedestrian path, here you have a pedestrian path side for whichever way you’re walking. It’s quite cute, but a waste of road paint, because no one really abides by them.

Food – I seriously struggled to eat a good meal in Australia. To many Australians, you’re not to know any different, but curry isn’t supposed to taste like that. Kiev’s aren’t supposed to have bones in them, and pasta should not taste so thick and stodgy that you won’t pass it for weeks. It took me a while to know which items to pick and choose out of the small amount of options, but I gradually learnt what not to eat.

Franchises – I soon learnt that the well-known chain restaurants I’m used to are not going to taste the same in Australia. They’re franchises, owned by some local who’s got the famous menus up behind him, but different products behind the scenes. One day I really fancied a Nandos so I asked for my usual of a chicken burger and chips with halloumi and the guy looked at me with utter confusion. Halloumi is not on the Nandos menu here. I mean c’mon. It makes the chicken burger if you stick the slab of halloumi on top of it, and then there are the Nandos fries I love so much. I was given your typical cheap-ass, worst tasting fries you could ever imagine; horrific. Australia, you have no idea what amazing food you’re missing out on.

Double glazing – Okay, I vaguely get it. We have double glazing in the UK because it’s cold 99.9% of the year, but you guys (depending on which part of the country you’re in) get cold spells too! Not only do you actually have winters where it’s low in the single figures, but double glazing also helps cut out sounds. So far, in the many places I’ve stayed, I’ve wished for double glazing. I don’t want to hear the really noisy birds outside, or the boy racers burning rubber on the street. When I get inside, I want peace and quiet. I want to feel like I’m in my own space, not still sharing it with the whole world. On top of that, door-makers really need to learn to measure. I’ve still not seen a door that goes all the way to the floor – even front doors. You have massive fences up to protect you from all this dangerous wildlife, but you’ll leave an inch gap at the front of your house so that all the little critters can crawl on in.

2a7dfc0100000578-3159224-hatton_calmly_walks_the_spider_to_the_front_door_where_he_says_h-m-30_1436789738716

Heating – This ties in with the double glazing. Some parts of the country do get cold and yet none of them have any form of heating installed. All of the people I’ve met so far have complained about the lack of heating in their apartment and have had to buy standalone radiators that hardly give out any warmth, but use up a lot of electricity.

Loud birds – Going back to the double glazing again, it would be really nice if you had some so that the bird that insists on calling out to his friends in front of my window every morning wouldn’t be so loud. There’s a whole range of them, and I’m sure I share this pain with most people.

cockatoos

Internet options – You guys are being taken for a ride. There are adverts all over the TV for super-fast broadband at a rip-off price and it’s still not unlimited! I just don’t get it. It’s already well-known that this country doesn’t have very good internet coverage, and I can understand why – you’re huge with massive expanses of nothingness to get across – but I don’t understand why these companies can’t just offer you unlimited rather than 200GB a month. If you’re asking for 200GB a month it should be classed as unlimited!

Where to buy what – You go through life learning what items work for you, and go buy them whenever you need a top up. When I arrived in Oz I soon found that my staple products might not exist in this country. In the UK, supermarkets contain a large variety of everything from knickers to noodles. I’ve found that in Oz you may need to go to a few stores to get everything on your shopping list. It began with toothpaste. I must have walked around 4 different supermarkets and discount pharmacy’s before assuming that my brand wasn’t made here and settled on something similar. Then I ran out of face wipes, deodorant, and shampoo. It’s not so simple that once you’ve found it in one store you’ll find it in another one of theirs – that’s what makes Oz shops so confusing! Different Coles stores will have different items. So where I might be able to find a shampoo I want in one of them, another Coles elsewhere doesn’t stock that particular brand.


Over the months I began pointing out more negative views of Australia, but overall they’re not a bad bunch. They have advert campaigns like this one:

s6myehu

And have a far more relaxed view on life than most European countries. Australians know how to work a sufficient amount, and play to the absolute maximum. They’ve learnt how to handle big bugs, and ferocious storms. All in all, my view of Australia is it’s hot, independent, and very, very beautiful.

DSC02563

What I learnt whilst in Oz

Cancer awareness – Everyone is very much aware of cancer in the world, and it’s always prevalent, but my trip began in Brisbane where skin cancer is rife. All my cousin’s friends had cancer; there were ads all over TV for it, and skin cancer clinics on every corner. Sunscreen was cheap, everywhere, and was made in high SPF’s.

Healthy Eating – When I moved to Manly, it was what I was putting into my body that I became more aware of. Manly appears to be a very health conscious town, and my new housemate had been taking it one step further and started to buy organic products for cleaning, and make up as well so that anything she touched or ingested was chemical free, and 100% natural. I’d always felt bloated after pasta or bread anyway, so I knew I should try cutting out gluten. After reading about other things that you could remove from your diet and how it could benefit you, I started to seriously plan my eating habits and embraced the new meal options.

It’s hard to change lifestyle habits, but since having my eyes opened to a new way of living, I now follow healthy eaters on Instagram like @chloescountertop @kirstywaterman @deliciouslyella who show me a new way of eating and viewing. I also came across Quirky Cooking which has some delicious recipes and suggestions.

In learning more about the products you put onto your body, I’ve started compiling a Pinterest board of DIY products, and the many uses of coconut!

As I made my way further south, I found Sydney and Melbourne to be the most health conscious. There were lots of independent shops including health food stores with plenty of variety for the intolerant people. I felt like I was walking into a magic, Harry Potter shop when I entered a store in Melbourne. Outside it had a stand of wicker baskets which you could use whilst walking around the shop, and they’d used every single space imaginable for something. The crevices in the walls were filled with tubes of every seed and nut you could think of, and they even had a mini bakery on sight! These sorts of shops do not exist in the UK, but certainly should.

Australian TV – I found their TV to have quite an American influence, with a slight environmental and health conscious vibe. During my stay in Townsville, the local TV adverts were mainly focussed on obesity, and how to lead a healthier life. At the beginning I found it funny that people in such a sunny state could have an obesity problem, but actually, the heat can be too much for exercise, and the sea can have crocs, sharks and stingers to be wary of! Most coast towns do have pools which filtered in the sea water though, so there’s no real excuse.

Aborigines – On the road in Western Australia, I learnt about how much the Aborigines’ were quashed. I went on a 6 day tour of South West Oz and at nearly every stop it was all about how the Aborigines once were this and that, as if they don’t exist anymore. It makes me rather sad that they’re talked about this way, and have been removed from their lands to make way for a western world who didn’t even know how to cope in this harsh environment.

Australian Made – Independent companies appear to be thriving as well as state made adverts encouraging people to shop at independent stores rather than big businesses. It’s great to still be able to buy your meat from a butchers, vegetables from a greengrocers, and fish from a fishmongers; this is something you’d struggle to still find in a built up UK city, as the big chain supermarkets buy out all the smaller stores to make ‘locals’.

And finally, what I’ve learnt about me…

I’ve learnt that I love a Wintery Christmas in the northern hemisphere. It was weird going through December with Christmas films showing, and having no relation to the weather outside. Even topics and stories online weren’t corresponding to the heat of the Australian summer. I found it so weird that I wrote a blog entry about it.

How to be an excellent House sitter

Being an excellent house sitter is common sense really; respect that person’s home and look after it. I’d say ‘as if it was your own’ but some of you might not be as house proud as I am!

There are loads of websites to choose from for becoming a house sitter. After reading a few reviews from people and comparing the membership costs, I settled on Trusted Housesitters.

It all starts from the moment someone’s chosen you to be their house sitter. Make sure that you stay in contact with that person, and ensure that you’re in agreement with how everything’s going to be. Trusted Housesitters has a contract that they recommend gets signed by both parties, and allow you to elaborate on. It’s important that you know how everything works in the house and garden, and all the emergency numbers if something were to go wrong.

Before arriving I send the host my flight itinerary so they have proof of my arrival and what time to expect me. You may also need to send them a scan of your driving license if you’re being added to their car insurance. Anything that can be arranged before arrival should be with minimum fuss so that the host who’s already got enough to think about can be calm in the knowledge that their house and pets will be well looked after when they leave.

If you’re looking after an unusual pet; research it. I’ve looked after birds and reptiles in the past, but I wanted to make sure I knew as much as I could before my housesit began. Look up what they can and can’t eat, signs of illness, even games you could play with them to keep them entertained while their ‘parent’s are away.

When you do arrive, make sure that you’re shown around all the appliances, where everything is, and also any local knowledge if you don’t know the area. I was kindly given a drive around the area which gave me a good view of where everything is, what there is to see, but also how the roads are laid out and what the car’s like.

It’s good to know the pet’s habits. If there’s anything that they like, their daily routines, what to do if they’re being naughty; everything! It’s important to remember that these animals will miss their owners too so you may witness some odd behaviour. If you’ve been shown all you can about them before the owners have left, then you should be able to keep those pets happy.

During your stay it’s good to offer skype conversations once every one or two weeks not only to give peace of mind, but also because owners truly miss their pets and will want to see them! If they don’t have skype, you can send pictures in emails, or even text messages just so that the host feels comfortable instead of worrying on their holiday.

I always like a clean house so I generally stick to this rule at all times anyway, but it’s good for you to clean up any mess as soon as it’s been made. If you start leaving things around the house and not tidying up after yourself, you might soon find that you can’t remember where that pan lived, or where does the remote for the AC go? Rather than leave the house with the owner’s belongings in all new locations, it’s good to keep a habit of putting things back where they were as soon as you’re done with them so that when the owners come home they don’t keep finding things in the ‘wrong’ places.

I regularly clean anyway, but when I’m leaving a housesit I will give the place a thorough clean so it looks absolutely spotless. I also like to leave basic food items so that there’s no urgency in getting to a shop when they get back.

So that’s it! Keep the place spotless, leave everything where you found it, and make them feel at home for when they get home. Communication is key; as long as they’re happy and comfortable with you looking after their house and pets, it should all go smoothly. Good Luck!

#JustDoIt

I’ve been told that I try to do everything now, that I need to slow down, and to hold off things until I’m older. But what I’ve always thought was…

‘What if I don’t get any older?

People try to save money all their life, intending to use it when they’re retired, then they find they’re not as nimble as they once were and can’t visit places they’ve been waiting to go to all their life.

Then there are the ‘off-putters’. The ones who say that now isn’t quite the right time for them. They may be waiting on a raise at work, or trying to raise a family. Either way they feel that whilst they’re doing one of those things, they can’t do much else. These people will never find the right time.

I was one of those people, and it was while I was walking around The Forum in Rome that I realised my mother was already at a point in her life where some traverses may be too difficult for her. As I scaled hills and hopped over relics in the sweltering heat, I could imagine my mother asking for a coffee break whilst trying to find a nice shady tree. She’s been retired for nine years, and in that time has taken every opportunity to travel. Most destinations aren’t too laborious, but she now has her sights set on Machu Picchu, a tricky place to:

a) Get to

b) Breathe at

I’m a firm believer that you can do anything if you set your mind to it. I’m also a firm believer of thinking outside of the box, and when people tell me you can’t just go off travelling the world after spending so many years forging a career path, I say yes you can! It’s difficult, and it certainly takes guts, but if it builds you more as a person, then it’s worthwhile.

A Further Purge – Furniture and the fish

Moving out of our home which my boyfriend and I had created for ourselves over the past two years, was difficult emotionally, but physically I didn’t want us to be pulling about items that we’d never need in a future home. So out went the unwanted cutlery, and off went the excess sheets and towels to our nearest clothing bank.

As for furniture, we went around the house and made a list of all the items we’d happily give away. There are loads of places online; Gumtree, or freecycle, where you can post a listing of all your unwanted items and give an end date for when you’d like it gone by. Another way, and the only one we needed to use in the end, was sending an email out at work. You’ll often find that a lot of people like junk! Within minutes of the email going out we’d already managed to get rid of the bookcases, speaker set, and even an old electronic drum kit. Our other option was good old Facebook, where I posted the status ‘Fish and their tank free to a good home!’ and we managed to get a friend of a friend of a FRIEND to come round and collect them one evening after work.

Finally, we were done. My life was purged. But it will start all over again in the last week before I set off for Oz!

Planning the Big Move!

 With new year’s resolutions come new ways of thinking. Most people plan to be different or make a change, but the majority of us forget these resolutions and go back to how we were. Change is difficult. It’s not easy to break the habit.

For me, this year, I decided to make a change that I can no longer back out of – or at least not very easily. I decided to leave my British life behind and go to Australia.

This wasn’t a spur of the moment decision. I have always wanted to work in other countries, and over the last few years become a little addicted to travelling, so after spending most of last year at home waiting for my boyfriend to return from yet another production abroad, I’d had enough being the one holding the fort, and decided 2015 was my year.

I began my destination search by looking up working visas. As a beginning destination for my lifetime away, I wanted somewhere I could easily integrate into. I narrowed it down to Canada, Australia and New Zealand. America was out of the running as I was only able to get a working visa if I was still in education. Canada only allows a small amount of people in each year, and only process requests at certain points of the year. Australia and New Zealand however, are very accepting of British Citizens, and would process my visa at any time and offer up to 23 months on a working visa. So the decision was made. I would start my journey in Australia on a 12 month working visa, and extend it from there if I so wished.

I made a preliminary plan of places to visit. I have a relative in Brisbane, and friends in Sydney and Melbourne, so it was set. I’d start in Brisbane and work my way down the coastline.

Once this decision was made, I applied for the visa, which cost $420AUS. I received confirmation of acceptance in less than 2 weeks. As soon as I was accepted, I started organising my trip.

I began my research by popping into my local STA travel centre. STA are great for tour groups, and handling the details you may not have time to go through yourself, but I must stress, that while they offer ‘the cheapest deals or your money back’, these are not compared with online deals. If you’re still a student, look them up. They’re great for student deals.

After speaking with an STA advisor, I knew that I’d need to sort out the following things for my working holiday:

  • Flight with stopover
  • Comprehensive Travel Insurance
  • Bank Card
  • Phone SIM card
  • Vaccinations

Booking the best flights

STA helped me determine the best time of year to leave. Our summer months are expensive because of the school holidays, and from September onwards is expensive as it’s Australia’s summer, so it seemed best for me to leave in June.

STA had given me a fly cost of £780 to Brisbane with a 3 night stopover in Dubai. I took this information and searched with the following websites:

www.skyscanner.net – I always find the easiest way to search for fluctuating flight costs is by going to sky scanner. On their site you can search for the whole month for your destination airport and be as broad as all airports in the UK, narrow it down to London, or minimise it even further by setting it to your nearest airport only.

From searching on here I narrowed down my dates even further.

www.kayak.co.uk – To ensure I get the best deal I always need to compare it with another site. My favourite comparison site is Kayak as I usually find the exact same flights but a tiny amount cheaper. Every little bit helps, and in this case, a saving of £20 could be a night’s accommodation!

I managed to find flights with Emirates for £740 with the three night Dubai stopover from www.lastminute.com, via Kayak. Once I was paid, I booked my flights and moved onto the next part of the process.

Comprehensive Travel Insurance

When it comes to insurance, it can get very confusing as to who includes what and the things you do and don’t need included. A lot of people will use a price comparison site to compare insurance quotes, but these companies weren’t offering the specifics that some people might need.

For me, I wanted to make sure my insurance covered the following:

  • Stopovers / short trips outside of my destination country i.e. Fiji
  • Passport & cash cover
  • Extension cover
  • Personal Liability Cover

I scoured the internet for people with previous travel experience, and who they suggested getting insurance with. Most suggested were these two sites:

Nomads – www.worldnomads.co.uk

True Travellers – www.truetraveller.com

Yes these companies are a quite a bit more expensive than most, but they’re higher for a reason. I found True Travellers website really helpful, as they had an online chat service to answer any questions I had before going ahead and choosing with them.

As I’m stopping over in Dubai for more than a day before heading onto Brisbane, I wanted to make sure I was covered already, but I was also looking into a mini holiday on the Fijian islands whilst I’m still in the area. True Traveller can cover you for up to 7 days depending on the duration of insurance. Having this on top of my cover for Australia and New Zealand really calmed me as I knew I’d always be covered the entire time I was out there. On top of that, I’d also be able to extend my insurance no matter which country I was extending it from. You’ll find that most of the cheaper insurance companies won’t allow any extensions and require you to return home before taking out any more insurance with them. This is no use to people who have no real plans to return!

During my research with what other backpackers had said about passport and money cover, it was decided that it was worth the minimal extra to cover such an important document and small cash I may have been carrying.

Having never really taken much notice of any previous insurance I’d taken out over the years, I was suddenly made aware of ‘Personal Liability Cover’. This freaked me out. As soon as I read what it was for, I imagined myself accidentally killing someone with a wombat! No one would want that. So this cover immediately became one of my top priorities in my search for the perfect insurance.

Bank Card/Money

You must create a bank account in Oz within the first few weeks of arriving so that you have a tax file number and account to actually get paid into. One of the biggest banks around is the Commonwealth bank, so these generally seem to be the best one to go with for ease of access to money.

I’ve also been introduced to Transferwise by a friend of mine who’s out in Oz already. By using transferwise to move cash from your UK bank account into your Australian account, you’re not losing as much money in the process as you would if you just transferred the cash directly from your British bank.

‘Transferwise converts money at the real mid-market exchange rate’

This is something I’ll be able to report back on better when I’ve used it a bit.

Phone or Sim card

Telstra has the best signal overall in Australia, and that’s VERY important. Australia is HUGE, and you’ll see from this map how vast the areas are without any signal at all.

http://opensignal.com/coverage-maps/Australia/

When I’ve been looking through volunteer listings, I’ve seen a few mentioning whether they have signal or not and they always mention TELSTRA, so this is clearly the best by far, and the one I’ll be buying a sim for.

Having an old iphone 4, I was undecided as to whether it was time for me to buy a new phone with more storage or just stick with what I’ve got and just make sure it’s unlocked for other sim cards. In the end, it just didn’t seem worth turfing out the extra cash for something I already owned that was still working perfectly.

My contract runs out a week after I leave the country so in May I’ll be telling O2 that I’ll be cancelling my contract. As a pay monthly customer I’m able to request for my phone to become unlocked free of charge. I just need to fill in this form:

https://www.o2.co.uk/apps/help/help?qid=1&q1=2&route=unlocking&case=Handset%20Unlocking%20Form

Vaccinations

Last year I’d received my first jab of Hep A, meaning that if I topped it up this year, I’d be covered until 2025. So off I popped to my local Doctor’s for their Saturday morning travel clinic. Each doctor will handle vaccinations differently, and depending on where you live or how much time you have until you travel, you may find it easier to book into a private travel clinic such as Nomad’s.

My local doctor allows you to book an appointment letting them know there and then which countries you will be visiting, and they will order the correct jabs for you. Oz and NZ don’t really need anything, but I wanted my Hep updated so that if I did go onto Fiji, I’d still be covered jab wise.

Planning ahead and organising your vaccinations through your doctor means that you won’t need to pay for anything. There are the more exotic jabs such as yellow fever for example that will require a small charge, but all of these will be minimal compared to a private clinic, so it’s always suggested that you try and sort them with your doctor first.

That’s where I’m at so far! If you think there’s anything else I should be considering, let me know. I’ve made a preliminary packing list which I’ll share soon, then will probably update closer to the time.