Couchsurfing – a great way to travel while staying at home, or feeling at home when travelling!

I’ve been a member of Couchsurfing.org since 2010. I was living in Fort St. John, British-Columbia at the time and I started by hosting a few travellers on their way up the Alaska Highway. Most of them would arrive by car and stay overnight.

The idea behind couchsurfing is to facilitate encounters between locals and travel oriented people. It’s a free service, but the main idea should not be to be looking for a free night, but some kind of exchange instead. Trading stories, exploring cultural differences, having hands-on travel advice, making new friends along the way is what this is about.

The idea behind couchsurfing has always existed. When I was first travelling in Europe, I met a Swiss family in one of the hostels I was staying at. I had just entered Switzerland, and didn’t really have plans. While talking to them they said: You can’t come to Switzerland and not be in the mountains. They were away from their house for a couple of days, but they told me to take the train a few days later, and they would come pick me up at the station and bring me home, for a true Swiss experience.

It was the first time I had an experience like that, and being the young me, I didn’t know what to expect but decided to go anyway. It was at a time when Facebook did not exist, and most people did not use the Internet. A few days later, I took the train, not knowing if somebody was even going to be there for me. But when I arrived in Sion, the husband was there to pick me up. He drove us up the mountain, introduced me to all the kids, and showed me around the village. At night, they cooked a traditional Swiss fondue. It was a total immersion in the real life of a local family. The next day they took me around for some sightseeing, proudly sharing their history and favourite places with me. To this day, I still cherish that memory, as one of my best times while travelling. To me, a true insight into a local’s life makes a big difference while travelling. It helps understand the cultural differences and you do end up creating a special bond when you share a few days in close proximity with people.

View from my room from my host's flat in Edinburgh
View from my room in my host’s flat in Edinburgh

Being a great guest

It is quite simple to be a great guest. It starts before you even send a request. Fill in your profile. This is what your host will use to decide if they want to have you over. Also make sure to read their profile as well. Some hosts will include a sentence somewhere in their profile that should be included in your request. If a host is saying it is a party flat and you are looking for a quiet evening in, or vice versa, it might not be the best match! In bigger cities, potential hosts receive so many requests everyday, if you want to stand a chance, you have to be distinctive.

Being interested in your host is the basic. When you do know how and when you will get to their place, let them know. If you are flying in, give them the flight number, that way if you are late, they will be able to find out. If taking public transport or hitchhiking, let them know what time you expect to arrive.

When you arrive, introduce yourself. You may be shy, but now is not the time! Treat their house like it’s your own. If you use the kitchen, clean after yourself. Try to keep your stuff in one place, and not spread all over the flat, as the host might get the feeling you are trying to take over. They are offering a place for you to sleep, they are not a hotel, a restaurant or an all-inclusive resort!

Sharing a meal is often the most pleasant part of the stay, as you get to cook together, and spend quality time getting to know each other. You do not have to bring anything, but it would definitely be appreciated by your host. Simple things like tea or coffee, product from your country, or even sharing a recipe. It doesn’t need to be big, even a small note that says thank you will be appreciated.

Keep in mind that the person hosting you is very likely to be working or have other plans, so you will probably have to leave at the same time in the morning or get in later at night. Some hosts will give you a key, but it should never be assumed.

Polaroid picture with a new friend
Making new friends!

Being a great host

When hosting, make sure to provide a clean and safe environment. Also, clear indications on how to get to your place are a must! To you, it is second nature, but to somebody new to the city, it can be quite confusing. Making guests feel welcome while explaining your expectations will make everything go much smoother. This may sound obvious but it is not always the first thing on people’s mind. If you want your guests to leave at the same time as you, say so. Tell them what they can use. And show interest in your guest’s culture, country etc.

If you know of any must-see, must-do or places to avoid in your area, share the information with your guests! They will be forever grateful!

Safety

Of course, like any other on-line site, you have to be careful. People that have hosted or surfed will have reviews from other members. Make sure to read the profile to know what to expect.

In order to have a great experience on both sides, I find that sharing as much information on the expectations, being flexible and not take anything for granted will make the stay more enjoyable for both parties.

Choosing a host, or a guest is a question of trust. If for some reason you do not feel comfortable, you can talk about it. Do keep in mind that you are never obligated to go through with it, it sucks to have to tell somebody that you are not comfortable or to leave in the middle of the night, but it is much better than risking anything. If you have a bad experience, leave a review explaining why so that other couchsurfers will know about it. When you do, include details, but try to remember to explain the situation in a clear, concise and non-judgmental way.

Don’t assume that because somebody doesn’t have any reviews that they will be bad news, everybody has to start somewhere to get the first review!

Getting your first review

Getting the first review can be difficult as obviously people don’t know you. You can start by meeting with people for coffee, of a walk in the city. Some cities even have groups that meet once a week, or once a month. Go there! Introduce yourself, meet other members and eventually you’ll get reviews. If you do meet somebody for coffee, don’t be shy asking for them to leave a review. And remember to leave reviews for people you meet too!

There is, of course, more than this to couchsurfing, but if you follow these easy guidelines, if you are respectful and interested there is no reason you shouldn’t have a great experience.

Happy surfing!

Discovering Orkney

Stromness to the Brough of Birsay

Second day of biking in Orkney. This time I knew where to go: away from the ferry towards the Co-op on the main street. My legs remembered the day before right away but I kept going. The road was pretty, and pretty hilly as well. Some parts were really challenging, but I pushed through, using my Hell Week mentality and it worked! Soon, after seeing countless sheep and a few cows, I arrived to Skara Brae.

Skara Brae
Skara Brae

The visit started with a short movie about Skara Brae, and then we moved on to the actual museum, where artifacts were exposed and explained. Skara Brae is one of the best preserved groups of prehistoric houses in Western Europe. They were uncovered in 1850 when a storm removed part of the ground and uncovered the ruins. They date about 5000 years ago, before the pyramids in Egypt and Stonehenge, and because they were well covered by sand, they kept very well. Every house in the village is about the same size, so it is believed that every villager had the same status. The houses were all set-up the same as well.

Inside of the house. Heart in the middle, beds on either and a shelving unit to show important possessions
What the houses probably looked like

A hearth in the middle, which provided warmth and cooking facilities. A small corridor to enter, ensuring not too much sand and wind would get in. Right in front of the door was a dresser where they probably kept food and valued items. On both side where beds made of stone, which were hopefully covered in hay and fur. There is even evidence that suggest they may have had some kind of sewer system. The small room attached to the main room may even have been a toilet. The houses were also linked all together with a roofed corridor to keep all the inhabitant protected from the elements.

pebble beach next to the site
The sea now coming right next to the ruins

It was a very interesting visit to see the ruins of the village and also to try to imagine why they would have picked that specific area. Back then food was abundant, and there was even a small loch of fresh-water between the village and the sea. The sea has since claimed its right and now the water comes right up to the village.

During the summer time, the ticket includes a visit to Skaill house, the house where Laird William Graham Watt lived when he discovered Skara Brae. The house contains artifact collected by the family over the years.

Ruins of the Earl's Palace
Earl’s Palace

After the visit of Skara Brae, I got back on my bike and kept going until I reached the Earl’s Palace and St. Magnus Kirk. The palace was built by Robert Stuart, Earl of Orkney in the late 16th century. He was pretty mean to the villagers, and after his death his son Patrick succeeded, being even more tyrannical. Both Earl Patrick and his own son, young Robert ended up being captured later on and executed. The Earls’ story is actually a lot longed and more complicated than that, and after their deaths, the Palace was abandoned and it quickly became in ruins.

St. Magnus Kirk
St. Magnus Kirk

St. Magnus Kirk was built in 1064. It is a very austere church, but it was worth a visit, especially the cemetery, as it had an amazing view of the bay.

Brought of Birsay, accessible only at low tide
Brought of Birsay, accessible only at low tide

After a quick lunch at the Earl’s Palace, I got back on my bike once again to get to the Brough of Birsay. It’s a tiny island accessible only at low tide. There are also ruins of another Earl’s Palace, and a lot of birds nesting on the cliffs. I walked around, unwillingly scaring a lot of bunnies away, while taking in the views of the cliff and the turquoise water. I even saw an orange cat who looked terrified by me, but he must have thought he was in heaven with all the birds and nests. It must have been like an all-you-can eat buffet for him!!

Orange cat hiding between rocks
Not exactly what you expect when going birdwatching

After such a demanding day, I was not too enthusiast to get back on the bike, but I did so anyway. The way back turned out to be slightly easier than the way in as it was mostly downhill. The part along the Loch of Skaill was very good too, mostly flat, with lots or birds and swans.

Straight road with bicycle

When I arrived back in Stromness, I brought back the bike to the bike shop, and again nobody was there. I went back to the hostel and called it a day after about 46 km on my bike!

Stromness to Kirkwall

The next morning I woke up to heavy rain. I was very happy I took the bike the day before as I definitely would have not enjoyed my bike ride as much! I was not in a big rush as my sole mission for the day was to take the bus from Stromness to Kirkwall. I decided to call to Maeshowe to see if I could join one of the tours that day, and luckily there was room for the 12:00 tour. I was in the kitchen of the hostel taking things slow when 2 French girls arrived. They saw that I was looking at bus schedules and seemed to believe I was an expert, because they relied on my very recently acquired knowledge and decided to join me for the tour. It was nice to visit something with people instead of being all by myself.

green hill with an entrance to the inner room
Maeshowe. Unfortunately, we are not allowed to take pictures inside

Maeshowe is a Neolithic chambered cairn built around 2800 BC. It was later on discovered by the Vikings, who wrote graffiti on the walls. The funny thing is that all they decided to write was things that people today still write on bathroom stall all over the world. Mostly in the lines of ”So and so was here, 2015”. The tour was interesting, even though the guide seemed quite grumpy at first. In order to get in the chamber, we had to walk with bended knees through a long tunnel. The stones used for the tunnel and the walls are very big, and were brought as one piece in order to make the tunnel prettier. Another interesting fact is that during midwinter, the sun shines through the passage right into the chamber.

After the tour, I went back inside the main building to grab my bag, and as I was checking when the next bus to Kirkwall was, the lady showed me the outside camera where we could see the bus had just parked in front to unload and load passengers. I precipitated the goodbyes with my new friends and ran toward it.

View over the city
View from my host’s flat

When I arrived in Lerwick, I knew that my host for that night was not home yet, and thanks to Google, I knew there was a left luggage at the bus station. The left luggage was quite expensive, (£4 for about 2.5 hours) but I decided it was worth it for not having to carry my backpack.

Lerwick viewed from the top of Earl's Palace
From the Earl’s Palace

When I started walking in town, there were tourists everywhere, most of them speaking German. I had heard that a cruise ship was in town, but I had not expected 3,300 people to be in the streets of the village, which usually has a population of about 9,000 people. I started looking for a place to have a coffee, in order to avoid both the rain and the crowd. I had almost picked a place that looked fairly full when I saw that the ice cream shop had a sign saying Cafe upstairs. I walked in and had a lovely chat with the older owner and a lady who may or may not have been his wife. We exchanged niceties and spoke about the tourists and the weather. Weather on the island and in Scotland in general is a topic of choice, and a great conversation starter. After my coffee and a talk with the sweet girl working there, and as the rain had mostly stopped, I walked towards St. Magnus Cathedral. The cathedral, built in the 12th century was constructed using red stones and it gives it a special look. It was obviously pretty crowded, but I took my time and enjoyed the woodwork inside.

St Magnus Cathedral made with red bricks
St. Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall

As I walked outside of the cathedral, I met again with the two French girls I had visited Maeshowe with. We spent more time walking around Kirkwall together.

Rasta sign on door
Reassuring sight!

Later on, I picked up my bag from the left luggage and walked towards my host’s flat. It was located on a very tiny street and because they don’t tend to put the numbers on all the doors, I wasn’t sure if I was in front of the right building. He had told me he lived in a place with multiple flats, so as the door was left ajar, I walked in and looked for flat no 5. As soon as I saw the rasta sign on the door, I knew I was in the right spot!

Broch of Gurness

Small road leading to a village
Slowly making my way to the Broch of Gurness

A day later, I decided to head to the Broch of Gurness, another archeological site of the island. In order to get there I had to take the bus no 6, to one of the closest village (Evie), but unfortunately, the only bus running when I was ready was for Tingwall, another village located a little further away. I took this one anyway, knowing I would have to walk about one hour until I reached the Broch of Gurness.

Different birds flying away from a rock
Unwillingly scaring the birds away

When I arrived at the Broch, a man that had passed me with his car not long ago offered me a ride back to Kirkwall, which I gladly accepted! We visited the site together and had a chat on the way back. He lives part time in Scotland and part time in Sydney, Australia, enjoying summer in each country. He also had visited and worked in many countries so we had a travel-filled conversation!

Ruins of the Broch of Gurness
Broch of Gurness

The Broch of Gurness is an Iron-Age building style unique to Scotland. It is basically the ruins of a village which had a tower in the middle. It was again very cool to see, and because it is more open than Skara Brae, you can actually walk around and within the structures, as long as you don’t break anything obviously!

Very smiley me, exploring the ruins
Very happy to be exploring ruins!

When we arrived back to Kirkwall, I thanked my good Samaritan and went for a visit of the Bishop’s Palace and yet another Earl’s Palace next to St. Magnus Cathedral. The Bishop’s Palace was built in the 12th century while the Earl’s Palace was built by Earl Patrick Steward, the son of the other brutal earl, in the 17th century.

Standing in front of the Earl's palace
Yet another Earl’s palace

Northern Highlands and ferry to Orkney

Pitlochry to Thurso

I woke up slowly this morning, had my breakfast and said my goodbyes to Alana and Maeve, my new Irish friends before checking out and walking the very short walk to the station. The train was 10 minutes late, and the controller took the time to say that he was going to get information on the platform, and advise the next train that we were 3 people going there.

View from the train on the way to Thurso
View from the train on the way to Thurso

Finally they were able to catch up and we arrived on time. I went to platform 5 quickly as I had only 1 minute in between trains. The train had just 2 wagons, but for some reason they were not (or at least I didn’t see it) marked which wagon was A and which one was B. My place being A14, I obviously entered in wagon B, and because the train was going to leave soon, I decided to walk inside instead of outside in case it would decide to leave while I was changing wagons! I found my seat in a very quiet wagon, and enjoyed the scenery until Thurso. It was sunny for most of the way, we met a lonely shower for about 2 minutes right before arriving. Tomek, my couchsurfing host had asked me to let him know when I would be a few minutes away, so I called him and he told me he would be able to pick me up, but might be a few minutes late. I was very happy to have a chance to get a ride, not that it was very far from the station, but because it was so much colder than I expected. The weather in itself was not that bad, but the wind!!! It looked like and felt like true north when I got out of the train!

Lovely sun and waves in Thurso
Lovely sun and waves in Thurso

Tomek arrived soon, and within minutes we were at his place. I was lucky enough to have my own room with double bed and all!! Tomek and I had dinner and we went to see if we could access the caves. Unfortunately, it was high tides, so we could not, but I got to see why it is a popular destination for surfing. The waves were great.

Small black and white lamb relaxing in the grass
My adorable new friend

He told me about a walk starting right behind the lighthouse. It was sunny so I decided to go. It was definitely worth it. I had my first close encounter with some sheep when I went through the first gate as a bunch of them were there with their babies. Adorable!!

Fence and a few steps to go over it
A few steps away from the sheep

I walked slowly through the first area, letting the sheep and little lambs enough time to move around so they would not feel threatened. I then made my way to the cliffs of Holborn Head. I enjoyed the view and the wind for a while before walking back to my house for the night.

Sitting on a flat rock, looking at the sea
Enjoying the view

Ferry to the Orkney Islands

The ferry from Thurso to Orkney actually leaves from a part of town called Scrabster, about 30 minutes walk from Thurso.

When I arrived at the ferry, I was following two girls with huge backpacks, so I assumed they were getting on the ferry, but no, they were just waiting with a bunch of people for the bus to the city. I was glad I asked right away as I could have waited for a long time! I made my way to the ticketing area, picked up my ticket and was told I could put my bag in a luggage storage, getting it back on the other side. I gladly obliged and went upstairs to the waiting area. I was the first one in.

The NorthLink ferry at an angle on the wave
The ferry, the day before I went on. the sea was much calmer during my crossing.

When we were allowed on the ferry, I kept going back and forth between the deck 5 and 6 (the only two allowed) as the 6th had the outside deck and the 5th had a lot less people in the sitting area. I enjoyed the waves and realized how much I had missed the open sea.

When I arrived in Stromness, I was a little worried about finding the hostel, but I soon realized that it is such a small place that there is no way I would have missed it!

Stromness
Stromness

Biking on Orkney

Once I put my bag down in the small three-bed dorm, I left to find Orkney Cycle Hire. I followed the main road, which changes names a few time, and found it easily even though it looked like somebody’s private yard. Three biked were parked there. Nobody was there, but I had received an email saying if they could not make it there would be a bike with my name on it and instructions for payment. Sure enough, there was a paper on one of the bikes with my name on it, the code for the lock, and a small brown envelope for money. It said on the paper 10 pounds per day. Having booked the bike for 2 days, I put £20 in the brown envelope and followed the instructions. I had to put the envelope in the mailing trap, on the brown door number 45. At that precise moment, it sure felt like I was in a small village!

I hoped on the bike and set off in the wrong direction. I had been hoping to talk to somebody or get a map about directions, but I was on my own. I decided to make the most of it, thinking that worst case scenario, I would end up biking around town, enjoying the view and the activity and best case scenario I would actually find my way!

lake with view of the sea and mountains in the distance
Not exactly where I was trying to go, but lovely view nonetheless

As I was leaving towards what would become the golf course, I wasn’t sure I was going to make it, but I found a viewpoint. I walked there, took a few pictures and got on the bike again. This time, I decided to follow the direction of most of the cars. I kept going uphill, and it was not easy. I found a brown sign saying something Brae, so I went up the stairs and up the never ending hill to an amazing view over the island. I had left my bike unlocked and was worried that it would not be there when I came back. Not because somebody would have taken it but because it was a hill and the bike could have easily gone downhill by itself.

selfie with the quiet small road in the background
Finally heading towards the Standing Stones

I finally decided to use my GPS on my phone to get an idea of the itinerary, which turned out to be very easy… main road until you see the signs and even the standing stones from the road…

Standing Stones of Stenness
Standing Stones of Stenness

Once I knew where I was heading to, it was going well. I got pretty comfortable on the bike, and it was mostly flat and downhill. I made my way to the Standing Stones of Stenness and the Barnhouse Neolithic Village. The ring is quite similar to Stonehenge, but might actually be older. It consists of 12 stones from 3000 years BC. The interesting fact about this ring is that archaeologist found what looked like the remains of a village dating approximately the same period. The Barnhouse Neolithic Village is a partly reconstructed Stone Age village dating 3000 BC.

A short walk away from the Standing Stones: the Barnhouse Neolitihc Village
A short walk away from the Standing Stones: the Barnhouse Neolithic Village

I walked around the stones first and then to the remains of the village before getting back on my bike to see another circle of stones; the Ring of Brodgar. This time the circle was much bigger. Unfortunately there were no interpretive sign over there, so I do not have much information on how, when and why this was built. It was originally a sixty stone circle with 36 now remaining as standing or as broken stones.

Some of the stones comprising the Ring of Brodgar
Some of the stones comprising the Ring of Brodgar

After this second short walk around the stone circle, I got back on the bike, and returned to Stromness. The road was not as easy as on my way there, partly because it was uphill, but mostly because I was getting very tired as it had been forever since I had last biked somewhere.

small road with water on both sides, leading to a white building with red roof
One of the easier sections of the road

Edinburgh, job interview and Pitlochry

Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle

On the morning of my departure from London to Edinburgh, I took the very packed Underground to Sloane Square and followed my Google maps indications (this makes travelling so much easier!) to Victoria Station and hopped on the Megabus to Edinburgh.

The bus was okay. It was actually quite dirty, but the bathroom did not smell. This was a good thing as I was sitting right next to it. I slept for the first half of the ride, but enjoyed the scenery and the amazing rainbow when we entered Scotland.

I met up with Tanya, a friend of a friend, in Edinburgh. We walked around, took care of some business (banking and SIM card) and mostly just enjoyed the sunny day and each other’s company.

We stopped for a coffee and snack at Waterstone, a huge bookstore with a cafe providing excellent views of the castle and Princes street.

I left the next day for Perth, in order to attend my job interview. Because the job was to be a Seasonal Visitor Services Advisor for VisitScotland, I spent the next day learning a lot about things to see and do in Scotland. The interview went very well even though I clearly lacked the local knowledge, having just arrived in the UK a couple of days earlier.

I had a few days to spare before I would hear back about the job, so I decided to head out to Pitlochry, a charming little village located a short 40 minutes bus ride away from Perth.

Quiet lake near Pitlochry
Lovely place to be offered a job

I checked-in at the Pitlochry backpackers hostel and met the lovely and easy-going staff. Most of them were temporary staff working for two hours a day in exchange for a free bed.

I followed some of the staff’s suggestion and went for a walk in the Tay Forest. It was a great walk. It reminded me of Fish Creek, a place where I used to walk my dog back in Fort St. John, northern British-Columbia. I met a few people enjoying the trail, everybody sharing a quick hello, and a few people walking their dogs.

While I was walking and enjoying the peace and quiet of the loch next to a local fisherman, my phone rang. It was Katie, my interviewer from VisitScotland, offering me the job in the Perth Visitor Centre, which I gladly accepted, of course!

Pitlochry dam and fish ladder
Pitlochry dam and fish ladder

I happily walked back to Pitlochry, following Loch Faskally, and stopped at the dam and fish ladder. It was interesting to see and I took a few pictures for my dad, but unfortunately I did not get to see any salmon using the ladder. I stopped by the station to pick up my train ticket for the next day and went to the supermarket to buy some food. I even added a cider to my basket in order to celebrate my new job.

When I came back to the hostel I realized I just had one of the three tickets I needed for my train ride the next day. I had a little panic moment, and almost ran to the station to see if they could re-issue my ticket. Which they obviously could. Phew, I could breathe again! It felt good to relax after my slightly exaggerated reaction regarding the ticket. Having to buy another ticket would have made for an expensive ride, but it was definitely not the end of the world!

I spent the evening chatting with a Spanish-Dutch couple and a Welsh man who hitchhiked from Montreal to Vancouver and then Guatemala and back in 1973. It was quite the story! It must have been a very different experience to what one would expect nowadays. He obviously did not have Internet access, so no Skype session with his parents, no way to find out if it was easy to cross the borders beforehand etc. It was very inspiring and reminded me exactly why I love to travel so much, getting out of my comfort zone, experiencing some challenging situations and overcoming language and cultural barriers.

Cute little reindeer sculpture, Faskally Wood
Cute little reindeer, Faskally Wood

My arrival to the UK

Just before going through security
Just before going through security

After spending a year almost to the day back in Canada, it was time for me to move on. This time on my own. I received my visa and booked my flights. New adventures awaited me! My favourite thing in life is never knowing what the future holds. Most people find it scary. To be honest so do I from time to time. But I mostly like knowing that everything is possible and that I’ll make sure to get the most out of every situation.

My parents came to the airport in Quebec City, and I was so focused on my new adventure, that I even forgot to turn around and wave goodbye as I walked through security. The short flight from Quebec to Montreal was quite a rocky ride and when we landed we got stuck for about 30 minutes on the runway because of a thunderstorm. My connecting flight was delayed as well and when they called for our flight, everybody was packed around the gate anxious to miss their plane or lose their spot if they were not right in front of the gate… The staff tried their best to be quick, but with the number of travellers not listening the whole process of getting on the plane was very slow and inefficient.

Last picture with my parents for a while
Last picture with my parents for a while

It’s not easy leaving everything and everyone behind. I almost felt bad for not feeling that sad about my decision yet. I thought I would cry in the plane, but no tears were shed yet. It took me up until my 1st flight to start realizing what I have decided to do. But as soon as the stress came out, it vanished almost entirely. It is different through to wait in an airport by myself. I haven’t done that since my first trip, but it is all coming back to me. I know I have to trust myself and my instincts. I do feel it might take me a while to get accustomed to having nobody to share the discoveries or experiences with. When I feel like that, I have to remind myself that being alone is my choice and if I don’t want to be alone anymore, I just have to strike up a conversation. And if it sounds overly simple, it’s because it is! Most people are happy to have a chat, be it either in hostels, restaurants, trains and even park benches.

My longer flight across the pond and my arrival in the UK were pretty smooth. The lady at the customs desk seemed a little rough on the edges, so as usual I saw this as a challenge to make her smile. She asked me the regular questions; where I was from, what my plan was for the UK and I told her about my job interview in Perth. She wished me luck and stamped my visa. I told her to have a nice day, and with a bright smile she let me go. Mission accomplished!

After the custom, I grabbed my bag, bought a coffee and tried to figure out what kind of underground ticket I should buy. With the many options such as Oyster Pass, daily pass or single ticket, it can quickly become confusing and overwhelming. I finally opted for the Oyster Card, putting the minimum in £5+£5 deposit. I got off at Hammersmith stop and easily found the hostel right on the other side of the street.

Check-in was only at 2 pm so I put my bag in a locker and went for a walk. I found a Whole Food store where I bought hummus, crackers, and peanut butter. Right after the supermarket, I found Hyde Park. I sat on a bench and did some people watching. Two ladies from Koweit sat beside me and we had a nice chat. There were a lot of Londoners in Hyde Park on a sunny spring Sunday. Lots of families with young children picnicking.

After enjoying Hyde Park for a while, I went for a walk towards Victoria Station. Back at the hostel, I looked at the menu at the bar, and couldn’t find a vegetarian option except nachos. I did a quick Google search and found an Indian restaurant with vegan meals. I hungrily walked over there, making quite an entrance when pulling the clearly-marked push door. The food was good but I was starting to feel quite lonely, so remembering my new resolution, I went back to the hostel with my leftovers and struck up a conversation with the Aussie and Irish guys from my dorm. And this was the end of my first day on English soil.

2014: The year of rejection

Writing a message in the sand
Sending love to my parents for Christmas

2014 started great.

I celebrated the New Year on an almost private island in Indonesia, and right after that, I visited the Komodo dragons. Later on, I went on a sailing trip from New Zealand to Chile with a stop in Antarctica. It doesn’t really get any better than that! But after such a demanding and amazing adventure, I needed a break from moving. I had that revelation while hiking in Torres del Paine. We saw a beautiful glacier and all I could think of was, not yet another iceberg!

That’s when we decided to come back to Canada and surprise our parents while resting and trying to figure out our next move. I was happy to see my friends and family after such a long time, but in the same time, my heart was already set on leaving again. I enjoyed the summer, not worrying too much about the numerous resumes I sent that didn’t get me a job. I knew I wanted a break and mostly a job to make some money in order to leave again.

The plan was to quickly find a decent paying job in the tourism industry. But little did I know, it wouldn’t be so easy. We took a lease on an apartment in July for one year. In my head it was still very clear I would easily find something, giving that I had studied and worked in the tourism industry in Quebec City already. Seb found a job right away, he called two places and, sure enough, was called back by both of them offering him a job. I knew it would probably happen like this for him, being a long-distance truck driver, but it took a toll on my morale.

I kept searching for jobs daily, sending out resumes almost every day. It resulted in two interviews in the same week. I thought that I had a very good chance of getting, at least, one of the jobs, but it turned out I didn’t get any. Second hit on my morale.

But giving that the two jobs were more permanent jobs, I though it was almost a good thing as I was looking for a job that would allow me to travel, see other places, meet people etc. That is when I started considering working as a humanitarian. Surely I would find it very rewarding, I would be paid and I would be out of my comfort zone. Exactly what I was looking for!

I started the process to be hired, keeping in mind that it is a lengthy process that can take up to six months. I heard back from the organization within one month, asking me to clarify some documents and resubmit them. I took the time to work on it properly and send them again. It was, by then, already Christmas time. I had been back for over 6 months and still hadn’t find a job. I was starting to contemplate working in a supermarket so I would, at least, be doing something. But then, it didn’t take too long to get an answer from the humanitarian organization; I lacked experience in managing employees. That was once again a big blow, but I kept looking forward as I had sent out my resume to yet another company in the tourism industry.

Snowy Plains of Abraham, Quebec City
Snowy Plains of Abraham, Quebec City

I keep thinking, this is a new year, it’s got to work at some point. But when I got to the interview, I was told that for the 2 positions they originally had open, they had received over 80 resumes. Of those 80 resumes, they had called in 20 people for interviews and added one more position. The odds were still against me finding my way. I was feeling very discouraged when I decided to focus my energy on writing about my experience. 2015 was going to be better. I didn’t have a choice. It was either that or I would let myself slide into depression, and having already been through a pretty rough time when I was younger, there was no way I was going to do that again.

I kept sending resumes, without any results. In the meantime, Seb and I decided that we didn’t want the same things out of life. During our round the world trip he had talked about owning another house someday, so he decided that was going to be his next move. Finding and buying a house before our apartment lease was over. While he house shopped, I started looking for ways to work some place else. I applied for a job in Antarctica with the UK Antarctica Heritage. They did some promotion this year and got an overwhelming response from all over the world. I knew it was a long shot, but I sent in my paperwork anyway. Obviously, it didn’t pan out, once again.

Tired of trying to get jobs with no results whatsoever, I applied for the Tier-5 visa for the United Kingdom. I filled the paperwork, paid the almost 400 CAD fee and planned a quick round trip to Ottawa in order to get my biometrics taken and submit my application. About 10 days later, I received confirmation that I was granted a 2-year working holiday visa. I booked a flight on May 9, sent a few resumes all over Scotland and England, started packing the stuff I wanted to keep, all while realizing that the breaking-up of the 11-year relationship with Seb was truly happening. It was a challenging time to find some excitement about this new project while going through a separation.

I have no idea what is awaiting me when I’ll get to the United Kingdom, but my plan is to make it work no matter what!

Stay tuned to see how it will turn out…Me with my backpack, ready to go