Monday, 30 January 2017

Timing

When is the right time?  There probably won't ever be a "good time" to take 5 months off work and travel! What I have learned is that no matter how much you can plan and organize your time to get to a point of pulling off an extended period to travel there's going to be obstacles and set backs that make you question whether is this the right point. 

Here's how timing has played a role in getting where I am today, with 10 days before departure:

Planning takes time

Although I've always known I've wanted to take an extended period of time to travel with my children and expose them to the diversity of  the world, it was 4 years ago that we made the decision to initiate "the plan".  I applied for a deferred leave of absence from my employer which is often referred to as a 4/5.  The plan was that my employer would deduct part of my income over a 4 year period and then in the 5th year that I have off, I would continue to get paid the same. However, after I applied for this, I had an offer for another position (my dream job!) that was a contract for 5 years, and didn't want to be off work the entire last year of my contract, so I changed my savings time to 2.5 years with .5 of the year off. Hence why my travel time is 5 months and not longer.

Home exchanging takes time to plan. I looked for places over a year in advance of where we wanted to visit and put offers out there. We also entertained offers from other places which eventually made up the plan for the countries we would visit. It takes time to make sure your dates can be coordinated and flights can be made between the destinations.

Saving takes time

Clearly just picking up and leaving would be difficult. As I've mentioned before, I've worked additional jobs on top of my day job and have tried to save along the way. I also booked some of our flights and excursions ahead of time and paid for them at the time (ensuring there was a decent cancelation policy).

Best time for home schooling

My daughter is in Grade 4 this year. I feel that she's old enough to remember, to learn and her experiences can have a great impact, yet still young enough that I can still teach her math! Yes, I'm an educator, however NOT a math teacher! I'm not going to lie, math was my least favourite and not a strength for me in school and I'm completely intimidated by math home work my daughter might bring home. I barely survived my son's math homework, in fact we hired a tutor! The other factor was that at this age I think leaving her friends will be easier than when she might be older. Therefore, for me to "home school" her during Grade 4 seems like the ideal time.

Concussions can last a really long time!

So part way through my income being deducted and our saving period, my husband had a bicycle accident in San Francisco and suffered a traumatic brain injury that led to post-concussion syndrome for over an ENTIRE YEAR! He had to go on long term disability which equated to being paid at 60 percent of his income. This was a huge set back. We even considered cancelling the deferred leave plan with my employer. This was an extremely difficult year and everything I had saved we ended up having to dip into and actually went into more debt during this time. It was challenging having a husband at home that could not do anything for the longest time (literally), while I was balancing work and my side jobs, as well as having to do all of the after school activity runs for the kids. It was because of this exhausting and challenging time that solidified the fact that I needed something to look forward to and continue to plan for. It gave me a light at the end of the tunnel while dealing with a sick husband and kept me going, so to speak.  Eventually he recovered and returned to work and we were back on track, just not financially. This past year we've really tried to work on paying off that debt accumulated during his time off while also saving again for this trip.

Cancer doesn't have a timeline

During the same year my husband was home with a brain injury, we learned the most devastating news, that my mom had cancer. It came as the biggest shock to my system. My mom who exercised daily (like high impact aerobics!), who could run circles around me, and ate the healthiest of all people I know was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. My first thought was, why her? There are so many other people I know that don't even take care of themselves that would deserve this more than my mom. However, my mom would be the one to beat this because of her strength and being healthy. 
My family with my dad and beautiful mother in the centre- a year before mom's diagnosis


Over the year she endured chemo and radiation, and complications after every treatment, hospitalizing her. After surgery and treatments she was finally told the cancer was removed. We all breathed a sign of relief, until 2 months later, when she learned she now had stage 3 ovarian cancer. It's truly emotionally draining to watch the roller coaster that she's on going through treatments and dealing with the side effects of the treatment and the emotions of everything she's facing.  So as you can imagine, I've been struggling with whether leaving for 5 months is practical at this point. Several times I've contemplated cancelling my trip, feeling that I need to be here for my mom. However she's been insistent that I carry on with my dream and my plans and that she'll be just fine waiting for me when I get home. Many tears, sleepless nights, conversations with my family I've decided to listen to my mom and trust her that she'll be waiting for me when I return. She just finished her last treatment for the ovarian cancer last week and we hope that she'll now continue to gain her strength back.
Running in the Niagara Run for the Cure

F*#K Cancer!


I was starting to think everything was stacking against me for actually making this trip happen. I had my first mammogram last month which resulted in a "recall", meaning I needed to come back for more imaging but was not told any details. If anyone has experienced this before, it's totally nerve wracking!  I was told this the day after New Years, and had to wait over a week for the next appointment. The second mammogram resulted in needing additional imaging through ultrasound-again, nerves are shot at this point waiting to hear the results. Of course I get a phone call from the doctors office that they need me to come in and discuss the results. So many things rush through your mind, I think of a friend that we lost a few months ago from breast cancer, I think of my mom's battle and the wait leading up to the appointment is even more excruciating than waiting for the second mammogram. After finally getting to see the doctor, I've been left with the result that there are some spots that are suspicious and will need to be monitored again in 6 months. The doctor assured me that I should take my trip and enjoy my time and I'll have the tests again when I return. 

This experience has put a lot of things into perspective and has really solidified my decision for taking this trip now. I can't wait, there really isn't going to be a "good time" for this to happen! 

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

To Vaccinate or Not to Vaccinate ?

Hello!?  There's no question--- but I got your attention, right!?  Before you travel, be sure your routine vaccinations are up to date and make an appointment with a travel clinic to determine what vaccinations you require for each country. (I found out I was past-due for a tetanus shot!) Or you can do your own research and check the government website for a recommendation of vaccinations.

Julianna was NOT happy with me...notice the bandaids on each arm!  We had to go back again for more a few weeks later!



Sunday, 15 January 2017

We're a Travel-Cheap Family!

I've had many experiences over the years that have taught me the value of a dollar.  I grew up in a middle class family, but left home by 18. I have lived on welfare and attended university as a young single mom. I've used food banks, and wrote many essays and applications for bursaries and scholarships to get me through and to provide me the experiences I had studying overseas. I graduated approximately 5x more in debt than the average student. I then married a man who came with his own student loan debt and flight training debt!  We've learned when to be frugal and when to splurge (think of the towel theory). We've been working hard over the last 10 years to pull ourselves above the water, and although not completely there yet, the stars have aligned for me to finally take an extended trip and travel the world.  

Want to know how to be a travel-cheap family- here's my top 5 list!



Marrying a Pilot (or be one!)

This one might be the most difficult for people! I didn't go out searching for one, but boy did I luck out! Being an "airline family", we are able to fly at a discounted rate on standby flights, this helps significantly when planning many destinations!

Home Exchange

Swap your house! With out home exchanging I would definitely NOT be able to afford to travel! However, not only is swapping homes saving us money, it's giving us a whole different experience when we travel to different destinations. More about this in another blog post. Here's a link to the company we use: Home Exchange.

Work a Second Job

As you know I'm a teacher, but I've also worked small contract type jobs at the same time. I've been an external evaluator of exams, wrote curriculum and online courses and every year I instruct online courses for a university. This extra money has been put aside for all of our travels.

Save

Determine a budget and stick to it. Each pay check have a set amount put into a savings account. Although we've had to dip into it once in a while for those unexpected expenses (i.e. car repairs, home repairs), it has helped me have a small nest of money on top of my income from the second job.

Be Frugal

Cut out the Starbucks Chai Lattes! Any time you want to pick up that grande or go out for lunch or dinner, think twice!  Although it's been difficult, we tell ourselves we'll enjoy a nice meal when in Paris! Special treats for our daughter would be to go to Menchies for frozen yogurt, but we've agreed not to visit leading up to our trip as that is her way to try and be frugal and understand the need to save. 



Married But Single

I've become accustom to travelling alone with my children.  Making the decision to marry a pilot is making a decision to essentially be a single parent half of the time.



So when I set out to map out my 5 months of travel, it would be just the two of us, my daughter and myself.  You see, I'm also a half-empty nester, and my eldest lives on his own now. If my son can get some time off work, he can join me in Australia for a few weeks.

I don't even know if there has been a "family vacation" we have taken that Ryan has been there for the entire duration.  Often times our family vacations involve me planning them months in advance, and then we cross our fingers and hope that when Ryan gets his schedule a week before the month begins that he get his requested days. Usually he only gets part of the time off which means I'm on my own with the kids.  

Here are some places we've vacations with Ryan there half the time.

Checking out a local market in Barbados (2012)


Local Animal Sanctuary, Barbados (2012)


Kayaking in Cowichan Bay, British Columbia (2013)

So needless to say, my 5 months of travel will involve Ryan only meeting us where he can. He will have a few weeks off and will meet us in Australia and then we'll head to New Zealand for 3 weeks. Fingers are crossed he'll get some more time off and meet us in some other locations.

Our destinations for the next 5 months include:

Saturday, 14 January 2017

The Guilt

I sometimes feel embarrassed when someone asks me where I am going on my 5 month trip, I can't even look them in the eye when I rhyme off the countries. Often the response is "wow, OMG, must be nice, so jealous", on and on...and then a sense of guilt floods over me, and I think I must sound like I'm bragging. Really, I need to get over myself and just own the fact that what I'm doing is amazing, but that I've worked my butt off to get to this point.  

Travelling the world has never been a question in my life, it's just part of my life, and taking this opportunity to travel for an extended period of time was always going to happen, it was just a matter of time.

My parents instilled the travel bug by always taking us on summer adventures. Even though we never left Canada or the Continental USA, they taught us to appreciate new surroundings, to understand the history and culture of a region and to try new foods (although I was never good at that when younger!). Our camping trips to Cape Cod, Williamsburg, Virginia, the Outer Banks, Canada's East coast, just to name a few have left lasting memories as a well as the longing to explore more.
Family camping trip to the coast- I'm the eldest (circa late 1980s)

Attending university as a young single mom did not stop me from perusing opportunities to travel. Through grants, scholarships and bursaries, I attended a semester at Herstmonceux Castle, studied at the University of Havana, and had a teaching fellowship that took me to Mexico City. I had intended to pursue my teaching degree and work overseas, however a wrench was thrown into that plan... meeting my now husband.
Matthew & I in Venice, Italy after I completed my semester at Herstmonceux Castle (2002)


Ryan and Matthew on one of our camping adventures (circa, early 2000s)

Lucky for me, the man I fell in love with also has a travel bug (really, it was a requirement!). While dating we travelled, including Chile and the UK. 


Trip to Chile while Ryan & I were dating (2004)
After many discussions of moving overseas for him to pursue his pilot career and my teaching career, the call came from a large airline company in Canada, and he couldn't say no. That sealed our fate-we were living in Canada. We continue to travel, mainly through home exchanging (I'll explain how that works in a future post), but travelling for an extended period has been my goal. It's been years of paying off student loan debt, working extra jobs and saving that has got me to this point. This brings us to a fast approaching departure date for 5 months of travel! I will be departing with my daughter and leaving the hubby to fend for himself until he's able to join us for a few weeks at a time.

So I'm going to try not to feel guilty when I tell people I'm leaving for 5 months, and embrace and enjoy my well earned opportunity with my daughter. I've got my map and my sense of adventure!