25 things to do before I turn 25….

Tomorrow is my 22nd birthday and I’m going out tonight to the bar with about 20 friends and getting completely hammered. It’s probably the last time I’ll see many of them as school is done and I’ll be leaving the country pretty soon. Maybe it’s because graduating is making me feel like I’m turning a new chapter, but I’ve been thinking a lot this week about where I want to be in a few years. What do I want to have done by the time I turn 25? So, I decided to make a list:

1) Visit 20 countries. COMPLETED June 15, 2012 – Canada, U.S., Chile, UK, Ireland, Sweden, France, Spain, Italy, Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Morocco,

2) Spend Oktoberfest in Munich.

3) Travel alone through a country where I don’t speak the language.COMPLETED June 15, 2012 – 8 days travelling alone in Croatia

4) Go on a backpacking trip of at least 3 weeks long. COMPLETED July 6, 2012

5) Visit every part of the United Kingdom I’ve been to Scotland and England

6) Go to Prague. COMPLETED Aug. 31, 2011

7) Drive a car on the left side of the road.

8) Become fluent in Spanish. UPDATED November 8, 2013. I am taking Spanish lessons while travelling to Guatemala. I am comfortable now with basic conversations and can understand most of what people are saying to me. I feel confident walking around by myself.

9) Go to the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh

10) Write a short story

11) Run a half marathon

12) Drive across Canada

13) Go to a Manchester United Game at Old Trafford

14) Ride in a gondola in Venice

15) Spend News Year’s Eve in Edinburgh for Hogmanay

16) Participate in either the running of the bulls in Pamplona or La Tomatina in Bunyol

17) Spend St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin

18) See Stonehenge COMPLETED Oct. 16, 2011

19) Go scuba diving (preferably in Croatia)

20) Volunteer abroad COMPLETED Nov. 8, 2013

21) Read all the books on the Observer’s list of 100 greatest novels – I’m at 14 currently.

22) Go whale watching UPDATE attempted June 22, 2013, but we didn’t see any whales.

23) Go surfing COMPLETED Nov. 20, 2013

24) Visit a music festival

25) Get a paying-job in TV. COMPLETED Aug. 1, 2012


Chugging along on the train…

I’m writing this on the train between Ottawa and Toronto, on my way back home after spending Easter at my parent’s house. After spending more than three hours on the train and another half hour waiting to get on, I’m wondering why train travel in Canada can’t be more like Europe.

Firstly, why must our trains be so slow? My train ride today will take me four hours and 20 minutes. That’s about as long as it would take for me to drive from Ottawa to Toronto, and my ticket cost me about as much as a tank of gas would ($71). It’s ridiculous. If I were travelling the same distance in England, it would take me about 2 hours and would have cost about 20 quid ($27). Not only that, but I had to reserve my ticket a week ago. In fact the only reason I took the 8:40 a.m. train is because the three other trains travelling between Ottawa and Toronto today were already sold out of any “cheap” tickets, ($71 is cheap).

I really miss being able to decide to go somewhere an hour before heading to the train station and buying a ticket. It was comforting knowing that if I missed the train there was another one in about an hour. It really makes no sense that train travel in Canada is worse than in Europe. All of our cities are so far away from each other, that you would think that we would have pioneered high-speed trains. (Actually we have the technology. Bombardier is a Canadian manufacturer, but for some reason government here doesn’t think it’s worthwhile to upgrade our rail lines to accommodate their trains, so instead our technology is used by other countries, like the 300 km/h Zefiro in China.)

Though I suppose my problems in Eastern Canada are nothing compared to the West. One of my friends from Calgary told me recently that no train exists between Edmonton and Calgary, even though the distance is only about 250 km, because of political fighting. Now that’s just silly.

Ugh! Less than two months to go…..

England, Europe

Flight booked…

I’ve officially booked my flight to London. It’s non-refundable, so I can’t change my mind now. (Not that I would!) I’m leaving from Ottawa on June 20th and arriving at Gatwick at 6 a.m. on June 21st.

I budgeted $950 for my flight and managed to find a ticket for $495 so I’m extremely happy right now. I’ll probably end up paying an extra $60 to increase my baggage limit, because of course I’ll be bringing a lot of stuff with me to London, but that still brings me way under budget. Yay!

For those of you wondering how I managed to get such a cheap flight, I’m actually flying with Thomas Cook Airlines. It’s through Air Transat in Canada, and while it’s definitely a budget airline (I flew with them in February), the service is very good and the selection of TV shows and movies aren’t bad, so I’m happy.


England, Europe, Expat, Scotland, Travel Tips

YMS VISA – Step-by-step guide

So I promised a couple of times now that I would write-up a step-by-step guide for applying to the Youth Mobility Scheme Visa to the UK. As a disclaimer I should say that I am in no way an expert on the subject. But I just applied for this visa and had it accepted yesterday, so I did something right.

So first things first – who can apply to the YMS Visa?

It’s open to young people 18-30 from Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Japan and Monaco. The YMS Visa gives you a two-year working visa that lets you entre and leave the country as often as you want. You can basically do any job except professional sports, self-employment (though there are exceptions) or doctor-in-training.

You can only apply for the visa once and you can’t extend your stay in the UK when your visa is up. Even getting married doesn’t work. One note: the age limit is actually for when you apply for the visa. You can post-date the entry date of your visa for up to three months (mine’s post-dated to June 20), so if you turn 31 in that time, it’s still fine.

What do I need to apply?

I must have read the application site for the YMS visa five times. It is definitely not written clearly.

Basically you need five things to apply: the online application, application fee, a passport-sized photo (UK passport specifications), your passport and proof of £1600 in maintenance funds (basically money that can tide you over if you don’t get a job right away.) There are several ways to prove your maintenance funds (in your own currency): a letter from your bank or credit union, three months worth of bank statements or a bank book, (each of these has to show funds from no earlier than a month before you applied for the visa.) If you are downloading bank statements from the Internet, you’ll need a letter from the bank confirming them. As an option, you can also submit an old expired passport to prove your travel history. The online application asks for a very detailed travel history.

How do I apply?

I applied from Canada. I believe the process is the same from each country. From Canada you apply online through Woodbridge services. The application is pretty easy, but you’ll need to have your passport (and maybe you’re expired passport) on hand. They ask you about your personal information, about your parents and about your past-travel history. The application fee is £160 and you’ll have to pay that online. The last part of the application is to schedule an appointment at a Woodbridge application centre to hand-in your supporting documents, including your passport. I submitted my online application on April 2 and then scheduled by appointment for April 18. There were earlier appointments available, but I wanted to be finished with school first.

The appointment only lasts about 20 minutes, basically they make you sign a document that says you won’t try to use this visa to work in the British overseas territories (Bermuda, Anguilla, British Virgin Islands, etc.) Then they check to make sure you have brought in all of your documents and a printed out version of the online application. Then they take your finger prints and a headshot (yes, another one). I had my appointment at 9 a.m. Monday and my application was accepted yesterday. I picked up my passport with the YMS visa inside at 4 p.m. today. They tell you it could take up to 15 days from this appointment day to process your application, but my application was done in four.

That’s it. I hope you guys are successful too!

England, Europe, Expat, Travel Tips

Visa accepted

I just wanted to update you all and tell you that my visa application to the UK has been accepted. I found out around noon today. I’ll write-up a proper post tomorrow with a step by step guide on applying for the visa in case any of you are thinking about doing it in the future. I found the UK visa website was super confusing when I was applying and I know I would have loved a step by step guide. In an earlier post, I even thought about paying $500 to SWAP, to make sure I did right. So glad, I didn’t do that after all.