Happy July friends! To kick things off for summer 2016 I bring to you a chat I had with Jessica Schlechter-Graham. A seasoned wanderluster, Jessica lived in multiple Canadian locations including British Columbia and Yellowknife prior to moving to England and New Zealand. Today she lives with her family in Saskatchewan, Canada.
These are her stories.
Let’s start with today. Describe yourself, and what have you been up to?
Pondering…..Well the first word that comes to mind is peaceful. I am a peaceful person. In this I mean I like a calm environment; I need routine and structure, and I have a high intolerance for drama. This is true in all aspects of my life… my home, and my relationships both personal and professional, the community in which I live, and on a grand scale the country I currently call home.
I have a good balance of mom life and work life. Family will always be my priority; I did after all make a conscious decision to procreate. I also have a fulfilling professional life, one that actually keeps me sane. I enjoy helping others and seeing them succeed, hence my choice to work in the social work realm.
So back to the beginning, what first motivated you to travel?
Loaded question. The easy answer would be because it sounded exciting; however it was so much more than that. I knew I needed to change my path, I needed to challenge myself in a way from where there was no turning back. I needed to grow personally. I had enough self-awareness to know that I could very easily become complacent in life and that scared me enough to book a way one ticket to England.
So tell me a little about your time in England then. What attracted you to the country?
Much like my decision to move to Yellowknife, which was an alcohol induced – close my eyes and put my finger on a map decision, England was, I need to go now what is the cheapest flight overseas! England was a game changer for me! Firstly I met my future husband, but that is a whole other interview. England changed that way I felt about and viewed myself; it made me realize just how much grit I had. I traveled to England with my cousin, so the first step was made easier by the safety in numbers philosophy!
When we arrived we stayed at a farm in Uckfield. Waspbourne Manor Farm was my new residence! It came equipped with some retro caravans, outdoor toilets and a common area. I loved it! I have to say it wasn’t so much the country, as it was the friends I met that made me want to explore my new domain. I made friends in that first week all who I still have in my life. Two of these friends were in my wedding party and we have planned to head to Quebec this summer to catch up with the rest of the original gang. It’s funny actually, I thought when I set out to travel I would fill my social circle with all new foreign friends, and don’t get me wrong I did that too, but the lasting ones ended up being Canadian. I suppose it speaks volumes to how awesome Canadians are?!
I really feel like I nailed my first overseas destination. It didn’t take me long to realize England was a great hub to take the opportunity to scope out the rest of Europe, and that I did. Our gang blazed trails through Ireland, Scotland, France, Spain, Belgium, Portugal, Greece, Italy, Germany, Switzerland and of course the Netherlands; which I visited a few times. Again that is a whole other interview!
What were your thoughts when you decided to leave England?
My stay in England came to a timely end. I had been living and working in England for just over two years, and I was trying to get a work permit to stay longer. At this time, my thoughts were either stay in England with an extension to my work visa or try out Ireland. Fate took over. I traveled to Amsterdam on one last hurrah with my future husband, Dave, and good friend. While trying to get back into England it all went really wrong. We were pulled aside, which when coming from Amsterdam is never a reassuring feeling, and to make matters worse we were approached by people wearing latex gloves. I started sweating immediately! I will be clear, I had nothing to hide, but the mere thought was anxiety inducing to say the least. Long story short, my friend got deported, I was given a time frame in when to leave the country and Dave, with his British passport, sat drinking coffee on the other side. (side note, Britain shame on you for leaving the EU, it will be your downfall) This chink in the chain led my onto my next adventure…..New Zealand.
So before we touch on new Zealand. When you were travelling Europe did you have a favorite location?
Although all were great in so many ways my top three would have to be (in no particular order – its too hard) Rome (The Basilica was beyond amazing. And the pasta, my goodness the pasta) Spain, Marcilla to be exact, where we spent a good couple of weeks with my good friends Alfredo and Alfonso. I know, right? Amsterdam. No comments needed.
As what type of traveler would you describe yourself? Historical / partier / culture / adventure-seeker / etc.
Respectful? A little of everything? I made some good, sound choices when travelling, but I also got wasted on whiskey with some elderly Scottish Gents and lost my wallet and passport on the cab ride back. I was young (younger anyway) and I was alone, for the most part. I felt free and expressed that in whatever way the situation called. I will say, Stonehenge is a much more interesting place when viewed organically.
While on the topic, any good travel party stories?
Ha. A lot! I danced under stars, slept in parks, slept in sketchy hostels, stayed in nice hotels, I drank too much, ate too much, didn’t eat enough, walked for miles to check out scenes sights and views, made great friends, found out who my real friends were, never turned down an opportunity to engage a new culture, I partied, I spent quality time with myself, and I read Lord of the Rings. The last one I never thought I would do, but there is only so much time one can stare out a bus window traveling to the next destination.
As a woman traveler, what would your biggest piece of advice be as far as staying safe goes?
Be smart. You are not invincible even if you think you are. Traveling should humble you. The reality is, if you are traveling alone you will be considered a target by someone. Whether it is the shoddy man on the corner trying to sell you ‘authentic’ souvenirs, or a pissed off customs officer at the airport. Check your feminism, we are all just people, some are just not nice.
So from Europe you skipped off to New Zealand. What prompted you to head to the land of the Kiwi’s?
As mentioned earlier, the decision was really made for me. Dave and I had had discussions about what was next; he invited me to go to New Zealand with him and so I did. It was really as easy as that!
Favorite NZ destination?
Nelson. Beautiful beaches and a peaceful feel.
So how did you know it was time to move back to Canada?
Babies. I feel so blessed to have lived in New Zealand and am so happy that our daughter, Magdalena, is a citizen. It will open many doors for her and I hope she loves to travel like her parents. There does come a time in life when coming home and being near family becomes more important then the travel and the adventure. I wanted Magdalena to grow up among family; to have the same opportunities I had when I was a kid. I wanted her to have connections with family, because it is important. We are lucky in our family to have an amazing matriarch. My grandmother, Magdalena’s great grandmother is a wealth of knowledge. I wanted my children to be exposed to that, experience good family values and the importance of roots.
Any thoughts on traveling with children?
It is not the same but not all awful! No traveling from this point forward can be compared to what I did pre-marriage and kids. It will never be the same. It can, however be different and still good. We have taken a couple of trips to Mexico with the kids and it was awesome. I loved their eagerness to do something different, to appreciate something new without bias. Actually, traveling with kids can teach you a few things… they rarely judge. My alcohol intake is considerably less, but I got to admit, watching my kids experience the ocean for the first time was pretty awesome.
What are some lessons you learned while traveling that you use in your life today?
Tolerance and gratitude. Canada is an amazing country, one that should be traveled thoroughly in its own right, but it does have a way of hiding its ugly. Other countries can lay it bare. I am happy to be Canadian. I also learned that drinking whiskey in the basement pub with seasoned drinkers will never end well. Ever.
Any travel plans for the future or bucket list destinations?
As earlier mentioned, we are heading to Quebec this summer for our reunion with the gang. Very excited to relive some good memories. Early bedtimes for the kids! 😉
Tell me the best foreign curse word you know.