Thursday, November 15, 2012

Epiphanies, Reflections and the International Conundrum

Another trip is coming to a conclusion. My previous blog explains why I fell off the map for a bit. The Coles Notes include SLP Leadership Development Program, where I met some really cool people, going to the Polish Presidential Palace, visiting the Polish Senate and Parliament, traveling to 11 destinations I have never visited before in Europe, seeing some family, meeting friends from the adventure-seeking and self-improvement focused Gzowski Club, and overall having an amazing time.

I have been fortunate enough to do a fair bit of travel in the last year. In the later part of this trip, especially after my birthday, I did some reflecting and taking it all in. This are some thoughts and revelations that I have had floating around and I thought that I would share:
--> The first epiphany has to do with how much I learned from travel. Traveling forces you to think on your feet and be flexible and this isn't something you can get from books or videos. If you don't adapt, you will either be missing out on opportunity or sleeping on the street somewhere. Sometimes the lessons learned come after travel when reflecting.
--> Do not underestimate the power of your network, especially internationally. Network and network more. You never know who you will meet, where and what it will lead to. One small-scale example is my hostel roommate from Budapest, Stu. He was one of the many people that joined my birthday celebrations, but after leaving early the next morning, I did not connect with him in time and thought I would not see him again. Little did I know that three destinations later in Prague, we would run into each other at hostel reception. It also turns out that we share a friend in Western Canada that I made in college. Incredibly small world!

-->International experiences are ridiculously fun and create life-long friends. Some of my best friends are now scattered around the world. With the power of tools such as Skype and Facebook video chat, everyone is closer and there is no excuse for not keeping in touch and having an international network.
--> Looking to network? There are so many cool ways to do it now. The obvious travel networking can be done at hostelsCouchSurfingAirBnB, conferences, etc. But what about networking with people on the plane, at the bus station, in coffee shops, or even using CouchSurfing further with searching profiles for couches and coffee requests, general posts to specific cities, e.g. Birthday in Budapest and see who comes out. You can learn a lot from these strangers, make them your friends and feel like a local when exploring!
-->Food & drink. This doesn't just mean the superior spirits, beers and night life. The Europeans appear to take hearty, filling meals more seriously. Everywhere I went, I vowed to try at least one traditional meal. In my humble opinion, Hungary had by far the best for food. A nice Hungarian Gulyás with fresh rye bread and chili paste, washed down with a glass of affordable, yet high quality Hungarian wine. McDonald's also played a big role here. Having quick and readily available free access to WIFI, coupled with consistency in food worldwide made this a popular travel stop. (Seriously).

-->Languages. There are so many in Europe (23 official languages) and so many people speak 1, 2 3 or more languages fluently. This opens up a world of opportunity and was a real eye-opener and motivator to get back into the French (at least). Who else is in?
-->I was pretty sick between Poland and Sweden with what I understood as some form of Bronchitis. Despite having full traveler's insurance and attempting to see several public doctors, I ended up paying out of my own pocket to see a private doctor. In short, despite the occasionally long wait times and other minor kinks, I strongly believe that we Canadians should be grateful for our medical system.
-->Clothes. For those of you who are unaware, I am not exactly average sized. Getting clothes and shoes has become a real issue for me, let alone something that looks semi-presentable. Europe had more stylish and readily available clothes for the taller gentlemen. I (literally) bought a birthday suit here. Also, shout out to Maciek the Rocket Scientist for sharing these useful links: Big Clothes, Big Shoes. #TallPeopleProblems #TallPeopleSolutions (Those 2 are freebies for you to tweet!)

--> Taking a complete 180 from the clothes, less is definitely more. Traveling with less material goods and only out of a backpack has forced me to be more resourceful with what I have.
--> European girls...Wow! You will not regretting going and checking them out for yourself!
--> Although this is going to be a generalization, I have seen this firsthand in the countries I've visited across Europe. Europeans appear to care more about culture, self-image, style and put in effort to take care of themselves. This is especially the case in Central and Eastern Europe. These people are also unbelievably hospitable!
--> Many people talk a lot, say they will do the next big thing, yet a lack of action stops them there. Recently, I heard someone say that something executed at 80% completion is better than waiting on a plan to be 100% perfect and never comes to fruition. Lesson: results are important and can only be achieved with actions. JFDI!

THE INTERNATIONAL CONUNDRUM is another trade-off and a term I recently coined about my current situation. With traveling, graduation and everything happening so fast, it's time to make some big decisions. Many people have offered varying and contradictory insights along the way. I have narrowed it down and it comes down to two options or scenarios:

Scenario 1: Travel, volunteer, or attempt to find work overseas.
(+): Get to experience different cultures and how they practice business, challenge myself in various settings, travel and sight-see, life experience, and it's so much cooler.
(-): Potential language barriers, culture shock, opportunity cost of work experience in Canada and Canadian wages, potentially lagging skills if you return years later, these jobs are tough to find for new grads, costly flights or relocation, passports/VISA/paperwork and time to get these papers.

Scenario 2: Find a business-related job somewhere in southwestern Ontario.

(+): The easiest choice, most people do this, Canadian wages, gain experience, kickstarting my career and climb the corporate ladder, likely to lead to an earlier promotion than Scenario 1, be around family and the people you know, fall into a routine.
(-): Youth unemployment in Canada is high, opportunity cost of life experience, missing out on various adventures and travel,most companies want you to grow with the company for years before sending you on international assignments. The problem I see here is that years into the future when I work my way up and grow with the company, I will want to start a family, will want to stay domestically and spend time with them and may live with the regret of not knowing the world travel.

These are my recent reflections as I seek the start to my career. I hope that my food for thought encourages you to share your thoughts. Eat it up or spit it out!

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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Getting More out of Your Travels

Greetings, friends new and old!

Welcome to my blog. It's been upgraded and is fully functional again. Let me know what you think!

Recently, I've had the pleasure to work with some really cool people through Gzowski Club and been fortunate enough to do some traveling. This included a work term in Europe and more recently a budget Eurotrip that focused on maximizing experience and minimizing costs. Can you imagine flying from Portugal to Toronto for $94 (all incl.) and not being in a baggage container!? There are many cool posts on travel at the club website that I wholeheartedly suggest paroozing though.

Throwing around a Frisbee at the town square in Edinburgh, Scotland.
As time winds down with my undergraduate studies, you may be asking what am I doing next? I have been asking myself that for a while, too. As a soon-to-be BBA: International Business Management graduate, I've been seeking to identify my passions and fit for the future. I will go into this further in a later post, but I will say that I want to be able to grow myself with further education, push myself to experiment, travel, explore new cultures, give back to the community and integrate all of this with my business education. I had SLP brought to my attention, which is a leadership development program funded by the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I thought that this was a great opportunity relating to what I was looking for so I applied and got in. As I had such a great time in Europe the last couple times, I have build another Eurotrip around this schooling. Some highlights include a one-way flight to Athens for $274 CAD (all incl). or $3 (plus fees) from Warsaw to Belgium. The trip looks something like this:

2012 Euro-trip #2
Minus Poland, these are all places that I have not visited yet. I am looking for cool places to visit at these stops, places to stay, cool things to try, and to meet cool new people. I am also looking for travel companions, so if you're in the area, make sure to get in touch!

Enough about can you save some money and do some traveling?...I have been approached several times lately and asked how I can pull off going to Europe 3 times within a year, find the time to balance school and score good deals on flights. The short answer is that it's a trade-off between your time and your money. Let me break it down for you...

Firstly, you need a willingness to explore. This may involve leaving your comfort zone. Five star hotels and similar luxuries costs you big money (no revelation here). I recommend using something like Couch Surfing. Yes, you won't have Geoffrey from Fresh Prince of Bel-Air serving you. What you will have is a chance to meet incredible new friends that will likely show you the city, take you in for free, and much more. And the biggest perk isn't that it's for free, but you get to see more than the 'touristy' perspective that typically just scratches the surface. You will likely see that and also the local view, which I've found much more exciting. If you're just starting out and a little hesitant, I recommend using HostelWorld as hostels aren't what you see in the movie Eurotrip. They are also a great way to meet people and find out where you should explore.

On the notes of next steps...Personally, I'd like to figure out a way to make Asia, South America and Africa work in the near future. If you have some stories or ideas, I'd love to hear them.

How to Get More out of Your Travel:
I've assembled some additional tips to help save money and in my opinion increase the fun and exploration in traveling. Remember, it will likely take some time and you may not find exactly what you want on your first try. It's your time versus opening your chequebook to your money.

  • Pack light. Lay out your stuff on your bed. From there, take with you half of the clothes and double the money. Also, bring a tie. It never hurts to be classy.
  • Check out Tripit. It's free and a great tool to keep track of your trip and share with friends. They will take your itineraries and organize them all for you and even sync them with your calendar. They also have a Facebook application.
  • CouchSurfing: I mentioned it above and will mention it again because I think it's one of the coolest things on the internet. I've used it several times and plan to use it again this time around.
  • Google Flights: What doesn't Google have these days? This is a good starting point to compare prices on different departure dates.
  • Discount Airlines: Some of my favourites include Wizz Air, RyanAir, or easyJet. I have found flights for as cheap as $0.33! With the service charge, it came to around $6.00 CAD. When using discount airlines, make sure to check how much checked luggage will add to the price before checking out as some charge more than others. Another reason to pack light! 
  • Their website says, "Fast, Cheap and Comfortable." I would say that this description is bang on. With free Wifi Internet on board and potentially free snacks, this low-cost option in Eastern Europe is something that you should definitely try. 
  • is the UK version of I think this one is self-explanatory.
  • Kayak, SkyScanner, OneTravel, are good places to start for cheap flights. Flight Centre does a price-match similar to Expedia on identical flights, but I haven't had a good experience with Expedia. If you do use Expedia, the .com version tends to have better deals.
  • When flying to Europe, AirTransat is a great start for deals. Some of their one-way European deals are even shocking. Check them out here. On the way home, the best prices I've found through Canadian Affair.
  • Although I haven't done it myself (perhaps in the future), some people swear by hitchhiking in Europe.

From Warsaw, PL to Stockholm, SE for 1PLN or ~ $0.33!
I hope that was helpful and I'd love to hear your feedback. Leave a comment, send me a tweet, reach me on Facebook or email or the conventional snail mail is always cool, too. All of these good things can be found on my main page. You take your pick.

Hoping to see you somewhere along the way!