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On being impulsive and deciding to go to Ukraine

When I was in college, my friend and I always used to laugh at how different we were – she always spent a lot of time thinking things over, and making sure that the decisions that she made were logical, practical and cost effective. I, on the other hand, have always been known for my impulsiveness. Does something sound fun? I’m there!

I decided to go to university in Ecuador over the course of an afternoon. Sure, I’d been thinking about studying abroad for a while, but one afternoon I was bored at work and I googled what my study abroad options were. Within an hour, I decided on Ecuador (for reasons I absolutely cannot remember, likely because I knew nothing about it), and chances are that by the end of that week, I had signed up to the program. While I was there, I met Marina and I believe that our friendship was forged based on this impulsiveness – Marina can always be counted on for adventure. Want to fly to the beach for the weekend? Decide at the last minute to book a hotel downtown London? Take a 24 hour bus to spend a few days in Bolivia? Marina is your perfect partner in crime. A few years ago, Marina and I decided to go to New Orleans. This happened during a brief email exchange, that probably went something like this:

18/10/10, 11:00am Alex: “Hey, Marina! What about New Orleans for New Years?”

18/10/10, 11:07am Marina: “Hmm, I don’t know. I promised my parents I’d be home for Christmas this year.”

18/10/10, 11:20am Alex: “Ok! Why don’t we meet on December 26 then? Flights are cheap!”

18/10/10, 11:30am Marina: “Let me think about it”

18/10/10, 12:00pm Marina: “Ok, let’s do it!”

18/10/10, 2:00pm – Flights purchased

This year, one of Marina’s goals is to start a family. Long term, I don’t think that this will get in the way of our adventuring, but I do think that things are going to slow down for a bit, and I might have to spend a few more holidays with her and the fam in the UK over the next few years (boohoo). In the meantime, until Marina gets pregnant, this year might be our last chance in a long while for a solo trip. Because I’ve gone to London every year for the last 3 or four years, my only condition was that we go somewhere else, so that I could scratch off another country from my travel map. Marina suggested Holland, and I’m super down, since I haven’t been and I hear that they make great cheese.

Now, here comes the impulsive part! Marina reckons that she can take one week off work, but I’m getting two, and I figure that while I’m in Europe I might as well cram in as much as I can! Over the last two summers, I got really close with a group of international volunteers, and it means that I have a lot of places to visit around the world. Based on how cheap flights are, and how cheap travel within the country is, I decided on visiting Ukraine, where I have four friends to see. I made that decision on Monday night, and I just booked my flight (today is Wednesday)

Based on the little bit of research that I’ve done so far, it’s super easy to travel around Ukraine, but only if you speak Ukrainian. I’m equal parts super nervous and super excited about that, and my friends have already said that they’ll help me with buses and trains. And I’ve just ordered my phrase book. Eek!

Now, here’s where the travel blogging community can maybe help! I land in Amsterdam on November 2nd, and am planning to be there until about the 10th of November. Therefore, I have from November 11 to the 18th to make my way to my flight home from Kiev. I’m really excited to see how things will unfold, and what options will be presented to me. I have places to stay in Western Germany, Prague, and Vienna, not to mention cheap accommodation options pretty much everywhere. My options currently include going through Dortmund (Germany), Prague, Warsaw, Vienna or Dubrovnik.

Thoughts, or recommendations? I have 10 days to spend in and around Holland with Marina, and 7 days solo, to spend getting to Kiev. I’d like to spend at least 4 of those days in Ukraine, so that I can see my friends. SO MUCH DECISION MAKING, SO EXCITING!!

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FAQ – How to breeze through airport security, in 7 easy steps!

I was just at a conference in Winnipeg, and I caught a ride back to the airport with one of the other attendees. She seemed a bit nervous about what to do at security – what goes where, what do they look for, etc. and had a lot of questions for me, so I figured I’d write a post since some of you might also have some questions. I’ve posted about carry-on luggage a few times, so it makes sense that I should now talk about how to prepare your carry-on to get yourself through security as efficiently as possible.

It’s all about being organized! It’ll help you get to your gate faster, the security guards will be friendlier, and it’ll make the people behind you happy. Wins all around! (Hint: the person behind you could be me. I fly almost every week. Let me help you make my life easier.)

This is my personal advice, based on what I do when I travel. I’ve heard a million stories from other people, who have gotten away with a bunch of stuff, and that might be you too. However, by following this list, you can be certain that you will fy through security.

1. Have your travel documents in hand – boarding pass and ID!

2. Make sure that your laptop and 3-1-1 bag are within easy reach

3. Make sure that your pockets are empty

4. Take off any jackets/hats/scarves/belts

5. Take off your shoes.

6. Know what’s in your bag

7. Get out of there quick!


1. Travel documents

I’m not going to lie guys, this is my biggest pet peeve. You check in, and about twenty feet farther is the security check point. Hang on to your boarding pass! If you’re like me and you want to eat and sometimes shop before you head to security, make sure that you keep your ID and boarding pass together in an easy to access place. The time to look for your boarding pass is NOT when you are standing in front of the agent!20130520-103227.jpg

2. 3-1-1 bags

A 3-1-1 bag is a small ziploc bag in which you put whatever liquids that you are taking on the plane. You can use the ones that the airport gives you, but a regular sandwich sized bag works too.

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– Make sure that all your liquids are together in one bag.

– Make sure that your liquids are under 3oz/100ml. I recommend putting your liquids in bottles that are 100ml or less. I’ve heard from other people that it’s ok to use bigger bottles as long as they are not full, but since there’s no way of proving how much liquid you’ve got, I’ve also heard about security agents not letting them through. If you run out during your trip, you can easily buy refills anywhere. The only thing that I haven’t been able to find everywhere is contact solution. If you are going on a longer trip and bringing only carry-on, I would bring more little bottles of contact solution, and bring dry versions of the other toiletteries I need, or buy them when I get there. TurnipseedTravel has compiled a beautiful list of options for you.

– Make sure that the bag is the right size.

– Make sure that it’s quickly accessible. There’s nothing worse than holding up the line because you’re rummaging through your suitcase, trying to find your little bag.

2.5 Electronics

The only thing that I’ve ever been asked to take out is my laptop, and that’s every time I’ve travelled. Be prepared!

3. Make sure that your pockets are empty

I’m just talking about metal here – change, jewellery, watches: these all need to go through the scanner. Otherwise, they’ll send you back and forth until they figure out what’s beeping.

4. Take off any jackets/hats/scarves/belts

Doing this means that they don’t have to ask you! I promise, they’ll love you.

5. Take off your shoes. You don’t always need to, but doing it in advance means that you’re set if they do ask you.

I just went through security wearing new Keen slip on shoes. The agent looked at them and told me to keep them on, and they beeped – apparently, there’s a metal shank through the bottom. Now I know! Two options: make sure your shoes are metal free, or just take them off.

6. Know what’s in your bag – toss any liquids, and leave awkwardly shaped things at home.

This kept happening to me: I have a nifty key chain that’s a spoon handle. EVERY TIME I go through security with it, they pull me aside and check by bag. They always let me leave with it, but I’ve decided it’s not worth the extra time, so I just leave it at home now. Same goes for you – know what you’re travelling with!

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7. Get out of there quick!

Once you’re through the metal detector and your bags are out, pick up your things and organize your bag somewhere else. This especially helps when it’s busy. At a certain point, when everyone puts on their shoes and belts right after the detector, the conveyor belt gets too full of bins to continue rolling, and stops the whole process. They have handy chairs and tables a few feet away from most security areas – use them, and help everyone out!


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FAQ – Moving to a new country

I want to move to a different city/country. Where do I start?

First of all, yay! That’s great news. Change is great, and you’re taking the first steps on a big adventure. In my opinion, you have two options, and it really depends on the kind of person you are.

Option 1
Go! Line up a hostel or another form of short term accommodation, and just figure it out once you get there. I know that it sounds scary, but that’s what I did when I moved to Ecuador. I was going there for University and I had a couple thousand dollars set aside. I’m sure that I read about the country a bit before going, but I actually didn’t plan very much.

I turned down the homestay option offered by the university. The internet wasn’t a big deal back in 2005 and I couldn’t really set anything up in advance, so I decided to book a bed at The Secret Garden hostel for a week, thinking that I would play it by ear once I got there.

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The view from the hostel. I knew right away that I had made the right decision.

Things ended up working out really well for me. The hostel is owned by an Australian-Ecuadorian couple, and is an amazing network of expat volunteers and amazing travellers. I had been staying there for about four days when the Swiss manager told me that they were looking for volunteers who could make a month long commitment. In exchange for volunteering for 8 hours a day, volunteers got free accommodation, meals, drinks, and Spanish lessons. What a deal! I took the position right away – sure, it was hectic with my school schedule, and the living situation was sketchy (volunteer accommodation has improved since!), but it was free and allowed me to get to know the city and country like I never would have otherwise. About three weeks into my volunteering stint, the same Swiss guy told me about an apartment just behind the hostel that had a room for rent for $100 a month. I ended up living there for the rest of the year. It’s where I met Marina, who is one of my best friends to this day – last fall, I flew to England to be a bridesmaid in her wedding. Throughout the year, I continued to work part time for the hostel, helping them run tours throughout the country and running reception when they needed me.

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This is where I ended up living for the year

In all honesty, I think that my year in Ecuador spoiled me for all further travel. Somehow, I left with the assumption that things were always this easy – you don’t need much money, or planning, and things will just work out.

Unfortunately, I found out the hard way that this isn’t the case, when I tried to move to London. I was more prepared – I had temporary accommodation and a job. However, I left with almost no money, and no knowledge of how expensive life was in London. The job that I had did not pay enough for me to live in London, and my temporary accommodation was too far away for me to find a second job. I ended up moving back to Canada after 6 weeks. Which leads us to option 2!

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No wonder I couldn’t afford to live in London – this was a transit pass for one week. Plus STD, apparently.

Option 2:

Do your research! Make sure to come up with temporary accommodation, or try to set something up in advance. Make sure that it’s not two hours away from your job (as was mine in London…) Make sure that you know what to expect in terms of not only rent, but down payment and possible furniture (as I found out when I lived in West Africa – You can read ALL about the hell of trying to find accommodation in Mali here). Try to connect with people who already live where you are moving to, to see if they can help you with anything. Make sure that you have a backup option for work. Most of all, just make sure that you have enough money in case things don’t work out – and don’t forget about cost of living! I was more prepared for my move to British Columbia than I was for anything else, but I didn’t think of everything. When I originally budgeted for my life here (what a foreign concept to me!) I didn’t realize that you pay monthly for health insurance, and that car insurance is much, much higher than it is in Québec.

In all honesty though, I would probably go straight back to Option 1, again and again. It’s more exciting, and being thrust into new situations with less of a support system pushes you out of your comfort zone. In the future, I’ll just make sure that I have enough money to survive in my new city!

Is there anything else that you are wondering about? Comment below, and I will try to answer and travel-related questions that you might have!