Dear Diane: I think it's great!
You're doing something I'm sure many will envy. Without being too intrusive or nosy, I'd be interested in knowing how you are managing this. Are you house-sharing or house-swapping, maybe? I've looked into living in the UK, but house prices have just gone through the roof, and it looks impossible.
Any input you'd care to share, I'd appreciate. . . . Joan T.
Since I announced my plans for a six-month sabbatical to Britain, I've had several inquiries asking about managing a lengthy travel sojourn, usually in terms of "how lucky you are," or "wish I could" . . .
Luckiness, wishing, and the like have very little to do with fulfilling travel dreams. Priorities, attitude, and action are keywords to this discussion. Luck we have little or no control over, but we can adjust priorities and change attitudes at will. I won't go on about establishing priorities and adjusting attitudes now because I've said enough on those topics in Going Solo Tales, which those who wish to may view and/or print at leisure, here.
Costs nearly always take top priority for me and, I suspect, for most Connecting readers. For two years I pondered how I might afford living in England for six months and still maintain upkeep of my home in Canada. At first, house-swapping seemed the obvious solution – all the comforts of home at no extra cost. I joined HomeLink International, and although some interesting opportunities did come my way, none were for a lengthy stay in England. Yet I stuck to the six-month idea because I felt sure I'd need that much time to fully satisfy my research goals. A year went by.
Meanwhile, I grappled with my other top priority: How to run Connecting while abroad? Gradually, solutions suggested themselves, and gradually I acted upon the best possible alternatives.
Alternatives are not always palatable, and that is where attitude counts so much. If you don't like the alternatives, you either forget your dream or you change your mind and your attitude and go with one alternative or another.
So after house-swapping what were my alternatives? Hotels in England start at £40 per night (C$95; US$77) and up – out of the question. Hostels, about £20; B&B, about £25; flat sharing, £200 to £400 per month (C$476 to C$950; US$385 to US$769) plus household expenses. Frankly, none of these options seemed sustainable for six months, unless I were to gain some revenue by renting my apartment.
At first, I didn't like the idea of renting my home and running the risk of having someone damage my furnishings, skip out, whatever. As time went by and I did not win the lottery I changed my mind (attitude) and decided to go the rental route.
Even so, my dream seemed destined to whither because I did not find the right person to rent my place. In the end I had to decide whether to cancel the trip or go knowing my credit card would likely have to come to the rescue. I dreamed, I decided, I acted. The consequences of my actions remain to be seen, but I'll deal with them.
On the Internet I found a B&B to stay in on arrival. I did not like it and the following day went to the local tourist office for help and found The Poplars, an immaculate, modern home, close to lovely walks in a hilly suburb of Bolton (Greater Manchester). There I stayed one week while searching for less costly alternatives. At www.visitbritain.com I found a listing for Bolton University's halls of residence and, after some palaver, I managed to persuade the bureaucracy that my money was as good as any bona fide student or visiting lecturer. I agreed to pay four weeks up front. So here I am, living and learning in Bolton, England.
£100 at Toronto airport cost me the usurious sum of C$260. In contrast, £100 obtained from Bolton ATMs cost me C$237 using a debit or VISA card ($5 service fee with VISA).
"Six months!" exclaimed a British immigration officer, demanding proof I could support myself for the duration. I presented my credit cards and £100 cash. Unimpressed, she sent me off to sit and stew in a corner while all my plane mates filed through without difficulty. She finally called me back, returned my airline ticket and passport and sent me off with a stern look and warning. "Do not overstay six months, and do not use public facilities."
Goodness! Did she mean the public toilets? Or, the health care system? I didn't stop to ask.
Not having a long-distance calling card handy and desperate to return messages, I made 5 calls, none longer than 5 minutes, expecting an expensive charge of maybe $1 per minute, $2 max. Wrong! Average C$50 per call. I was sick!