Power of a Break and a BONUS Post too!

Power of a Break

I have my summer holidays later than most and this year was no exception. We visited the lovely island of Kos and I took an almost complete “tech” sabbatical.  It was an excellent way to just get back to doing what us humans have done without aids for thousands of years….communicate face-to-face with each other…no need for electronic gadgetry. With the distractions gone, you can just get on with living in the now, which I found totally refreshing.  It is amazing how much you later remember when you are actually fully engaged in the moment and how time isn’t blurring into a stream of sameness.  Mind you, I admit that this is much easier to accomplish when you are on holiday….next challenge is to achieve this in “normal” life!

self-imposed break from technology

A refreshing break with no technology

A refreshing break with no technology

So after my semi-self imposed break from technology I took some time to actually just do those things that are important to me, that fire me up and help me have outlets for my energy and creativity other than the 9 to 5.  There has been quite a lot to digest, and I will share more in the coming weeks, when I again find time to really focus on my writing. And although I do realise it has been a few weeks since I lasted posted here at Leisure Guru, I haven’t been entirely dormant on the writing front.

Previously I wrote about my hopes for Leisure Guru and mentioned I was preparing a guest post for the Emerge and Evolve Magazine……well…. ta da!  My “6 (and a bit) business travel tips” have now been published. So I am keeping things ticking along and working towards more “Perfect Days“.

guest post published – 6 (and a bit) Business Travel Tips

So what’s next? Well I have few more posts planned on my “personal discoveries” from my holiday to Kos plus we are coming into one of my favourite seasons….autumn, quickly followed by winter….so expect articles on good winter warming foods, my ideal winter’s day, winter sports and a whole lot more. But for now, why don’t you head over and read my tips for making the most of your next business trip so you see more than this….. (and yes, I did take a picture of the inside of an airplane!)

See a lot more than this on your next business trip

See a lot more than this on your next business trip

Post written by Catherine Evans Joines

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A travel hacking success story – A 10-day Canadian Adventure with my Mum

A few years ago when I was living in the UK, I had accumulated enough BA miles for a free trip to Canada. Even better yet, through regular use of my BA American Express Card I was also able to take a companion, my Mum, along for free.  All we had to pay for were the taxes.  Two return flights to Montreal for under £375.  Can’t really do better than that, or can you?

flights for under £375 for 2 – London to Montreal return

Canadian Flag

Canadian Flag

With the flights taken care of we only had the accommodation, car hire and insurance to think about.  Travel Insurance for me is easy. During all my time in the UK, I used only one company, Insure and Go.  The test of an insurance company is not how cheap it is, but how they respond and recompense in the event of a claim.  Having had the misfortune to require their services twice in previous years and being suitably impressed with the customer service, support and no-hassle manner in which everything was dealt with, I had no hesitation in taking out another year long policy with them. Even better news, is actually they were quite reasonable with their premiums.

avoid the extortionate insurance offered by car hire firms

Well the car hire was with Hertz, but booked through Ebookers, who had a promotion on at the time and so we saved approximately 20% off the car hire charges.  By booking through Ebookers, it was possible to save (a lot) on the collision damage waiver and cancellation insurance, which the car hire firms love to charge at more than the daily rental for full coverage. (Although I had travel insurance, CDW is often not included.  And I won’t hire a car without this insurance, as I don’t want to be paying for a car I didn’t even own, if God forbid, there was an accident!). So even more money saved here!

internet deals for the accommodation

Accommodation was slightly more tricky as we had no set plan for our trip to Canada.  We knew that we wanted to spend some time in Montreal, visit Niagara Falls and the wine region and see Toronto in our 10 days. But how long we would spend in each location was totally free-flowing.  Before we arrived, I booked up our hotel in Montreal but that was as far as I got.  This was definitely an alien concept to my Mum, who I am sure would have preferred to know much further ahead of time where she would be staying.  The idea of booking things so last minute and online (without phoning ahead) took her right out of her comfort zone. But she trusted me that it would all work out and it did. In fact it was quite exciting sitting together at the internet corners in various hotels searching for the best deal for the coming night or two and making the decisions together on where to stay.

Catherine at Niagara Falls at Dusk

Catherine at Niagara Falls at Dusk

some positives and negatives to booking last minute

Booking hotels last minute can have its pluses and minuses – if the hotel is empty, you might be able to get a cheap deal, as often the hotelier would rather have some money for a room than none at all. But if you want to visit a popular area waiting to the last minute can mean that the only options left are really expensive or you have to stay a little further out. In our 10 days we experienced both ends of the scale.  To book the hotels, I used a mix of discount hotel websites but each time we tried to stay in the same “extended family” of hotels – the Comfort Inn chain of hotels. This enabled me to gather some more loyalty points, which I converted later back into airline miles, ready for another trip!

but the flexibility is amazing

My Mum and I had a super holiday and as we had not booked up all the hotels in advance this enabled us to even change our plans. For example when we drove into the picturesque town of Gananoque (right in the middle of the Thousand Islands area on the St. Lawrence River) we decided that 1 night was simply not going to be long enough and so immediately booked a second at check-in.

Town Green in Gananoque

Gananoque

Or when we found that after a couple of days we had seen all we wanted to in Toronto. So instead of staying longer we decided to leave and take a detour via Ottawa on our return journey to Montreal. I just loved this flexibility.

Toronto CityScape

Toronto CityScape

It was a fab holiday and I have no idea exactly how much I managed to save on the overall cost, but I do know that what I did spend was well worth it.   I had such a great time with my Mum, just exploring and following where our curiosity led us.  Highly recommended.

Written by Catherine Evans Joines

This blog post was written in response to the Suitcase Entrepreneur’s 30 Day Blog Challenge – Day 27 and 28.

Exploring the world…..

In my last post I discussed what home means to me, but I also mentioned that I want to mix living in two different countries with trips elsewhere in the world. So where would I like to go when I am not in the UK or Switzerland? I have quite a list, made up of places I have been on work trips but just didn’t have time to explore as much as I would have liked, to brand new places, which have been “calling” to me for years, and then there are the old favourites, where I would just love to return to time and time again.

My brand new places to visit

My brand new places to visit

From the list of only the brand new places, I can see that I will need to prioritise to make this dream a reality!

However, if I think about it, my dream is really a work already in progress.  In the past decade or so, I have already visited so many places under my own steam.  Places such as Hong Kong, India, Tunisia, Turkey, Malaysia, Singapore, Oman, Morocco, France, Spain, Andorra, Italy, Canada, and many more.

So my aim from now on will be to continue to visit between 2 and 4 new places a year, both near and far.  I will look at spending a few weeks as a tourist exploring, as far as possible in such a short time, the language, culture, history, heritage, countryside and of course, the food! (Food is one of the delights of travelling, in my eyes).  Yes it will only be a toe-dip into the place. But even in a short period of time, if you walk around with your senses open and receptive, you can learn so much!

collage of the food I have eaten from around the world
collage of the food I have eaten from around the world

collage of the food I have eaten from around the world

Written by Catherine Evans Joines

This blog post was written in response to the Suitcase Entrepreneur’s 30 Day Blog Challenge – Day 24

Home and living anywhere

Although I sometimes apply the “wherever I lay my hat that’s my home” principle, especially when travelling, the concept of HOME is actually quite tricky to define.  For me there are so many elements to HOME.  Yes there is the building, the decor, the furniture I have chosen, the soft furnishings, the art on the wall, the books in the bookshelf, music on the iPod, the trinkets on the shelves and the photos all around.  It is the little sanctuary in which I can hide from the world, regroup, entertain friends and family, chill out, relax, be myself.

hearts build a home

home is more than the physical components

But there is more to it than just the physical components.  Being at HOME is also all about being with the people I am close to; who “get” and accept me.  It is the conversations, the looks, the banter, the hugs and affection – with only these I can feel at home anywhere.

it’s the people and society too

So if the connection and time spent with those closest to me is what makes me feel at HOME, in today’s world of super-connections via the internet and telephony systems, really the world is my oyster in terms of deciding on where to live…or so you would think.   But having lived in Switzerland for the past three and a half years, feeling at HOME is also linked, for me at least, with the commonalities I see between my core values (and attitudes) and those of the society in which I am living.

So if I had the choice (and I do) where would I choose to live?

For me this is quite simple.  I would love to live in both the UK and Switzerland, taking trips abroad to other countries on a semi-regular basis.  However, in practice this may require some ingenuity to overcome some logistical issues, like residency permits and having work that is location-independent.

the UK

A roast dinner - boy have I missed these!

A roast dinner – boy have I missed these!

I love the UK because it is the country I grew up in. My family and a large number of friends live there.  I understand how things work, like local government administration, the legal system, the tax system (or at least I know enough and when I need to, I know where to find out more!). I know the unwritten rules, the etiquette, the expectations.  I love the choice, in terms of produce, entertainment, lifestyle, career.  The diversity and variety is so vast.  Of course the food is important: the Sunday roast, the cans of baked beans, the marmite, the fish and chips, the fantastic Indian and Chinese cuisines, the great British cheeses like cheddar and stilton and of course the great British banger.   And there is the countryside, heritage and history….. I think you can see that I really do love my “home” country.

Switzerland

The town I currently call home, Zug Switzerland

The town I currently call home, Zug Switzerland

But equally there are things in Switzerland which I love.  I love the chocolate, the cheese, the mountains and lakes, the cow bells, the punctual clean trains and all the things you associate with Switzerland. But more than that I love the traditions, the strong sense of family, the respect, the politeness, the way “everything” just works.  I love the language and the sing-song intonation as it is spoken.  I love that on Sundays in Switzerland you can’t help but relax; the shops are shut and so it is really a day to spend with family and friends.  I love the Swiss attitude to Health and Safety, which is so much more pragmatic and requires you to use your common-sense.  I love the plethora of outdoor activities for winter and summer: skiing, snowboarding, ice-skating, snow-shoeing, cycling, lake-swimming, hiking, in-line skating, the vitaparacours, via ferattas.   And yes, over the past 3 and a bit years I have come to learn and am still learning how the administration works, the language,  the etiquette and the unwritten rules.

but don’t forget the travel

I guess I am greedy and I want to take the best bits of both countries and make my ideal!   As that is really not possible, the next best thing is to be able to split my time between the two countries I love, also making time for further exploration and discovery through regular trips around the world.

Written by Catherine Evans Joines

This blog post was written in response to the Suitcase Entrepreneur’s 30 Day Blog Challenge – Day 22

To make things happen we have to prioritise them

“The first step towards getting somewhere is to decide that you are not going to stay where you are.”

― J.P. Morgan

It is all well and good to dream. But if I really want that “Perfect Summer’s Day” I wrote about yesterday I am going to have to work at it.  It won’t magically appear unless I really focus on the steps that I can make to get me there.   So for the rest of the month I am going to push myself to do 3 things that will get me closer to my best life.

Now for the hard part. What are the things that I can do that will actually help me reach my dream of being location-independent, of working with passionate-souls and having the ability to develop myself further through learning, exploring and doing?   Mmmm. Not easy (Must admit that at this point I re-read yesterday’s post again, stared up at the sky, mouched around on the outdoor couch and chewed the end of the pen – yes I did have a pen to hand!)

active outdoors

Ok so one of the key elements that came out of yesterday’s blog post, was my desire to have outdoor activities in my day.  This seems achievable.  Although with the amount of travel planned in the next 3 weeks for the day job, it will definitely be a stretch.  But I will commit to doing some form of exercise outdoors for at least 30 minutes each day. Now that can be walking, cycling, swimming, circuits, climbing, anything in fact.  The important thing is being outdoors and actually doing something more than sitting! That’s the first thing, being more active.

Jump at Sunset

get the low-down on a virtual business

Second one. Well it dawned on me I don’t “know” too many people actually working virtually. Sure I know some from the online world, but that’s just it, they are online. I don’t actually know what their day-to-day looks like; how they organise their day; what they find most effective for moving forward; how they keep motivated etc etc.  So number 2 is to connect, in person, preferably over tea and cake, with someone working virtually. Someone who is actually making a success of the type of lifestyle I desire.  Ok this one will be more tricky and will need more thought on how to achieve it, but donning my corporate hat “isn’t that what stretch goals are for?”.

Tea and cake at Knotlow Farm

working on the move

And finally number 3. Although not mentioned too explicitly in yesterday’s post, travel features strongly in my best life. I want to be able to combine exploring and seeing new places with being able to work.  I have done plenty of business trips all over the world and am very adept at working in airport lounges, on trains, in planes and in hotel rooms.  But I have never tried to work on my own things whilst away from home.  Will I have the motivation and discipline? Will I be able to focus?  I know that I have a 10 day holiday coming up (to an as yet unknown destination) and I want to use some of this time to test out this part of my imagined “best life”.  In other words, I would like this trip to be a little bit of a trial run, to see if I like working while on the road.  So in the next few weeks I will plan the 10 day trip, decide which 3 days will be work days and then give it ago. (I know 3 days might be a bit short, but I think I will get a pretty clear idea if it is something feasible or if it is something I hate!)

Working looking at this view, will it be possible?

Working looking at this view, will it be possible?

So there you have it,

my three actions

  1. 30 min activity each day
  2. Connect with someone working virtually and making it a success
  3. Have a go at working on my things whilst travelling.

This post was written in response to the Day 6 challenge run by The Suitcase Entrepreneur.

Delving Deep to “Soar like an Eagle”

I decided to join the Suitcase Entrepreneur’s 30 Day Blog Challenge, albeit a few days late and so now am playing catch-up. This is an all too familiar state of affairs for me at the moment and is something I desperately wish to correct. I am still working hard in the corporate world and sometimes it feels like all I do is work and travel for business.  But since the start of the year I have been making subtle changes both in terms of my mindset but also in my actions.  Now I have a bit more get up and go. I am determined to make the most of my time away from the office, by really focusing and doing those things that interest me, which have sparked my imagination.

the birth of Leisure Guru 

Funnily enough this has coincided with my sister experiencing a similar desire for a change in direction.  We got chatting, as sisters do, and before we knew it the Leisure Guru blog was born. We are not experts, and neither do we pretend to be, as we haven’t yet got this leisure lark completely sussed, but one day we might!  The Leisure Guru blog is really our way of sharing our experiences of trying to maximise our time away from the office, so that we can look back on the last year and have some really cool stories to share.  Plus in years to come we will have a full suitcase of memories. Our hope is that you will enjoy sharing in our adventures and maybe it might inspire you too to grab life by the scruff of the neck and make it work for you!

So back to the challenge

The whole premise of the 30 day challenge is to respond to daily blog posts with one of your own.  I thought this would be an excellent way to gather momentum on the blog and get into a routine of writing and posting.  Here’s hoping! But as I am now arriving on day 4, this first post will have to be a mismatch response to not only today’s challenge but also those of the past 3 days… But hey what is a girl to do?

life on your terms requires clarity

As I read the first four challenges it became abundantly clear that in order to live life on your own terms both from a work and a lifestyle perspective you have to be crystal clear on what that looks like. Otherwise how are you going to know if you have made it? It is a bit like getting into the car with no clear destination. You just drive aimlessly round, turning left and right as the mood takes you.  But how do you know when you have reached the destination and you can get out for a while and admire the view before getting back in and deciding where to go to next? It appears that living your best possible life requires some planning and some strategy….it seems that we need to have “goals”.

your best life requires “goals”

It is all too easy to say “I want to put the zing back into my life by doing more fun things, travelling and seeing new places, meeting new people.” Being a bit of a control-freak I, of course, want to have more control over what I do with my time and be able to do work that can come with me wherever I am. I want to be location-independent. And naturally being a bit of a leisureholic I need to have time to wind-down and chill-out. But what does all that actually mean in practice and what does it look like?

delve deep to find your true heart’s desires

To be honest, I am still trying to delve down into my true heart’s desires in order to have a really clear vision on where I want to be and what I want to be doing, but this is what I have figured out already (in no particular order).

  1. I love the outdoors. The mountains and the sea to be specific.  I need to spend time outdoors every day. As I work from home when I am not travelling, this has been relatively easy to achieve. Today I even worked on the balcony sheltered by the canopy from the rain teeming down. Surprisingly refreshing!
  2. I like being active, but hate the gym. However, doing all the same exercises outdoors is actually quite appealing. Getting on the bike for a cycle ride, jogging round the block, hiking in the mountains, swimming in the lido, doing the parcours (outdoor gym thing with 10 stations on a 1.5 km route) – now that sounds much better.
  3. I love to cook healthy food, and be inventive with it. My poor husband has been subjected to all manner of weird and wonderful combinations and creations. I am loving experimenting.
  4. I need to be able to explore and investigate and learn new things.  I explore in the online world as well as the real one. I have been learning about building the life I want; doing several courses or events which have sparked my imagination; researching trips and vacations; fiddling with and learning wordpress to create this blog; visiting new cities; getting out there and trying new things; scaring myself doing adrenaline-fuelled activities. And all this in the past 7 months!
  5. I love being with my family and friends and spending “quality fun” time with them, not just being there in body but being really present.
  6. I need for work to inspire me, to really interest me. I need to work with people who have passion, who are enthusiastic about what they do. I get a buzz from being around those people who care about what they do and believe that their contribution makes a difference.  I need to feel that passion, to end the day feeling I achieved something.
  7. I am not defined by my job title.  I want a “job” that is flexible, which allows me to work from anywhere, at any time. I need it to mould to my life. I may choose to work all the time from the coffee shop round the corner, but if I want to, I want to be able to pick it all up and work from the ski chalet in winter and from the beach in summer.  I need that flexibility so that I can spend more time with those I love and care about.
  8. But most of all I need to play to my strengths. No more trying to be good at everything. I need to focus. I know that when I am doing those things that I am truly good at, it doesn’t feel like work. I finish and it has been “easy” – I have worked hard, but I was happy slogging away, figuring out those little bugs, researching that idea, investigating the best deals.  I am a lean mean researching organising machine!

how did I figure this much out?

Well, quite a bit of soul-searching, of noting down what made me smile, what gave me a sinking feeling, realising when I had completely lost track of time and when it was dragging into eternity and beyond.

But the best exercise of all was creating a board all about me and what I connected with, what inspired me, what would make me feel like I could “soar like an eagle”.

My dream board part 1

My dream board part 1

My dream board part 2

My dream board part 2

If you have never done this, it is simple. Get loads of magazines, scissors, a piece of paper, glue and stopwatch. Set the stopwatch for 45 min and then you are off into your own world (fab music helps here too). Flip through the magazine cutting out pictures or words, which call to you. These could be activities you want to try, scenes you would like to visit, really anything that makes you smile and think “hell yeah!”.  Stick the pictures to the piece of paper and hey presto after 45 min you have your board.

My board sits on my dressing table so that first thing every day I see the elements of my dream and know what I am ultimately working toward.

Awesome leisure is part of an awesome life!

In response to http://suitcaseentrepreneur.com/blogchallenge/blog-challenge-day4/

10 must-have accessories for the single female traveler

My must-have essentials

My must-have accessories

I love travelling, and I have often traveled on my own. I have done city breaks, cross-country tours and inter-continental trips. Along the way I have discovered my must-have accessories. These now accompany me on every trip helping to reduce the hassles and niggles which could turn a great experience into something much less pleasurable.

So apart from the obvious (camera, guidebook, etc) my Top 10 accessories are:

1. The wedding ring – whether you are married or not, this is my must have accessory for the female traveller, but especially if you are travelling alone. In my single days, this tiny band of gold on my left hand, proved especially useful at warding off unwanted attention. My “pretend” husband was always off at business meetings whilst I was busy sightseeing or shopping. But he was a true gent, that “pretend” husband of mine, and was always meeting me for lunch or drinks after work. And now I am married at least I can put a face and personality to the man behind the band of (white) gold.

2. Dark sunglasses – not just for the summer sun, but a must for wandering through the souks or markets. Perfect for soaking up the atmosphere and hustle and bustle so that you can browse from a distance without getting accosted and cajoled to look at wares which don’t interest you.

3. The versatile pashmina – as well as being perfect around the shoulders for those cooler evenings supping sundowners on the beach it can be so much more: the comforting blanket on the airplane; the ultimate coverall for visiting key attractions with a strict dress-code of covered shoulders; a replacement sarong and a pretty scarf if you happen to passing through cooler climes.

4. The cross-over handbag – ever since I found this type of bag I have not looked back. I am no longer constantly readjusting my handbag strap on my shoulder, trying to prevent it slipping off. Or worse have it slip off just as I am trying to take that once in a lifetime photograph, jolting the camera and all I have to remember that moment is a lovely picture of the pavement or sky! Now I have both hands free and I know my bag is much more secure. My favourite bag has many zipped pockets and I can easily access the water, guidebook and camera, but my money, passport and phone are squirreled away on the inside making it very difficult for any would-be pick-pocket.

Look carefully and you will see the strap of he bag...the sunglasses are in my hand!

Look carefully and you will see the strap of he bag…the sunglasses are in my hand!

5. A great pair of walking sandals, (even better if you can find a pair that are “pretty”) – enough said!

6. But just in case…then blister plasters are my next must-have item!

7. Sun cream – it isn’t much fun having sunburn! The little handbag-sized bottles are just perfect for when you are out about town. Keep that bigger bottle for the hotel.

8. Little bottle of hand disinfectant. An absolute necessity after visiting the facilities and before eating anything. The last thing you want is to pick up a bug on your travels.

9. Imodium – because in variably that dodgy tum will catch up with you at some point.

10. Refreshing wipes/deodorant – because it is nice to feel human after a long flight or if you haven’t quite got enough time between the sightseeing and those pre-dinner drinks!

Happy travels!! Would love to learn your must have accessories.

Again, you can spot the sunglasses on my head, the pashmina on the shoulders and the strap of the bag is clearly evident too!

Again, you can spot the sunglasses on my head, the pashmina on the shoulders and the strap of the bag is clearly evident too!