Credit to Author: Dave Pottinger| Date: Sat, 14 Dec 2019 19:56:59 +0000
While her friends were getting the keys to their first homes and driving shiny new Audis, Joy was flying off to London on a one-way ticket with no more than a suitcase, and a Working Holiday visa. It was a pivotal moment that changed her life: “I attributed my dreams of visiting far off places to my need for adventure. In hindsight, it was really just my need to find a sense of home.”
Do you know the root of your love for travel? I was raised by my grandparents in Tondo in the Philippines which is known as the worst slum in Manila. My grandparents were far from being poor by local standards: they had a house and there was always food on the table. But we had neighbours who lived in shacks made of salvaged wood and corrugated tin.
Moving to Vancouver when I was four years old…well, it was more than just culture shock. I was six months old when my parents and siblings moved, so to me they were strangers and it was a big adjustment on both sides. It really upended my ideas of family and home.
At a very young age, I knew that the world was bigger than the world I was living in. So I think travelling was a way for me to see if there was a place that would feel right to me. After having lived in four countries across three continents, I have found home—and that’s with my husband and daughter.
Tell us about your first trip
The one big family vacation we had was a road trip to California in our Pontiac Firebird Trans Am.
There were five of us in the car and only four seats and that meant I had to sit on this middle bump that separated the rear seats. I’ve never been really fond of road trips after that because I never like to sit in one place too long, but I love the sense of freedom of the open road.
It was 1985 and Disneyland was celebrating its 30thanniversary and they were giving out prizes at the gates. I won a free entrance ticket to the park! From then on, I’ve always felt I had a lot of luck when it came to travelling.
When I was 23 years old, I flew to New York on my own to visit family and friends, and the following year, to Hawaii and the Philippines. Travelling solo to these places, having a good time and coming back all in one piece gave me the confidence that I had the ‘survival skills’ to make it out on my own.
In Hawaii, I found out that I could easily make friends and find travel companions at the hostel. A co-worker who just started a job at my company had also joined me. I barely knew him but we had a great time partying with the other people at the hostel, hiking through a rain forest, and going to a luau.
In New York, I got stuck at World Trade Center (the original one, before 9/11) during rush hour and I had to figure out how to get back to my aunt’s house in Queens.
I took the subway and got off at Jamaica Center which was not where I was supposed to get off. This was in the late ‘90s, so there were hydraulic lowrider cars on the streets, loud rap music playing and women walking around in gold lame catsuits. I felt like I stepped on the set of a hip hop video, so it was right up my alley! It took me about an hour before I reached the door to my aunt’s place (no Google maps at this time and I didn’t have a cell phone), but getting lost like that really tested my mettle.
How did you end up in Europe?
I found out about the Working Holiday Program for Canadians when I was doing some research online. There are 30 countries that are participating in the program, so it’s well worth looking into if you want long-term work and travel experience.
Back then the program limited you to temporary work so you could support your travels, but not build a career there — perhaps they just wanted Canadians to go back home after the program.
I intended to spend as much time as I could on travelling while I was in the UK so the flexibility of part-time jobs appealed to me.
What did you do for work?
In the UK, I worked in retail and temporary communication and administrative roles. The Working Holiday Program is an open work permit and not an employer-specific work permit. You don’t need to have a job offer from an employer to participate.
The longest job I held while I was living in the UK was a retail manager position for a luxury brand, primarily because it paid well and had a lot of perks—I got free clothes. I would be wearing clothes to work that cost more than GBP 800!
However, it was a full-time position so that meant I could only travel on my days off. There was a stipulation with the Working Holiday Visa back then that you couldn’t work full time for one employer for more than a year. So I resigned after 10 months and started to look for temporary work so I could travel more.
Did you save money or use it all for travel?
I used most of my money for travel and just living there. London and travelling around Europe can be quite expensive, but I wanted to make the most of my time while I was there. I studied English Literature at UBC and I harboured these romantic ideas of visiting Oxford, Shakespeare’s Stratford-upon-Avon, and Chaucer’s Canterbury. I was so thrilled when I finally visited those places!
I bought a BritRail Pass that allowed me to travel all over the UK by train: Edinburgh, Liverpool, York, Wales, Bath…I also used London as a base to travel to other European cities. Itwas great that I could hop over to Paris or Amsterdam for the weekends.
Why did you leave London?
Paul, my then boyfriend, now husband is Dutch and I met him on my travels while I was in Canterbury, where his sister was studying for a semester. I told him I was going to Amsterdam and he offered to tour me around, and I took him up on his offer. He was calling me every day after that. He quit his job and moved to London so he could be closer to me. He was unlike any guy that I had dated.
I decided that I wanted to try to live in the Netherlands, although he was open to moving to Vancouver. I went back to Vancouver, worked and lived there for a year, so I had the time to apply for a Working Holiday visa for the Netherlands.
I moved to the Netherlands in 2004, got married a couple of years later and became a Dutch citizen in 2010. I have dual citizenship: Dutch and Canadian.
Some say the Netherlands has the best work-life balance in the world– can you explain this?
For the employers that I’ve worked for, it was always a minimum of 25 days for working full-time. Netherlands has the world’s shortest work week for business professionals, with the average of 29 hrs. Nearly half of the Dutch adult population works part-time!
After having a baby, I was also legally entitled to parental leave which allows me to work reduced hours (unpaid). My parental leave is 26 x my working week hours so that’s 975 hrs and I can use them until my daughter is 8 years old. I’ve been using these hours to work one day less in the week. So it’s quite common that someone in a senior or managerial position works 4 days a week and many men also have their ‘papa day’. UNICEF has published reports that Dutch children are the happiest in the world, and I think the fact that Dutch children spend more time with both parents is a huge factor.
What have you learnt from travelling?
Protect your dreams and nurture them, whether your dreams are to travel or something more sedentary. I think I was visualising my future all those years.
Back in my old bedroom at my parents’ house, I had these magazine clippings of European cities taped on the wall next to my mirror. I had a photo of the Eiffel Tower, Colosseum in Rome, the Parliament Buildings and Big Ben in London. One of the photos was of Café Papeneiland in Amsterdam on Prinsengracht.
When I moved to the Netherlands, I ended up living in De Jordaan for ten years, and that café was only a five-minute walk from my apartment.
What was your favourite trip?
I really enjoyed my travels in Egypt. Paul and I stayed in this luxurious resort in El Gouna; I still daydream about it! We scheduled some daytrips to Luxor and Cairo to visit the KarnakTemple, Valley of the Kings, the Sphinx and Pyramids of Giza.
I remember learning about ancient civilizations in elementary school when I was living in Coquitlam, and there I was, walking inside a pyramid!
It was an action-packed trip: we also went snorkelling in the Red Sea and visited the Egyptian museum. It’s one of those destinations that made me feel like I stepped into a storybook. Egypt itself was so exotic, and not like any place that I had been to before. It was also the one time that Paul saw me in the arms of another man.
We went on a snorkeling tour and I didn’t expect that we would go on a boat and be dropped in the middle of the Red Sea. I thought we would go snorkeling close to the shore. I was getting more anxious the farther we sailed away from land. The boat finally stopped and we were told to jump out. Paul pointed to a dolphin, jumped out of the boat and started swimming after it. This was definitely not my idea of ‘snorkeling’. I jumped out of the boat with the others, and ducked my head in the water. I could barely make out the sea floor; it looked so deep and I had this fear that some large creature would come out of the shadows.
My snorkeling skills were not up to par at that time, so I freaked out and water started going in my mouth and my mask. The snorkeling guide, who was about a metre away, asked me if I was okay. I shook my head, swam his way and grabbed on to him for dear life! Paul came back so excited after seeing a dolphin, but I think his excitement turned to confusion when he saw me hugging the snorkeling guide.
What’s your best travel story?
My best travel stories always involve good food and good wine; dining alfresco by candlelight in a little square on cobbled streets.
Paul and I took a road trip through the French countryside; we drove through the Beaujolais wine region, and headed south towards Provence, Saint Tropez and then up again to Champagne. He bought 12 boxes of wine when we were in Fleurie.We were driving a Skoda Superb saloon (North American equivalent would be a VW Passat but longer). It didn’t fit all in the trunk so we put some of the boxes in the back footwells and piled some on the back seats.
Summer temperatures in France can be record breaking, so Paul had to lug all twelve boxes and our camping cooler from our car to our hotel rooms. We probably looked like a travelling sideshow.
Our camping cooler was a mustard-coloured monstrosity from the ‘80s. I remember the concierge in Tourtour and his “Monsier,qu’estceque c’est?” when he saw Paul trying to carry it up the stairs. I was mortified, but Paul, without missing a beat, answered, “Le frigidaire!”
What’s the strangest place you’ve visited?
The SedlecOssuary in the Czech Republic. It’s a Roman Catholic chapel decorated with human bones and skulls from those who died from the Black Plague. There are coat of arms on the walls made of human bones and there are areas in the chapel that are just big piles of human skulls.
Any place you would recommend for our readers?
When you’re in China, the Great Wall is a non-negotiable. We climbed the unrestored part of the Great Wall: Jinshanling to Simatai. Some parts were just crumbling rock and so steep it felt like we were rock climbing. You could walk there and not see anyone for hours.
But then we would climb up to one of the watchtowers and there would be a person selling bottled water and postcards. It was bizarre!
Touring Beijing and going to the Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai were fun experiences, but our side trip to Hangzhou was a definite highlight. We were there for a wedding, which was a three-day affair. The lush greenery, waterways and pagodas really provided the perfect backdrop. We attended a drinks reception on this boat shaped like a dragon that toured us around West Lake. It was lovely!
What’s your advice for our readers?
Your travel experiences will make you grow and change, and not everyone will appreciate that. I think people expect me to be that same 21-year-old in Vancouver, even after two decades.
I could never have imagined this life for myself. I’ve flown around the world to attend weddings and meet up with friends. One week, I was in the Rocky Mountains, and the next, in Bangalore for a wedding. I’ve also booked some really last-minute flights from Amsterdam for impromptu meet ups with family: I’ve flown the next day to Barcelona and even the same day to Manila.
I lived in London in a large Edwardian house with 20 Australians. I can speak Dutch. I learned how to drive stick for the first time in Amsterdam. I can ride a bike wearing a dress and heels while holding up an open umbrella. I eat fries with mayonnaise!
How can that not change you?