Archive | September 2010

Living the Dream

Today has been a particularly stressful day at the beginning of what will be a particularly stressful week at work, and every time I open a particularly frustrating email or receive a particularly irritating telephone call I remind myself that in 12 weeks and 3 days I will leave my office for the last time, and in 15 weeks and one day I will be on flight AC855 to YVR (Vancouver International to those who don’t speak airport).

Handing in my notice to leave for a completely new country with absolutely no idea what I’m going to do for work is a dream I find exhilaratingly liberating, perhaps because it is the perfect excuse to start from scratch and choose a job that I genuinely do enjoy.  At the end of my working holiday I’ll be returning to the UK, and to my career, and I’m starting to view my year in Vancouver as a parallel universe in which I can do absolutely anything without it really mattering in the ‘real world’ back home.  I like cheese, so maybe I’ll work in a deli?  I like bath and beauty products, so maybe I’ll work in The Body Shop?  I like chocolate, so maybe I’ll work in a Hershey factory?

12 weeks and 3 days to go...

As a Volunteer Coordinator by trade, I’m a great believer in the benefits of giving up one’s time, both to the individual and to the chosen organisation, particularly when it comes to developing new skills.  This week I discovered the amazing, a fantastic source of hundreds of volunteering opportunities across all of Vancouver, and I am confident that I’ll be able to use my spare time to volunteer in a role that  utilises my UK experience and keeps my CV ticking along.

Although I’m under no illusion that Vancouverites don’t work hard or that all Vancouver jobs are easy, the thought of doing even the most mundane administrative role doesn’t sound quite so boring ‘over there’.  I like to think that even when the in-tray is piling up, just knowing I’m half way across the world in a thriving city by both the beach and the mountains will be enough to get through 9-5 and live for the evenings, weekends and bank holiday Mondays.  As with any new place I’m sure the novelty will wear off eventually, I just hope that time comes long after I’m on a plane back home for Christmas!

Useful Resources #2 – Facebook

In 2010 living one’s life through social networking is commonplace, so it was no surprise when I stumbled across a number of Facebook groups that really have aided the entire working holiday process.

BUNAC Work Canada (Official Page)

The official BUNAC Work Canada page is maintained by BUNAC, and is a useful starting point for information about the application process, BUNAC deadlines and finding out what else is out there.

BUNAC Work Canada (Official Page)

Where can I find it?

Good Points: As its run by BUNAC, this page is a good place to ask questions that you’d like an official answer to, and also keep up to date with ‘official’ news and updates.

Bad Points: It’s not used that much, particularly the discussion boards, but this could be because of the existence of the below…

BUNAC Work Canada (Independent Group)

This is an independent group monitored by a fellow BUNACer, and is particularly useful for asking questions about the less ‘official’ things, like what to take, where to live and whether your iPhone will work.   The discussion forums in particular are incredibly well used, often by current/ex BUNACers who have been there, done that, and given useful, relevant and most importantly impartial advice.

BUNAC Work Canada (Independent Group)

Where can I find it?

Good Points: The best bit about this group is the discussion threads that appear for each group flight, for example ‘January group flight to Vancouver’.  Once you know which flight you’re going to be on make sure you find yours and get to know your fellow travellers months in advance.

Bad Points: There’s so much information on this group that it can take a long time to sort through all the old threads and find what you’re looking for, but other than that it’s perfect!

SWAP Vancouver

SWAP stands for Student Work Abroad Programmes, and as BUNAC’s partner organisation in Canada they provide full support before and during your working holiday.  This comes in the form of walk-in centres in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal, orientation talks and jobs and accommodation listings, as well as organised social events and excursions.

SWAP Vancouver Group

Where can I find it?

Good Points: Joining this group is a great way to get a taste of the social events and trips on offer as these are all advertised here, and other SWAPpers use the site to let everyone else know about jobs, places to rent or items for sale in Vancouver.

Bad Points: You have to request to join the group which can be off putting, and as the discussion threads aren’t used much you’ll spend most of your time trawling through posts on the main feed.

The Wild World of Insurance

For me, the most daunting part of the working holiday application process was choosing and purchasing travel insurance.

Whilst I hope I could grin and bear the pain if I broke my leg whilst trying to be clever when snowboarding, I don’t think I could cope with my parents uttering a disappointed ‘I told you so’ if I didn’t have the right insurance to cover me.  I figured that if the worst is going to happen there might not be a lot I can do about it (other than stick to the piste), but I could make sure the aftermath is more bearable than my broken limbs by doing my research into insurance.

BUNAC offer an exclusive and comprehensive policy through Endsleigh that covers all eventualities with lots of added extras, but does also come with an exclusive and comprehensive price tag.  It’s all very well looking elsewhere for your cover, and a lot of travellers do, but it’s crucial that your cover ticks the right boxes with BUNAC otherwise it won’t get approved, and your letter of work authorisation will be delayed while you find yourself an alternative.

Sensible Skiers on Grouse Mountain

I am no insurance expert, but luckily the guys at BUNAC are, and they provide all Working in Canada applicants with guidance of minimum requirements for your cover, including period of cover, geographical area covered, medical cover and activities included.  From my experience, things to look out for include whether you’re covered if you come back to the UK at any point during your trip (some policies will cease the moment you’re back on British soil) and what the excess is on any claims you might unfortunately have to make.

If you decide to go with another provider, other BUNAC-ers have gone with the following:

STA Travel –

ACE Insurance –

Multitrip –

This isn’t to say that you don’t need to check these out thoroughly before you commit!

I went with ACE Insurance and paid £203 for 12 months global backpacker insurance.  I was happy that the policy covered my needs for what I’ve got planned, and BUNAC were too.  The topic of insurance is always a popular one in various blogs and internet sites, and does tend to induce mass panic (and even mild hysteria), but for me it turned out not to be quite the minefield I imagined.  Different policies will work better for different people, and I am in no position to endorse any particular provider, but I do recommend you do the research as it really is worth it – insurance is not something to skimp on.

Useful Resources #1 – craigslist

Now I know I’ll be winging my way to Vancouver in less than three months, most of my spare time is spent trawling through the mecca of job adverts, classifieds and downtown condos for rent that is craigslist.  It’s a bit like our Gumtree, but with less weirdos.

In terms of housing, it’s a far bigger deal than Gumtree as Canada doesn’t really have lettings agents like we do in the UK.  Anyone with a flat/house to rent or a room to sublet advertises on craigslist (and most of them have pictures), so it’s the perfect place to check out what’s affordable in the areas you’d like to live in.

Craigslist, Vancouver BC

It’s also useful for job vacancies, more so in the tourism/retail/hospitality industries than the professional sectors, though be wary of any ‘jobs’ that sound too good to be true – just like in the UK they probably are.

Where do I find it?

Good points: One-stop shop for everything you need in Vancouver, from furniture to yoga clubs.  Great for getting to know the city before you arrive, both in terms of ‘serious’ research, and inspirational fun!

Bad points: You do still seem to get the odd shifty post so all the usual internet rules apply (don’t part with any money until you’ve seen the flat/item, don’t meet up with anyone by yourself). Make sure you’ve done your research and know which neighbourhoods you want to live in before searching for housing, otherwise a long list of houses and neighbourhoods can prove more confusing than helpful.

It’s Official!

Today my flight confirmation pack arrived from BUNAC!

A confirmation letter detailing my flight information (AC855 Air Canada), my BUNAC Moneywise Guide to North America (I’ll let you know what I think when I’ve read it), two BUNAC luggage tags and a BUNAC Global Phonecard with 15 minutes pre-loaded. BUNAC-tastic!

I received this pack because I booked onto the BUNAC group flight.  BUNAC group flights leave London Heathrow once a month (more during peak times like June, September or November) and include the following:

  • A BUNAC rep at the departure airport
  • Transfer to your pre-booked arrival accommodation (the price includes one night’s stay in a hostel)
  • T-shirt and phone card
  • Contact details of fellow BUNAC-ers on your flight before you leave the UK[1]

My BUNAC Confirmation Pack!

There always seems to be a lot of debate about whether the BUNAC flights are good value or not, and as I’m flying back from Toronto I found booking this return flight to be cheaper than booking two one-way tickets.  I like to think I’m a confident flyer and know my way around an airport (or at least the duty free section), but I still liked the idea of sitting with other travellers on the plane – it’ll be a bit like University halls of residence, where you’re put on a corridor with people you might not have anything in common with, but you all talk to each other because you have no choice, and (usually) end up great friends at the end of the day. I admit my own University experience didn’t go quite like that, but I have faith in BUNAC’s seating plan!

Knowing myself as I do, I imagine I’ll be far too jet-lagged and overwhelmed to even remember the name of my hostel at the other side, let alone get on the right bus to downtown, so I was also encouraged by the inclusion of one night in a hostel and pre-booked transfers to get there.  The hostel accommodation will of course be in a shared dormitory with my new friends, as I think I’ll be entitled to call them by then – there’s not a lot about me that they won’t know after 11 hours in economy class.

If you decide not to book onto the BUNAC group flights you have the freedom to travel on whichever day you want (unlike the group flights) and with any airline you like.   BUNAC use Air Canada for the vast majority of their flights, but other airlines to fly from London to Vancouver and you may find a bargain, particularly if you don’t fly direct.  Try GS World Travel ( or Canadian Affair ( for some good deals, but be wary of hidden fees for changing the date of your return flight (BUNAC charge a flat rate of £35).

At least one thing’s for certain now – there’s no turning back for me!

[1] BUNAC Work Canada website –

Canada Calling…

So, this week I did something that many (myself included) would call life-changing.

With one click of a laptop mouse pad I’d booked a flight to Vancouver, leaving London Heathrow on January 11th2011.  One further click uploaded my travel insurance details, and a third and final click opened an email confirming that my one year Working Holiday Visa will be waiting for me when I arrive on the other side of the pond in little under four months.

My current return date is set for August 2011, but I’ll be extending this until the end of December (as close to Christmas as is sensible to fly) as soon as I’m able.  I’m not sure yet what job I’m going to do, where I’m going to live, or whether I’m going to make any friends.  I’ve convinced my boyfriend to come along for the ride, and he’s not sure what’s going to happen either.

The first thing I felt after submitting my details to BUNAC was relief (from breaking out of the ‘will-I-won’t-I’ debate that’s been going on in my head for over a year) followed almost immediately by a combination of fear, concern and uncertainty, epitomised by the ever-foreboding ‘What if?’.  What if I can’t find anywhere to live? What if I come back to the UK and the recession has got worse? What if I don’t like maple syrup?

My what-ifs started to meander down a different route. What if I there was a way I could keep my friends and family up to date with how it’s going, both in the UK and in the City of Glass?  What if I could let other working holiday makers know how to get started, and what happens when you get off the plane at the other side?  What if I could offer hints, tips and advice based on my experiences over the next year and a half?

It turns out that some what-ifs are easier to answer than others (particularly in the age of the internet), and Marmite to Maple was born.   I hope you find this blog interesting, informative, and dare I say inspiring, whilst I find out the answers to the rest.  BC here I come!