Cover Reveal for A Sunrise over Bali

I am VERY excited and proud to show off this gorgeous cover for the 4th book in the Holiday Romance series, A Sunrise over Bali.

A sun rising over the sea between two volcanic mountains. A temple and several huts in the mid-ground. A woman in a teal dress and a white hat walking into scene (on the beach) in the foreground. Palm trees either side of the beach scene.

This is an evolution of the series covers, putting Jaelee Tan, our heroine, in the stunning location of Bali but still retaining the styling and ombré colour palette of the first 3 books in the series. I love it!

The blurb

Jaelee Tan is going on sabbatical.

After meeting besties Cat, Lou, and Dani on a whirlwind trip around Europe, Jaelee is finding it difficult to settle back into Miami life, especially without her ex, Paco. When she shows up to her best friend Ali’s 40th birthday party and Paco and his new wife are two of the guests, she does what any self-respecting woman would do – she runs.

All the way to Bali.

Convinced that a two-month sabbatical away from her high-stress Miami life is just the ticket, she settles into UROP, a co-living resort for digital nomads in the heart of Ubud. There she meets an incredible group of people, each with something to teach her about life and love, including the Hot Scot, Alistair, who may just make her change her mind about man buns – and love.

My inspiration

I was inspired to write this book because in 2018, when Ben and I were on our year-long sabbatical, we kicked off with a 2-month stay at a co-living space called ROAM in Ubud, Bali. We worked (a little), we played (a lot), we explored, and we spent many days just being. It was a brilliant, revitalising time for us both and an excellent way to start an incredible year.

We also made lifelong friends in Bali, including a dog called Lu.

Lu made it into the book―I didn’t even bother to change her name―but in real-life, she was facing euthanasia during our last 2 weeks at ROAM. She lived there but not ‘officially’ and was very protective of the community members. This made her dangerous for the public, scuppering plans that the owners of ROAM had to expand. However, the community (current and former ROAMIES) rallied and we raised enough money to send her to California where she now lives on an enormous property with a former ROAMIE. I love Lu and I am so glad she has a proper home now.

Tan dog with white paws and black markings on her face, lounging on steps

And some other inspiration pics from Bali―I kept these close at hand throughout the writing process, so I could really capture the magic of this beautiful place.

And my fave shot of me in Bali (this made it into the book too)

Woman on a bamboo swing which is suspended from a tree branch overlooking a valley of lush green.
The swing on the Campuhan Trail

I really hope you enjoy reading A Sunrise over Bali. It holds a special place in my heart and I’m really proud of it. It’s out on February 17 (ebook) and May 12 (print).

New Year’s Absolutions 2022

Those of you who have been following my blog for a while will know that each year I write not ‘resolutions’, but ‘absolutions’.

These are the things I absolve myself from doing the following year―GUILT FREE!

Either I will remove them from my mental ‘to do’ list or I will stop doing them because they do not ‘spark joy’. These are the things I have been told―by myself, by loved ones, by society―that I should do but really, really don’t want to.

So, on the list they go!

1. Reading the entire contents of my Kindle

As an avid reader, I have a problem―I cannot say no to books. I buy a lot of books, I get given a lot of books … but I have too many books. TOO MANY BOOKS! Every time I finish a book, I am paralysed by choice as to what to read next. I flick through the (literally) dozens of pages of unread books on my Kindle and often end up tossing it on the bed in frustration and turning on Netflix.

I like choice. Choice is good―there is a book for every mood on my Kindle: spy thriller, (gruesome) crime thriller, LA detective thriller, romcom, contemporary romance, contemporary women’s fiction, literary fiction, historical fiction, historical romance, outback romance, even some fantasy, SciFi and horror …

The thing is, I have at least a dozen unread books in each genre (and sub-genre) taunting me.

In the past few days, I have taken steps to mitigate this paralysing guilt of owning so many unread books. Collections! I have decided my next 3 reads and everything else has gone into a TBR Collection―a neat little folder that I can swipe past all at once on my Kindle’s ‘home’ screen. Now I just need to stop acquiring more books. Hmm.

2. Meditating

In mid-2022, I signed up for a weekly meditation session at work (facilitated by a colleague) to help us cope with the pandemic. Half-way through the first session, conducted via TEAMS, I received a Teams message―apparently ‘urgent’―and I spent the rest of the meditation session putting out a (small) professional fire―essentially, the opposite of meditating.

The thing is, I not only suck at meditating, I (really) dislike it. I spend the whole time chastising myself for sucking at it and not being better at ‘adulting’.

Well, I absolve myself from meditating in 2022 because there are other ways to ‘be mindful’. Any time you are completely immersed in something―reading, dancing, cooking, revelling in natural beauty, combing the beach for the prettiest shell, sipping great wine and really tasting it, playing with a child and making them laugh, in the midst of an in-depth conversation, smashing out a new chapter or editing one―you are being mindful.

So, I aim to be mindful in the way that works for me without beating myself up about how I get to that immersive, blissful state.

3. Watching ‘Squid Game

I tried (2 full episodes) and I hated it (not just the premise but the lead actor’s―in my opinion, terrible―acting). I know it’s considered ‘good TV’ by millions of people but no piece of fiction is for everyone―just ask my readers―so it’s okay that I didn’t like it and that I won’t finish the season.

4. Getting a TikTok account

It’s not that there aren’t many, many entertaining people on TikTok, nor that I haven’t enjoyed the occasional TikTok (I don’t even know if that’s the correct term―are the clips on TikTok called TikToks?) that people have sent to me (case in point, this is hilarious).

It’s that I already spend 5-12 hours a week on social media for author biz. That’s not just posting, but creating assets, and commenting and sharing―and thanking others for commenting and sharing.

I just don’t have room in my life for another social media account. I felt the same way about Snapchat (and I was right about that BTW―remember Snapchat, anyone?)

5. Not making travel plans because ‘what if I have to cancel them?’

This is a double negative, I know.

To be clear, I absolve myself from not making travel plans, which means that 2022 is FILLED with travel plans. Sure, we’re buying the best insurance we can get and we’re mindful (that word again) that any or all of these trips may be cancelled, but for me and Ben, travel IS life.

So, trips on the cards:

  • Southern coast of New South Wales to see friends (who live there)
  • Inland in Victoria to see my cousins (who live there)
  • Up to southern Queensland/norther NSW to see family and friends (who live there)
  • Western Australia to see family (who live there). They have been behind the COVID Curtain implemented by Premier Mark McGowan for so long, I can’t even fly there to be with my mom who is recovering from a serious injury and is bed bound. (Grrrr, Mark!)
  • The UK (!) to: see my family (sis, bro-in-law, nephew) in Rugby and Great-Aunt in Oxfordshire; meet my agent, Lina, and dear friend, Nina, face to face in Edinburgh; attend the Romance Novelists Association 2022 Conference; attend the HarperCollins author party; meet Pearson colleagues in London; meet my editor and other members of the One More Chapter publishing team, also in London; and catch up with other friends across the UK. (It’ll be a long trip.)
  • Sailing the Cyclades Islands in Greece! I am SO excited about this. Ben and I will be sailing with our skipper friend, Patrick―our 3rd time sailing with him. Athens to Syros―8 days, 7 nights―and we’re taking my nephew, who will be 11 by then. (Aside: for those who have read the Holiday Romance series, Patrick is the real-life Duncan, only he’s a Kiwi).

So LOTS to look forward to in 2022, especially as I am absolving myself of so many things that will save me not just time, but angst, guilt, and regret.

And what could be a better way to start the New Year?

Happy 2022, everyone, and may it be filled with reunions, grand adventures, and many moments that will make you smile, fill your heart, and bring you peace and joy.

Catching up with Author Christina Courtenay

Thrilled to welcome Christina Courtenay to Off the Beaten Track to mark the publication of her latest book, Tempted by the Runes. And oh my! This is such a terrific read. For those who are new to Christina’s books, this is the latest in her Viking timeslip ‘Runes’ series and it is incredible.

Also, look at that cover! Before I share my thoughts on the book, let’s talk to Christina.

Book Cover
Tagline: born centuries apart. Bund by a love that defied time.
A Viking ship is moored offshore of a  fjord with mountains in the background and a couple stand onshore embracing.

Tell us what inspired you to write Tempted by the Runes?

When I started to write the ‘Rune’s series, I knew that the Vikings had travelled far and wide and I wanted my books to reflect this. Therefore, I decided that the members of one family would all journey in different directions and have their own adventures. As Iceland was starting to be colonised at this time, it seemed the perfect place to send one of the brothers. The youngest was most likely to go there as he’d need to make his own way in the world. Becoming a settler on an island so far away, which only a few people had seen at this point, was a very brave thing to do and I thought that would be great for my hero. The rest of the story developed from that.

When did you start writing seriously?

After my oldest daughter was born I wanted a job I could do from home so that I could look after her at the same time. That’s when I decided to try my hand at writing, but it proved a lot more difficult than I thought. Eventually, I was published 21 years later just after my daughter had left home … (The best laid plans and all that!)

What do you love most about being an author?

The freedom of working at my own speed and when/where I want to. I’m a night owl and have always disliked having to get up early to go to work or school, so for me, being able to sleep late and work late is ideal. It also feels like a huge privilege to be able to write down the stories that appear in my head and call it work!

What are you working on now?

I have just signed a new four-book deal with Headline Review so at the moment I’m working on the first of those stories which is due out in August next year. It’s a standalone timeslip story called Hidden in the Mists. You can already pre-order.

What do you hope readers will take away from Tempted by the Runes?

I hope they will just enjoy the journey and the romance, travelling so far with the hero and heroine and experiencing their struggles in a new land. I would love it if my story leaves the reader feeling happy and relaxed and with a big smile on their face!

More about the book

before.

Madison Berger is visiting Dublin with her family for a Viking re-enactment festival, when she chances upon a small knife embedded in the banks of the Liffey. Maddie recognises what the runes on the knife’s handle signify: the chance to have her own adventures in the past.

Maddie only intends to travel back in time briefly, but a skirmish in 9th century Dublin results in her waking up on a ship bound for Iceland, with the man who saved her from attack.

Geir Eskilsson has left his family in Sweden to boldly carve out a life of his own. He is immediately drawn to Maddie, but when he learns of her connection to his sisters-in-law, he begins to believe that Fate has played a part in bringing them together. Amidst the perils that await on their journey to a new land, the truest battle will be to win Maddie’s heart and convince her that the runes never lie…

My thoughts on the book

The Queen of Timeslip Romance has done it again! I was completely immersed in this epic romance. The story of settling in Iceland was compelling, with Courtenay’s ability to build a rich and complex historical world really shining in this book. The slow-burn love story was sweepingly romantic and I completely fell in love with our hero and heroine.

This book is a total page turner.

Where you can buy it

Amazon UK | Amazon US | Amazon AU

More about Christina

Author photo: Smiling woman with long red hair wearing a black jumper

Christina Courtenay writes historical romance, time slip and time travel stories, and lives in Herefordshire (near the Welsh border) in the UK. Although born in England, she has a Swedish mother and was brought up in Sweden – hence her abiding interest in the Vikings. Christina is a former chairman of the UK’s Romantic Novelists’ Association and has won several awards, including the RoNA for Best Historical Romantic Novel twice with Highland Storms (2012) and The Gilded Fan (2014) and the RNA Fantasy Romantic Novel of the year 2021 with Echoes of the RunesTempted by the Runes (time travel published by Headline 9th December 2021) is her latest novel. Christina is a keen amateur genealogist and loves history and archaeology (the armchair variety).

Follow Christina

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Thank you for coming on Off the Beaten Track, Christina, and wishing you every success for this latest epic romance.

To my love

Fifteen years ago, I took myself off to Greece.

I’d been single for several years, dating occasionally but nothing serious as, after two back-to-back relationships with cheaters, I was convinced that all men should f*ck off and die. My status as a late-30s singleton was a concern to many of my family members and well-meaning friends and the topic of far too many conversations. In fact, when I booked the trip, I lost count of the number of time I heard ‘Oh, you might meet someone’.

But I didn’t want to meet someone. At 37, I had met enough someones to know that relationships were not for me. I would lose sight of myself, pretending to be someone I wasn’t just to keep them going.

So imagine my surprise when I said goodbye to two of my oldest and dearest friends, Greek-Australian siblings I’d just spent the week with in Athens and Santorini, and boarded a rickety bus to ride dusty roads to the small port on the southern tip of Santorini – Vlychada – and when I stepped off that bus, I met someone.

‘Are you on the sailing trip,’ said the tall, cute American I’d been watching on the bus.

‘Yep.’

‘Oh, thank god I’m in the right place.’ I smiled at him. ‘Sorry, I’m Ben.’ He held out his hand for me to shake it.

‘Sandy.’ He had a firm handshake and a friendly smile.

‘Should we go find our boat?’ he asked.

‘Sounds good.’

We found the right boat, met the people we’d be sailing with for the next 10 days and embarked on a remarkable friendship. I say ‘remarkable’ because despite have a 10-year age difference, living on different continents and having a vastly different upbringings, professions, and life experiences, I’d met someone who saw the world through similar eyes to mine.

And he was super cute too. See?

Me and Ben, Mykonos 2006

Our friendship turned romantic and by the end of the trip, I knew I wanted him in my life. But how would that work? I lived in Sydney and he lived in St Paul.

Well, we did make it work. We met up to travel together for more than 2 years – Hawaii, New Zealand, a road trip up the West Coast of the US – and then in 2008, we made the (exciting and terrifying) decision to move together to Seattle. There was a ‘hard-to-get’ visa to come by (mine), a job to leave (mine), a job to transfer (Ben’s), and an apartment to find and set up (both of us). There was also a MASSIVE LEAP OF FAITH for Ben to move across the country and me across the world to move in with someone we’d only spent (collectively) 3 months with, face to face.

Cut to 2021.

We’ve lived together in 4 apartments in 2 cities (not counting our 2018 sabbatical, which takes that tally to double digits).

We’ve added dozens more trips to our repertoire (longer international trips, interstate trips to see family and friends and to explore, and shorter local trips to ‘get away’). We’ve taken a year-long sabbatical, living and working in WA, Bali, Seattle, Minnesota, the UK, Edinburgh, and Portugal, and visiting LA, Chicago, Ireland, Wales and Amsterdam.

We’ve tasted wine in regions around the world – Australia, New Zealand, California, the Pacific Northwest, Italy, and Portugal – with many more on our wine tasting bucket list. We’ve been sailing, boating, white water rafting, sky diving, ziplining, abseiling, hiking, water skiing, glacier climbing, snowshoeing, skiing, and paddle-boarding. Ben learnt to surf in Hawaii, but I stayed (safe) on the beach.

We’ve loved 2 kitties – Lucy (sadly, she died in 2015) and Rocky (he found his forever home in 2017)- and are about to bring home a 3rd (disclaimer: no pet’s names have been used in passwords😉). We’ve had several career changes each, and I’ve published 5 books and am about to finish writing my 8th. I’ve gone from being a brunette to a (dark) blonde (really a silver vixen, but not quite ready to embrace that yet) and Ben has gone from a curly-haired cutie to a smooth-headed hottie.

We’ve made lifelong friends together.

We’ve changed, we’ve grown, we’ve evolved and we’ve stayed ourselves.

And the past 2 years, we have spent every day and every night together. And through a pandemic, he is still my person, my someone. There is no other person I could have gotten through this with, babe.

Thank you for your good humour, your sometimes lame, but more often clever jokes, for hugs and laughs and dancing in the living room. Thank you for cleaning our windows so we can at least enjoy the view. Thank you for keeping track of seventy million streaming services and finding fun and interesting things for us to watch. Thank you for letting me teach you backgammon and for the games of gin rummy, even though you almost always beat me. Thank you for reading books about philosophy and thinking and how the mind works, broadening my knowledge and perception both by example and in our fascinating conversations. Thank you for enjoying my cooking, even when I’m phoning it in. Thank you for making the bed each morning, taking out the rubbish, and vacuuming to keep our home a sanctuary. Thank you for walks around the city and listening and understanding when it all gets too much. Thank you for celebrating every minor milestone of my publishing career – and thank you for keeping us well stocked in bubbles for those celebrations.

Thank you for being you. Thank you for being my someone. Happy 15th(!) anniversary.

Catching up with Author Samantha Tonge

The wonderful Samantha Tonge warmly welcomed me to the writing community when I was a debut author and it is a pleasure to welcome her to my blog for a catch up.

Her latest book The Summer Island Swap is a wonderful way to vicariously travel to a far off destination from the comfort of home. So, let’s find out more.

Tell us what inspired you to write The Summer Island Swap.

My son returned from a conservation volunteering trip in the rainforest and I was fascinated by his stories of the work they did there and the rescued animals. And then I saw a photo of him with a monkey virtually wrapped around his head! I knew, in that instant, that I wanted to write a story about rescue animals and the kind of people who saved their lives.

Although I have to admit, I did also listen to tales of tarantulas and basic showers with horror and thought what fun it would be to drop a character into that environment who was expecting a rather more luxurious type of holiday – cue Sarah!

When did you start writing seriously?

When my youngest started school in 2005. Life had been a bit full-on until then although – corny as it sounds – I always knew that, one day, I would write. I was in my late 30s and it took a while, but I finally got my first publishing deal in 2013.

What do you love most about being an author?

Feedback from readers means EVERYTHING. To know that my work might have cheered someone up means the world. And sometimes my books have inspired people to follow their dreams and move abroad, or get help for a health condition, and finding those things out is extremely special.

What are you working on now?

My Christmas 2020 novel. I’m super-excited about it, even though it’s been extremely challenging to concentrate and write during lockdown. The male protagonist – funnily enough, Sandy! – is from Sydney and I hope readers find him as mesmerising as Jess, the female lead, does.

What do you hope readers will take away from The Summer Island Swap?

It’s a story about following your dreams and letting go of the past and I hope readers perhaps get inspired, in some small way, to do that. I faced 8 years of rejection to get published and it was difficult – and Sarah, the main character of this book, has faced hard times too to fulfil her dream which is to be independent and have her own home and a job she loves. So if readers took something from that, it would be brilliant. But more than that, I learnt a great deal about conservation whilst writing this book and doing so increased my love, even more, of the natural world. I hope readers find that interesting as well. However, having said all of that, what matters most to me is that readers simply enjoy the story and manage to escape from the difficult circumstances we are all facing at the moment.

The Blurb

Sometimes the best holidays are the ones you least expect…

After a long and turbulent year, Sarah is dreaming of the five-star getaway her sister has booked them on. White sands, cocktails, massages, the Caribbean is calling to them.

But the sisters turn up to tatty beaches, basic wooden shacks, a compost toilet and outdoor cold water showers. It turns out that at the last minute Amy decided a conservation project would be much more fun than a luxury resort.

So now Sarah’s battling mosquitoes, trying to stomach fish soup and praying for a swift escape. Life on a desert island though isn’t all doom and gloom. They’re at one with nature, learning about each other and making new friends. And Sarah is distracted by the dishy, yet incredibly moody, island leader she’s sure is hiding a secret.

Buy Links

Amazon UK | Amazon AU | Amazon US | Kobo

Follow Samantha

Twitter | Instagram | Facebook

#ArmchairTravel is (literally) the only way to go

chair-270980_1920

So, we are in very strange times. The world has been sent to its room and now we must find a new kind of balance in all that we do, when all that we do is in the confines of our homes.

As a lifelong traveller, someone who longs to go, see, and do, this lockdown means I need to find a new way to travel. And to do that, I will be reaching for the books of my colleagues in the travel fiction and travel biography genres.

I’ll be picking up Frances Mayes and Julie Caplin, Kiley Dunbar, Linn B. Halton, and Paige Toon. There are dozens of us who write about faraway places and evoke just what it’s like to be there.

My next book, That Night in Paris, will take you on a whistle-stop tour of Europe, and the one after that, A Sunset in Sydney, to London, Hawaii, New Zealand, and Sydney. You could even catch up on my first book, One Summer in Santorini, which will whisk you off to the Greek Islands.

So in this unprecedented time when the only way to travel is from the comfort of home, seek out your travel adventures within the pages. And from me is a promise to keep taking my readers to wonderful locations.

See you amongst the pages.

Image by Hans Braxmeier.

Write what you know, right?

In the late 90s, I was a European Tour Manager for a company that specialised in tours for 18-35 year olds. See?

EE 1997-No Contiki

Aside: Gotta love those ‘mom jeans’.

I always said I would never go on one of these tours, let alone work as a TM, but when you have a devastating breakup in Paris from a 5-year relationship and you still want to see all the places you were supposed to see on that trip with your now ex-boyfriend, you book a last-minute tour.

After said Parisian breakup, I arrived home (in London) on the Eurostar, got on the phone, and booked a 2-week trip that started the next morning at 7am. I was back in Paris within 24 hours of leaving and on that trip, I met 5 women who became my bus besties. I am still in touch with Michelle, the tall blonde.

Venice 1996

Months later, while I was living in London and doing day-to-day relief teaching, I saw that the tour company was hiring. “I could do that job,” I thought. I applied, along with a couple thousand others, and after an interview process that would NOT pass muster in this #metoo world, I got a spot on the 7-week training trip.

Surviving that was like getting to the final four of Survivor. It was something akin to bootcamp, but with less creature comforts. We averaged 4-5 hours of sleep a night and we slept in tents – in winter – in the snow. We were quizzed relentlessly on routes, opening times, history, currency conversion, places of interest, and architecture. I made lifelong friends, because, really, in the extreme circumstances, all we had some days were each other.

And then I was placed in charge of my own tour – a 5-week camper – the first of a long season that took me into November. It was one of the best and worst years of my life. The best because of the friendships I made, the places I saw, and the experiences I had. And the worst because … well, that’s another blog post.

But, one of the most incredible things about that time is the material it has given me for my writing.

In my 1st and 3rd books, the main character is Sarah Parsons, and like me, she once ran tours in Europe. When her sister, Cat (the main character is book #2), books a 2-week bus tour around around Europe to escape her lovelorn flatmate, Sarah is able to rattle off the full itinerary without hesitation.

And Cat booking that tour meant that I got to write a 2-week bus tour around Europe!

Cat’s 3 bus besties are inspired by my real life bus besties. Michelle inspired Mama Lou, Weyleen (far left above) inspired Jaelee, and Sophie (second from the left) inspired Danielle. I was able to write the places in great detail, because I’d been to them many (many) times. And I was able to write exactly what it’s like to travel on a bus tour – right down to the (ridiculously) early starts, the heinous ablution blocks, the tight schedules, the fast-but-firm friendships that are formed, and how wonderfully Europe excites and entices the senses.

Here’s a little peek into that world…

It was brilliant fun writing That Night in Paris. Early readers are loving it, and you can preorder now (April 15 for the ebook and June/July for the print version) – just follow the link above.

Ciao!

A love letter to Australia

It is Australia Day 2020. January 26th is a contentious date, because it marks the arrival of the First Fleet―the first European settlers who arrived in Australia in 1788.

Of course, by commemorating this date, Australia ignores that in 1788 we were already populated by hundreds of nations of Indigenous Australians forming the world’s oldest civilisation. January 26th marks the date of an invasion and the beginning of a genocide.

This post isn’t about whether or not we should change the date of Australia Day, although we absolutely should. This post is a love letter to my home, my country, my Australia.

My Australia

My Australia is the person at the tram stop who sees that you’re lost and points you in the right direction with a smile. My Australia is the person at the party who draws the introverts into conversation, and makes sure everyone is heard. My Australia has a hearty sense of humour―often bawdy, always self-deprecating, and sometimes a defence mechanism.

My Australia has skin, eyes, and hair of every colour, and is all genders, faiths, and identities, for My Australia is all of us. We have lived here 60 000 years and 6 days. Our roots are deep and just starting to grow. What we share is beyond cosmetic; it is a connection―to each other, to our land, to our country.

My Australia bears scars―from when we went to wars and defended our shores, from being ravaged by fires, floods, cyclones, and drought, from dark times of hatred, anger, and entitlement, bearing those scars with humility, pride, or shame.

My Australia reaches out when someone is in need. We rally, we show up, we dig into our pockets―we care. We weep together, lean on each other, support and cajole each other. We extend our hands willingly, not afraid of the blisters or back-breaking pain we’ll incur as we rebuild.

My Australia is not the scurrilous and self-serving politicians who banter obscenities at each other and extol the virtues of ‘clean coal’. It is not the hatemongers or nationalists or the bigots. These people are the minority, one that is slowly dying out.

My Australia is adventurous and intrepid, both at home and abroad, with well-stamped passports and battered luggage, with postcards that loved ones have sent from the corners of the earth taped to the fridge, with plans for trips and getaways and long weekends and stay-cations. We must go, see, and do.

My Australia loves the sea, the sun, and the sand, we love the deserts and sunrises and sunsets, we love the rain forests and eucalypts, our native animals* and red, rocky monoliths. We love the bustle and energy of our cities with their sky-scraping towers, and the warm friendly welcome of our country towns, where the local pub feels like home.

My Australia is brilliant, with an intelligent mind, a creative spirit, grit, athleticism, and the ability to see the future. We are doctors, scientists, artists, teachers, communicators, technicians, builders, athletes, and change-makers. We are on the edge of the future, speaking up, taking risks, saving lives with medical breakthroughs and art that feeds the soul. We build, create, and solve. We are―as always―batting far above our average on the world stage, a tiny nation of 25 million achieving wondrous things. We also make the best wine and coffee in the world.

My Australia is home―my home, our home.

And though she is being ravaged as I write this, I have to believe she will recover, wearing her scars with pride as we come together and rebuild.

And on our current bushfire and climate crisis, this image by artist, Melina, evokes what I struggle to put into words.

tribute-art-to-australian-bushfires-1-5e1c2df324674__700

*Except maybe the spiders―we have some really, scary spiders.

The home stretch of sabbatical life

In 1979 and 1980, my dad and his then-partner embarked on long-term travel. Their trip included a 3-month drive from Cape Town to Cairo on a giant pink truck with a handful of other travellers, working on a Kibbutz in Israel, and buying a camper van and travelling in the UK and Europe while they picked up intermittent teaching work.

Essentially, they took a sabbatical, only when I think about what they did and when they did it, theirs was quite a bit more bad-ass than ours. Just quietly, my dad is one of my heroes. This is him.

We are ten months into a year-long sabbatical, and I recently posted on Facebook that I was having a ‘travel weary’ day, that I knew the funk wouldn’t last, but at that moment, I just wanted to go home.

One friend asked, “Where’s that?” and it was a good question. I have talked a lot this year about home being wherever lay my head (and where Ben is). I replied, “Just Australia.”

My dad’s comment on the post drew on his own long-term travel. “Once you sense the finish line, you just want to go. Hang in there.”

A friend, who last year completed a year’s sabbatical with her husband, posted, “Been there. Sending love.”

I don’t post this to complain.

This year has been brilliant. When Ben and I look back on the last ten months and all we’ve seen, the people we have met and reconnected with, the places we’ve been to, and all we’ve done and accomplished, it brings us a lot of happiness – even some pride.

But there are two months left, and I do not want to fritter those away by wallowing in homesickness. Ben and I are united in the belief that we are privileged and brave and must make the absolute most of every day for the next two months.

So, with that in mind, we will continue to get out and see Porto and enjoy the beauty and wonder it has to offer us. We will have a brilliant time with our family in the UK over Christmas and New Year. We will add a side trip or two – Wales looks likely, as does a return to London. We will plan out something spectacular for January (our swan song). And I will finish my third novel.

So again, I do not write this to complain, but to share the reality of sabbatical life. Sometimes, you just want to be home.

 

Traveller vs Tourist: Things that make you go, hmmm

I have long subscribed to being a traveller over being a tourist.

When I ran tours in Europe in the 90s, I’d start each one with the First Day Spiel. It took a couple of hours and ate up the time it took the coach to get from London to Dover. Much of it was around logistics – these were the days before (most people had) mobile phones and the Internet and the Euro. Travel in Europe was tricky at best and tetchy at worst. We changed money, we crossed actual borders, we used fax machines and phone cards. It was HARD.

But, I’d still finish my FDS with a little pontification about the value of being a traveller over being a tourist.

Travellers embrace differences – cultural, culinary, climate, cash. They are patient, observant, engaged and interested. They’ll understand when the Greek ferry is late and when the only thing to eat is day-old bread and iffy cheese. They will try to learn some of the local language, and will be equally thrilled to see locals zipping about Rome on Vespas as the Colosseum.

Tourists, on the other hand, should just stay home and watch Netflix – or perhaps the Travel Channel. They complain, whine, whinge and generally make life miserable for everyone around them.

For the most part, I had travellers on my tours – I am still friends with some of my former clients – but there were the odd tourists.

So, what category do I fit into this year? I have lived like a local, I have travelled, and I have visited family and friends. I’ve been a digital nomad and for most of the year have had my traveller hat pulled firmly over my brow. BUT, there have been a few tourist moments, when I have devolved into an ugly version of my travelling self – when it has all gotten a bit too much and I’ve indulged in a bit of a whinge.

Bali

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Campuhan Trail, Bali

Beach and pool clubs in Bali will try to rip you off when it comes to Happy Hour. It’s 2 for 1 drinks, right? Well, that means you get 4 drinks every time you order 2. So, when Ben and I would each order a cocktail, thinking that they were half-price, WRONG! 4 cocktails would show up and we’d be expected to pay for two (not one). It happened so many times, we started clarifying with staff what we were ordering and how much we’d be expected to pay – and even then, they’d still try to dupe us. We’d just send the drinks back – all 4 of them.

Ireland

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Cliffs of Kerry

I got sticker shock when I got to Ireland – and that was coming from England. Everything – and I mean everything – cost a lot more than what we’d typically pay in the US, the UK and Australia, especially public transport, food, drinks, coffee, groceries, accommodation and care hire – you know, basically everything.

I kept doing the conversions in my head – which travellers definitely don’t do – sending myself into the financial equivalent of a diabetic coma. A day-pass on public transit within the Dublin area capped out at 9 euros-something cents. The equivalent in London is 6 pounds-something pence – for London. By the way, that’s about 2 pounds cheaper to travel around London, one of the world’s largest and (I would argue) best cities.

England

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Prime Meridian, Greenwich

Ahhh, the land of inconvenience. That’s what my dad calls it and he’s English, so he’s allowed. As a half-English, half-American Aussie, I am also (technically) allowed to disparage the sometimes ridiculous inconveniences of England.

Going to the supermarket, for example, is an exercise in futility. Filling the basket or the cart is fine – there are a lot of choices – LOTS – but checking out is AWFUL. At ALDI – yes, the same discount box chain found all over the world – they won’t start scanning the items until you are fully unloaded, because there is literally nowhere to put them once they’re scanned. You must unload, then dash past the cashier with your bags at the ready, so you can catch your groceries as they fly off the conveyor belt. It’s like something out of a Japanese game show.

If this doesn’t appeal to you, try Tesco or Sainsbury’s or Waitrose, where you could gestate a brand new human being while you wait for the seated cashiers to slothenly (I’ve made up this word especially for them) pick up each item, examine it carefully to determine the whereabouts of the bar code, wave it over the scanner and then place it down with far more care than could possibly be required for a box of dishwasher tablets. They should have free WiFi so you can do your taxes while you wait.

The US

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Seattle

This probably won’t come as much of a surprise and I will risk getting slightly political, but entering trump’s America (note the on-purpose lack of proper noun capitalisation), is super NOT FUN for a non-American, especially one who is on sabbatical for a year, writes books, and doesn’t have a current employer.

I saw three immigration agents on the way into the US at LA. Three!

How long am I going to be here? 89 days (the visa waiver program allows 90 days and I am giving myself a day’s buffer). How did I get my employer to agree to let me travel for that long? I don’t have one. That’s when I was redirected to a supervisor.

So, how are you able to afford being here that long? I work for myself. Uh-oh. Back up the truck. Warning, Will Robinson. You’re working here???

That’s when I got to see the secure room where they take your phone off you.

Fortunately, the supervisor’s supervisor was a reasonable human being and he understood that a digital nomad is essentially self-funded, but may work for clients they have back home from time to time. I was released back into the wild that is LAX. 

New Zealand

Ben and Sandy 4

Nothing – it’s perfect. Duh.