Growing Pains of Learning

I recently signed up for MatadorU in an attempt to improve my writing and photography skills. For those who don’t know, MatadorU is an educational community that offers online courses in travel writing, photography and videography. They are a part of the Matador Network, the world’s largest independent travel publisher. According to their website and multiple reviews I’ve read, students who have signed up for their courses have taken advantage of their network and have actually gotten paid gigs.

I’m currently signed up for three of the five courses they offer: Fundamentals of Travel Writing, Advanced Travel Writing and Advanced Travel Photography. How it works is you read a chapter and at the end, you have an assignment based on the lessons within the chapter. You work at your own pace and your work isn’t graded, however, it is critiqued. The people critiquing your work are their published editors as well as your peers.

For my first assignment, I had to write a short introductory autobiography. I’ve always felt that I am a talented writer and was feeling confident submitting my first assignment. I was full of excitement when I received an email notifying me that an editor left me feedback just a few hours after submitting my work. I couldn’t wait to see the praise on my first assignment. I logged into my account, and after a couple of clicks, got served a sweet slice of humble pie. Not what I expected. It stung a little bit but the feedback was very constructive and helpful. I did some revisions and resubmitted which was met with more criticism. By now my ego has suffered a crushing blow and I’m already thinking that maybe I’m delusional for thinking of becoming a travel writer.

As a child it’s OK to be bad at things, its part of learning. But as we get older, we’re expected to be good at everything, and all of a sudden, being bad at something is a tough pill to swallow. Especially if you’ve convinced yourself otherwise. Right now, I feel like one of those contestants on American Idol that thinks they can sing, only to get reality checked and humiliated on national TV.

Feedback is a part of growth and the criticism constantly being given to me will only elevate my writing. I am grateful that people are willing to help me on my journey. I just have to keep remembering that. That being said, I’m not ready to quit and I will continue to work on this assignment until I get it right. After that I will move on to the next one, then the one after that, until I get to where I want to be. 


Saturday Hike in Forks of the Credit Provincial Park

Forks of the Credit Road, is infamous for motorcycle rides in the fall. It is a narrow, two lane road with twists, turns and huge dips that will make your stomach rise to your throat. Last year, I planned on going on my motorcycle, but got into my accident before I got the chance to, so I decided to do the drive this year. It is located within Forks of the Credit Provincial Park in Caledon, Ontario, about an hour north of the city of Toronto. The park is on the famous Bruce Trail which is the oldest and longest hiking trail in Canada as well as the Ontario Greenbelt. I ended parking within the park where I had to unexpectedly pay a machine $5.25 for a display-on-dashboard ticket for 2-hours.

This was a hike I did on impulse therefore didn’t really plan ahead and the only thing I knew about this trail was that there was an old mill and a waterfall somewhere. All I ate prior to the hike was a peanut butter sandwich and all I had on me other than my camera gear was my 1L Nalgene water bottle. I figured it couldn’t be THAT far. The hike to the falls was about 20-30 min (one way). It was very scenic, especially with the fall colours, also very hilly. The terrain was a mix of mud and rocks and was also very uneven at times. I spent about an hour taking pictures at the falls as well as the remnants of the mill which is now only broken pieces of concrete and rebar.

I’m pretty happy with the photos I came up with and it might’ve been my best session to date in my new photographic career. It was especially sweet because it was grey and snowing when I first arrived, not to mention that it was the first snowfall I’ve seen this season. Thankfully, the photo gods blessed me as the sun peaked out of the clouds a few times, long enough for me to take a few long-exposure shots.      treeholevertical blackholesun SetMeFree Leavesandsky hairygrasslumps ForksofCreditFall

My Thoughts on London, UK

This will be my third time starting a new life in a new city, first time abroad. Being born and raised in Toronto, the first time I moved out of my parents house was to Banff, Alberta in 2009. It was definitely different, coming from a big city to a small town, a little too small for my liking. After the ski season, I decided that I wanted to move back to a city but still be surrounded by nature and what a better place to do it than Vancouver, BC! After a couple of years, I decided to move back to Toronto (don’t ask me why). I’ve been here since 2012, getting caught up in the life I thought I left behind when I moved out West. It’s amazing how much of an effect your environment can have on you. Thankfully, I’m going back on the road, this time to London, UK. It will be interesting living in a city a lot bigger than Toronto, since Toronto is the biggest city I’ve lived in. I visited London last month for two weeks and it is a very interesting city to say the least.

Like any metropolitan city, it is very lively to say the least. It is a very busy city and there is always something going on. From their many outdoor and indoor markets to the pub scene, museums and plays, you can always find something to do in London. Whatever you decide to do, the transit system makes everything easily accessible. One of things that stood out to me on my trip to London was the food. The vast majority of the food I tried was exceptionally delicious. Some of the cuisines I tried were: Korean, Thai, Italian, English, Greek, just to name a few.

With bigger cities, come higher cost of living and London was no different. I thought that living in Vancouver was expensive, but London is just on another level. It is a world class city and you really pay the price for it. To give you an idea of how high the cost of living in London is, in my two weeks there, I paid close to £100 in transit alone, granted, I did a lot of travelling within the city. Rent isn’t cheap by any stretch of the imagination, even compared to the likes of Vancouver and Toronto, where the real estate bubble keeps  growing.

Overall, I thought London was a cool city. Thankfully while I was there, I didn’t experience the infamous damp, gloomy, London weather, but having lived in Vancouver, I don’t expect it to be much different. I didn’t fall in love with the city instantly, hell, it wasn’t even close to the top of my list of travel destinations until I met a certain someone who ended up moving there. It definitely has it’s charm and I’m excited to learn and explore the city to a greater extent and eventually find my niche.       

So You Want to Apply For a UK Visa? Here’s How I Did It.

Visa Requirements

I just wanted to note that I am applying from Toronto, Ontario, Canada so if you are from somewhere else, some of this might not apply to you.

The type of Visa I will be applying for is the Tier 5 (Youth Mobility Scheme) Visa which you can apply for if you:

  • want to live and work in the UK for up to 2 years
  • are in between the age of 18-30
  • have £1890 in savings
  • have certain types of British Nationality or from:
    • Australia
    • Canada
    • Japan
    • Monaco
    • New Zealand
    • Hong Kong
    • Republic of Korea
    • Taiwan

However, you aren’t eligible if you have:

  • children living with you
  • children you’re financially responsible for
  • already been in the UK under the scheme or in the former ‘working holidaymaker’ category

For more info on eligibility, you can visit the UK government site here.

Why Am I Applying for a Visa?

To visit the UK for up to 6 months, you are not required to have a Visa but you are also not allowed to work within the country. I applied for this Visa because it allows me to work most jobs and/or be self-employed for up to 24 months. I can also leave and come back in whenever I want within that 24 month period. For more general info about the visa click here.

Applying For My UK Visa

After doing my research, I finally started my visa application which is done online. It was pretty simple as the website does a very good job at walking you through the process. It only took me about 30-45 minutes to complete everything. I needed my passport as well as my parent’s passports.

I start by creating an account, pretty standard username, password, and e-mail confirmation kind of stuff. After that, I had to fill in a bunch of personal information including the address of where I am planning to stay, my passport information as well as my parents’ so have them ready. You will also need to indicate the date you plan on going, however, do not book anything until you receive your Visa. Note that when and if you get approved of your Visa, you will receive a 30 day vignette which you have to use within 30 days of your indicated travel date. If you don’t do this you have to pay a fee of £122 to reapply for another vignette.


There are a couple of fees you must pay online before you send your application. The first fee covers the application process and biometrics and I paid exactly $876.93. The second fee is for the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) and allows you to use their healthcare for the duration of your Visa. At the time of my application, this fee cost me $493.27. The total cost of my Visa application came up to $1370.20.

Scheduling an Appointment for Biometrics

After paying all the fees, I was prompted to schedule an appointment at the UK Visa Application Centre in Toronto located at 208 Bloor St. Suite 601. I was applying on Sunday and scheduled my appointment for the earliest possible date which was the following Tuesday. Once all of this was completed a bunch of e-mail confirmations were sent to me, some of which included receipts for the fees and a reminder of my freshly scheduled appointment.

Documents You Need to Bring to Application Centre

There are a few documents I was instructed to bring with me to my appointment:

  • My current passport with a page that’s blank on both sides
  • a passport size colour photograph
  • a bank statement showing I had 1890GBP in savings
  • my printed Visa application
  • my IHS receipt

You can bring additional documents, but I pretty much just brought the documents I listed above.

My Appointment at the UK Visa Application Centre

In the confirmation e-mail, they said to come on time, not too early because they won’t let you in and not too late because they’ll make you reschedule. I got there a 10 minutes before 12:00pm, my scheduled time. I walk into a tiny room with a security guard sitting at a desk. He asks me for my name and ID and tells me to fill up a sign-in sheet  and hands me another form which I have to fill in once I get into the next room. After signing in, I had to put everything into a locker except for all the required documents. He then ran his metal detector to make sure I didn’t have any weapons on me. Once he realized I wasn’t a terrorist, he pressed a button which unlocked the next door which led to an empty room with a bunch of chairs and three kiosks, one of them manned by a government employee. This room kind of reminded me of a driver’s test centre. I filled out the information sheet given to me and proceeded to see the man sitting at the kiosk. He was a typical government employee, cold and on a power trip. He asked for all my documents, asked me questions, packaged it in a DHL shipping bag, handed it back to me along with a piece of paper, and sent me to an adjacent room where I had my biometrics done. It was a tiny room with a man sitting across a desk which had a computer, printer and a machine which would record my fingerprints. Once I finished getting my fingerprints scanned, he  handed me a receipt which I would have to bring with me when I pick up my passport and visa. You can pay a few dollars to have it delivered or you can pick it up at the same place for free. I asked him how long it would take since I have heard from different people who have gotten their Visas that it ranges from 1-3 months. He told me it would be about 10-15 days. I then asked him out of curiosity if it was possible to get it sooner and he told me if i paid about $250, I could get it in 5-10 days. I decided to wait since I am not in a huge rush but I guess I got lucky because mine was ready for pickup the following Monday!      

Picking up My Visa

As mentioned earlier, I decided to not pay to have my Visa delivered and opted to pick it up instead. Pick-up times for the UK Visa Application Centre in Toronto is between 4pm and 5pm. When I got there, I had to do the whole sign in process again. Once buzzed into the room, I had to show my ID and receipt for my application. The government official handed me a legal envelope, told me to have a seat in the back and check if all the documents are correct. I took a seat and opened the envelope. Inside was the bank statement I provided, my passport with my new UK Visa inside on one of the pages, and a letter detailing the conditions of my Visa and what to do when I arrive in the UK which included when and where to pick up my Biometrics Residence Permit (BRP) which I will need to re-enter the country and more importantly, work in the UK. You choose which post office to pick-up your BRP during the online application process. You must pick it up within 10 days of your arrival within the UK or face a penalty, reduction or cancellation of your leave.


So there you have it. I started my application on a Sunday, submitted all my documents to the UK Visa Application Centre the following Tuesday, received an e-mail stating that my application got approved on Friday, and received another e-mail on Monday stating that my Visa can be picked up. That’s 8 days from applying online to physically holding my Visa with a total cost of $1370.20.

I’m happy to say that it was a pretty easy and painless process and I hope this post makes it even easier for you. So now that I have laid out the whole process, you know exactly what to expect, which means you have one less excuse to put off your plans to live and work abroad!      

One Year Later…

It’s been just over a year since my motorcycle accident. The road to recovery has been long and  very frustrating at times. Getting over the physical limitations and mental roadblocks was and still is challenging. I am not 100% yet, but I still have about six months to fully recover as my orthopaedic surgeon informed me that it takes about a year to a year and a half for a fractured femur to fully recover.

Since it’s been a year, settling my accident benefits is a possibility, which means I can put an end to this chapter in my life. The thing about ending one chapter is that I must start another, which is both scary and exciting at the same time. I have to admit that the thing I’m most uncertain about is what I’m going to do for work. Since I am not 100% I can’t go back to construction because of the physicality of the job, which I actually enjoyed. I guess it’s back to the drawing board.

So here I am trying to figure out what I’m going to do with my life. I recently took up photography and I think I’m going to run with it for awhile and see what happens.

My future isn’t full of uncertainty as I have a lot of things I am looking forward to. I am actually moving to London, UK to be with my girlfriend and to start a new life, something I have grown accustomed to. I have already done it twice, the first time in Banff, Alberta and the second time in Vancouver, BC. I actually just got back from Europe last Saturday and applied for my UK Visa the day after (read my blog post about applying for my UK Visa here). Although I’ve done it before, starting a new life again feels different this time. Maybe it’s because it’s a new country, or because I’m older or maybe it’s because I know I am finally going to be with my girlfriend after being long distance for the majority of our short relationship, I haven’t figured it out yet. Regardless of what the reason is, the feeling is good. I am excited and very much looking forward to it.