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Sometimes I know I’m delusional.. other times I like to believe that unrealistic dreams can come true. But for them to have any chance, you must take the first step.

For some it’s winning the lottery, losing weight, getting married, starting your own business .. for me.. it’s to travel the world on someone else’s money. Each of these requires a starting point.  Purchasing a ticket. Committing to a regime. Allowing yourself to be open to opportunities. Taking risks.  For me it’s a little bit of each of the last two.. being open to opportunities and taking risks.

So after putting myself out there to be critiqued by others (this blog does that) and opening myself and sharing my dreams..I put a wedge in the door on December 17th and submitted my entry in World Nomads 2012 Travel Photography Scholarship.. the prize… a trip to Oman with the opportunity to work alongside Australia’s own and world reknown photographer, Jason Edwards – How could I NOT enter..

To check out my pictures that are keeping my foot in the door and it slightly ajar, click here or copy and paste the link below into your browser:

http://journals.worldnomads.com/jean12/photos/36335/Australia/My-Scholarship-entry-A-place-I-have-visited

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Making tracks across the U.S.A.

Solo travel can teach you many lessons, but the biggest ones it has taught me are to ‘Trust your Gut’ and to ‘Take a Chance’.

For me learning to trust my gut has been a huge learning curve.  Growing up I know that I was not the most self-confident person and quite often relied on others for direction and to make the decision for me.  But travelling has changed that and so often it’s one of the hardest things to listen to.  When your mind is telling you one thing and your gut is telling you something else. It’s hard to hold true and follow that gut feeling.

Anyone who knew me growing up knows that I did not take chances.  I was NEVER the first to do something, nor the second.. perhaps maybe the third or the fourth, but preferably always the last.  I NEVER did anything that would put me out on a limb, out by myself, rather more preferring to stay as one of the crowd.  While some of this is still true today, there is a higher chance that I will be tempted to take the plunge.  And I know now from experience that if I trust my gut when I take a chance… I’ll probably be ok.

Packing up and moving myself to another country and starting fresh was the first chance I took.  The second, stepping out and taking the chance to put myself out there to meet total strangers knowing that I might not have anything in common with them and the third? The third was taking a chance to drive halfway across the country with someone I had only met not eight weeks earlier and with whom I had only spent a couple of hours (at the most) with.

What makes someone do this?

The chance of adventure.  The chance to do something that you might never have the opportunity to do again. The chance that you might miss out on something. The chance that you might see something that you would never have otherwise seen. The chance to see it all. But mostly it’s the chance that if you don’t, you will live to regret it the rest of your life and forever ask yourself, ‘what if?’ and tell yourself ‘if only’.

When Laura first mentioned moving to Ontario and the potential of a road trip, I know that my eyes lit up (who doesn’t love a road trip) and I knew that I’d be jealous of her if she did it without me. It’s strange thinking about how easily it is to become jealous of someone you hardly know, simply because they are going to get the opportunity to do something that you know you could only dream of.   So when she mentioned that she needed company and a copilot for the drive, I told her, without hesitation, that I was in.

Preparation of trips can be consuming.  They can also be stressful and loads of fun. Laura can probably tell you a different story but when you email each other a potential road map and your trip routes are almost identical.  I think that you are pretty much on the same page. It almost felt too easy.  We never had any discussions on ‘what if’s’, and the only time I considered the potential of this trip not going to plan was the night before we left when I drew the conclusion that no matter what happened and where we parted company, as long as I had my credit card and could get to a bus station or an airport, I could get back to Calgary no problems.

Thankfully I can say it was the only time I had that thought and now fourteen months on, it is almost a distant memory and one that I am almost ashamed to admit.

In eight days we covered eight American states, including; Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan and the two Canadian provinces of Alberta and Ontario. But within the confined space of the car we also covered a lot more. We talked and we sat in silence.  We sang and starred in awe. We laughed (OMG did we laugh) and every day I became more thankful for this road trip in more ways than one.

Since that moment we pulled away from the curb in Calgary I have been thankful that I chose to take the chance.

 

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Ree and Jono double checking the tubes to make sure we were all set to go!

Sept 2010 –

For some people being away from family can be a blessing.. for others like me.. it’s a tad harder.

Yes there are always exciting things to tell them, but it’s always hard being that person living so far away when something exciting (or mundane) happens back home that you miss out on.

Thankfully for me I had Ree and Jono just down the road from me in Florida.. ok, well it wasn’t ‘quite’ just down the road.  It was still 4,477 kms away (according to google maps), but it was definitely a lot closer than the family back home. So in September 2010 I diverted via Las Vegas to Orlando and was met at the airport by not only Ree and Jono, but also ‘bump’.

With only 6 weeks between us in age and being cousin’s, Ree and I were pretty much inseparable growing up. Plus being the only girl in my family and practically living at her house when Mum and Dad were in Melbourne for Dad’s treatment meant that Ree was the closest thing that I had to a sister – so really visiting with them really was being with family.

Ree and Jono had been living in Gainesville for a couple of years so it was good to have some personal guides for the 7 days.  Being a University city (Go Gators Go!!) there wasn’t too many touristy things to do ‘downtown’, so after exploring Paynes Prairie in the morning in search of Alligator’s on the Saturday, Ree and Jono decided that we should tube down the Ichetucknee River.

Yes.  Tube down a river in a state that is WELL known for its Alligators!!.. I was slightly skeptical to say the least, but they both told me that I had nothing to worry about and that it would be a relaxing afternoon.. agh they were so right (except for those damn water snakes!!).

So after stopping along the road to collect our tubes, we hit the Ichetucknee Springs State Park, untied our tubes from the roof of the car, walked to the river and launched ourselves for an afternoon of ‘floating ‘.  It is one of the many occasions that I wish that my small point and shoot camera was waterproof.  The water was crystal clear and you could see EVERYTHING .. small fishes, the protected reeds, fallen trees… and I swear (Jono) small water snakes.  Thankfully though no Gators!!.

I couldn’t think of a more perfect way to enjoy our surroundings and being together than simply floating down the river on a sunny day, catching up on lost time and being with those that you love.

Of course the true highlight of the trip was just spending time with Ree and Jono and getting excited with them about the impending arrival later that year of ‘bump’.. now known as Master Jedadiah James.

I can’t wait to get home to Australia and visit them again.. after all young little Jed will almost be two .. and two years  is just a tad too long not to see your bestfriend..

and yes.. I couldn’t write this post without adding a second photo 🙂

Ree and I in St Augustine, Florida

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I don’t even know where to begin this blog!.

Everything about today has seemed dark and gloomy and honestly… the longer it went on.. the worse it got.

Ok, it’s true.  My secret is out.  Not everything about living overseas, on the opposite side of the world is all rosy and amazing.  There are dark days too.  Days when you wish that it wasn’t a 24 hour plus flight home.  When you wish that you could simply skip home for the weekend, get your family, your friend and your Mum’s fix of happiness, joy and laughter and return back to what is, otherwise an awesome opportunity.  But it’s simply not that easy.

I never expected it to be, and trust me, there have been many a dark days in the last 2 and a half years.  I’ve just never really spoken openly about them, nor have I allowed my family to see just how much it affects me.. perhaps today is some kind of reckoning that I am feeling. Perhaps I’m just sick of having this pent-up feeling inside of me and I simply wish that I could jump in a car and drive down the road, around the corner.. 10 – 20 hours, just to see those that I love… trust me.. if it was that easy and cheap.. I would do it.

To be able to meet my beautiful new niece who is now 5 months old, who is smiling and being pestered by two bigger and loving brothers each and every day.  To join in the 10-year-old birthday celebrations for my not so young niece who is growing up oh so quickly and to be able to celebrate my nephews 18th birthday.  To go to the footy each weekend and watch my nephews run around in the mini’s, or play their first U’16’s game.  To watch my nieces play their first game of A Grade netball, and to be standing beside them on the court too.. teaching them, guiding them.. to see them in their dance recitals… to simply “just be there”.

To witness friends getting married, to see the joy in their lives, to see their families growing and to meet and know their children.  To revel in every special occasion that I miss out on, simply because I choose to live where I am….

I am left wondering each and every day that I feel like is, what is harder??..

Knowing what you are missing out on, or missing out on what you don’t know?

There is no easy answer..

If I had not come here, had not stayed as long as I have, I would not know the beautiful and amazing people that I know now. The friends that make living so far away from home bearable, the friends that have become my family.  I would not have seen many amazing places, taken chances, gotten lost and re-discovered myself.

I would not have been able to share some amazing times with my Mum, brother, sister-in-law and nephews that visited, nor seen the awe in their eyes with the amazing scenery that is Southern Alberta.  Not had the chance to see the joy and excitement of my nephews when they experienced Canadian culture for the first time, saw bears, climbed mountains, watched ranch work that they had never seen before, nor gotten to know them in a different light away from their comfort zone, away from the farm.. I truly have something that only Aunty Jean can know.. memories that they will have forever..and more importantly memories that I will share with them forever..

I look at the photo’s on my wall and am reminded how lucky I am. So many amazing memories with people that I love and cherish.. Dog sledding, New York, Vegas, Florida, Pike Place, Yellowstone, Mount Rushmore, Lake Louise, Cross Country Skiing, Snowboarding, concerts, Havana, Mountains after Mountains of stunning scenery, amazing rivers and lakes, mixed in with loved ones, family, friends, brothers, sister-in-laws, nieces and nephews…it’s what traveling and family are all about..

I truly am lucky…

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xN

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‘You can tell the Amish houses, they don’t have power connected to them’.

‘Heading Home’
A traditional Amish buggy heading home after the morning in town

We had just turned off Hwy 90 and were on the last stretch of our cross USA road trip, having driven that morning from Milwaukee, skirting Chicago and were about to arrive in Shipshewana, Indiana for our last night on the road.

About 10 years ago my brother, sister-in-law and I planned the ultimate road trip across the USA.  Land in LA, hire the ‘American Dream’ RV and set out across the deep south before climbing northwards to New York and then heading back across the top of the States and taking in parts of Canada.

Needless to say.. the trip never eventuated (not for lack of wanting on any of our behalf’s, especially Jase’s), but something in the planning of that trip drew my attention to the Amish people and their way of life.  The simplicity it held.

I remember seeing a picture of a black square covered-in horse-drawn buggy and men, women and children being dressed in what could only be described as ‘old style’ clothes and being totally intrigued with how they continued to live this way in the current world and one of my wishes was to travel to and stay in one of these Amish communities.

An Amish Boy sells Popcorn to tourists at the local markets

When the opportunity came up to do the cross American road trip with Laura, I had to mention my wish to visit Amish country…and to my surprise, she too was keen to check it out, so the detour to Amish country in Northern Indiana was born.

After arriving around 5pm and checking into the Farmstead Inn and Conference Centre we headed out for a hearty Amish meal at the Blue Gate Restaurant and were not disappointed.. plateful’s of fried chicken, roast beef and fresh homegrown veggies… and to top it all off, amazing slices of Apple and Blueberry Pies for dessert.  To say that we both left full would be an understatement!!

Is your mouth Watering??? Mine is!!
Our Blueberry and Apple Pie slices… to die for!!

Waking up to the clip-clop of hoofs on Saturday morning it was as though we were living in a dream.  The town was busy with both tourists visiting for the weekend and locals coming to town for their weekly outing and grocery runs.

After deciding our plans for the day we ventured to a little hut situated in the parking lot of Yoder’s Shopping Centre, in front of the horse hitching posts, and booked an hour’s private buggy tour to clip-clop like the locals around the Amish Countryside.  For $20 each, our local Amish guide Ernest (from memory) explained to us about the Amish way of life, the significance of the simplicity of dress to ensure that all members remain equal and how over the years families have had to ‘adapt’ to changes in order for their farms to continue to be competitive in today’s fast paced world.

Horse and Buggies at the hitching posts @ Yoder’s Shopping Centre

While many families continue to do as much as they can manually, cows are now beginning to be milked with electronic milking machines and the odd tractor is seen in fields planting and harvesting crops of corn or carting hay to feed the animals.  While these modern-day elements are starting to creep into Amish life, they are doing their best to ensure that their traditions continue in every other sense.

With just the sound of the horse’s hooves on the pavement, the back roads of Shipshewana are magical in every sense.  A chance to see Amish daily life in action…. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves…..

‘Waiting for the Master’
Horse-drawn buggies tied up hitched while their masters do their weekly shopping

Laura and I enjoying our buggy tour

Corn field outside Shipshewana

An Amish women collects her morning mail

The view from inside our buggy, with Ernest at the reigns

My Favorite..
An Amish Dad and his daughter ride home from town

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