Siobhan, tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from, what do you do for a living and for fun and what was your passion growing up?
I was born in Zambia, but my family moved to Zimbabwe (where my Mum is from; my Dad is Irish) when I was a baby. We lived in Zim until I was eight, when we moved to Johannesburg. I went to a local junior school, but was sent to high school in Natal. I think I was set up from an early age to want to keep moving. Since leaving school I have lived in various parts of SA (East London, Durban, Pietermaritzburg, Jo’burg, Pretoria, Cape Town) as well as doing two stints in the UK (a year and 9.5 years).
I am a journalist, which is very well suited to my lifestyle. I feel like I am always tapping into new experiences and interesting stories.
What do I do for fun? …. mmmmm … I would say, live a full and exciting life.
I see you’ve done a lot of traveling in South Africa. If there’s a place, that’s off-the-map – a hidden gem of sorts, what is it, and why is it so great?
Just before I left SA at the beginning of this month I did a 5000km road trip around the country, saying goodbye to family, friends and places. South Africa is made for road trips! It is difficult to pick a gem but read about my trip on www.BacktoSA.com and you’ll see that there was at least a gem a day, lots of them rough diamonds, the best kind of gems.
You’ve recently decided to pack your belongings and travel across the Americas and Europe. What’s that been like so far? What’s has been the biggest challenge?
This journey started with me losing my job in the recession, which was a bit challenging. Once I had been chucked off the treadmill, though, I decided it would be better to stay off it until it started starts moving again properly. Hence the sabbatical, starting with doing a TEFL course in Costa Rica. The course has been extremely hard work, which I had not expected. It has been fascinating too, and Costa Rica is so interesting! Read about out adventures on www.LeavingSA.com.
Skipping across so many countries, how do you manage your money? Do you find your bank(s) easy to work with?
I think it takes a while to ‘train’ your bank, to get them used to the fact that you don’t have an ordinary life. They like to put people in one of two boxes: ordinary worker bees (vanilla, stable, predictable) or fabulously rich (do whatever you like). I am neither.
I have had my bank in the UK put a stop on my account a few times because they see what they think in ‘suspicious activity’. Sorry, but that’s me. I wish I was an account holder in a truly international bank.
I have a property in the UK and one in SA (I have tenants in both), but am not (yet) cash rich. There are times when I need to move money between my SA and UK accounts and you would think I was trying to buy a nuclear missile.
I am with Standard Bank in SA and have a personal banker there, which makes life so much easier. I am moving to Spain at the end of April for at least 6 months, probably longer. If I settle there, a personal banker will be one of the first things on my list of things I must acquire.
Where do you say, you’ve found the locals the most welcoming? Why do you think so?
I have found people pretty welcoming everywhere. Right now, I can’t think of a place that was unwelcoming, although the Japanese can be pretty difficult to read.
As we all know, it makes a huge difference if you try to speak the language a little, just a few apologetic words in their language and you are away (in yours). If not, there will probably be an Aussie or a Nigerian nearby to help translate.
Have you lived in London for more than 3 months? Where did you stay? Do you miss it?
I spent a year in London when I was in my early 20s, and then went back ‘for a year or so’ later in my 20s and stayed for 9.5 years.
I lived all over: East Finchley, Muswell Hill, Earlsfield, Fulham, Hackney, Wood Green and, finally, Raynes Park. Raynes Park, or Van Raynes Park as it is affectionately known to the many SAfricans who live there, it is a fantastic village-like suburb 18 minutes by train from Waterloo and a 15 minute walk from Wimblefontein, home of the All England Lawn Tennis Club.
Have you had any hassles with getting your visas? What’s been your experience with home affairs in the various countries?
No visa problems so far as I am one of the lucky ones, with SA and Irish citizenship. One comment about SA Home Affairs, though, like the SA Receiver of Revenue, Home Affairs (in Cape Town at least) has really got their stuff sorted. Now if only SA can get the driver licensing disaster sorted out ordinary South Africans might all be able to get the right papers for everything.
Travelling as a woman, do you have any advice or tips for other ladies travelling alone or in a small group? Any hair-raising tales?
A simple strategy has worked for me so far: Don’t be afraid and don’t be a fool.
Do you have any parting words for people migrating back to SA or leaving South Africa in search of work, fun or adventure?
Get out there and live life! Pile up those experiences and taste everything you can, but be sure to come back home and share it with us. There is so much to experience out there and there are so many lessons to be learned by taking the road less travelled (and taking off you training wheels), but there is also nothing like home.
I will be back. I have not visited a single city that comes anywhere near Cape Town.