From Canada to Belgium, For Love – these words signify the amazing story of Jaimee Nicole, my guest on Inspiring Travel Bloggers. Jaimee is the founder of travel blog Travel Pray Love where, drawing from her experience of moving to a different country, she shares valuable tips on Immigration, Culture Shock, Long Distance Relationships and Pregnancy while abroad. Having met Jaimee on social network and collaborated on a couple of blog posts since January 2016, I have been following her stories through Travel Pray Love. Read on as Jaimee shares more about her fantastic journey with us.
Tamshuk: Jaimee, you are going to be a mother very soon. Many congratulations !!
Jaimee: Thank you.
Tamshuk: Jaimee, the biggest reason why I absolutely love your blog is that you’ve created something unique when it comes to a “Travel” blog. Rather than destination guides, you’ve focused on long-term moves to other countries while touching on some of the emotional journey that comes with it. What made you think of these topics when you started Travel Pray Love?
Jaimee: I think there’s something really special about moving to another country and creating a life that’s not only about adventure and travel but that’s just your life. Your life won’t always be exciting and thrilling – I sometimes write posts about my every-day life here in Belgium because it shows that I’ve really actually started a life in a new country and I’m not just traveling around all the time doing things that not everyone can do. Traveling is so great, and I love travel blogs (I am seriously subscribed to too many to count!), but I think Travel Pray Love offers a realistic view about what expat life is like. Your every-day life can be great too, you don’t always have to be solo-traveling or hitch-hiking or something!
In the beginning of the blog, I tried to do the typical travel blogger “destination”/”top 10” kind of posts. While I do like those, I just realized that I had a unique perspective and I should share it! The more I wrote about expat life, the more I realized that it really is a good niche because (like you said), a lot of bloggers tend to focus on the perpetual travel lifestyle where this blog can focus on building a life in a new country and creating different “home bases” as you travel. I like that Travel Pray Love is a little different now, and I absolutely love that it’s become this place where you can read (and submit) expat guides that many people who move to new places can relate to.
Tamshuk: A very simple question this one which I suppose will have an even simpler answer. Why the name “Travel Pray Love”?
Jaimee: There are a lot of blog names out there (some even similar to Travel Pray Love), and although my blog name does have a resemblance to the EAT PRAY LOVE book by Elizabeth Gilbert (which I LOVE) – the idea behind it is a lot simpler. I just think, if you do these things, you will be happy in live; “Travel far, Pray often And Love deeply”, without limits or expectations.
Tamshuk: Your personal story is an inspiration. You moved from Canada – your home country to Belgium to be with the man you love. Tell us, how difficult or easy decision it was three years back and what kind of emotions you went through while taking that decision?
Jaimee: I think at the time of my first move (when I was 21, back in 2013), I really just kind of jumped in. We had done 1.5 years of long distance (flying back and forth between the countries every 5 or 6 months) and I was just sort of tired of it. I needed a change and that change had to bring me closer to him. I even considered taking au-pair jobs in England or Scotland because they were at least A LITTLE closer to him. It worked out that I was able to get a one year holiday visa to actually live in Belgium and I just sort of went. I think that being so young really gave me the opportunity to not over-think it.
For my second move, that was a no-brainer. My one year visa was almost over in Belgium and I was running out of money – so I moved back to Canada (for 9 months) to re-group, find another visa plan and save some money. In those 9 months it became so clear to me that Belgium had become my home and that I needed to do whatever it took to get back there. It wasn’t just about my boyfriend anymore, it was about the life I’d created in Belgium and I knew that I would move back there (for the foreseeable future) as soon as I could.
Tamshuk: On your blog, you have posted articles on Immigration and Visa processing. The post “Stages of Applying for A Travel Visa” is an amusing piece of writing and yet so true. As an expat(former) and traveler(now) I can easily relate to your Immigration posts. Tell us in a few words, what do you feel was the most difficult part regarding Immigration when you moved to Belgium?
Jaimee: Thanks – I’m so glad you found the Stages of Applying for a Travel Visa post amusing – because I wrote it at a time when I was less than amused with the Belgian immigration system. I think the most difficult thing about immigration is that every single case is different and you will probably be told multiple (different) answers to the same question – which makes things really confusing and very, very stressful.
In 2013, when my first visa was about to expire and my bank account was almost empty, we asked our city hall if there were any other visa(s) we were eligible for at that time. Because my boyfriend was a student in university at the time, we “weren’t eligible” for the common law visa (which we have now). So I moved back to Canada. A few months after I moved back to Canada, I contacted my own government to see what our visa options were, and was told that we were eligible for the common law visa if he had sufficient savings in a bank account (which he had), because all they really needed was proof that I (the sponsored/foreign person) wouldn’t be living off their welfare systems and that my partner could support me if needed. So it was VERY frustrating because I wouldn’t have moved back to Canada if we’d been told we could have applied for this common law visa back at the beginning of 2014 when my first visa was ending. Instead, I moved back to Canada for 9 months and came back to Belgium to start the common law application process in 2015.
Tamshuk: You have written a three-part series on “Canada to Belgium Culture Shock”. Somehow I feel the words “Culture Shock” have a mostly unfavorable reputation among travelers, expats and immigrants. Name one instance of “Culture Shock” that you found really pleasant when you experienced it in Belgium.
Jaimee: I really think too, that the words “culture shock” come off as sounding negative and I feel like (with all the “complaining” I do on the blog about Belgian culture shock) – that I’ve perpetuated this! It’s totally not true!
While there are many things that were happy surprises to me when moving to Belgium, I think the biggest one (that’s had the most impact on my life) is that there’s a really positive atmosphere here when it comes to finances. People are really smart with their money and it’s starting to rub off on me and I love it! I came here with a ton of Canadian college debt and an almost maxed out credit card – and I’ve not only significantly paid down my debts but have actually built a savings account (which is something I’ve never had in my entire life)
Tamshuk: Long distance relationship is something that does not work out for many folks. I myself have been heart-broken when I was in a long distance relationship. But for travelers like us, LDR is almost unavoidable at some point in our lives. What is the most important factor, according to you, that makes a long distance relationship work?
Jaimee: (Oh, I’m sorry to hear that it didn’t work out for you!) I definitely think that it’s not something that’s for everyone, and I really know that sometimes love just isn’t enough. You can have all the right stuff – the chemistry, the love, the romance, the passion – and sometimes geography is the only thing that stands between two people. I think the most important factor in a long distance relationship (either a romantic one or a platonic one) is patience and realism. I think a lot of people might say the key is communication, and don’t get me wrong, communicating is important – but I think you need to be really realistic with yourself and with each other about how long immigration processes can take and when you will be able to be together. I know a lot of LDR couples who have thought they can just move to another country and live together and it’s very rarely that easy. Having those kinds of unrealistic expectations (on yourself and your partner) is really tough to get out from under.
Another thing that is really helpful is spontaneity. When I found out I had to move back to Canada (which meant months more of long distance for us), we booked a spontaneous weekend in Paris before I left. Sometimes you have to just forget all the immigration and the distance troubles and get back to what makes you click as a couple – and for us that has always been traveling and having fun.
Tamshuk: Your readers were so glad when you started the “Pregnancy” section on your blog and you’ve shared some wonderful tips/advises through those posts. What is that one most important post that you want expecting couples to read as a first thing on your blog?
Jaimee: I think the most important post on pregnancy I have made so far is the very first one I wrote, which is How to Decide Where to Have Your Baby If You’re Living Abroad. My boyfriend and I decided back in October of 2014 that we wanted to start a family, and we spent months talking about WHERE that family would start. Obviously we are able to move with the child if we wanted to, but where you start your family (where your baby is born) has a HUGE impact on not only your lives but your child’s life. Belgium, Canada….it was a tough choice – both have positives and negatives. What kind of passport the baby will have, what nationality the baby will have, how easily the child will be able to attend schools and travel – all of those things were things we talked about for months beforehand and I think it’s something every international couple has to address.
Tamshuk: And one fun final and quick question. Canada or Belgium?
Jaimee: (HA!) I LOVE this question! I get asked by my boyfriend’s family all the time why we chose to live in Belgium instead of Canada (even for the sheer size of it, Belgium is so tiny comparison). I think both have their merit for different things and for a long time I tried to decide which felt more like “home” and which I liked better – but I’ve realized that I love both equally for a multitude of reasons. I find myself going to either country for certain things these days. I generally go to Canada in the winter because I miss the crisp, cold weather compared to Belgium’s sometimes gloomy and inconsistent weather. But when it comes to food and drink, I’d give it to Belgium hands down (beer, fries, the bread, the chocolate…) – how can I not?
I think both places have so much to offer and I’ve learned to take the best and leave the worst from both places – it’s the best thing about have your home in two different countries!
Thank you Jaimee for sharing so much. Your story is an inspiration to folks like me who believe that there is nothing better and beautiful than Love. Your blog – the theme, design and posts – actually does justice to the words “Travel Pray Love”. I will follow your stories as I have always done and look for more inspiration. Wishing you Good Luck for December 🙂 🙂