This post was originally written in Sydney, Australia on June 2, 2014, the second day of winter.
This is Sydney today, the second day of winter, and it’s 21ºc. There are no thick jackets. There are no scarves. There is sunshine. The beach is still warm. Today, people are going on walks, playing sports, and having picnics. Tonight, the streets will be busy, the pub patios will be bustling, and the clubs will be crawling.
Let’s contrast this to winter in my home city of Toronto, Canada. Average temperatures during the winter hover around 0ºc, but can go much lower in the evenings, and go as low as -30ºc with windchill factors.
December brings an average of 2.4 sunshine hours per day. The trees are dead. The sidewalks are coated in slippery ice and slush. The skies are grey. In fact, everything is grey. The parks, the lakes, the roads, the buildings – all grey from slush and snow. The bottoms of your pants and your winter boots are caked in snow and ice salt. People are wearing thick jackets, layered with sweaters, and accompanied by scarves, hats, and gloves. Any decision to go from one building to another, such as your house to the mall, is weighted against the stinging pains from the wind chills that will hit your face as soon as you open the front door.
Beyond going from point A to point B, actually spending time outside is out of the question. Winter weight gains from inactivity are common, as we instead stay inside and watch TV. Studies show the weather makes Canadians cry more, and Google searches show seasonal trends in mental illness. With so little sunshine, you can expect it to be dark during your commute both to and from work. When I worked in an office in Toronto, I would only get a few glimpses of the sun each day by looking out the window. The entire season is simply depressing.
Finally, Spring rolls around between April and May, and the 10ºc mark is hit, which for Sydney is the evening temperature in the dead of winter. Canadians rejoice and walk the streets in their t-shirts and jeans in the coldest temperatures that Sydney ever sees.
When summer finally hits Toronto around June, temperatures hover between 20ºc to 25ºc, and life in the city feels amazing. There are markets and festivals every weekend. Restaurant patios are open. There are buskers in the streets. The beaches are full of people. All the summer sports, carnivals, and festivals are crammed into these few short months. Everything about day-to-day life, both outdoors and indoors, in work and in relaxation, is far more enjoyable in the summer. Beautiful weather simply makes life better.
But before we know it, we go back to Winter, and repeat this depressing cycle all over again.
Cold winters are an unavoidable aspect of life in Canada, yet Canadians complain about it every year. The beauty of a fresh snowfall quickly loses its charm as it turns to a dirty slush. We go on expensive week-long escapes to tropical resorts in order to keep our sanity for another few months. Yes, winter sports are fun, and a walk through the park (without windchill) can be beautiful, but if we’re honest with ourselves, this is a small fraction of the time we spend in the winter. What if it didn’t have to be that way? What if you could capture that energized feeling that you get when summer finally rolls around, where it feels like you can accomplish anything, and keep it with you all year round?
My friends, this is no mere dream.
Since living in Sydney, Australia since last July, my everyday life has never been happier. I love the feeling of stepping outside for the first time each day and taking a breath of fresh air. I jog in the mornings next to a beach, not on a treadmill in a gym full of recycled air. I get to the city on a ferry and watch sailboats from the outside deck as a cool breeze passes by me. When I go out to dinner, I always sit at the outdoor tables. I’ve never paid coat check during a night on the town, because those simply don’t exist here. I watch the sun set during picnics in the park with wine and cheese. On weekends, I go camping next to beautiful, empty beaches. On Monday morning, I come back to work energized from my amazing weekend, then get to work while the sun shines and the birds chirp all day long. And best of all, I do it all 365 days a year.
Imagine sitting on the edges of heaven, being handed a map and having the option of choosing where you were going to be born. Out of all the countries in the world, who in their right minds would choose to live in a climate like Canada’s?
But as an adult, you do have the option. A wise friend once told me that being born in a developed country is like winning the lottery. No matter what your profession, if you want it badly enough, you can save your money and go somewhere else.
It took a year without a Canadian winter for me to realise what a toll it took on my everyday happiness. Now I could never bring myself to settle for it again. My wife and I have said to each other that after seeing what an active outdoor lifestyle children have in Australia, we would actually feel guilty raising kids in Canada and knowing what their life could have been like here.
But you don’t have to go to the other side of the world for better weather.
- Vancouver, British Columbia boasts mild winters and little snowfall, and winter sports are just a few hours drive north to Whistler. It’s a huge step up in lifestyle from the rest of the country, and any Canadian can pack their bags and move there right now – no emigration required. I have many friends who have moved here, both from Quebec and Ontario, and they have no intention of returning to the bitter winters in the rest of Canada ever again.
- Canadians can easily work in the U.S. provided you have the right profession. Apply for a job online (or go there as a tourist with some resumes), then show up at the border with proof of your job offer. Living and working in California sounds splendid to me.
- Canada has agreements with countries all over the world for working holiday visas, where the only requirement is being under 35 years old (here is another great resource on this topic). If your employer overseas likes you and you want to stick around, you can then seek out work sponsorship for a more permanent stay. Many countries, like Australia, offer programs where you can extend your stay if you are willing to work in more remote areas.
- If you have a lucrative degree, consider looking into international opportunities online, where employers frequently will help in your immigration process. If you don’t, consider volunteer opportunities.
- If you already know where you want to live, skip the job opportunities and go straight to applying for permanent residency!
This blog post is not a critique of my beloved home country of Canada, nor is it meant to brag about my life in Australia. It is a call to action, because everyone has the power to change their own life. Every Canadian asks themselves at winter time “Why do I live here?”, but usually they continue to grin and bear it. I’m trying to tell you that taking action on that question could be the greatest thing you ever do in your life.
Be it backpacking the world or living somewhere beautiful, the message is the same. You only have one life, and it’s up to you to grab it by the reigns and make it the best it can be.