This post is way, way, way overdue!!

“Joan, how in the WORLD do you travel so much??”

I get asked this ALL the time. But due to laziness I typically give one-sentence non-committal answers (“I might as well”, “It’s convenient”, etc). If I sense crassness, however, I just ignore that person altogether  (“How do you afford all of your trips???” is a popular one). The latter is extremely irritating for me, but in general, I think people just ask out of curiosity and not because they look down on you and/or are judgmental.

I don’t claim to be a travel “guru” and neither am I trying to tell people what to do. The point of this post isn’t to urge you to travel.. It’s about my personal experience taking a gap year, so what worked for me may not for you. With that said..

1. Money matters, but so does time

I wish I could answer with a simple “I’ve got loads of money”.

The first issue that people bring up is always the green. I’ve had many people comment that I must be “baller” to be traveling so much.. but that is not the case!!! I can’t stress that enough. Obviously, if you want to be vacationing in a high class yacht on a private island nibbling caviar for breakfast, then money is a huge factor. But the world can be explored on all budgets, you do not need to be filthy rich! I can personally attest to that. With the exception of my exchange term abroad, about 95% of my first major trip was funded by my personal savings accumulated from part-time jobs during my final year of undergrad.

All my subsequent trips have been self-funded. For others, it may take a slightly longer time to save (during that last year of undergrad, I worked almost 40 hours a week on top of full-time studies).. but bottom line is, it can be done!!

I work incredibly hard to fund my travels, so I find it so so so insulting when people assume and claim that I squander my parents’ money. I didn’t (Even if I did.. how does that affect your life? It doesn’t). Some people spend money on cars, designer bags, etc.. I choose to spend mine on travel.. and ok FINE.. the occasional bag.

I guess there are people out there who save every penny.. But my point is, I don’t judge your lifestyle so don’t judge mine.

More important than money, however, is time. A lot of people prefer to delay travel because they’d rather get settled in ‘adulthood’ and invest in a home earlier, for example. I agree on the importance of these investments, but I chose the longer route (a ‘gap year’, if you will) instead. Although money is incredibly important, I valued my independence and youth much more. For me, that’s what it all came down to. I asked myself:

“Is it more important to ‘settle’ into my adult life now, or postpone that for a few years and do what I can’t do later, now?”

When put in that way, I chose the latter in a heartbeat. It’s what I personally value, and no one can tell me that is right or wrong. To me, it came down to simple arithmetic: Aside from my vacation days, what time will I have? After several years of working, there’s the mortgage, marriage, and the possibility of kids. Then what time will I have?

Sometimes I wonder what my life would be like if I saved all my money instead of spending it on all those events, plane tickets, hostels/hotels, etc. But it never amounts to regret.. I’m 24 years old, at the height of my youth, health, beauty, and energy. I will never get that back again. Money can always be made, but time can never be bought.

There are plenty of 40 somethings who have incredibly illustrious careers and six figures in their bank accounts. But how often do you see those guys abandoning their responsibilities and backpacking across a continent? Almost never. With every year that passes, responsibilities accumulate and things that are not as pressing and pertinent (i.e. travel) get pushed to the back burner.

I guess I can’t speak for all professions, but if you know of one that offers a high salary whilst allowing me to jet off for months on end, please leave a comment below.


2. Working and studying abroad

In essence, what I did was take two gap years without even realizing it until after the fact.

If I were always based in Canada, I wouldn’t have been able to travel so much. On average, flying from Toronto to Europe costs $600+ round-trip, $1200+ to Asia, $2000+ to Australia, etc. To me, those costs are exorbitant and I’d be only able to afford maybe 1/10th of the places I’ve visited.

Save for traveling to the States and Central America, Toronto isn’t exactly the most strategic spot for international travel. In the summer of 2010, Jacky and I spent a month in Germany as camp counselors/English instructors. We only got a weekly stipend for our work, but we were having so much fun that money was not relevant at the time. Prior to the camp, we traveled to Spain, South Africa (for the World Cup), and France. After the camp, I visited Austria, Italy, Turkey, and Egypt. All for a fraction of what it would have costed me if I were to fly direct from Canada.

Later in the same year, I found a great opportunity teaching English in China. The salary was below average for Canadian standards, but I was able to live very comfortably in Changchun, China. I only meant to stay for one semester, but ultimately decided to extend my contract since I was having such a blast. Working as a teacher is great because you basically have four months of vacation, during which you can.. guess what? Travel! During my 1.5 years in Asia, I traveled to: China (Beijing, Shanghai, Xi’an, Hong Kong, Macau, Guilin, Harbin, Chengdu, Dalian), Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Laos, Burma, Singapore, Malaysia, India, and South Korea. You won’t be able to guess how much (or rather, little) I spent on flights. I’ll elaborate on that in point #3.

During my time in China, I applied for graduate school in Switzerland and got accepted. Instead of leaving for Europe right after China, I had a few months of down time to visit family and friends back in Canada. During that time, I worked a few part-time jobs just to make sure money was still flowing lol. And off to Europe I went.. As far as finances go, that was probably my lowest point. I was really lucky that my parents were able to lend me money for my masters (not only was tuition costly, but Switzerland has one of the highest standards of living in the world). I am thankful for their loan.

Although I really wanted to travel Europe, that was obviously not my main reason for being there. My program was unique because it was relatively short (7 months in the classroom), and I was really lucky to have found a contract job at the International Olympic Committee right away. I recouped my costs quite quickly and throughout the year, was able to travel to:  Portugal, Spain (at least 5 times lol), France, Italy, England, Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Turkey, Russia, Denmark, Sweden, Estonia, and Finland. TL;DR: Regional travel saves you money.


3. Low-cost carriers are the way to go

Not too much to say here. In Asia, AirAsia is the way to go. Jacky and I booked way ahead of time during one of their super sales, and we spent less than $500 CAD/each on our Asia flights that summer. Since AirAsia is based out of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, we had to stop there at least 4 times for the cheapest connecting flights. I believe our most expensive ticket was the flight from Malaysia to India, which amounted to only $80!!

In Europe, Ryanair and Easyjet are king. I’ve only flown with the latter, and aside from them canceling one of my flights (shame that I missed out on seeing Monaco!), they’re great for budget travelers. You can easily get a one-way flight for as cheap as $50. The only annoying thing with a lot of these airlines is the fact that there are fees for checked luggage. But if you’re a light packer, you shouldn’t have a problem.


4. Having a supportive travel buddy

Some people don’t like to travel alone. I don’t mind it so much (My trips to Egypt, Turkey, Hungary, Ireland, etc were all done solo), but if I could have it my way, Jacky would accompany me everywhere I go :) We can get along for the most part, share similar interests and eating habits, and are generally able to stand each other for extended periods of time.

Aside from him being the best thing that’s ever happened me, I love him that much more because he is supportive and encouraging when it comes to me going on the odd trip here or there. As cheesy as this sounds, he’s really opened my outlook on life and exposure to the unknown. Our nighttime chats are often about places to go next, things to try, food to eat.. I don’t know what I’d do if my bf grumbles every time I suggested going somewhere new :(

Along the same thought, I have a lot of friends who can’t be away from their S/Os for long periods of time. Everyone’s different I guess. Jacky and I can thrive in a long-distant environment, but not everyone can..


5. Simply wanting to…

When all is said and done, one can have all the money and time in the world and still be staying in the comfort of their home. Some people simply just don’t care enough, so they don’t do it. And there is nothing wrong with that.

I already mentioned how annoying it is to be judged for traveling and not doing “adult things”. But you know what’s worse? Travelers who judge others who don’t.

I don’t think traveling makes you a better person. There, I said it. People who think they’re so amazing because they’re well traveled are so incredibly annoying. Have you learned nothing!? Traveling “supposedly” opened your mind, yet you can’t be open minded enough to accept that not everyone is like you.

Anyway. I believe most goals are attainable simply through the desire to achieve it. My example is a case in point.. I don’t have a money tree, but I made it happen because I felt it was important enough to invest time, money and energy into it. Don’t ever underestimate your will to get something done.

So, this long-winded entry is coming to an end.. Again, I hope I don’t come off as pushy and telling people what to do with their lives. Au contraire, this post was intended for those who have the desire to go places, but are hesitant for whatever reasons. If you don’t even have the faintest of interests, nothing I say can sway your opinion anyway.

Aside from a Caribbean cruise next month with J, I don’t think I have any major trips coming up until next year’s Brazil World Cup. Now that I’m back in Canada, I probably won’t be taking extended regional trips anytime soon.

I hope this post answers anyone’s questions. If I missed anything, I’ll add onto it later. Best of luck! ♥


  1. Lisha

    Awesome post, Joan! I have literally always wondered how you pulled this off. But I have a question, what did you do for work when you returned to Toronto? I took a year off and when I got back, I was working crappy low-end jobs for maybe 6 months. I’m scared that if I get up and leave, I’ll have too through all that all over again!

    • Joan

      Hey Lisha! Thanks for your comment :)

      That’s a toughie.. I think no matter what, it will always be a challenge to adjust to life back at home. In some ways, I struggle with that to this day. If you’re working abroad, I think the biggest thing is to find a job that is somewhat relevant to your field (or at least give you transferable skills) and at the same time, keep a solid network with people back in Canada for future job hookups. Since I’ve been back I’ve been at a marketing agency that I’ve worked for in the past, but at the same time I’m looking for side jobs/volunteer opportunities in sport events so I can ease my way back into what I’m truly passionate about (sports marketing). There’s no doubt that going away for huge chunks of time will affect your career growth, but I think at the end of the day it’s about what you value more..

      Hope that answers your question! :)

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