The view from here
Thank you for visiting! Here you will find posts about all things travel from the site creators Meg and Nat, and occasionally fantastic guest contributors. Enjoy!
Curious how we've managed to reach over 100 countries across seven continents? Find out the history behind the Canadian half of Travelher. - Meg, Week 3
Welcome to our series of Travelher's Most Frequently Asked Questions! This is the third topic in our weekly feature, originally published as daily posts on our social media channels and then compiled here at the end of each week.
Firstly, no, I don’t have a trust fund or a rich boyfriend. (If you do happen to have either of those things and spend the money on travel, I don’t judge you - what a great idea, can I come?)
Secondly, I acknowledge that there are many people on this earth that genuinely cannot afford to travel. I am immensely grateful to have the opportunity, and am aware of the privilege.
Now. Simply put, I can afford it because I value it greatly.
"Afford to travel” means something different to everybody. What does it mean to you? Having enough to pay the mortgage with plenty left over? Enough to spend on two weeks of vacation without dipping into savings? Just enough for a plane ticket to the next continent on your list? Enough for gas money until you hit the next town?
For a long time I fell somewhere between the plane ticket and gas money spectrum.
It is so much more about what you value than the dollars in your account. If what you value is owning a home in a lovely neighbourhood, that is absolutely fabulous. If what you value aligns with your actions, that is great! I love seeing people living the shit out of a life that works for them.
It’s the throwaway comments like “must be nice” that get to me, the implication that travelling is a wildly expensive - perhaps frivolous - and out-of-reach pursuit. Because I know that if those people of similar backgrounds really wanted to travel, they totally can.
Believing that you can do it and giving yourself permission is half the battle. And then comes the practical part. Granted we are all in different stages of life experiencing different circumstances, but where there's a will there's a way!
The following is a history of my travel-loving life and how I managed to see the world at different stages, despite having little to no money.
I was sitting on a tour bus taking in the splendours of Rome when there was a commotion. Thieves had opened up the luggage compartment and were trying to run off with a suitcase.
I was 16 and this was my first time overseas. I paid for the 2.5 week class trip by working as a gas station attendant every day after school and as a roofer for my stepdad’s company in the summer.
The thing I remember most about the robbery incident was our female guide charging out onto the street and yelling at the thieves in Italian. She and the driver retrieved the item and she came back onto the bus and explained that there were some “dubious characters” in the city.
I had never heard the word “dubious” before and I was fascinated by the whole scene. I didn’t realise it at the time but my inexperienced teen self from a small safe town in Canada was starting to see that there is a big old world out there and that there was a place for strong, adventurous women.
My fellow classmates and I got to imagine ourselves as gladiators in the Roman Colosseum. We fancied ourselves competing athletes in the world’s first Olympic stadium in Greece. We watched the waves of the Mediterranean Sea roll in, made wishes at the Trevi Fountain, and marvelled at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
It was worth every moment of sweat and any forgone teen shenanigans.
If you are a young student or the parent of one, I encourage you to seek out these opportunities for travel. There are exchanges, chaperoned excursions, volunteer opportunities, camping trips, and much more available than you might imagine.
You can’t be sure what sort of impact the experience will have, and yes the world can be a dangerous place. But the chance to see and learn what could be possible opens up a whole new range of opportunities and ambitions, the value of which far exceeds the investment.
High school grad
When backpacking in Australia, I was given the advice that if my bank account dwindled down to $1000, I should act as though I was out of money. And about 3 months in to what would turn out to be a 10-month trip, that’s exactly what I did.
The roughly $5000 I had started with after working as a waitress for about 2 years saw me through the entirety of the east coast, with a scuba diving ticket and a multitude of sunkissed memories to show for it. But now I was back in Sydney and I needed a job - one that didn’t require a work visa.
Cash under the table working at a cafe and a bunkbed in a slightly roach-infested hostel did the trick. Despite a sad diet of cereal and tuna rice, it felt easy. More than that, it felt free. I was 19, among new friends, and making my own way on the other side of the world and had no one to answer to but me.
I worked there long enough to get me over to New Zealand for a couple of weeks of adventures, and worked at another cafe to fund the next leg of my journey in the much cheaper countries of Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam.
I complained a lot about waitressing at the time, but it enabled me to do just what I needed at the time. I had so much fun those years in Canada and overseas and I met friends that I still cherish today.
I definitely don’t regret not going to university right out of high school as I had no idea what I wanted to do. But after those years of travelling, I figured it out.
Back to school, back to school
If you’re wondering how to go into debt quickly in Canada, attend a college or university away from home or “out of province”. (Don’t worry, Americans - I know you have it much worse, and I see you!). As you may already know, Nat is German and I get green with envy whenever she talks about having her whole education up to her Masters paid for by the government.
Anywho (that’s a topic for another day!), we are still talking about travel affordability! Throughout my 4-year degree program from the University of Calgary, I still had the urge to get my wanderlust fix in despite having negative funds. The first opportunity was a spring exchange program to China - but I nearly didn’t go because of the (lack of) money. I decided late in the game to just go for it and it turned out to be such a worthwhile experience - and extremely affordable all things considered (it covered two course credits and 2 months exploring China, learning Chinese, and I got to hug a panda, which to date is still one of the best moments of my life).
Meanwhile, back in class in Canada, I worked various jobs to stay afloat as the loans racked up, including pub waitress, curling club bartender, and timeshare lead generator (“Congratulations! You’ve won a complimentary stay at…”).
Halfway through my third year, I got accepted for a student exchange in Sydney, Australia - a place that was stamped on my heart. How this works is that you pay the same tuition you would pay to your home institution but have to cover the living expenses yourself. How did I justify that? Well, it cost money to live in Calgary too, so the only major difference was the flights.
Since the semester started half-way through February instead of early January, I took the opportunity to go to Argentina for 6 weeks on my way there. This was shoestring, hostel travel at its finest, and mercifully South America is relatively cheap.
And then onto expensive Australia! I paid the bills by working as a caterer for events around the city. On occasion, I’d serve the finely dressed people at the Sydney Opera House!
After this semester and some side trips back to New Zealand and Bali, I did half a year back in Winnipeg where I lived at home and worked again as a caterer, and then did my final semester back in Calgary where I graduated with my Liberal Arts Degree majoring in the subject that motivated me to study - International Relations.
It was 2009 and you may remember the global economy had just crashed. What a great time to forge a new career and pay off oodles of debt! More on that tomorrow.
I was fresh out of university and loaded down with debt, so I did what any logical person would do under the circumstances… I flew to Australia ;p
Canadians under 35 (recently changed from 30) can apply for a working holiday visa and stay there for a year - sometimes two. As luck would have it, Australia actually weathered the economic downturn better than North America, which meant I could put my freshly stamped diploma to use and feed myself. It took a while because of the visa restrictions but I was glad for any work, and planned to apply for things back home at the same time I was travelling around and figuring things out.
After 7 months, I moved from Sydney to Perth and got a job as a temporary admin for a non-profit. Toward the end of the year, I spent all the money I made on funding a trip to Africa to go to the World Cup and do a safari. The animals stampeded themselves all over my soul and the energy from the soccer event filled me up to the point where money seemed like a distant concept with no place in the land of the Lion King.
Until I got home, of course.
Mercifully I “just” had the student loans to contend with--the work kept me from running up major credit card debt. I crashed at my sister’s and then moved to Ottawa to do another year of study. Why, you ask? Many reasons, but mainly 1) to pair my degree with some practical, hands-on skills in a digital world, and 2) financial--so that I could live with my parents who had just moved there and not sink (much) deeper into student debt.
After independently funding my studies and travels for the past decade, it felt like a huge step backwards, at age 27, to ask the ‘rents if I could move back in. But I knew it was necessary in order to move forward, and in the end, I was grateful for the time together after being away for years. If they were worried that I’d fall into a pit of no return, they never showed it. And that helped me keep believing that I would figure it out.
I’m leaving a lot out here but in short, after that year, I graduated and then applied for a working holiday visa in New Zealand (also possible up to 35). Soon those skills were put to use, and over the next five years of hard work, visa hoop jumping, and frugal living, I had, dollar by dollar, paid those student loans off.
If you’ve followed my posts until now, you’ll guess that I still travelled as much as possible during that time--but it still wasn’t quite enough. I wanted to spend less time in the office and more time seeing the world.
No time like the present
Finishing off the topic of travel affordability, we have reached the present day.
I have organised it so that my online work moves with me and I can now go exploring a lot more often without the ‘save, spend, and start from scratch’ cycle. In my recent posts, I did a very basic overview of my history to show that there were a lot of ups and downs and all arounds that led up to this - and that the cycle itself was worthwhile even if it was at times stressful and far from certain.
You may have noticed the overview didn’t include some of the major milestones one might expect you to reach by your mid-thirties (or earlier). But 1) Other people’s expectations have nothing to do with you, and 2) You don’t necessarily have to trade one for the other.
For example, there are many travelling families who are doing it their way, and many property-owning Travelhers doing it their way.
Point being, there is room for all sorts, and so many different ways to live. What’s yours?
Author - Meghan Advent
Meghan is a co-founder and the head editor of Travelher. She has been to all 7 continents but her travel bucket list never ends. From March 2020, she will reside in the Solomon Islands with her partner Jason and her cat Kahlua.