I’m not particularly special. I’m not wealthy. I don’t have a bunch of awesome connections or hook ups (aside from ones I’ve made along the way). And nothing has really been handed to me. Things have just happened in such a way that allowed me to be where I am today. Let me explain.
A few months before I’m to graduate college, I start feeling a yucky feeling. “I should have studied abroad more, applied for more grants/scholarships, participated more in school functions and extracurricular activities, etc.” I tried to do my best to feed these cravings during my final months, but traveling was not something I could easily do at the time. I considered staying an extra semester in order to try and get a grant to study and travel during the summer, or during the next full semester.
I kept facing dead ends and realized my time was up. At some points I wondered if I was trying to avoid ‘the real world’ by prolonging the process of getting into a ‘serious’ job. As I looked through various volunteer abroad opportunities that cost butt-loads of money, I stumbled upon TEFL (Teach English as a Foreign Language). I had heard about this vaguely before after traveling to Japan. I never looked into it because I figured it was only an option for Education majors. Turns out that most TEFL jobs abroad only require that you have a bachelor’s degree (in any field) and a TEFL certificate, which can be obtained in as little as one month. Once I realized this was an option for traveling while working, I was sold! I just thought I’d have to first get a job and save up for a year before I set off.
Well, here’s where a funky series of events occurred. About one month before graduation, I was driving to a baby sitting gig and as I was at a stop light. I saw a car behind me that clearly was not going to stop. I was filled with instant panic and BAM! I got rear ended, HARD! I was so shaken up that I didn’t know what to do. I grabbed my phone and called my sister in tears, sobbing and explaining that I’d just been hit. She told me to calm down and get the driver’s information for insurance. I got out of the car, walked over to the elderly woman in the other car and asked if she was ok. Her car was not seriously damaged, but mine didn’t look so good. She apologized and we exchanged info. I met with her on a different day to discuss damages, quotes, and how to keep insurance out of it. We couldn’t agree on an amount to pay me out on, but we were civil. We sat and chatted about life for a bit, and she told me how when she was younger it was much cheaper to travel the world. I had told her that I longed to travel, so she began telling me about her adventures. I grew to have a lot of respect for this woman who went out into the world with her best gal pal. I’m sure during her time it was much more adventurous since she didn’t have blogs and travel guides to help her.
So, flash forward. I get an email from her insurance saying that my car was totaled and it’s estimated value was about $5,000 USD. I was amazed! I was sure that I’d just get a measly amount like $2,000, but then again what do I know about car value.
Well, this news certainly prompted some changes in my plans. I had to think if I wanted to put the money towards a nice, reliable car that would get me to and from my post-college job, or if I wanted to take a risk and get my TEFL to teach and travel the world. It didn’t take long before I decided on the latter.
I went to Prague with roughly $900 USD in my bank account after booking flights, paying for my TEFL, and paying off some credit cards and other life expenses. This wasn’t a smart amount to have to start a new life in another country and surely enough, I came into financial troubles during my second month in Prague. I hadn’t planned on staying in Prague. I was ready to check out South Korea for the free flights, accommodation, and generous pay, but I couldn’t resist the allure of the beautiful European city, so I decided to give myself a year there. I clearly didn’t realize how much the expenses of getting settled in would hurt me, and this is where my family chipped in and supported me. From time to time I’ve had some surprise expenses come up, and my family has been there to let me borrow money. As I plan to teach in South Korea next fall, I will definitely be able to pay them back graciously. Until then, it’s good to know that someone is there to support me through tough times. I also had help and support from people I met while abroad and without them I would have been absolutely stranded.
While working in Prague, I was able to budget for food (eating out and groceries), rent (utilities were included), a metro pass for transportation, nightlife (cheap beers), phone credit, and a money transfer to my account back in USA to make payments on my credit cards. I was also able to afford a few trips outside of Prague. Once you get settled in, it’s much easier to budget and save. It’s possible to save money at home if you really want to travel. I had a whole plan mapped out about how I wasn’t going to eat out too much or buy unnecessary things, I was going to sell all but a few of my belongings and clothing. I didn’t end up doing these things because of the collision payment I received, so maybe it’s easier said than done, but knowing that my money can stretch so much further in other beautiful places is enough to encourage me to embrace not having the newest phone, car, shoes, etc. and rather put that cash towards a week or a year in an unfamiliar location.
I’ve been abroad for just over a year now and I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon (aside from some breaks between countries while I visit home). I have student loans to pay off, credit card debt, and I live paycheck to paycheck. This would be my status back home as well if I had decided to stay, but with the route I’ve chosen, I’ve gotten to visit other countries, meet people from all around the world, learn about new cultures, teach others about where I’m from and what I’m about, and of course, I get to teach English to young learners.
Before I began my travels, I had a few job interviews. One job that I really wanted was at a school specifically for children who have bounced around from foster care and group homes, who are wards of the court, who have experienced significant trauma or have behavioral/emotional disorders, and need that extra attention to show them that there’s more to life than the BS they’ve been through. Well, I didn’t get the job because I lacked teaching experience and I had no experience working with children. My choice to travel the world and gain that experience is going to open so many more doors for me when I’m ready to pursue a new career path, and for that I am extremely lucky and grateful. Until then, I’ll continue to learn as much as I can about this intriguing world and the equally intriguing people in it.
The choices I’ve made have granted me the incredible opportunity to experience new cities, cultures, and life in a whole new way. Can’t wait to keep on exploring 🙂