My landlords began showing my place today… unleashing a flood of memories and gratitude for me.
For those who are just following along because I’m about to embark on an amazing adventure of seeing the world for FIVE YEARS, there’s a lot of backstory missing for you.
For those who’ve known me, they’ve heard some of this but maybe not all. Here’s the story of my time in Victoria, how I made my travel dreams come to life, and from where I began.
A sort of beginning
Apologies to my aunt who doesn’t like my salty tongue, but from day one, Victoria was always what I was calling my “FIFO Town” — short for “Fix It and Fuck Off.”
I’d stay a max of five years. I didn’t know where I would go next, but I hoped it’d blow my mind.
Fix what? Well, everything. From injuries to a sad soul to a broken bank account and a hopeless outlook, I just needed somewhere new to be where I could rediscover who I used to be before life kicked my ass to the curb for an entire decade, let alone demolishing any dreams I once had.
I started my 30s almost dying twice in two years. I lost my job more times than I can count. I spent over half the decade trying to rehab from various injuries. I lost all my savings. By the time I was pushing 39, I’d even lost my pride and my hope.
Yeah. I had a lot to fix.
How I got here
To get here to Victoria, I had to leave Vancouver, where I felt I had no prospects, and where I always felt like a Star Wars character “embracing the Dark Side.” My worldview was increasingly angry. I was non-stop bitter. I finally realized I couldn’t find happiness in Vancouver.
I was too broke to leave, though. I went to my bank and pleaded for money, telling my banker that I knew I could change my life around if I just got my ass out the door and left my home city. I don’t know how I pled my case, because I’d earned under $28,000 on my last year of filed taxes, but somehow he believed in me and I got an unsecured loan that would amount to nearly $20,000 with interest and fees included.
With my debt restructured, I had only a few thousand to bankroll the move over here. It was barely enough. My move emptied those funds entirely. Within 10 days of moving to Victoria I also learned my work hours were being cut by 30%.
That was March, 2012, 3.5 years ago. That was a bad day.
Dumb luck is dumb
That same week my hours got cut, I was adjusting the seat of a cruiser bike I’d been given, and instead lost control while “trying out” the seat, and couldn’t get footing to stop the bike with the pedal brakes. I barrelled forward off the sidewalk toward a busy street with traffic — but right before hitting traffic, I hit a road sign with my face. Better than being hit by the car speeding past.
It was still a bad injury and heaped more demoralization on me.
Was this a sign? Was Victoria all wrong for me? I decided it was just a test. I’d push forward.
There were a few months of flailing in the dark before I felt like my luck was turning around.
A year from that month, I’d be hoping to move to a better apartment. Another three months after that, I’d be where I’m sitting now — in an apartment the likes I’d always dreamed of — 1930s Art Deco glam filled with hardwood and bright windows.
For me, it was a culmination of a life I had been fighting for, for so long. This apartment, for me, was the first time a dream had ever come true. It was addictive.
One dream achieved, new dream needed
Somewhere in that first year, I’d started thinking about travel. Not in a “Ooh! I want to see the world!” kind of way. Originally, it was desperation. With my life savings gone and over $25,000 in debt with nothing to show for it. I had zero the bank considered collateral, and with the cost of living and real estate here, I began questioning if I ever would.
This was the last year of my 30s and all around me were friends buying new homes, enjoying nice lives, taking vacations, and here I was, hardly even able to dine out. Retirement savings? What a joke.
I realized I’d only get to save for retirement here if I hunkered down with a man and split my cost of living — and I wasn’t interested in “needing” a man. So I thought, where I could I live for cheap and save money? That was the new goal. “Cheap and save money.” Nothing exotic about that!
By year five in Victoria, I thought, I could have enough money to move abroad for one year and save for my retirement.
But where? What country? And how soon could I do it? Not for another five years? Even later?
Oh, ye of little faith. I’ll be leaving just over 3.5 years from the day I moved here.
A hazy dream begins emerging
I can’t tell you when that goal shifted from “live cheaply abroad and work hard for a year” to being flat-out dream-level stuff — “sell everything and work less while I see the whole damn world.”
Folks tell you life has big “A-ha!” moments in which everything becomes clear and a plan is born, but that didn’t happen for me. I don’t remember a day when I suddenly went, “WHOA. WAIT. I CAN SEE THE WORLD, MAN.”
Any signs I had weren’t neon. They were whispers in the wind at best. Somehow things kept shifting and the more I learned about the world, the more I started wondering “What if?”
Knowledge, for me, was power.
Other friends travelled non-stop too but I saw it differently because they all had higher-paying tech jobs that had them starting from more privileged positions with less risk to incur.
Could I take that chance? Could I risk going abroad for work when my work history was so tenuous at times, and savings were (and still are) non-existent?
One day I realized all those risks exist for me here, too. In fact, here I could lose everything faster and easier than I could elsewhere. What if I had nothing with me but the clothes and gear I needed? What if I could go anywhere?
And then I worked — all the time
16 months into my Victoria life, I moved to this beautiful apartment. That was July, 2013. Signing this lease was a risk itself, being another $150 more a month than everything else I was looking at — when only a year before I was selling furniture just to buy groceries.
I remember standing on a cliff by the sea when I realized that $150 meant I only needed to write two more blog posts for my clients per month, max, and that was it. “Just write more, it’ll work out.”
So, I took the place and I did that. I was grateful for work and I worked. New clients emerged, weird opportunities rose. I wrote for everyone who came my way. In the next 16 months I tried all kinds of client writing that I did to the best of my ability. I learned a lot about the kinds of writing I’ve no interest in doing for work anymore.
Then I started making more and more and more money, to the point where my recent tax filing had me earning more than double what I disclosed to that banker in November, 2011.
And the whole time I was working, I watched others’ travels. I read more and more about people travelling the world for work. I looked up costs-of-living indexes for cities all over the globe. I read up on cuisine and travel and photography and visas and taxes.
Every single day, I dreamed of when I might walk away from my life and see the world.
Let’s talk about money
Then I worked even harder. I opted out of life. I cancelled trips home. I obsessed about learning all my travel options. I plotted journeys and did so much travel research my head hurt.
Still, every friggin’ day I chose work first. Now and then I took a day off. But mostly I worked.
What was my money picture like? Well, I had some $20,000 in debt on just my loan when I got to Victoria, and over the next year and a bit, I amassed about $4,000 in credit card debt, including a move to this apartment in 2013, which was another $2,000.
I owed for taxes I hadn’t even declared yet, coupled with my earnings in 2012, would account for over $6,000 I owed the government. And I had to make money just for my travel plans, which, with all my gear and the first four months paid up and plane tickets and travel insurance and more tallies to well over $12,000. I even spent $2,000 to go to my brother’s Vegas wedding in 2013.
Despite rent, living, upgrading things I own — all that money I have earned and paid out since January, 2013. I still have $3,000 to spend and $6,000 in debt, and yet I still hope to be 100% debt-free by New Year’s Day, 2016.
That’s what sacrifice does.
Dreams are a choice
You either want your dream badly enough that you’ll give up your current life to fight for that dream, or you don’t want your dream enough to achieve it.
Everyone I know who accomplishes their dream life puts their career and their work towards that dream FIRST. Life comes second.
If you’re one of these people who has “dreams” that never come true and you complain that they’re unreachable, I’d wager that your life isn’t holding you back. It’s your ability to know what it is you really, truly want — what it is for which you’d be willing to stop hanging out with friends, stop taking days off, stop frittering money away.
Once you know what you really, really want, it’s surprisingly easy to say that it’s more important than every other thing in your life.
It’s down to you
If you want to know my “secret” to making this adventure of my lifetime come true, well, I can’t help ya, man. It’s knowing what you want and working incessantly to get it. You can’t get your dream travel life while keeping a comfy day-to-day life. It doesn’t tend to work that way.
And if that’s too high a sacrifice to you? Then it’s not your dream. Pretty simple.
I may have complained about fatigue over the last two years, but I never complained about “having” to work. I never complained about paying bills. I say this often — if paying your bills doesn’t feel rewarding to you, then you’ve not lived enough with the spectre of being unable to pay them — something I lived for 13 YEARS.
This success, for me, came wholly down to getting up every single day and choosing to work for my dream. It was about making that same choice daily. It came down to ignoring people who took it personally that I didn’t go to their party. It meant ignoring a whole lot of of things, especially unwanted advice about “life balance.”
Maybe my “life balance” sucked, but I haven’t been sick once since Spring, 2013. Maybe there’s something powerfully healthy in seeing your dreams materializing. After all, this was 100% about choosing to earn my dreams.
It’s really that easy — just a choice — but it’s also the hardest thing you’ll ever do.
Hard, yes. But trust me. If you get to be like me and see that finish line only 40 days away, you’ll have earned every damned bit of the pride and accomplishment I feel today.
And soon I’ll get to live my reward every single day. Not work. Reward.
So then. What’s your choice?
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Your honesty and openness about your path to today is so refreshing. And it does totally make it seem reasonable – hard but reasonable – for someone else to go for it!
But this… this quote from the post above is a gem:
— if paying your bills doesn’t feel rewarding to you, then you’ve not lived enough with the spectre of being unable to pay them —
Amen, sister! There is nothing like doing online banking, paying off every bill in full and still having money left for enough food to get you to the next pay cheque. I’ve done the duck and weave with bill before and, well, yep… paying bills will always feel rewarding to me.
Thanks again for another great post.
PS… funny little thing. Part of my dream is to live my artist life on Dallas Road. I somehow feel a bit more positive about that dream today. xx
You can probably do it comparably to a lot of areas in Vancouver! There are a lot of nice little basement suites that could be the intro to your dream life. 🙂
Thanks re the “paying your bills” comment — I say that often on Twitter because I see so many people piss and moan about paying their bills. I think they need more adversity if being able to pay their bills makes them unhappy. I mean, geez.
And thanks for the lovely comments!!
Your post reminded me of one of my favourite quotes: Discipline is choosing what you want most over what you want now.
Yeah, of the more populist version from the movie The Great Debaters, which went something like “we do what we must so we can do what we want.” My last years have been my “must”.Thanks, Erik!
Those are both great quotes. I really need this now and will be saving these. Thanks, Erik and Steffani.
Paying off your bills is totally rewarding! Since my husband passed 4 years ago I’ve been slowly paying down all the bills on half the income. I just finished paying off one bill this month and my last big bill will be paid off in just over a year. Then I’ll be debt free finally! 🙂 And then it’s on to new adventures for me too. Reading about your adventures is very motivating for me. So thank you for sharing.
Sorry to hear about your husband, but GO, YOU. Way to work it off. 🙂 We pretty much rock. And thanks for saying your piece.
The word for your behind the Parliament photo is riotous. You’ve revealed so much in this post and it draws the reader in. Journey tales are so compelling and yours is filled with courage. Keep thriving Steph, we’ll be reading!
Hey, thanks for that. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the post and the photos. Much more to come! 😀