One of the best and worst things about documenting your life on a blog is that you can read old posts, and reflect on who you were and what was happening in your life at the time you wrote it. I typically avoid reading my old posts, more so because I find that my age shines through them, and my writing was terrible… but sometimes, old posts inspire ideas for new posts – and big life changes.
Exactly two years ago, I shared my vision for what the perfect day would look like in 5 years’ time. If I were to write that post again today, some of it would be the same. I’d be an author, freelance writer and public speaker. I’d have a rescue dog or two. And I’d forever work in jeans and a hoodie.
But the one big difference between what I wanted then and what I want now is my definition of the word “home”. Before, I thought I wanted to buy a two-bedroom condo (if I was still single) or a house (if I had a partner and/or kids). I was so adamant about that idea, I even wrote that I would not want to live in a condo if I had kids. I just wasn’t interested in being squeezed into a small space.
As of right now, I can’t imagine either of those housing options being in my 3-year plan. For starters, homeownership is way too far out of my reach. The bidding wars that once only existed in Toronto are now even worse in Vancouver and Victoria. Houses in Victoria are selling within a week of being listed for $70-100K over asking. (And some are going for $1 million over in Vancouver.)
Beyond just the cost issue is the fact that I don’t want all of that square footage anymore. Sure, if I had kids, I think it would be important to give them some space of their own… but I have zero dreams of owning an actual house, at this point. Not only can I not afford it, I just don’t want the extra space. (And I don’t want to spend all my time maintaining it.)
When it really comes down to it, though, the cost and larger square footage aren’t the reasons I don’t want to own a home in the next few years. The reality is that I want to travel long-term – I’ve dreamt about it forever – and I’m finally in a position where I can do it.
After high school, many of my friends took gap years and travelled all over the world. I took time off school, but knew I needed to work if I wanted certain luxuries (like gas for my car), so that’s what I did. I worked and worked and worked. I worked and I didn’t travel. I did manage to put a lifestyle I couldn’t afford on credit, but then I became a slave to my debt.
With a handful of minimum payments to make each month, I couldn’t take a month or two off to travel – I was chained to my paycheques. And I’ve talked a lot about how I was living a life that didn’t make me happy, but I didn’t realize it was all the things I was doing and buying that weren’t helping – I just thought my debt was to blame.
Since I’ve paid off my debt, I’m no longer being held back by the numbers. I know how to live a frugal life, and I know I don’t need much to be happy. And the fact that I’m no longer restricted to only getting a few weeks of vacation each year, and can do all of my work from my laptop, means I can finally make some of my old dreams a reality.
There are so many big trips I want to go on. I’ve mentioned before that I really want to spend 8-10 weeks in the UK and Ireland. I’d love to do that this year, but if the Canadian dollar stays low, I don’t think it’ll be an option. I’ve also thought about driving all over the US, going to national parks and visiting friends in various states, but that dollar of ours remains an issue.
…but it’s only an issue if I leave Canada, not if I stay here. For years, I’ve dreamt about driving across the country and visiting friends in every province. And in the months leading up to my surgery, I spent more time outdoors than ever before and it made me come alive. So, why not combine it all? Drive across Canada, hike and camp, and visit friends all along the way?
I love the idea, but if I do it, I want to move extra slow. I don’t just want to hop in my car, hit all the tourist spots and find my way back here in three weeks’ time. I want to take my time and not feel rushed to leave beautiful places with only one picture to remember them by. I want to hike up every mountain and trail that I can. And I want to say “yes” when new friends invite me to new places.
Some of my most memorable trips have been to cities I didn’t know I’d ever visit, but where I had the opportunity to truly slow down and take my time. Winnipeg, Manitoba is one example. I walked 15-20,000 steps every day, saw the city on foot, was treated to home-cooked meals and great conversations – all because I wasn’t on a time crunch. And it was easily one of my favourite trips from last year.
So, that’s the trip I’m finally going to take: slowly make my way across Canada, stop wherever I please, stay in places as long as I like and hike as much as I can.
The Travel Gear
Now, as much as I like the idea of just getting in my car and going, I do need to prepare for this trip. I’ll likely be on the road for a few months, and in that time I not only need to think about how I’ll be getting places, where I’ll be sleeping and showering, and how much everything will cost (new budgets!), I also need to work and write here. I still have commitments, just not nearly as many as before.
I’ll admit, when I first decided to do this, I thought about buying a used van or RV. I’m more drawn to “van life” than tiny houses on wheels, simply because it’s easier and cheaper (I don’t have $25-50K for a tiny house + money for a truck to pull it + gas to drive it). But I also don’t like the idea of investing in a used van or RV that could possibly breakdown constantly.
Renting an RV would also be ridiculously expensive, especially when you add up all the fuel costs. I don’t want to be on a time limit, which a rental would come with. And I like the idea of having a smaller vehicle to bomb around and explore in.
Enter, my car: a 2009 Kia Rio5 with only 76,000 km (47,000 miles) on it. While it’s not your typical long-term travel vehicle, Bandit – as he was serendipitously named when I got him – is definitely ready to go on some adventures. My tires are only 1.5 years old, my dad can tune it up before I go, and any work/maintenance it needs along the way should be fairly cheap. (Knock on wood!)
Owning a vehicle eases the potential costs that will come with this trip, but I’ll still need to buy a lot before I go. For starters, I need a tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad and camping gear. When I was younger, I always borrowed stuff from my parents. But since I plan to do multi-day hiking/camping trips, I need smaller/lighter stuff that can squeeze into a backpack (which I also need to buy).
I’ll also need a few things for my hikes, a car charger for my phone (which I’ve never owned before), and some safety precautions (bear bell and spray, knife, etc.). If you can think of anything else, add it to my list! I’m hoping to spend less than $1,500 on everything, maybe $2,000 with some new clothing (as my tiny wardrobe is not equipped for camping or multi-day treks, at the moment).
The Timeline and (Shopping Ban) Logistics
Here’s where things get tricky. I have no idea when I can leave Victoria and start this adventure. The recovery time for my surgery is 4-6 months, and I’ll be doing everything I can to make sure it’s just 4; that would mean I could leave as early as July. Ideally, I’d go in the spring and come back before the summer (to avoid tourists), but that’s not an option… so summer/fall it is.
Note: If it takes 6 months, I’ll leave in August/September and just explore BC and Alberta for a couple months.
If that’s the case, I’ll need to break the shopping ban in a very big way. Since I have months to prepare, I want to take advantage of any sales that come up – not buy everything as soon as the ban is over, simply to prove a point. Maybe I’ll end the ban early. I don’t know. I do know I’ll use my shopping ban savings ($3,000) to pay for it all, and can then thank the ban for helping me do this.
I also know I’m going to downsize a bit more, before I leave – not by much, but so my stuff isn’t taking up too much space at my dad’s, while I’m gone.
There’s so much more to think about… I’ll need to find places to shower, dedicate a couple days/week to work (somewhere with internet), and read up on all the hidden gems I absolutely must find and see. And I want to come up with some tentative monthly budgets and savings goals – because my hope is that I can earn enough to both live and still save, so I can embrace “car life” for as long as possible.
While my first goal is to drive across Canada, I can’t deny that I’m open to this being a long-term choice: life on the road, that is. Who knows. Maybe I’ll be gone for two weeks, hate it and come crying home to my family. Living alone in an apartment is a lot different than living alone in your car/tent, and being surrounded by wilderness and all the weather elements. I’m fully aware that it won’t be easy.
But I also know I’ll hate myself if I don’t try. For years, I’ve known I wasn’t ready to “settle down” (or where I’d even do that). But I’ve always known that I want to travel more… and I can’t waste time waiting until someone can join me. Maybe I’ll only get to go on one short trip in 2016, then do something bigger in 2017. We’ll have to see how things go, when I can leave and where I end up.
What I’ll Share Here
So, why am I sharing this with you now, when I have no idea when I can leave or what any of my plans are? I’ll admit, I was worried about hitting publish on this post. Most of the other “big ideas” (like the shopping ban) I’ve shared here were impulsive – mapped out just days before I began the new challenge. But this is different…
In the past, I made a lot of big decisions based on what I thought I should do. I thought I needed a nice apartment with all matching furniture, I thought I needed to move up a career ladder, and I thought I needed to settle down somewhere. It’s taken me a long time to realize what makes me happy, however, and through many small and intentional decisions, I now know I want something very different.
I want to travel long-term. I want to see more of my own country, to start, but I also want to see more of the world – and to be in places for more than just a week at a time. It’s taken a long time for me to not only realize this, but to get to a place where I can do it; this blog is nearly six years old, after all. So I’m not making any quick and fast decisions here. I am choosing this life…
I don’t see this ever turning into a full-time travel blog – not even close. But over the next few months, I will likely share a monthly update on how the planning is going, if I’ve bought anything yet (and the day I end the shopping ban for good) and what other decisions I’ve made. The same way someone might share their savings progress for buying a home or retiring early, I want to share my journey into car life.
And the reason I want to share it all here, rather than just spring the news on you days before I go, is because I want your input.
Even when people go on solo trips, they’re never really alone – not entirely. Friends and family tell you places to see and cheap places to eat, you can read blogs or travel guides written by people who have been there, and you will forever be asking others where to find free Wi-Fi. When you’re travelling long-term, you will also run into lots of other people on the road – and it’s ok to ask for help.
I’m going to have lots of questions that only people who have backpacked or lived on the road will have answers to – that might be you! Or maybe you can share posts with people you know who have travelled a lot, or have been to places I’m going to or even live there now (insider info from locals is the best). Maybe we could meet up and go for a hike together. Or maybe I’ll just have a panic attack on Twitter and say “please someone in X city help me!” Haha. The point is, if you’re going to travel long-term, you need to be open to accepting help from others. I know I can’t do it all without you.
By this point, my guess is none of you are surprised I’m going to do this. When I told my family, I thought my dad might have a list of reasons why I shouldn’t do it, or my sister would tell me all the things that would go wrong, but that never happened. Instead, my dad nodded and said “get on the road!” and Alli drove me to MEC so we could start researching items and costs.
The first question I have for you is re: packing for a long trip. Whether you went backpacking or on a road trip, what were some of the most important things to pack? (And to that end, what did you buy that you never needed?)