After graduating, I had an inkling that there was always something more to explore. I had a degree in Law with French Law and language but I wasn’t ready to chain myself to a desk and sort out other people’s problems by the books for the rest of my life. I had enjoyed studying but more importantly, I found that I enjoyed studying abroad.
I spent a year living and studying in France aged 19 and whilst packing on a good 5kg, this was also my first taste of an alternate way of life. Armed with a baguette, I assumed new challenges, language, people and a whole new education system. I found life more interesting, it constantly challenged the way I thought and the way I approached conversations. Using every word I did know to explain the words that I didn’t. It was frustrating but more importantly, it was fun.
The EU partnership with the British Council offers a fantastic ERASMUS scheme to not only exchange to another university in Europe for a year but also pay you to do it! That’s right, there was an incredible bursary to encourage you to explore the culture and it’s surroundings. I’d cross over by a 10 minute bus ride to Germany to do my weekly shop or get the train down the Switzerland for the day, I met people from all over the world on my exchange and together we explored Europe! It built my confidence and the world suddenly started to open itself in a very new way.
Other than that, university fees and student accommodation in Europe are MINIMAL to NONE! So if you’ve already graduated, your university doesn’t offer the exchange or there’s something you’ve been dreaming to study, look to study abroad. Your money will go much further and you will get to get to travel and explore the mainland with no borders! (just yet)
There is also SO much to learn outside of the traditional education system with courses all around the world, after France I studied on other short courses whilst living in Poland, India and Thailand!
This might be a new concept for some but work exchange is an incredible and affordable way to get the ball rolling, learn new skills and experience a new country. The idea is that you offer your time in exchange for accommodation, food and perhaps a stipend for meeting your living costs. There are thousands of projects all over the world connecting your experience and interests to the demand for work in a particular area.
I did some work exchange in Ghana for 3 months when I first graduated using a programme called ICS (International Citizen Service) which is partnered with several major volunteer companies. It is a government funded scheme which encourages some community fundraising but meets all other costs, including flights, homestay accommodation, food and small amount to cover costs such as transport.
There is an open volunteer position for 18-25 year olds and Team Leader placements for 23-35 year olds. I met people from all walks of life, those wishing to experience more, those wondering what’s next and also those who might want to change career paths.
Another incredible way to find work exchange placements is the Work Away Website. I cannot rave about this website enough because it’s your one stop shop to find interesting projects all over the world. They promote fair exchange between budget travellers, families and communities. Using this platform, I worked on a Mindfulness Project in Thailand which changed the entire course of my life.
This option might not be for everyone, but it is a sure fire way to ensure your pennies last a few miles further than a 5* resort. Packing life’s few essentials into a bag and slinging it over your back, means you’re not going to be spending much on the material things which we get caught up in.
It means living within the means of a defined budget for a period of time. I set off to Asia with just shy of £2500-£3000 savings from previous projects and a rough intention of about 3 months travel in 2016. This included everything. Flights, accommodation, food, transport, fun! And it went above and beyond, I saw everything I wanted to across 4 countries and learnt more about myself than I did in 4 years of university!
Hostels were an incredible way of keeping the costs down, meeting other solo travellers and they’re pretty damn nice in South East Asia too, with private rooms, breakfast and some even had pools! Depending on location and facilities, it could cost around £5-£15 a night. Think about your current mortgage or your rent…. it works.
My saving grace was HostelWorld which works on recommendations and ratings from thousands of travellers around the world to help ensure what you’re booking into is not a complete S-hole. Other people I knew used CouchSurfing, a platform where you can meet or stay with locals all over the world. And in the rough of some of it, I also used the good old-fashioned, stick your thumb out and see where you end up, hitchhiking!
After a series of 1.5 years on different projects around the world, work exchanges, volunteering and backpacking, I had suddenly earnt myself enough experience to apply for jobs abroad. By now I’d lived, worked and travelled long term in America, Europe, Africa and Asia.
All the while, I kept my eyes open on job boards, facebook community groups and email newsletters. I loosely applied for what I thought was just another 6 month project to work in China. I genuinely used reading the legal documents to canyon down a waterfall in Vietnam as an example in my interview and it not only distinguished me from other candidates but made for interesting conversation too!
That 6 month contract turned into 2.5 years living in one of the biggest cities in the world. I was based in Beijing, where opportunities are rife and Asia is at your doorstep. It was perfect. It was paid. It still allowed me to travel. It continued to open my mind in the way France did when I was 19. It encouraged growth outside of my comfort zone in ways I never imagined. It pushed me to explore past the boundaries we’re sold, travel 35 countries and grow into everything that I am today.
It might be a fairytale story but it does come at a cost. It requires a change in mindset. I’ve experienced both sides of it. Working to live or living to work? Taking frustrations of everyday life out on your wallet. Buying things which might fill your house but don’t fill your heart. We’re sold it when we’re younger. School, work, house, marriage, babies, retire, die. So why do we end up frustrated, why did no one tell us it could be another way?
It’s not easy but letting go of the expectations of what we should be doing and what we should be earning was was the first step. Having faith that experience would fill my heart was much more valuable to me. Understanding that time was my resource, not money.
Allowing this and life to flow from one path to the next was really what happenned. I didn’t plan it. I let it happen. I didn’t say no. I didn’t create boundaries or expectations. I didn’t care what people thought. I just let life happen and doors started opening.
My auntie would always play an old indian song in the car when I was growing up, it translated loosly into ‘We don’t come to this earth with anything and we don’t leave with anything too’. So why are we spending our life, sitting at a desk not living at all? If you love it, do it. If you’re doing it to pay the bills for the life you’re not enjoying anyway, stop.
Break the cycle.
There are more ways to live than the one we are sold, have faith and follow your heart onto the next adventure. It is possible. You can afford it. You are breathing, you are living and so you are rich. We have responsibilities, yes. But we also have options. I’ve met all ages, all nationalities, all walks of life, solo- travellers, couples and even families living this way.
Free yourself from the cycles of bills, material things, ego and expectations. Exchange it for travelling with the gracious gift of time.
It’s the most precious currency you’ll ever own.