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The Realistic Crossroads of a Twenty-Something Wanderluster

I turned 23 on the 1st of August.  23 is basically 25, which is almost 30, which is only 20 years from 50, which should mean that I should probably have my shit together by now, does it not?  I remember when I was growing up, and everybody told me that my teenage years would be the most awkward, uncomfortable, embarrassing and uncertain years of my life.  Those people were wrong.  My awkward, mushroom-cut adolescence has nothing on my 20’s so far.

7 Years Old and ready for a Freakin' ADVENTURE
7 Years Old and ready for a Freakin’ ADVENTURE.  Told you I looked like a boy.

I moved out of my parents’ house two weeks after my twentieth birthday and came to Calgary, Alberta, to pursue my education and dreams of becoming a hairstylist at a top Aveda salon in the city (check).  Once I completed my year of education, landed the job I wanted and got back on my feet, I took a celebratory trip to Ixtapa, Mexico with my boyfriend, Sean, and that was it.  The Travel Bug that I had fought to keep quiet for years with textbooks, multiple crappy jobs, insane schedules and other distractions was awakened, and there was no turning back.

All of the plans and ideas I thought I had made for myself vanished.  No longer was it important to be “Debt Free by 23” (that didn’t happen PS).  Owning my own home before I was 25 was no longer a priority.  My dreams of moving to California to pursue my career disappeared.  I decided that getting a dog didn’t make sense anymore.  I put off financing a new vehicle.  Nothing else mattered but Travel.

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you may know that my love for travel was sparked at a very young age.  I was fortunate to have two parents in the tourism industry and we were able to travel a lot when I was growing up.  My first overseas trip was a 10-day tour of Germany, Austria and Prague with my high school when I was 16.  That was when I caught this strange and beautiful disease called Wanderlust that people were always talking about.  After 3 years at a standstill, traveling to Mexico rekindled the fire, and I began planning our trip to Southeast Asia almost immediately after arriving home.

16 years old in Salzburg, Austria
16 years old in Salzburg, Austria

The obvious issue here was finances.  I had raked up a significant, scary amount of student debt in only a year, was living pay check to pay check, had plans to move in with my boyfriend in the near future, and my expenses were only going to increase.  I was torn between quitting my job, selling everything I owned, picking up my life and hitting the road for a year or more (and hoping that Sean would come with me), or sucking it up, working hard to climb the career ladder, saving money like crazy to buy a house, and settling into domestic life at 22 years old.  Both options had appeal, but they were both so extreme.  I thought that there had to be a way to achieve some sort of balance.

I spent the next 10 months working 11 hour shifts, being extremely frugal with my spending, wearing the same few outfits in rotation and spending a lot of time at home watching Netflix.  With the help of some of my favourite money saving tips and a ton of fundraising for the volunteer portion of our trip, I managed to save enough to make Asia a reality.  Our 5 weeks in Southeast Asia were incredible, and after recouping at home for a little while afterwards, I came to realize that my appetite for travel was still as ravenous as ever.  Wanderlust truly is like a raging fire, and the more you feed it, the bigger and stronger it becomes.

At Ubud Palace in Bali, Indonesia
At Ubud Palace in Bali, Indonesia

So here I am today.  23 years old, happy to still be renting this lovely little condo with Sean, slowly making my way up the ladder at work, and trying to figure out what the next step is.  I have come to realize that selling everything and traveling long term is unrealistic for us.  I spent $20k on my education, and I intend to get my money’s worth.  To walk away from such a beautiful career that I enjoy so much with a company that supports me the way they do would be a massive mistake.  We have a lot of stuff in this condo, and, while traveling definitely made me appreciate minimalism, I like my stuff.  I don’t know if I like the idea of selling off all of my furniture and having absolutely nothing to come home to one day when I do eventually return.  I like routine.  Some weeks I just want to cook my own food in my own kitchen, go to yoga class, watch movies, sleep in my own bed and enjoy the comfort of my own home.

Long term travel is simply not in the cards for us right now, and that’s ok!  It took me so long to come to terms with this fact.  Being a traveler, seeing the world, owning a travel blog and living an adventurous life can not only be accomplished by being on the road 365 days a year.  This summer, I have spent a lot of time being a tourist in my own backyard.  I even wrote an article called “6 Ways To Live an Adventurous Life When You Can’t Travel“.  However, the time has come to begin planning another trip.  I’ve got a few things in the works right now, and I can’t wait to share them just as soon as they are finalized.

I think Travel means something different to everyone.  For some people, trips out to the cabin in the summer is enough.  For others, an all-inclusive vacation every winter does the trick.  Some of us require multiple destinations per year that are exotic and unexplored and unique.  Find out what Travel means to you, and then find a way to build it into the life you already have.  Ahhh…balance.

For me, that balance has come from a very structured budget in which I put a certain dollar amount per pay cheque into my “Adventure Fund” to pay for the year’s trips.  This way, I can keep my wonderful job, I can still be putting a little money aside for long-term savings such as a down payment, I can still enjoy going out with my friends every now and then, and yes, I can also still travel.  The trips may not be as extravagant or as extreme as I’d like them to be, but for now, this is what works.  All you can do, is do the best with what you have to work with, right now.  That doesn’t mean that it has to be this way forever.  I won’t always have to be a budget traveler.  I won’t always have to scrape together funds in order to live the life I want.  But for now, I do have to scrape, so scrape I shall.  It’s actually kind of fun.  You are really forced to get creative with ways to save and generate money!

Remember, what’s right for you may not be right for somebody else, and vice versa.  I am extremely blessed to have found a man who shares my passions both for travel and adventure as well as balance and stability.  I am also very lucky that we have a strong, trusting relationship in which we both feel able to travel on our own when the other one doesn’t have the means to join us.

Maybe all of your friends are beginning to get married, and you’re still hoping for that steamy, whirlwind romance while traveling through South America or Europe someday.  Maybe your best friend just bought her first home, and you are living in your parents’ basement in between the time you spend living out of your backpack overseas.  Or, maybe you’re close to somebody who lives a nomadic lifestyle, and you’re transitioning to life as a new parent.  Maybe you’re just not ready to grow up at all, and you’re booking a one-way ticket to anywhere but here.  Whatever your life looks like, whatever your future holds, go after it with all your heart.  Travel means something different to everyone.  Adventure means something different to everyone.  Find yours, and chase it forever.

Two Wheels and Freedom in Koh Lanta, Thailand
Two Wheels and Freedom in Koh Lanta, Thailand

Ashley Dempster is a twenty-something Canadian Travel and Adventure blogger based in Calgary, Canada. Her passions include good food, minimalist packing, running, music, and chasing down every opportunity for adventure.


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