She Quit Her 9-5 Job, Took A Trip To Transylvania and Never Looked Back
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| 11 min read
Amelia quit her job as a corporate office engineer more than two years ago to pursue a life of freedom as an online ESL teacher. Her new career allows her to work from anywhere with a stable internet connection. She has already used GAFFL to meet up with foreigners in her hometown of Chicago and now would like to find travel companions for future trips in Europe, and maybe even Asia.
If you want to learn more about Amelia's career as a traveling ESL teacher, you can subscribe to her budding YouTube channel: Amelia Teaches English.
Why I Travel
Throughout history, people have always had the innate desire to explore. This trait has been particularly pronounced in me. Maybe I got it from my mother; I think she was just as much a free spirit!
Even as a child, I couldn’t sit still, and felt happiest when I was on the go. My aunt and uncle who raised me after the age of seven were the ones who took me on my first flight. It was Christmastime. We traveled from Michigan to Tennessee to visit my uncle’s parents. Temperatures were below freezing, and we had to wait two hours on the runway for the plane to be de-iced. As excruciating as those two hours were to my ten-year-old self, I guess you could say, from then on, I was hooked.
In my 20s, I found myself feeling increasingly trapped in a “good” job. Ironically, the so-called rat “race” entailed a slow crawl in five-lane-wide traffic to an office where I sat in a cubicle using my laptop, completing tasks that could have just as well been done from anywhere else. The whole ordeal was stifling and illogical. I didn’t want to spend my life inside the same office building talking to the same people every day, trading freedom for money I had no time to enjoy. Eventually, after 10 years of working for big corporations, with the last six spent commuting two to three hours (~60 miles) total, to and fro, daily, I couldn’t suppress the urge to escape any longer.
While working as a packaging engineer, I had taken a handful of online German lessons from a guy named Stephan. He was more than a teacher; he was an inspiration! He became a role model as he not only taught me useful German phrases, but also, and more importantly, educated me about life and how to live it on my own terms! In one lesson, he was sitting on a beach in Bali; in another, he coached me from his balcony in Auckland.
my inspirational online German teacher, Stephan
It wasn’t long thereafter that I found out I could make money myself by teaching ESL online. So, I quit my job on May Day of 2018, and following in Stephan’s footsteps, took off with a one-way ticket to Transylvania.
I've lost count of the number of amazing people I've met since becoming a traveling teacher. One week after relocating to Brasov, Romania, I stumbled upon one of the kindest women I know. Isabela was sitting at the opposite end of the table when I arrived late to the group dinner organized on meetup.com; my ears perked up when I overheard her telling another guest that she had been a digital nomad all of her adult life.
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By the end of that event, we were among the last remaining attendees, enthralled in conversation. When she revealed, "Last week I left my cat and my boyfriend to move here and start my new life," I knew I had found a kindred spirit; I’d left behind a relationship of four years and a cat I’d had for nine.
In November 2019, I took a cruise from Spain to Brazil and met a few hundred other like-minded digital nomads.
Prior to this, I had never been on a boat for more than a few hours! I usually travel and live alone. Hence, I was initially quite nervous when I saw the tiny size of the cabin I'd be sharing with a total stranger for two weeks.
Fortunately, I got lucky and not only got assigned a great cabinmate (Julia from Germany), I also made a lovely new friend!
On the same cruise ship, I met a woman named Susan, a retired judge from Detroit. She was working on her first novel and mentioned plans to travel to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico in January 2020. After spending almost a month in Brazil, I decided to meet her there. I had been to SMA once before (only for a few hours and loved it).
Once I got there, she introduced me to another American she had come across when wandering through town, named Donna. We were three generations of women who had more in common and more to talk about than you would believe!
three generations of women: Donna (58), Susan (79), and me (33)
How I Choose Where to Travel Next
Various reasons have guided my selection process. I embarked on my first trip to Europe in 2014 to climb The Excalibur, the world’s tallest free-standing man-made rock wall, in The Netherlands. I went to Brazil for the first time in 2016 after I met a Brazilian couple at the Hofbräuhaus in Munich, Germany earlier that year. As I make friends along my travels, I often revisit the same destinations over and over.
Now that I’m an online ESL teacher, I'm a budget traveler with a whole lot of flexibility, and this has been a blessing for me. When planning where to go next, I scan the earth with the price filter, as well as the monthly calendar pages on Google Flights to see what “green” priced airfare I can find to different destinations.
There's a great satisfaction in finding ridiculously low airfare and the bragging rights that come with it; I've noticed that quite often when I fly for an absurdly low price, the whole row of seats next to me on the plane is empty. For example, I've flown from Chicago to Munich for $177 one-way, from Chicago to Barcelona for $360 roundtrip, and more recently from Chicago to my current location, Marrakesh, for $230 one-way. On all these trips, the seat next to me was empty, I ate and drank wine for no extra cost.
I use similar methods for finding low-priced AirBnBs. I almost always book my own private apartment because my home is also my online classroom, and any background noise can be distracting. I’ve been able to find some incredible deals, like an apartment in Moncofa, Spain just 50 meters from the sea, that cost $15/day.
At times, I’ve been slightly embarrassed to tell inquiring locals that cost was the driving factor for choosing to visit their city. At the same time, this methodology has led me to some amazing destinations that I would have otherwise never known, not to mention crazy coincidences, and even miracles.
I’ll never forget the summer of 2018; I was thrilled to find an apartment with high-speed internet renting for $496/mo. in Steyr, Austria. Austria is not known for being a country with a low cost of living. Never mind that I had never heard of this town: it's the 12th largest in the country; I decided to go there anyway. I had been to Austria a couple times before (on two-day-long trips) but never thought I could afford to actually stay there for any substantial amount of time.
To my surprise, upon my arrival in Steyr, I discovered the whole town decorated with "CHICAGO" signs. A touring theater group just happened to be performing "Chicago The Musical" on the same dates I was there. You can imagine the funny conversations that ensued whenever I'd introduce myself to the locals.
LOCAL: “Where are you from?”
LOCAL: “Oh cool, so you’re staying until mid-August or...?”
Me: “Yeah, how’d you know?”
LOCAL: “Well, your last performance is August 10th, right…?”
Me: “What?! No, I’m not in the show! I mean I'm from the real city of Chicago…”
When I was an engineer, I took one-week-long trips to Europe twice a year and maybe a couple of long weekenders within the states. That was all my vacation time.
Nowadays I’m traveling full-time. I go back to Chicago frequently, but it’s always temporary and usually with a departure flight already booked. So far in 2020, I’ve spent just 13 days in the United States.
Some Of My Biggest Solo Traveling Challenges
The biggest challenge and constraint I have is the internet. My livelihood comes from conducting live video lessons with people around the world. I usually do 1-on-1 coaching but occasionally have group sessions. I love nature though and wish I could travel more to remote destinations, but such places generally don’t have a good enough internet connection.
I never get bored. I can’t imagine this feeling. Instead I always feel like I have more that I want to do than there is time to do it; time is the most precious resource.
Friends are always just a phone (or WhatsApp/Skype) call away and my job involves live communication with people around the world. So, I don’t get lonely per se, but sometimes I do have cravings for face-to-face interactions in the physical world.When these cravings become strong, I just force myself outside of my comfort zone. That could be as simple as leaving my AirBnB, and initiating conversation with a stranger. I find that free walking tours, meetup events, and using sites like Showaround and GAFFL, are wonderful ways to meet people on the go.
Challenges from COVID-19
I initially planned to be in Morocco for 28 days. Then I was supposed to travel to Sicily and from there fly to Athens, Greece. COVID19 threw a curveball at my travel plans. As of June 22nd, I’ve been “stuck” in Marrakesh for 115 days. It’s been a total cultural shock; even the language is backward from my own. During Ramadan, people were eating breakfast when I was eating dinner.
As you might expect in the Kingdom of Morocco, the lockdown measures have been strict. Since March 20th, we’ve had a curfew, mandatory masks, and movement outside the home is restricted. For more than two months only the head of each household could leave before 6:00 p.m., to go grocery shopping or for a medical or emergency reason. Even now, everyone outside must still carry official papers and wear masks; otherwise you risk being fined. I’ve lost count of how many times the police have stopped me to see my paper and ask where I’m going.
camel riding prior to the lockdown
Fortunately, the curfew was recently extended until 8:00 p.m. Also, just a few days ago, after visiting more than half a dozen different office buildings, a local friend and I were finally able to get all paperwork in order for us to travel together to another city. We’ll be carrying my official paper from the U.S. Embassy and his permission slip from the public clerk for him to be seen with me, as it’s otherwise technically not allowed under Moroccan law for a man to be in public with a foreign female. We are heading west, to Essaouira, about three hours from Marrakesh; “we” includes a feral cat I adopted after it followed me from my basement... along with my luggage; all of which will somehow be secured onto a 90cc motorcycle. Inshallah.
Living in Morocco during the pandemic has been one of the most challenging, and simultaneously exciting and rewarding experiences of my life!
My Advice To Solo Travelers
You’re not going to always get what you want. You probably had to make some sacrifices just to be able to start solo traveling. Expect to make more sacrifices as you go along your journey. Learn how to cope maturely with the consequences of tough decisions. It will make you grow and appreciate experiences even more.
If you’re like me and working while traveling, make sure you don’t overdo it. Remember to schedule time for activities outside of your work; no matter how much you love what you do, you need to leave your apartment at least once every day. After all, you didn’t quit your 9-5 cubicle job just to go AirBnB-hopping (although even that is a nicer life than being stuck in the same office day after day)!
Make connections with the locals as much as you can. The best way to understand a country is to understand its people. Also, befriending locals can save you so much money. This has been especially true for me in my current location of Marrakech as I don’t speak Arabic or French!
That brings me to my next point. Although in many countries nowadays you will find the vast majority of people know some English, I still recommend learning at least a few “survival” phrases in the native tongue (e.g. “Excuse me. Where is the bathroom?”). While you might not actually need these phrases to survive, using them will be an easy way for you to ingratiate yourself with the locals.
Try new things. Walk everywhere as much as you can. It’s a better way to see a foreign land than public transportation, and certainly a private taxi! Of course, a motorbike is also good.
Cut yourself some slack for your mistakes. Don’t panic when nothing goes as planned. Embrace spontaneity.
The best adventures happen when you are least expecting them.
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