This Part Time Traveler With A Full-Time Job Has Already Explored Over 30 Countries & Isn't Stopping Anytime Soon
What is GAFFL?

GAFFL connects solo travelers with similar itineraries to explore destinations together. Whether you are backpacking in Asia, road tripping in Australia, or exploring national parks in the US, simply type the destination you are traveling to, find travelers who are going there at the same time as you, connect with them, plan trips, meet, and travel together.

Ellen is a 30-year-old from Belgium who works full-time at Belgium’s biggest insurance company, earning money to spend on traveling and also exploring the world.
24th Jul | 9 min read

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    Ellen is a 30-year-old from Belgium who works full-time at Belgium’s biggest insurance company, earning money to spend on traveling and also exploring the world. Ellen is always keeping an eye out for her next adventure or destinations to explore. Just give her a camera and send her abroad and she's the happiest person alive. When she's not traveling, she's either planning her travels or writing about her adventures abroad on her blog. 

    Check out her blog Ellen's Travel Stories Instagram to learn more about her latest adventures.

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    What Intrigued Me To Start Traveling

    I used to be quite a couch potato when I was younger but during my studies, I got the chance to go abroad for one semester to Karlsruhe in Germany. A whole new world opened up for me. I discovered new places, met new people from different cultures, and fell in love with that whole experience. Back home I yearned to feel the same way again and travel to satisfy that need perfectly.

    Duration Of My Trips

    Since I still have a full-time job, my trips have to fit into my work schedule. I’m lucky to get a lot of days off work so that I’m able to go on a few trips a year.

    This can go from a three-day city trip to a three-week trip across the ocean. The perfect length of a trip for me now is ten days. This way I also don’t have to leave my cat alone for too long at home.

    Read more: Kasia Has A Full-Time Career But Still Makes Her Travel Dreams Come True With The Right Combination Of Planning & Spontaneity

    Things That Help Me Choose My Next Destination

    I do like to explore new cultures so that’s definitely something that’s in the back of my mind when I’m considering destinations. It’s also sort of a goal to make it to every continent. But it also depends greatly on other travelers’ experiences, especially for last-minute trips. Then I tend to travel to places friends of mine have been to recently and have had amazing stories of their time there.

    But the past couple of years I always tried to make sure some nature was included in my trip (except for the short city trips of course).

    Once a destination is set, the first thing I do is head to the local library and see what travel guides they have on that place. In combination with the WWW, I try to find the highlights for me and the things I want to do. Then it’s just a matter of estimating how long I’ll want to spend in a certain place to see if it all can fit the schedule.

    Before COVID I always booked my hotels in advance, but in the last couple of years, I’ve enjoyed booking them while on a trip. This way I had more freedom to stay in a certain place longer or less long if I wanted. I still have a bit of an itinerary, to make sure I don’t have to miss out on the big things.

    Read more: Rather Than Choosing A Destination, Stanway Lets The Destination Choose Him Using A Method He Calls The "Four Pillars"

    Number Of Countries I've Visited & My Most Remarkable Adventure

    I’ve just checked off my 30th last year. Living in Europe makes it easier to get that number up quickly, especially living in tiny Belgium.

    While it may not have had the most beautiful views, one of the most remarkable trips was my trip through Cuba back in 2016. For our entire stay, we didn’t have wifi once and even cell phone reception was rare. We were traveling with three people at the time and sort of only had each other to talk to. It felt weird to not have a connection to what was happening in the world, but at the same time, it was so satisfying to be forced to be offline and just live in the moment.

    My number 1 bucket list, for now, is the high north, to witness the Northern Lights. I just don’t deal well with the cold which is why I keep postponing it. Also, the fact that you’re never certain that you’ll see it makes me hesitant. But one day!

    Read more: This Fun Couple Met On A Boat Over A Decade Ago And Have Been Living & Traveling Around The World Ever Since

    Favorite Memories Of Meeting New People 

    One of my absolute favorite travel memories is hiking through the rice fields in Sapa, Vietnam. We went on a two-day trip through the rice fields with a local guide from Sapa Sisters. This was, at the time, a small business of young women who organized treks through the fields. Overnight we stayed with our guide, Lan, and her family and enjoyed lunch and dinner with families of other guides throughout the trek. It was all so authentic and this way you really get a feeling of how these people live. Since they know the area like the back of their hand, you go off the beaten path and learn so much more about the rice plants and the farming life over there.

    When I traveled to Budapest, I was also allowed to stay with a friend I had met online. She and her mom lived in a small apartment which was of course pretty common in a big city. Despite the fact that they weren’t very wealthy, they welcomed me very warmly and allowed me to see how they lived. I got to see both this amazing city, but also how life is for people living there.

    Why I Blog & How I Help My Audience

    When I came home from traveling, I always had a ton of people asking for advice on destinations I’d been to or just in general about what I’d done abroad. While I love telling people about it in person, I realized that it might be cool to just write it down as well. Not only for them to read, but also as a sort of journal for myself. I do reread some of the older posts, just to remember those small things that you forgot over the years.

    I hope I can help my readers to choose whether a specific destination is a place they’d enjoy as well if they’re also looking into traveling, but mostly I just hope they enjoy my stories. The only mission for my writings is to collect my stories and hopefully inspire others to travel and explore the world!

    Worth reading: Tam Is On A Mission To Help Travelers Find Fulfilling Adventures All Over The World

    How I Manage Work & Travel 

    I’m not fortunate enough to combine the two, at least not at the same time. But my employer does offer me a lot of days off each year, so I can still get places and explore the world without losing the security of an income.

    When I was younger I always wanted to give up that job to travel for a longer time, but then COVID came and I got settled in my work life and bought a house (and got a cat!) so that gives me fewer options to just leave that all behind. But I’m very happy where I am now.

    Worth reading: This Digital Nomad Is Able To Explore The World While Also Running Her Two Businesses By Embracing "Slow Travel"

    Challenges That I Face

    My biggest challenge now is actually still finding time to travel. Days off work aren’t such a big issue, but my personal life got quite busy and while in the past I used all my days off for travel, I now need to make other decisions and take my boyfriend’s wishes into account.

    A few years ago, my biggest challenge was to keep my travels as budget-friendly as possible. I always wanted to keep the cost as low as possible, just to be able to go on more trips.

    I like to be well-prepared for anything that might happen. I do have a thing where before leaving I google the most common scams in a country I’m traveling to. This way you can easily recognize some things and stay safer. Of course, you must make sure that it doesn’t make you paranoid.

    Worth reading: From Seasonal To Full Time: This Couple Sold Everything In 2016 to Explore The World

    How GAFFL Helps Travelers & Other Travel Apps That I Use

    I think GAFFL is an amazing platform to connect people, with multiple advantages. It’s always great to meet new people with the same mindset. If it then can also help save money on your trips by planning this ahead, that’s a great bonus. You can also share planning tips before departure which makes it easier to make sure you don’t have to miss out on something you didn’t find out about yourself.

    While I’m traveling, my daily apps are or Hostelworld to find a place to sleep, to navigate and of course, Google is never far away.

    I’ve also used split-wise multiple times to make it easier while traveling in a group to keep track of who paid for what and to make sure no one pays more than someone else when you can’t just split bills or ask for separate bills.

    Ellens Travel Experience

    My Most Bizarre Travel Experience

    One of my most bizarre experiences will always be the boat trip I went on in Trang An in Vietnam. As three young white girls, me a strawberry blonde and one of my friends a blonde, we drew a lot of attention and suddenly received VIP treatment.

    We got to skip the lines and got a whole boat to ourselves. The locals in the other boats were constantly taking pictures of us and wanting to go on a picture with us. For half a day, we got a taste of what it’s like to be famous.

    Advice That I Can Share

    Planning is key! If you don’t have the luxury to stay in a certain place for a longer amount of time, because you only have a limited amount of days off work, it’s important to know what places in the area you definitely want to see. It would be a shame to find yourself planning or looking up stuff to do half of the time. Or missing out on a certain activity or place because you were too late to make a reservation.

    But while planning is important, always leave a bit of room for some spontaneous things, and don’t over plan your days. You’ll never know what’ll cross your path. Have a plan, but be flexible!

    Read more: Katie Is A Weekend Warrior Who Loves Exploring The Outdoors While Also Managing Her Career & Family Responsibilities

    Lessons That I Have Learned From Traveling

    I mostly wish I’d started traveling earlier, and maybe traveled for a longer period of time before I started working. And also, just go on that solo trip! It may look scary when you’re facing the first one, but it’s just a liberation to have to think only about yourself during that time.

    Over the years I’ve learned that you don’t have to plan everything to the T to have an amazing trip. It’s good to have a general idea of what you can see or do so you can prepare yourself, but the best memories are mostly from those things you didn’t plan.

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