From Cubicle To Scuba Diving: Here's How Rika Went From 2 Weeks Of Vacation To Living & Traveling Comfortably Abroad!
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8th Dec | 7 min read
“Is this it? Do I really just work 50 weeks out of the year to enjoy two of them somewhere else? I wanted to have more experience out of life than just working and seeing a new place once a year for a couple weeks".  

Rika is a serial expat from Canada and has been living abroad for nearly 10 years. Most recently, she’s lived in Bali, Japan, and Honduras but is back home in Canada on hiatus now due to COVID-19. She's looking forward to getting back out into the world again when it is safe to do so.

You can find her over at her site, Cubicle Throwdown, follow her adventures on Facebook, or connect with her on GAFFL!

Why I Travel

Honestly, I was working in a really boring office job. I had graduated university and was working a corporate job as a paralegal. I went on vacation for a couple weeks and thought, “Is this it? Do I really just work 50 weeks out of the year to enjoy two of them somewhere else?” I wanted to have more experience out of life than just working and seeing a new place once a year for a couple weeks.

I also come from a family that travels, so I think it’s in my DNA. One set of my grandparents traveled the world and lived in many developing countries while setting up technical schools. My mom lived in Ghana! After retiring, they spent their winters in Portugal every year. (I was always SO jealous of that.) My other grandparents also traveled extensively and had a camper that they explored Canada with every summer. And finally, my dad is an airline pilot! So, going around the world has always been a part of my life.

I've Been Lucky To Make Many Long-Lasting Friendships During My Travels

Because I live in these destinations and I’m not just passing through, I get to create lots of long-lasting friendships! I’m really lucky with that.

In Honduras, I was working as a scuba diving instructor, so that came with a built-in community! I have been gone from there for almost 5 years and I still have people from there asking me when I’m moving back. The connections I made there were really special, especially with the locals, and I hope that I can go back someday.

In Japan, I joined a traditional dance team and that ended up being my Japanese family. They were so kind to me and took really great care of me while I was there, which was amazing. I’m eternally grateful to them. I got to interact with people of all ages and practice my Japanese while I learned a new skill. Some of my best memories from Japan are with my dance team.

In Bali, I actually went there because of a friend I had met years and years earlier in Honduras. She was the one who convinced me to move to Honduras and become a dive instructor, and since then she had moved to Indonesia and started a digital marketing internship business there. She asked me to come work with her in Bali, so I went! That’s one of the best long-lasting friendships I’ve made on my travels. We’re coming up on 10 years and still working together!

I was a scuba diving instructor in Roatan, Honduras from 2012-2016

It was an incredible experience and I’m so glad I did it instead of wondering, “What if?”

I loved teaching diving. Getting to show someone a whole new world is a feeling I’ve never gotten from anything else. There was always a mix – some students got it straight away, and some really had to work for it. I got a reputation for working with nervous or anxious divers, and getting to calm people down and have them enjoy their dives was rewarding for me. One of my favorite memories was teaching a 73 year old woman how to dive! She was determined and it took us weeks instead of the days it usually takes, but she made it through and she continued to dive for several more years. I often think of her strong will and how hard she worked to achieve that goal.

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How I Choose Where To Travel Next

Throw a dart at a dartboard? No, but I don’t always plan extensively. I do look at a few factors when I’m deciding – how close it is (I really hate long flights), the food (I plan a lot of trips around food), and how touristy it is (not interested in tourist traps), and the cost of living/traveling there (sorry, Europe, I won’t be visiting you for a while).

I have a lot of dietary restrictions, so some countries are really difficult for me and I often will choose one country over another just based on that. I know that might sound shallow to some people, but I don’t want to spend my trip starving or sick. Japan and Vietnam were my favorite places for food!

I work online, so the wifi is one of the most important parts for me. I can’t stay somewhere long term if the wifi is terrible. I had a horrible time trying to work in the places I traveled in the Philippines. I loved the country, but if I can’t work, I can’t travel, so I learned my lesson and now I check into the wifi before I decide where I’m going.

I do like going somewhere where I have a basic grasp on the language but it’s not always a deciding factor. I can get around in Spanish, French, and Japanese but I pick up languages quickly so it’s not a deal breaker.

I usually move to a destination and then travel around from there once a month or so on shorter trips. This allows me to get to a lot more places than I would if I was taking each trip from Canada. For example, when I was living in Japan I managed to travel to Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, South Korea, Vietnam and the Philippines. I would have never been able to take all those trips from Canada because it’s so far away and each trip would have cost 10x what it did from living in Japan and taking the trips from there.

I’m not a long term backpacker type of traveler. I backpacked for Peru for six weeks once and I don’t love living out of a backpack and changing location every few days. I like traveling somewhere long term and staying put. So most of my trips are on the shorter end (a week or so) because I’m already living abroad which is its own adventure.

Some Things That Prevent Me From Traveling More

The cost of traveling is always an issue, but I think that’s the same for most people. My travel wish list is a lot bigger than my wallet! Due to some chronic health conditions, I don’t have the energy or physical ability that I used to have to run around all over the world. I’m into slow travel now!

I also don’t take the risks I used to when I was younger – I won’t take sketchy flights or buses just to save a few bucks anymore. I used to do that without a second thought, but it’s not worth the anxiety to me anymore! 

Sometimes it’s also tough to meet people when I travel. I don’t stay at hostels and I generally work better from a café or AirBnb than a co-working space, so I think I’m probably missing some opportunities to meet like-minded people.

My Advice To New Digital Nomads

You CAN do this. There are infinite resources online to help you! Don’t miss out on all that info that’s right at your fingertips. Do your research.

I know some people wing it, but I preferred to have a consistent source of income first from my online work and then match that with the cost of living/traveling somewhere rather than plan my destination and hope my income would keep up.

Always have a plan B, always check the wifi, always get a local SIM card with data for a wifi backup, and always, ALWAYS, eat the local food!

Tired of traveling alone? Connect with users from over 190 countries to plan trips and travel together!