By Wendy Elliott
Last summer, Wolfville’s Emily Anne Stewart was the only Canadian finalist in a New Zealand travel magazine’s blogging competition. She didn’t snag the top spot, but, undaunted Stewart continued with plans for a three-month trip to China, Mongolia and Thailand.
The 25-year-old, who had been working as a nanny in Calgary, set out without much luggage on an adventure that included teaching English as a volunteer at a children’s camp in Mongolia.
Stewart became a world traveler in 2010 after she graduated from Acadia with a degree in recreation management. Her first backpacking trip was 286 days through 14 countries while she filled four Moleskine journals. Each one includes a map of Canada, so she could show folks she met where Nova Scotia is.
While she started out staying in hostels, Stewart soon became a couch surfer. A web site that links travelers to free beds, “made my trip so much longer,” she said, “and I found out about local cool hot spots.”
For example, while in Switzerland she stayed with a fellow who had a friend with a boat. Stewart got to go tubing in a lake near the Alpine city of Lausanne.
She has stayed with a Californian woman in Thailand twice and many adventures ensued. When I asked her if she had any bad experiences in strange lands, she said, “just the usual.
“Trying to be ripped off for prices and scams, but I read a lot about the typical scams before I left, and was happy I did because they exist, and in full force. I met a British girl on my first day in Beijing who had fallen for three of the scams on her first week there.”
According to Stewart, couch surfing allowed her to travel without set plans. She found herself bedding down on a concrete patio in Greece and a luxury suite in Thailand.
“Knowing a local and being persistent and confident was key,” she said.
She also became adept at charades to help communicate.
“Out of all of my couch surfing experiences, I only once didn't get along with my host. Nothing bad happened; we just didn't click. So I made up some excuse for having to go meet a friend, and instead I just found a different couch surfer in that city and went and stayed with them.”
Stewart worked as a nanny for two months in New Zealand, which she loved. Having been home for a good visit with family, she has just headed to Vancouver with the notion of working to save money for more travels.
Not sure yet what she might do for a “grown up job,” Stewart said she finds travel the most meaningful pursuit in her life. Her bucket list is a long one.
“I know I’ll come back some day, but I’ll always travel.”
I admire this young woman for her spirit, but I’m also conscious there are hundreds of thousands of Canadians who have few choices. They’re aged 15 to 29 and they are jobless. Statistics indicate our unemployed youth represent 15 per cent of people that age. The rest were split between school (44 per cent) and work (43 per cent). The adult rate is half of youth employment, plus few adults are carrying a student debt load.
Young adults Stewart’s age have more trouble finding jobs, especially in the Maritimes.
When she does settle down, Stewart might be able to work as a travel agent or trip organizer, among other options. Hopefully the economy will allow her to make those choices before too long and in the meantime the world is her oyster.