“It’s now or never. I just feel that I am at the right age and stage to do this,” smiles Reilly Cowan, 28, a Canadian backpacker who is set to conquer the world’s some 100 countries. He is currently in the Philippines (his 52nd country), and by the time he will be done with his 15-month journey around the globe, he would have visited 58 countries already.
Reilly quit his job as an engineer in an oil and petroleum company in Northern Canada on March last year and he hasn’t stopped traveling since. He got a high-paying job and was quite happy with everything that was happening in his life then, but the desire to go around the world was just undeniable. Some of the countries he has visited so far include Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Montenegro, Norway, Serbia, Slovenia, Thailand and Vietnam.
Reilly got his first taste of traveling at such a young age, when his dad would take him to some trips to the United States and Mexico, but swears he was bitten by the travel bug when he went on his first backpacking trip around Europe in 2007. Fresh from university, Reilly plunged into the exciting world of traveling and made a mental note he will one day visit every continent.
“I guess a month is not enough to travel. When I made the decision to quit my job so I could travel, I was offered a promotion but I just had to turn it down. The call of traveling around the world was just so exciting, and couldn’t be ignored just like that, so I quit,” Reilly shares.
“I had this dream to take a real big trip or travel around the world. I have set a goal for myself to visit every country when I turn 30. I was 27 when I quit my post, I made a lot of money, saved a bit, I was young enough, not committed to my career yet. I decided I have the money, the time is right. And it feels good,” he says.
It helps that Dad is supportive of Reilly’s decision to take a break from work and while Mom had a hard time accepting Reilly just quit a very decent, high-paying, future-securing work, she relented anyway. Reilly’s aware that his mission to conquer the world does not come with a very small cost, his expenses since he started traveling last year are now around USD23,000.
“You can earn that back. But this kind of life – seeing the world, meeting new people, experiencing different culture – the opportunity to live this life does not come everyday. I encourage everyone to travel and discover the little versions of ourselves,” Reilly smiles.
He maintains a travel blog to keep track of his journey: reillycowan.blogspot.com. Meanwhile, know more about his traveling self and be inspired. 🙂
What do you remember most of your first trip abroad? I remember arriving in Frankfurt Germany on my first day going overseas and not having a clue what I was doing! I had decided to skip my connecting flight to Frankfurt from London about three days before I left on my trip, and even had booked a hostel in London with directions and everything, then when I attempted to have my bags removed in London I found out it wasn’t possible so I would have to go on to Frankfurt. I was in no way prepared for Germany, and remember first sitting at the luggage carrousel looking at bags, hoping to spot another backpacker’s bag so I could ask them for advice! I spotted a bag going around several times and was wondering who would pick it up when I realized it was my own bag and I hadn’t remembered what my bag looked like since it was so new!! I retrieved my bag and spent over an hour trying to figure out how to even get out of the airport since everything was in German! I finally figured it out and managed to find a hostel, but realized that being alone while traveling in foreign countries was going to be a big challenge, but it instantly made me grow as a person. I will never forget that first day alone!!
What wont you leave home without? A wifi device, an open mind to meeting new people, and a Canadian football jersey of my favourite team the Saskatchewan Roughriders. It reminds me of my roots 🙂
How do you pass time at airports? I typically find a coffee shop that has wifi and surf the net or else watch tv or movies on my laptop or iPod touch.
Who is your ideal traveling companion? Someone who is very flexible and doesn’t get easily stressed out. Life on the road throws you lots of challenges and you have to realize that you can’t see everything and expect everything to go according to plans. I find not having a real plan is the best plan, so I need someone who is flexible like me.
Describe your most memorable trip. My current trip is the most memorable! Being alone, traveling around the world for close to a year now is such an unforgettable journey that I will remember until I die.
What is the best travel advice you were ever given? Travel while you’re young, don’t grow up too soon. Or else “you’ll never look back at your life and wish you had spent more time working, you will wish you spent more time traveling and with friends and family.”
What is the best advice you would give to a traveler? Don’t rely on guidebooks too much (as you get into a guidebook comfort zone), be sociable and talk to other people about their experiences and you’ll find some amazing places that guidebooks won’t talk about.
What is the strangest thing you have done on a trip? Probably eating a live snake’s beating heart and drinking its blood afterwards in Vietnam. Also, eating a scorpion in Thailand!
Name an event anywhere in the world you would like to participate in. If it’s an event I haven’t been to then probably Carnival in Brazil or La Tomatina in Spain. If it’s an event I have been in, then definitely the Oktoberfest in Munich Germany!
What is the worst souvenir you have ever brought back from a trip? Ha ha I don’t really buy souvenirs to be honest. Maybe a boomerang that I bought in Australia for my brother that my father ended up not wanting to give him. I took it camping once and tried to figure out how to throw it properly and nearly hit a small child with it, so I never tried it again!
Name a city you have never visited but would like to someday. New York City. Will hopefully visit it in August this year though 🙂
Name a country you wish to explore. India!!
What would you say is the best part of travel? The social aspect of it. I love meeting people from countries all over the world and trying to visit them in their homeland some day to get a real local feel for a place.
What would you say then is the worst part of travel? Either the loneliness if I haven’t made a good connection with people where I am or else the scams and cheats you encounter while in foreign countries.
If you could reside anywhere in the world aside from your country where would it be? Australia! Great weather, beautiful beaches, friendly people, and a great travel culture. Basically like Canada (which I love so much) but without the terribly cold winters.
- Except for the first photograph on this post, all images courtesy of R. Cowan.
- The Q & A part was inspired by The Philippine Star’s interview with Mr. Jaime Laya, culture champ, traveler extraordinaire. Mr. Laya was once a Governor of Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas and is one of the board of trustees of the Cultural Center of the Philippines.