How I paid off $40,000 of debt and found my dream career

How I paid off $40,000 of debt

And found my dream career. There’s more to life than bills and debt

dream career

Michelle Renee Dacyk, 39, Grand Prairie, Alta. (Photograph by Chris Beauchamp)

When I completed my masters degree two years ago the first question I asked myself was: “Now what?” I was an occupational therapist and had been in debt since age 18, having spent my money on cars, credit cards, lines of credit and even a mortgage. Still, I was fortunate. I had a five-figure nest egg from two previous employers sitting in a locked-in retirement account (LIRA) that I could access when I was 55. I also had access to a modest $20,000 cash payout.

But I was at a turning point. I couldn’t help thinking that there must be more to life than bills and debt. What I really wanted was a new adventure. So, I decided to go to a life coach. Those few visits helped me realize that what I really needed was to be in a profession with a purpose that also involved travel.

Around this time is when I met a group of people who had started a crowdfunding website that encouraged women to create four-year projects on the subject of travel. The idea was for women to learn through travel and this prompted me to explore the myths and facts regarding solo backpack travel after the age of 35. I also applied for the crowdfunding and surprised myself by raising $5,000—enough for a world trip. Now it was decision time: Take this big trip? Or go back to my old way of life, paying off my mortgage and debts.

Buoyed with enthusiasm, I sold almost everything I owned, including my Grand Prairie, Alta., home. Just minutes after I posted it for sale on Facebook, my home was sold and this simple act helped unlock the 20-year debt-handcuffs. I was free to jump into my new life.

This wholesale purge allowed me to pay off $40,000 of debt, while leaving a few thousand dollars for an emergency fund. I then wrote up my life and business plan, which involved the first leg of my journey—exploring 38 cities in Europe during 2015. This year, I’ll visit 39 islands and I’m planning on visiting 40 countries in 2017 and 2018. I’ll end what I call my “four-year global degree” in 2019 when I’ll visit 41 famous bodies of water around the world.

Part of my plan is to focus on keeping travel affordable. I’m house-sitting right now, which means I don’t have to pay rent and last year I travelled on a $75 per day budget. As part of my plan, I created a YouTube show called North of 35: Latitudes and Attitudes. My aim is to reset the parameters for adventure for older travellers. Did you know that there are certain countries that won’t issue you a travelling work visa if you’re over the age of 30, and many global hostels refuse entry to anyone over age 35? To counter these obstacles, I meet and tell the stories of fellow travellers who are over 30; these are the people who aren’t letting their age hold them back.

So, here I am. Female. Solo. A modern-day nomad trying to inspire other North 35ers to travel after their 20s and before retirement. There’s a purpose to all this fun: To prepare for a big humanitarian effort in my future. I’m passionate about global issues and entrepreneurship and hope to become more resourceful. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that if something is important to you, you’ll find a way.

However, my main message is that we must all live life with no regrets. I work in health care and see people get sick all the time. There’s always a reason not to do something but don’t let that stop you. Get creative, get out of debt, and look at your money differently.

—As told to Julie Cazzin