Hi! Thank you for stopping by and welcome to my world!
I’m Ioana (pronounced ‘Yanna'), and I'm a Toronto-based traveler, marketer, blogger and photographer. I was born in Romania and moved to Canada when I was 12, where I’ve lived since.
While being a dual citizen has influenced my identity over the last 20+ years, I’ve always considered myself a citizen of the world. Aside from Romania and Canada, I've also lived in France, Brazil, and Greece.
I started this blog to share my love for cultural travel and photography. I also wanted to share resources and tips to enable and inspire people to travel as much as they want.
While I often travel on a budget, I prioritize getting value in return for my hard-earned dollars, and I’m excited to share those tips with you. I love exploring off-the-beaten-path destinations as much as I enjoy discovering hidden gems in classic spots like Paris.
The world is my playground and I love exploring it, with no plans on stopping any time soon!
Thank you for coming on this journey with me.
The Early Travel Bug
Travel has been a massive part of my life ever since I can remember. I’ve had a passport since I was five and I always considered it to be one of my most prized possessions.
Wanderlust has deep roots in my family, despite us living for decades in a communist country that didn’t allow travel. Even when we couldn’t travel, we did our best to get out and explore our own country. We didn’t have to go far to have adventures.
I have fond memories of going hiking with my parents and family friends in the Romanian Carpathian Mountains when I was 3. I was just tall enough to stand up in my dad’s backpack and watch the world go by. Those were the good old days.
Once the Romanian borders opened for traveling, we started venturing to Hungary and the Czech Republic, but the tradition of hiking and cottaging around Romania continued.
My first “solo” trip was at the age of 10 when I joined a Romanian theatre group on a trip to Toulouse, France. It was my first trip without my parents. I was attending a school for the arts, and I joined the group as the presenter – my only job was to be charming while introducing the play every night. And while the acting bug didn’t bite me during that trip, the wanderlust bug sure dug in deeper!
It was also the first time I experienced the “adventure” side of traveling when our bus broke down in France on the side of the road. There were no smartphones, international SIM cards or easy ways to get help, but we managed to fix it and get on the road again – 10 hours later! It was my first (but not last) taste of travel mishaps, and I learned a valuable lesson: stuff can happen when you're on the road, but you find a way to deal with it, learn for next time and you keep going.
My Affair with Solo Travel
At 16 I embarked on another solo trip, this time flying by myself from Canada to Romania for a family wedding. It was my first time returning since moving to Canada 4 years earlier. I loved traveling alone and started going back every summer to visit friends and family.
The independence and empowerment I got from traveling solo were incredible. I was hooked.
In fact, a couple of years later, I chose my university degree of International Business (with a focus of International Marketing) based on the idea of combining two of my biggest passions — traveling and marketing. The degree had a mandatory year abroad, and during our third year, everyone in my program lived abroad.
France was a logical choice for me — what better way to use my high school French, right? France was also a country I had deep ties with, and I couldn’t resist being a stone’s throw away from Italy, Switzerland and many other countries on my bucket list.
Ever the value traveler (and rebel) that I am, I chose to forego living in Paris – the obvious and expensive choice – for a place where my euros would go further. I chose Chambéry, a small town in southeastern France surrounded by the Alps and 45 minutes away from Geneva, a hub for European travel.
I used all the money I saved from rent towards exploring more countries and having more experiences. Plus, Chambéry's old town also had a castle, and I couldn’t think of anything cooler than living next to an 11th-century castle.
And so, Chambéry was home for the next 12 months, and it was one of the best decisions of my life!
It was my first time being away from home for an entire year and figuring out life from scratch in a different country. If you take for granted being able to set up a phone line, internet, and TV at home, try doing it in French in a country that loves its bureaucracy. In the middle of August. When most locals are on vacation!
Adulting 101 Bootcamp, in French.
There was never a dull moment during my year in France. I met amazing people from all over France, and the
I loved studying in a new country where the perspective of the material, marketing tactics and strategies were different from what I was accustomed to.
Day to day life in a foreign country also made me more patient, more resourceful, more curious, and more adaptable.
Two-hour lunches were easy to get used to.
Skiing every Thursday in one of the 100 resorts sprinkled an hour from Chambéry became the norm.
Going to Spain on a whim, jumping on a train to Italy for the Olympics or to Cannes for the film festival was just part of the adventure.
And while I didn’t live in Paris, it was a hop, skip and a jump away (ie. five hours by TGV), and I saw it often. Life was good.
I took advantage of breaks between courses and (then new) low-cost airlines like Ryanair and easyJet to see as much of Europe as I could. I knocked off nine countries off my (ever) growing list!
The rest of the time, I lived outside of my comfort zone as much as possible.
I became a better skier.
I learned to snowboard and tackled complicated slopes. I even defied gravity and faced my fear of heights by going Via Ferrata (rock climbing while being attached to a steel cable). Sidenote: As much as it scared me, it left an impression and I jumped at the chance to try Via Ferrata again last summer in the Dolomites.
The year ended with a three-week backpacking trip through Switzerland, Belgium, Scotland, England and Germany (for the 2006 World Cup!). By the time I returned home, a year passed!
After a year of adventures, I came home to the biggest surprise of all – reverse culture shock.
I spent an entire year experiencing new adventures but when I returned, life was as I had left it. I had often heard about culture shock but never experienced it first hand. I didn’t expect to return home and have it hit me like a ton of bricks. It took a few months to recover from the effects and find my new place in my old home.
Adjusting to “Real Life”
I finished my last year of university and got my first marketing job immediately after, like society expected me to. I was, what most people would call, “lucky” to find a job in my field right after graduation. It was a lot more than luck, and it spawned a ten-year career in marketing.
Job after job, travel remained a constant. Despite holding a 9-5 for a decade, I continued to travel as much as possible. I used travel goals to keep me excited and engaged. For example, in 2008 I thought it would be fun to knock off two new countries on continents I’d never been on before, so I went to Japan and Chile.
It didn’t take me long to figure out how to stretch my limited vacation days, holidays and how to find affordable flights and accommodation that would allow me to globetrot.
Travel Meets Philanthropy
In 2010, I discovered the great work that Imagine1Day was doing in Ethiopia in regards to education. I joined their inaugural trip as one of the 16 participants.
As a group, we raised $100,000 to build a school in the northern region of Tigray. We spent 3 weeks touring the northern part of the country, visiting schools and learning about Ethiopia.
This trip was another pivotal point in my life. It gave me so much perspective and growth, and it truly changed my life and my outlook. I fell in love with the people of Ethiopia and the vast, beautiful landscapes throughout the country. To this day, it remains one of my favorite countries.
Two years later I joined another volunteer initiative, WeCanada, to raise awareness about Canada’s involvement at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development – conveniently referred to as Rio+20.
I moved to Rio de Janeiro before the conference and ended up staying for almost a month.
Imagine a 10-day mega-summit attended by 45,000 people from all over the world, with representation from 192 UN countries. To say it was massive and eye-opening would be an understatement. I learned so much by being there, especially about negotiation at a global level.
On top of that, living in a local neighborhood in Rio during the conference also gave me an appreciation for the vibrant and eclectic city. Having time to hit Rio’s many beaches on breaks from the summit didn’t hurt either!
Post-Rio, life got in the way for a few years, and my traveling to new countries slowed down while my career ramped up. However, I became restless.
I was working so much, I didn’t have the energy to travel and instead started taking “staycations” to relax, recharge and catch up on life.
I started frequenting all-inclusive resorts more often because it was more relaxing than exploring new destinations. I also started feeling like something was missing. My priority shifted to advancing my career by working 70+ hours a week, which didn’t leave space or energy for much else.
It wasn’t until 2016 when I was dealing with a big breakup that I decided to heal my broken heart by taking a solo trip to Greece.
Greece was a country I had been dying to see for years and spending two weeks by myself there allowed me to soul-search, regain my confidence, and learn to trust myself again. I evolved more in two weeks than I could’ve ever imaged. I got my zest for life back.
Like most first time visitors to Greece, I spent time in Athens, Santorini, and Mykonos. I came back with new friends and a fresh appreciation for life.
The Greeks know how to relax and enjoy life and it rubbed off! I was reminded that travel was my first love.
I felt alive again. Empowered. Inspired.
Determined to get back to basics, I created a new goal: see 33 countries before turning 33. I gave myself a year to travel as much as possible while holding down a full-time job. Challenge, accepted.
33 By 33
I started with a pre-Christmas trip to Reykjavik and Paris to visit some friends. I had been to both cities previously, but it was great to go solo and explore them in winter. It was interesting (read: slightly depressing) to experience Iceland’s 21-hour dark winter days.
During my birthday that January, I went to Cuba and was fortunate enough to spend my 32nd birthday exploring the gorgeous and timeless Havana.
A few months later I signed up for my first G Adventures trip and went to Croatia, Albania, Montenegro, and Greece.
It was during this trip that the seed of full-time solo travel got planted. I met so many wonderful people during those 2.5 weeks. I felt so great making our way through the Balkans and learning about the rich history in the region. During this trip, a voice inside kept asking: “why aren’t you doing this every day if it makes you feel so alive?”
Later that summer, I went to Spain and Portugal with a couple of friends – I was determined to see David Guetta in Ibiza while I was still young enough to enjoy it and stay awake, and he was still young enough to play. (Ha! But seriously… he was amazing!)
In November, I joined Pangea Dreams on a blogger retreat in Tulum, Mexico and started planning a transition to being a digital nomad. The retreat helped me get the skills I needed to start making my dream a reality and introduced me to a network of amazing women that had similar goals.
During this time, country-hopping made me feel alive and more productive at my job. I was never in town long enough to get bored and restless, which was amazing and worked so well for me. When I was at home, I made every second count.
I traveled to 10 countries in 12 months but fell short of meeting my goal of 33 by 33. It didn’t matter. I revisited a lot of my favorite places, and every trip was a new experience and a new lesson. These were some of the best trips of my life.
Although I didn’t meet my original intention, I wouldn't have taken so many trips if I didn't have a guiding goal. Side note: travel goals are just as important as regular goals, don’t take them for granted!.
I celebrated my 33rd birthday with 30 countries under my belt! I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity to have traveled so much. I got even better at using vacation days and holidays strategically to take off as often as possible, and I’m very proud of that! Handy skill, if you ask me, and one that I'm happy to share with others through this blog.
In early 2018 and a month after turning 33, I decided to throw caution to the wind and follow my dreams of traveling the world. A decision 10 years in the making, and one sparked from a moment of self-awareness in Montenegro 8 months prior, this was to be my greatest adventure yet! And the scariest I've ever embarked on.
As much as I enjoyed my job, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was missing from my life. Taking a year off to travel was something I'd always wanted to do.
I imagined myself 40 years from now looking back and regretting not taking a chance on this dream — not going through with taking “an adult gap year” and seeing what happens.
I don’t live life with regrets, and I didn’t want to start now. I was fortunate enough to work at a place that supported my dream of taking a [very unpaid] sabbatical for a year to travel the world.
With bags full of dreams and gear, I left Toronto on February 26, 2018, to explore the world, starting with Australia and New Zealand. I spent 65 days exploring these beautiful countries on the longest solo trip I've ever taken. I had the best time – here are the highlights.
I also spent the summer traveling through Greece (even lived in Milos), Croatia, and Slovenia and moving back to Romania for a few months to reconnect with family, friends and a Motherland I left behind 20+ years ago.
I am now proud to say I have visited 34 countries (thank you, Australia, New Zealand, Slovenia, and Egypt, for rounding out the list!), on six continents.
Antarctica, I'm coming for you!
I have so many plans for 2019/2020 and I cannot wait to share them with you. I hope you will join me on this continued adventure.
I am now proud to say I have visited 34 countries on six continents. Antarctica, I'm coming for you!
100 by ?
My goal now is to visit 100 countries – something that's been on my goal list since I went to Ethiopia. It was on my flight there when we did a short stop in Jordan to pick up passengers, and I realized how much of the world I still have to see!
I haven’t set a time limit yet because it’s not something I want to rush through. I love exploring and experiencing new countries as much as I love checking them off on my map.
The first 34 have been more than I could’ve ever imagined, so I have no doubt that the next 66 will blow my mind. I’m excited to see what lies ahead.
You’re never too young, too old or too broke to follow your dreams, and I hope to inspire you to chase your goals and travel as much (or little) as you want, discover new cultures and explore hidden gems around the world.
Along the way I’ll share tips on how to stretch your travel dollars, get the best value for your time and money and live the life you want.
Remember, “your current boundaries were once unknown frontiers,” so get out there and follow your dreams, whatever they may be!
The world is my playground, and it can be yours too.
P.S. If you want to read what I was up to during my adult gap year, check out my best travel moments for 2018, as well as my worst adventures of the year.
P.P.S. Drop me a line and let me know what your goals are for this year, travel or not! Would love to hear what inspires you.