Born in the United States and raised in Vancouver Canada, Grace Chen demonstrates the opportunities of what a powerful passport can bring. She, with foreign landscapes on her mind, has traveled extensively on her own dime while holding down a full-time job.
Sounds like an impossible task for any young professional yet she makes it happen seamlessly.
In today's Venque Traveler we catch up with Grace in Amsterdam, and talk about her experiences traveling as a young professional and hitting that elusive 40+ country mark!
Could you give us a brief introduction about yourself and why you love to travel solo?
I’m a marketing professional who has lived and worked across North America (Vancouver, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Dallas), Europe (London, Amsterdam), and Asia (Hong Kong, Taipei). I’ve traveled to a total of 41 countries so far almost entirely on my own dime which I made from working. I currently work as Content and SEO Manager at a sustainable technology company in Amsterdam, Netherlands.
I love solo travel because it’s an experience that provides a sense of freedom and self-confidence, and gives room to connect with people I wouldn’t come across in my daily life—people who provide a wholly different perspective of the world.
You have an incredibly diverse background. Born American with Taiwanese parents, raised in Canada, and now based in Amsterdam.
First what brings you to the Netherlands?
You may know me as the author of the Vancity Buzz op-ed about millennials leaving the city due to the rising cost of living. I left Vancouver soon after the article was published, and chose to live and work in London for two years to gain career experience in a global metropolitan city that provides convenient travel opportunities. Even though I achieved what I set out to, I eventually decided that I, being from Vancouver, prefer mid-sized city life and seriously considered moving back to California where I was born. However, I remembered that I once had a far-fetched dream about living in Amsterdam. Despite the fact that I don’t speak Dutch, I decided to give this far-fetched dream a shot nonetheless. I sent a few CVs to companies in Amsterdam and had two offers within a month. So I moved my life across the English Channel late August and have been living and working in Amsterdam ever since.
Also, how does a frequent traveler, day-time professional and night time DJ find balance with everything!? Please do tell.
I’m lucky to have a skill set that’s globally transferable and have thus strategically positioned myself in international cities where short-trips abroad are easy and affordable.
For example, Paris may seem far away from Toronto, but from London, it takes less than 2.5 hours to get from the platform at St. Pancras to the platform at Gare Du Nord. One morning, I arrived at my office in London and my colleague offered me a croissant that she had bought in Paris…earlier that morning.
I’m also lucky to be based in Europe, where 25 days of paid annual leave is the norm. Five weeks of holiday combined with easy and affordable transportation, short distances between countries, and a mindset that a rested employee is a productive employee makes balancing a full-time job (with which I self-fund all of my travels) with frequently travel (and other hobbies) quite logically achievable.
What has been one of the most memorable aspects of your travels to date? Friendships, travel loves, and everything in-between?
“No road is long with good company.”
I believe in the age-old adage that it’s the people you meet along the way who make the journey memorable. One of my favourite memories comes from when I once stayed at a hostel in Split, Croatia. During breakfast one morning, I said hello to two girls and learned that they were from Montreal. We proceeded to spend a wonderfully lazy day at the beach and around the old town of Split. They invited me to join them on a day tour to Plitvice Lakes National Park the following day where, along the way, we met a brother and sister duo from Winnipeg and all proceeded to become best friends. Plitvice Lakes was otherworldly, but it was the jokes with great people that made those few days of my life truly unforgettable.
What are some valuable lessons you've learned along the way either about yourself or in general while travelling?
- You are braver and more resourceful than you could ever imagine.
- No one will solve your problems for you.
- Having the freedom to do what you want, when you want is more liberating than anything you could imagine.
- There is an incredible amount of people in the world, each with a life as rich, complex, and colourful as your own.
- No one has the right to judge the lives and cultures of others.
- Most people you will meet in this world, regardless of language, culture, religion, etc. are good people.
- Great personal growth happens when you are lost.
- Our planet is a beautiful place. We are lucky to be alive on it and have a duty to take care of it.
- Nothing happens unless you put in the effort.
- A smile goes a long way.
Would you have any advice and tips for travelers looking to do more solo traveling?
I find that traveling has a snowball effect. It might be hard to start this type of lifestyle, but the more you do it, the easier it gets. For example, let’s say you went on a trip to New York. You befriend a couple on holiday from Amsterdam and they invite you to visit and offer you a place to sleep. While you’re in Amsterdam, you meet some Spanish students on exchange from Madrid. They invite you to visit. In Madrid, you meet a group of Koreans who invite you to Seoul. At a certain point, you’ll realize you’ve become an expert at collecting travel miles and finding cheap flights. Your network of friends has become global, and many are more than happy to welcome you to their countries and homes.
To get started, you just have a take a deep breath and do it, while making sure your finances are intact. Book a flight, book an Airbnb (make sure there are many good reviews), show up, and talk to strangers. You never know who you'll meet and what interesting situations you’ll find yourself in!
And from all the places and countries you have been to, which is your favourite place/country and why?
I’m asked this question often and always have a hard time answering! After all, how can one pick a favourite place and country in such a diverse and beautiful world?
To provide some sort of answer, I’ll list my favourite places to live, relax, eat in, and be in awe of.
- Vancouver – Let’s start with the city my heart so fondly calls home! Vancouver is consistently ranked as one of the most livable cities in the world, and for good reason. Before I moved abroad, I knew that Vancouver was beautiful, but didn’t quite appreciate just how lucky I was to have grown up in such a multi-cultural, coast-lined city bordering the ocean, the mountains, and the forest. After I moved abroad, I realized that Vancouver is truly one of a kind.
- Amsterdam – I’ve never really been able to explain it, but I have a special fondness for the Dutch capital. I think a part of the reason is what Amsterdam represents in my life. In 2015, I gave up my life in Vancouver and arrived in Europe alone with nothing but a backpack and some savings. This was my first solo trip, my first visit to Europe as an adult, and a journey that changed my life. Amsterdam was my first stop—I landed at Schipol wondering what I had gotten myself into, took the train to Amsterdam Centraal, walked out of the station, and immediately fell in love. It took 3.5 years, but I am finally able to call Amsterdam my home (for the next few years, at least).
- Bali – Yes, this is pretty clichéd, but I find Bali to be the most relaxing place I’ve been (so far). It’s difficult to explain, but something about the atmosphere feels spiritual and soothing. Even though it was 2011 when I visited, I still clearly remember the feeling of warm rain on my skin and the sound of frogs and crickets at night.
To Eat In
- Taipei – My ethnic hometown! Throughout its history, Taiwan has been colonized by the Spanish, the Portuguese, the Dutch, and the Japanese, and in addition to aboriginal culture, has citizens who originate from all over China. As a result, Taiwanese food is extremely diverse and Taiwan has become unofficially known as the food capital of Asia. Just stop by the Shilin Night Market for an evening and you’ll understand what I mean.
To Be in Awe Of
- Singapore – Having been built up within the past 70 years, Singapore boasts some of the most impressive architectural sights in the modern world. The city is clean and green, glass towers gleam in the tropical sun, and the Marina Bay Sands stands above it all as a reminder of the remarkable feats of human engineering.
- Istanbul – Geographically standing at the junction between Europe and Asia, Istanbul has been the stomping grounds for armies marching east or west for a millennia, and it shows in the culture. Being from an east-Asian background and born and raised in the Western world, I found Istanbul to be a beautiful, fascinating, and foreign place that I’d love to return to with a local guide.
To connect with Grace visit her blog and social media channels below!