Balancing School & Travel: Interview with Deni Verklan

In her fourth year of journalism at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada, Deni Verklan is currently pursuing her dream as an intern for CBC in London, England. On top of being a full-time student, Deni also runs her own travel blog, The Full-Time Tourist. With a passion for travel, photography, writing and gluten-free and plant-based foods, Deni shares tips for those that love to travel but want to stick to a budget (she is a student after all), as well as tips for those traveling with food allergies and restrictions. I chatted with Deni to find out a bit more about her and how she makes travel a big part of her life as a student.

Do you have a certain amount of days you can travel each year on top of your school schedule?

I have a little bit of wiggle room with the number of days I can travel every year. Like most universities in Canada, my summer vacation stretches from May until the first week of September. I normally work during that time, but I do make time to travel then as well. We also have a fall and a winter reading week, both of which fall during off-season travel, which makes planning a trip a bit more inexpensive. I’m also fortunate to have had very few exams (I haven’t had finals in almost 2 years now) as the journalism deadlines are typically the last day of classes. This past winter break, my last day of class was December 2, and I didn’t go back to school until January 13!

How often do you try and travel within a year?

I try to travel at literally any opportunity I can get. Travel has always been a priority for me, and school will not hold me back.

Do you ever feel limited to how often you can travel because of school?

Oh definitely! Although I have classes where I don’t always need to attend to get a good grade, there are generally assignments, stories and workshops every week that require a great deal of research and interviews on top of putting together the write-up. I also work part-time and write for three publications, not including my blog, which makes planning spontaneous trips a bit more difficult. I try to stay relatively close to Toronto when I do travel during the school year so I’m not spending more days traveling than I need to.

Do you find it hard to unplug from school when traveling?

Generally no. Most of my classes don’t have exams or essays- it mostly comes down to putting journalistic pieces together. I tend to get my work done before my trip so that I can enjoy my trip instead of being a giant stress ball trying to explore a city. There have been times where I needed to talk to an important source while traveling, but I prepare the questions beforehand so I can literally take the call anywhere.

Why was it important to you to incorporate both study and travel in your life instead of a gap year or studying abroad?

I didn’t have the choice to take a gap year or study abroad. In my family, my parents and I have a deal that they would pay for my undergraduate degree, as long as I went to university straight out of high school. As I already have to pay for my living expenses living in downtown Toronto, taking a gap year is really not a possibility for me. I can’t afford school on top of my living expenses, even though I about 20-32 hours per week and have a student line of credit. It’s also why studying abroad wasn’t an option for me. I can’t afford rent in Toronto for four months on top of rent in another country, plane tickets and not being able to work during that time.

What inspired you to start a travel blog?

The idea for my travel blog, The Full-Time Tourist, first came to me before I moved to Toronto. Before moving here in 2013, I hadn’t visited the city- I had only flown in and out of the international airport. I figured I would be a “full-time” student playing “tourist” in a new city, thus the name of my blog. Since then it’s become a fun way for me to be creative, write, take photos and travel- all of my passions in life! I’m even starting to do video in the next couple of months, which I’m a bit scared, but mostly excited for.

How do you afford to travel as a student?

As much as it is a cliché, budgeting definitely helps me travel as a student. I’ve become more aware of how many times I buy Tim Hortons (I think this is more of an occupational hazard more than anything else). I’m definitely not an expert on it, but making my own meals and limiting my spending on frivolous items definitely helps. I also tend to book AirBnB during my travels so I can make breakfast and a take-away lunch easily. I have lots of dietary restrictions, so this helps cut back on the exorbitant prices of gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian foods.

It also helps that I work part-time and have a student line of credit, in case I need a little help when I get back from my trip.

I’ve also discovered another option for traveling during the school year without having to leave for too long- internships abroad. Although I couldn’t afford to do a semester abroad during my second or third year at school, a six-week internship in London, England is surprisingly inexpensive! While I’m there, I will be renting out the living room in my apartment so I don’t have to pay double rent. In London, I will be staying in international student housing, so my rent abroad is significantly reduced. (I’m paying $1,000 total for 6 weeks.) I also have access to a stove and a fridge, along with a massive library and a grand piano at the residence. I will also do a few day trips to visit nearby friends and family, where I can stay for free with them.

If you had a piece of advice for someone that is trying to juggle school, and also see the world, what would it be?

Get a notebook and save your receipts so you can see how much money you’re spending every month. I found that writing “coffee” multiple times a month made me realize that I just need to bring my own instead of buying it as much as I do. I save over $40 a month doing this. Even though it’s small, I can put that in my travel fund instead of spending it every month.

I also use my credit card as my main source of payment so I can rack up those air miles. If you’re living outside of home, use your credit card to pay your rent every month. At my old apartment, I was paying almost $700 a month- that’s 35 air miles. I tend to shop by air miles at the liquor store as well. I choose my wine by points, instead of price. Although I might spend a couple dollars more than normal, I’m now that much closer to buying a plane ticket.

Another trick is to do automatic deposits from my chequing to savings so that I can’t spend my entire paycheque on little things, instead of my trip. I keep enough money in my chequing to pay rent, groceries, bills, and have a little spending money for the month. Everything else goes into my trip fund.

You can like Deni’s Facebook page here, or follow her on Twitter or Instagram. 

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