The $800 adventure
November 5, 2013
By Kristine Kim
Issaquah woman goes around the world on a shoestring budget
Back in September 2011, Issaquah native Courtney Proff arrived in Australia with $800 to her name and 15 pairs of shoes. It was a one-way trip for the then 24 year old.
A year later, Proff was backpacking in Southeast Asia with the full intention of coming home after her travels. Today, she is a private English tutor to a primarily Korean clientele in the Little Korea district of Hanoi, Vietnam.
“Traveling is a tricky thing,” Proff said. “It continues as a roller coaster. When you go on holiday, you have a semi-specific itinerary combined with an end date. I had neither of those when I set out. All I knew is where I would begin.”
Proff comes from a family of travelers. Her mother, real estate broker Kathy Proff, would propose another traveling adventure to her four children during their younger years — only to be greeted by a chorus of “No.” They have since grown older; with Courtney’s and her older brother’s travels, the family will soon be spread worldwide.
Kathy Proff, though a self-proclaimed non-worrier, thinks about her daughter often.
“I pray for her daily,” she said laughing, though she later reiterated the sentiment with seriousness. “I worry about the traffic.”
Her daughter was involved in an accident in Vietnam almost a year ago when she was hit broadside while riding a motorcycle. Even so, Proff is glad her daughter is adventuring.
“It’s exciting to live vicariously through all her fun experiences and what she’s doing,” she said. “I’m just a little bit concerned for her safety, but she’s a big girl.”
For the young woman abroad, living and working in foreign countries went from a traveling adventure to a journey of self-discovery. In Australia, she relocated every three months to a new city, meeting her goal of living in four cities in one year. But her traveling, coupled with a high cost of living, eventually brought her $800 down to a mere 60 cents, even though she had been employed there.
“As the year continued, I continued to own less and have more,” Courtney Proff said.
Her moment of clarity came at a particularly low point in Sydney. She was talking to a friend about their shared experiences and what she jokingly called their “penniless futures.”
“After exhausting the negatives of our lives, we sat in silence,” she said. Then, something changed. “As if the flip of a switch went off, I realized that I had everything I ever dreamed of having back home, and more. I had the sun. I had the beach. I had familiarity combined with foreign. I realized everything I had asked for had come true. I finally felt alive.”
Since then, Proff has seen more of the world. To future travelers, she recommends seeing Australia’s Great Barrier Reef from the resort town Port Douglas, going to the Gili Islands in Indonesia or the Full Moon Party on the island of Koh Phangan in Thailand. She also mentioned the Temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia and Halong Bay in Vietnam.
Proff managed to keep in touch with her family back home in Issaquah through a Wi-Fi texting application on their phones and through email. She sends pictures home, sharing her experiences.
“I had no idea Southeast Asia was so beautiful,” her mother said. “When I was her age, the Vietnam War was winding down. It was a place you wouldn’t ever want to go.”
Now in Vietnam, Proff teaches. She receives better pay than she did in Australia, she has friends who are fellow expatriates. As foreign as Hanoi is, for Proff it had “a way of immediately feeling like home.”
Even so, after a year in the city, she is getting itchy feet. There is no telling where she will go next.
“If you told me in 2011 that I would be living in northern Vietnam teaching English to Korean adults and children, I would have laughed in your face,” Proff said. “But through whatever series of events that you either create or that just happen to fall into your lap, I think you end up exactly where you are supposed to be, so long as you are open to it.”