An extraordinary 21 year old girl, Melica Bokaie from Iran started travelling just two days before her 20th birthday, and never quite stopped! We caught up with her in Canada for a quick chat.

Who is Melica Bokaie: She is a girl living her dreams! She’s been travelling and volunteering for more than 19 months. After exploring South America, she’s currently doing some good work on a small island in Western Canada.

Rainbow Mountains, Cusco, Peru

We heard that you are a teacher as well. So how did this teacher turn into a traveller: I have always wanted to work with children—that’s what my mother does back in Iran. She is an English teacher and she has her own institute. I started working there since I was 13. I didn’t need to work but I was passionate about teaching. I studied theatre in high school and when I got my diploma, I decided to not go to University. I wanted to become a dancer and I couldn’t perform dance in my country of origin. So I started teaching in different kindergartens, working full time and saving money to travel. I’m still a teacher, but now I work worldwide.

Do you have to be rich to travel the world: Not at all. You just have to be courageous. There are thousands of ways to travel cheap and make money while being on the road. From hitchhiking to busking. From writing a blog to volunteering! If you want to do something you will find a way to do it. Money helps but it’s not the only thing you need.

Cabanaconde, Arequipa, Peru

Did travelling change you as a person: It sure did. I find myself more patient. I definitely became street smart and overall people say I look happier than before!

One location that took your breath away: Punta Tumbo. Three hours south of Puerto Madryn in Argentina. I spent my 21st birthday there, in Northern Patagonia, with more than one million penguins!!

Punta Tombo, Argentina

How long does it take to pick up a language: It’s different for every person. It depends on how much you practice. I learned English since I was 2. And I always thought you have to go to classes and study a language to be able to speak fluently. But I was travelling around South America, living with people who couldn’t speak even a word of English, and I had to communicate with them. It took me 3 months to get used to hearing Spanish, 6 months to speak some basic words and around 14 months to communicate at an intermediate level! I heard Spanish more than 12 hours a day and I tried quite hard to learn the grammar but it was possible without any classes and only by talking to people. That’s me, it may take less or more time for others.

A strange encounter with a local: I was hitchhiking in Chile, and a couple picked me up. They asked where I’m from and I answered Iran. The girl said” Que es Iran”? “What is Iran?” !!! I started explaining and showing her the map! And she said, she thought Iran and Iraq are the same and there are huge deserts!!! That is the most strange thing I’ve ever heard about Iran!

The scariest thing that happened to you: On the Chilean/Argentinian border, they didn’t let me get out of Chile cause they thought I had overstayed! I had my visa extended but the police at the immigration office couldn’t find the information. The bus left and I was there in the middle of nowhere, crying and telling them I hadn’t done anything illegal in my life. They called the other office in Copiapo where I extended my visa, they understood it was their fault but still couldn’t let me go. I had to go back to Temuco the next day, to the PDI office for an interview! I was freaking out those two days. They just hadn’t seen an Iranian passport before and were so confused with my extended visa. I thought I would get deported and could never continue travelling. But at last they let me go to Argentina! I am still confused and don’t know why was it so complicated to put an exit Chilean stamp on my passport!

Quilotoa, Ecuador

If you could go back in time, where it would be and why: Parque Nacional Lencois Maranhenses. It is a national park located in Maranhao state in northeastern Brazil. The Park includes 70 km (43 mi) of coastline, and an interior composed of rolling sand dunes. During the rainy season, the valleys among the dunes fill with freshwater lagoons, prevented from draining due to the impermeable rock beneath. I walked there on the white sands for two days and swam in the lagoons whenever I felt hot! I just want go back to look more, to breath more, and to thank nature again and again! I’ve never seen such a place in my life. Breathtaking!

Arraial Do Cabo, Brazil

You’re heading to Dominican Republic and Haiti next: Yes, I am going to volunteer at a school in Haiti. Teaching English to children for three months, and I will probably learn some French! There weren’t any straight flights from Canada to Haiti, they all had a stop in Florida and I cannot even transit in US as an Iranian. So I am flying to the Dominican Republic, spending around 10 days there, dancing a lot of bachata at the beach and then crossing the border to Haiti! Can’t wait for the big adventure!

Advice for first-time visitors to Iran: I am not proud of the current Iran and its government but I can say it is a safe country, It has a history of 2,500 years, we are famous for our hospitality, the Persian food and the amazing nature! I advise them to watch some Youtube videos from travellers who have been to Iran. It is a very cheap country for foreigners right now. Completely different from the west for sure. You can find religious and non religious people wearing the same thing outdoors (cause we have to) but living completely different indoors as we can do whatever we want in our own property! As an Iranian I believe foreigners will have an extraordinary time in Iran. It’s a very interesting, not so known part of the world!!

Melica Bokaie spoke to Nihit Anand of Travel Secrets Magazine