When Elona Karafin, a 24-year-old cancer survivor, returned from her first weekend-long adventure to Dubai, she was greeted with a cacophony of voices, firing question after question. The queries weren’t particularly original, either. It was the same thing, over and over. As the weight of repetitious inquiry threatened to overwhelm her, a friend asked, “Why don’t you just put this up on a website?”
And, thus Elona the Explorer was born. The page has quickly become a hub for anyone looking to maximize their experiences in a minimum amount of time.
In addition to running a travel site, doing interviews about her weekender expertise, and capturing beautiful travel imagery, Karafin also holds down a legit, full-time jobby job. As a side gig to her side gig, she also established a charity, serving underprivileged children with cancer. The charity, Checkmate Cancer, has grown exponentially — helping its founder bring in hundreds of people to contribute, whether financially or by becoming blood and bone marrow donors.
In 2018, the blog and charity will combine, as Karafin takes one fortunate cancer survivor on an adventure with her. She’s working with brands to fund the trip.
This week, Elona took time to speak with us about her passion for short term travel. She talked about why the trips are so important (and trendy), and dropped some valuable tips to help people looking to get their wanderlust on.
You’ve been traveling abroad since you were really young, right?
Well, I was three on my first flight, and I’ve been traveling since I was five on my own, actually.
Wait, on your own?
When I was five, I would travel from New York to Ukraine, and my parents would hand me off to the flight attendant. Then, the flight attendant would hand me off to my grandparents in Ukraine. So, I would essentially be flying alone, and they would just check up on me during the flight and then hand me off.
So, you have travel in your blood. Like it’s just part of you.
Yeah, it definitely grew on me from a young age.
What’s your travel philosophy?
My travel philosophy is not to stop yourself from doing anything that you want to do and to do the things that you want to do by any means necessary. Traveling is a privilege; it’s not a right, and no matter how often I travel, I always recognize that not everyone else has the opportunity to travel as much as I do.
Whether it means getting a different source of income, working a little more, saving a little more, getting another job, whatever it is — I think that you should do whatever you want to do by any means necessary.
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Posting my all time favorite picture today because I feel so BLESSED 🙌🏼 on October 30, 2016 when I was sitting at dinner In Paris, @businessinsider released the interview I did with them which sent my website crashing, my social media blowing up and overall my life in the blogging sphere changed (and I didn't finish my dinner lol). I feared that the viral content would eventually die out and I had no idea what would happen next … a year later and I am in @forbes, FORBES!! Turns out, I'm just getting started baby 🙌🏼❤️👏🏼 thank you thank you thank you , it would NEVER be possible without all of you. Link in bio☺️ ❀ ✿ ❀ ✿ • • #travelstoke #dametraveler #sheisnotlost #darlingesapes #ladiesgoneglobal #wearetravelgirls #beautifuldestinations #doyoutravel #instatravel #theglobewanderer #beautifulhotels #beautifuldestinations #beautifulmatters #iceland #mystopover #insidertravel #sidewalkerdaily #beautifulhotels #bestvacations #travelawesome #bluelagoon #beautifulhotels #bestintravel #beautifulmatters #thisisinsider #complex
Has that been something that you’ve followed?
Yeah, for sure. It’s about saving. It’s all about devising a strategy, a plan. I’m a firm believer that if you really want something to happen that you will do everything in your power to make it happen. And, for me, it’s traveling.
As flights get cheaper, trips out of the country are shrinking. What do you have to say about that sort of trend or shift?
I think for most people that have read my blog and that followed my posts about doing these long weekend trips know it’s all about giving your shot; it’s actually a very efficient and fun way of leading a travel life. I work in a corporate environment, so I have minimal days off. But, I have enough to take two days off every month, sometimes three days off over the holidays. And then, on a long weekend trip, when you’re short on time, you do so much more than you would when you have like seven days or ten days which is the average vacation time that most people take.
Overall, I feel more rejuvenated going away once every couple of months or once every month rather than going away twice a year and kind of anxiously waiting for that time to come and then being depressed when it’s over. I definitely think that this is going to be a growing trend over the next couple years, as well as flights getting cheaper and cheaper. You know before it was hard to justify going away for a short period of time. It seemed just more expensive. But now when you can splurge tickets for as low as $99 from the East Coast to Europe, you have no excuse, you know? That’s what I love about it.
That makes sense. Do the short-term adventures make it easier to balance your work life and your travel life?
Yeah, absolutely. I typically leave on Thursdays or Fridays. And Thursdays and Fridays in my work environment are pretty low-key days. I have arrangements with the people that I have worked with over the last eight years. I’m always available. I’m always online. I don’t shut off my phone and go completely off the grid. I think that’s, in some ways, a compromise. But, yeah, Thursdays and Fridays are typically quiet days, so it’s almost as if you never left. You know, when you’re gone for a week, you sometimes come back and so many things change. There’s so much to catch up on, but for a few days it just makes it very easy.
Do you have tips for people who might be wanting to do these kinds of trips?
I think the most important thing is having a relationship with not only your employers but your higher ups. I find that people, like your managers or your bosses, will respect you and your habits if you respect your job. I have no problem working late hours sometimes or being available on weekends from time to time because that is my way of compromising and showing the people that I work with that, “Hey, I value my job. I want to work my ass off, but I also have hobbies in our outside of work environment.” Establishing those relationships is super important because then people are a lot more lenient when you take time off.
And, like I said, being online. For me, sometimes I like being off the grid, but most of the time I have my phone connected. I have my emails running. I have my laptop with me so just in case anything does happen, I am available to take care of my own work and for it to not fall onto anyone else.
Third of all, there’s always room for renegotiation, and I think that that’s something that is wildly overlooked in the corporate space because for some strange reason people are scared to renegotiate their contracts for fear of ruining a relationship or setting fire or whatever it is. The reality is that you can always approach a manager and try to renegotiate the number of days that you have off. Something like that. And that’s definitely widely overlooked in that space. And I promise it works. It might not work for everyone, but the worst that could happen in a negotiation is you’ll get a no. Right?
No one’s going to fire you if you want to renegotiate something like getting 3 extra days off in a year, for example.
Do you think with these short trips it’s easier to go alone?
It is, absolutely. And that’s kind of one of the biggest pieces of advice that I give to people that are scared to go on the solo trip. But I tell them, “You don’t have to go away for a week or 10 days.” Of course, a week or 10 days does sound like a stressful amount of time to spend on your own, especially if you haven’t done it before. But if you go away for two or three days, I feel like it’s bearable. It’s definitely helped. Even for myself, I am way more comfortable being on my own for a shorter period of time than going away for a week or two weeks.