Following a seven month vacation spanning 10 countries, the University of British Columbia graduate who took the ‘elphie’ photo that went viral around the world has finally returned home to Vancouver.
Christian LeBlanc began his journey across Asia in early-January, kicking off with a 2.5 month stay in Thailand, mainly in Bangkok, for his student exchange program. Instagram photos of the 22-year-old holding the hand of his girlfriend, Laura Reid, while she leads the way to some of the world’s most beautiful destinations have taken off.
“Our style is a homage to Murad Osmann’s ‘Follow Me To’ style of photos,” LeBlanc told Vancity Buzz in an interview. “We’ve been doing that for all the locations we’ve been going to.”
From Thailand, he went to Burma, Laos, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Cambodia, Philippines, Singapore and Japan. Reid joined him in March after she completed her studies at UBC, meaning the only country she didn’t visit was Burma.
The love birds carried several backpacks each as well as a GoPro camera and a hard drive, with the original intention of recording all of their trip just for their friends and families.
“I hadn’t planned it to be more than that, but to see others are enjoying it as well has been very rewarding,” said LeBlanc. Altogether by the end of the trip, he had thousands of photos and videos totalling 1.2 terabytes.
LeBlanc, of course, is best known for being the first person in the world to get an ‘elphie’.
An elephant in Ko Phangan, Thailand – also known as ‘Full Moon Island – grabbed his GoPro camera by the trunk and captured surreal photos with it. But it was all by accident.
“My girlfriend and I were on bikes, and we got baskets filled with bananas for about 50 cents each,” said LeBlanc. “I was feeding the elephants with bananas, but then I ran out. Next thing I know, I’m feeding it but I have no bananas left in the basket.”
“It actually grabbed my Go Pro, and as my photos are always on time lapse it led to the elephant taking a selfie with me.”
There were many firsts during this trip, opportunities LeBlanc would not have been able to receive elsewhere. For just CAD$300 in Koh Tao, a small island in Thailand, he received his PADI certified diving license.
“Koh Tao is probably my favourite island, it has a great nightlife,” he said. “We’d go out on the night of the dive and in the morning we’d wake up early to finish our course.”
A total of five dives were made, enabling him to see sea turtles, eels, octopus, squids and sting rays up close.
Travel is temporary, selfies are forever. Had a whale of a time swimming alongside 10 of these gentle giants today! A photo posted by Christian LeBlanc (@christian_leblanc) on
Another memorable experience occurred in Bangkok, specifically during the Songkran period – Thailand’s New Year. For three days in mid-April, the streets of the entire country becomes a large water fight, with the use of water symbolizing the washing away of sins and bad luck from the previous year.
“We went to the Thai New Year’s, it was by far one of my top experiences, he said. “The whole city shut down and nothing goes on other than everyone hanging out in the streets playing water with each other, with water guns.
“We’d find any way to get each other soaked. It’s something you wouldn’t see in Vancouver, the elderly and businessman playing with water. But in Thailand everyone takes part in the fun, even at the nightclubs people were spraying each other with water.”
“That’s the thing I miss about Asia, whereas there’s so much structure here in Vancouver. You can’t get away with doing things like this.”
What are the odds that LeBlanc would encounter someone from his hometown of White Rock? And someone who happened to live just blocks away from his family home? This somehow happened, with the help of Craigslist while searching for a bike to purchase.
"When I decided to get a bike, I was a bit hesitant at first because of the bad reputation for car crashes in Bangkok," he said. "But I talked to myself into getting one. I went onto Craigslist and was able to get a really good deal, and it turned out the guy was from White Rock, where I also am from."
"This guy had been teaching English there for 15 years now had the same gym teacher I did. We actually went to the same high school. I literally found a random ad on Craigslist, in the sea of hundreds of ads, and found a guy from the exact same place. His family home in White Rock is just a few blocks away from my house."
A trip of a lifetime like what LeBlanc experienced for over half a year comes with the expense. Few things are free in life, but he believes it's fully attainable, with sacrifices.
LeBlanc's parents covered his CAD$2,000 flight to and from Asia while he covered the lion's share - the US$10,000 in on-the-ground costs for food, transportation, accommodations and other expenses that come with traveling.
"We’d always use the most budget friendly ways to get around," he said. "We had so much time to travel, we didn’t need to take a plane and be there in two hours. We’d take a miserable bus and be there in eight hours, for example. You can literally drive through all of Cambodia for just $30, from the border of Thailand and to Vietnam."
In fact, LeBlanc and Reid traveled the entire Vietnamese coast for just $50 on a 40-hour bus ride that had comfortable beds and air conditioning. When asked about having to endure the long bus ride, he said that's all part of the experience he got used to.
"You really learn how to pass the time when you travel that long. Now I come back, the flight home felt like nothing. We did a 24 hour day from Vietnam once, from Ho Chi Minh City to Hoi An. You just learn to deal with it."
But he regrets rushing through Vietnam: "One thing we learned was that it was better to see less places so that we could see them well."
In addition to having some meticulous management skills to stretch out his money, LeBlanc worked multiple jobs during the summer between university semesters. During those months, he worked full-time in construction and managed a landscaping business on the side.
When it comes to his most significant sacrifice, he sold his car for $3,000 to help fund his trip. He also sold some of his other belongings, like a $300 iPad he no longer used.
"The truth is it’s very attainable. One of the things I like to share with people is that anyone can achieve a goal if they really want it. It takes sacrifice. I mean, I’m home right now and I don’t even have a car but it’s worth my trip."
This video below further explains how he travelled across Asia for just US$10,000:
LeBlanc starts a position with Ernst & Young this fall, but he has been taken aback by the opportunities and feedback he has received through the usage of social media.
"It's something I enjoy doing - it doesn't feel like a job," he said.
He currently has close to 35,000 followers on Instagram. Prior to his elphie photo post in May, he had 3,000 followers.
Full-length videos of LeBlanc's travels can be viewed on his YouTube channel.
When your mixtape is straight but they won't even give it a listen. // #Gopro A photo posted by Christian LeBlanc (@christian_leblanc) on
Duuuude, they keep following us. #Gopro A photo posted by Christian LeBlanc (@christian_leblanc) on
Looking for cares to give. #Followmeto #ElNido #Gopro A photo posted by Christian LeBlanc (@christian_leblanc) on
The World's Most Beautiful Beach #Followmeto #ElNido // #Gopro A photo posted by Christian LeBlanc (@christian_leblanc) on
Didn't see Lara Croft but she will do. // #Gopro A photo posted by Christian LeBlanc (@christian_leblanc) on
Just posted my Kuang Si Falls vlog! The most beautiful place I've ever been. Link in my bio A photo posted by Christian LeBlanc (@christian_leblanc) on
This could be us, but you won't get off Instagram. // #Gopro A photo posted by Christian LeBlanc (@christian_leblanc) on
One of my most memorable sunsets. Old Bagan has over 2,200 remaining temples which sprawl across the nearly unvisited country side. Some were built as long as 1000 years ago. #ButDisneyLandHasACastle // #Gopro A photo posted by Christian LeBlanc (@christian_leblanc) on
When you don't call shotgun. #RidinRooftop // #Gopro A photo posted by Christian LeBlanc (@christian_leblanc) on
Plot twist. I'm not following her. She's been dragging me around Asia. #stage10clinger #Halp #Gopro A photo posted by Christian LeBlanc (@christian_leblanc) on
Thinking about traveling? "DO IT! JUST DO IT. Don't let your dreams be dreams. Yesterday you said tomorrow so JUST DO IT. MAKE YOUR DREAMS COME TRUE. JUST DO IT!" -Shia Labeouf #JUSTDOIT #GoPro #GoProTravel A photo posted by Christian LeBlanc (@christian_leblanc) on
7 months, 10 countries, 22 flights, 1 bed bug epidemic, 5000 dollars stolen, 1 Elphie, 5 dives, 4874 beers and ∞ amazing times. Thank you Asia for the countless memories you have given @laurareidd and I. Time to explore the east coast of Canada ???????? A photo posted by Christian LeBlanc (@christian_leblanc) on
3.2.1... Bananas! #OverlyPhotogenicMonkey #BlessYourHeartKevin A photo posted by Christian LeBlanc (@christian_leblanc) on
Treat yo self. Thank you @villakubu for the BEST spa getaway A photo posted by Christian LeBlanc (@christian_leblanc) on
I can't think of a caption so feel free to give me one. A photo posted by Christian LeBlanc (@christian_leblanc) on
Had a great day ???? #Goatpro #Goatsofinstagram #Goatgoatcity #Goatsandhoes #YoureaLegendGary #Whateverfloatsyourgoat #Goatlife A photo posted by Christian LeBlanc (@christian_leblanc) on
Is it a coincidence that it's shaped like a heart or is it just relationship goals? ps. Just gave my YouTube channel a face lift Check out my latest vlog! Link in Bio A photo posted by Christian LeBlanc (@christian_leblanc) on
Out for a rip // #Gopro A photo posted by Christian LeBlanc (@christian_leblanc) on
Don't mess with superglue. #Merlion #GoPro #GoproTravel A photo posted by Christian LeBlanc (@christian_leblanc) on
I also don't have any Oscars @leonardodicaprio A photo posted by Christian LeBlanc (@christian_leblanc) on
Go to Tokyo they said. It will be fun, they said. #Godzeelaah #InternetNeverLies #GoPro A photo posted by Christian LeBlanc (@christian_leblanc) on
Pretty much an astronaut now #mycanadiansummer Canadian friends: Head over to londondrugs.com/freshairphoto and submit your best Canadian summer photo to be entered to win awesome cameras. A photo posted by Christian LeBlanc (@christian_leblanc) on