An Interview with Michelle

I met Michelles Aunt at Crystal Life Technology and she shared a story about the courage of her niece (Michelle) traveling the world. I asked her Aunt to give Michelle my information so I could connect with her. A week or so later Michelle emailed me. We became Facebook friends and I interviewed her for the blog. She is living the “Eat Pray Love” dream. Her story is inspiring, informative, and will cultivate bravery for all of us to explore.

Note From Michelle: To give you a little background information, I am a traveler. Some people like to read comics or play tennis, I chose a bit pricier hobby. From the age of seventeen, I have left the US for two weeks up to 9 months at a time exploring new places. When I was seventeen, I spent 3 weeks in Europe, at eighteen I spent 2 weeks in South Africa, and at nineteen I spent 2 weeks in Japan. When I was 20 I had the opportunity to study abroad, so I spent 3 months in Argentina and 6 months in Spain. Over that trip, I visited an additional 11 countries. At the age of 22, I graduated college and a week after graduation, I left for a 3 month trip around Europe, followed by 5 months in Seville, Spain teaching English. I’m currently living in Melbourne, Australia. So at the age of 23, I have visited 27 countries, 6 continents, and I have lived on 4 of them. This is my story, and I hope I something to share with anyone who stumbles upon this.

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Belgium
  1. What is your personal mantra?
    1. Be present. This is the hardest lesson I still haven’t fully learned, but I am working on it every single day. Within the last 6 years, I have done a lot, and that comes with a degree of planning. I find myself constantly looking ahead and planning ahead. But recently I heard a giant HELLLO!!!! Be here, and be now. At the beginning of February, I left Spain because I wasn’t as happy as I wanted to be. I had got myself in a rut and was always looking for the next big thing to do. It was as if I had reached my goal of getting a job, finding an apartment, and making friends and I decided I was done. Now that I have started a new adventure I find myself realizing how good my life really was in Spain. I didn’t put the effort into it that that adventure deserved. I thought I needed to keep moving, when I now know not all adventures directly involve getting on a plane and exposing myself to a new culture. That being said, I don’t regret my move to Australia in the slightest. I am loving it here and am truly happy, but I have found myself rushing the here and now to get to the there and then and it has caused me to miss some really special things.
  2. How did you get the courage and mindset to travel the world at such a young age?1. This may sound funny, but I never felt brave or courageous when I first started traveling. I remember my first trip when I was 17. I was traveling with an organization called People to People Ambassadors for junior high and high school students. I was traveling with a group of 30 other students, but all from Arkansas. This meant that I didn’t know any of them until I met them in the Atlanta airport. I remember when I got back my mom told me how impressed she was with me and how she hadn’t said anything before I left because she was afraid of scaring me. The truth is, traveling has always been a part of me, that it never occurred to me to be scared. I have come to learn that that is a very unique mindset, but it is how I have gotten to where I am today. I think being surrounded by people, like my mom, who has always encouraged me to do what I wanted no matter what helped me to never question if I could do it but to ask when and where.
  3. What advice do you have for women who want to explore the world?
    1. Don’t let fear be an excuse. I understand it’s scary to go to an unfamiliar place, either by yourself or with one or two friends, but the very best thing you can do for yourself in this world is force yourself out of your comfort zone a little bit. Like I said in my last question, don’t use that word ‘if’. It’s a dangerous word and it will stop you from doing what you are meant to do. Doubt is a powerful tool we use against ourselves. Whether you are afraid of being alone, or getting lost, or running out of money, whatever it is, there will always be someone to help you. I cannot tell you how many people have asked me how I can travel so much “as a woman.” What does that even mean? I know what it means, but I hate that it’s a valid question. Traveling has taught me that there are more people in this world that want to help you than want to hurt you. If you’re kind, people will more likely than not be kind to you. That’s not to say I haven’t had any negative experiences, of course I have, but they are significantly weighed out by kind and amazing ones. You have to go with that gut feeling. You have to. If you are in a new city and you are told not to go out by yourself at night, and you feel like that’s a valid statement, then don’ Another really important tip is to research the culture. I always learn basic words and phrases in the local language (you cannot imagine the huge smile you can put on a local’s face by saying please in his or her language). But it is also important to learn about the culture, especially in areas that the culture is heavily influenced by religion. A personal example was my time in Istanbul this past year. I asked a friend if she had any advice and she could say nothing bad about the city. However, I neglected to factor in that she went with her brother and father. Whereas, when I went in the dead middle of summer by myself, a small, blonde girl wearing little shorts and a tank top, I had a few issues. It’s important to respect culture, not only to avoid street harassment, but it will also help you integrate more, learn something, and score a few brownie points with the locals when you need their help getting to the nearest restroom.

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      Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany
  4. What was one of your favorite places you’ve been? Why?
    1. This is one of the hardest questions that everyone seems to ask. There is not one place that is better than another, because most of the memories will stem from memories with people/the amazing food, but I will do my best. I am going to go with the first one that comes to mind right now, and if you ask me on a different day, I might say something else, but right now I would have to say Cusco, Peru. Cusco was my first solo trip. I was studying abroad in Argentina and had a two week break to go wherever I wanted. Most of the other students traveled to other cities in Argentina or ventured over to Chile, but I had my heart set on Peru. I was so close, how could I not? Before going, I made an entire itinerary for my mom. She was so nervous for me to go because something just didn’t feel right to her. Now I almost always take my mom’s advice on stuff like this, but this time I thanked her kindly for her advice, and told her to pray a little harder because I was going anyways. I had never done something like this before, so I had mentally prepared to be alone the entire trip, but that was okay because I had two weeks planned to the T, and it was going to be awesome. Do you know what happened? I arrived to my first hostel, made a friend within ten minutes, and cancelled the rest of my plans for the trip and stayed right there. This was the trip I learned how easy it is to make friends when you want to. It taught me that we can have plans, but half the point of having plans is so that we can change them (I didn’t fully realize this for another two years when a wonderful lady said it to me while on the beach in Italy), and that life is so much better when living in the present. I think it was on this trip that I started to realize who I am as a person.
  5. What have your travels taught you?
    1. I think you’ll see a little bit of this answer in everything on here, but the biggest thing my travels have taught me is that I am my best friend. I was recently told this by a very wise and wonderful woman. I have this undying need to make other people happy and get their opinion of everything, so I can debate anything from where to go next to what should I wear today and need another opinion on it. I was discussing this recent move with a friend and she asked me what would I tell a friend to do, and without a doubt I said Australia, and she said-uhhh, hello! You are your best friend! She asked me how is it possible that I can support a friend better than myself? What a question, right? I mean, it makes total sense-who do we spend more time with than ourselves? It seems like a no-brainer, but in
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      Belgium

      the lifestyle laid out by our society, we aren’t meant to spend much time with ourselves. If we’re not with other people, we’re on our phones or watching videos or doing anything to avoid ourselves. I am a people please-100%, but traveling how taught me that it’s ok to be a selfish sometimes. I know, not something we’re really suppose to say, but if we’re not happy, what’s the point of continuing to make others happy? One of my favorite things about traveling is I don’t have a phone. There’s something amazing about being off the grid and not having anything to do while on a train or while waiting for a bus. My travels have taught me, and are still teaching me, that it’s ok to just be. Appreciate the sound of people talking in the streets and the birds in the trees. I don’t need to always have my headphones plugged in to have a good time. It’s completely ok to spend some time with yourself and tune out. Be selfish. You deserve it.

  6. Why is it important for people to travel?
    1. In my opinion, this is the best way to learn about yourself in every sense of the word. I have learned a lot about my personality. When you are traveling and constantly meeting new people, there is no need for a facade. No one to impress, no one to judge you because you are different than you were yesterday, you just get to be you. Think about it: these people only know about the you you are today. Your ex-boyfriend or girlfriend? That bad haircut you had for 2 years? They have no idea. You get to be the purest version of you without any baggage whatsoever. It’s weirdly liberating and scary, because you get to be honest with yourself. I don’t know about you all, but I tend to lie to myself and hold myself up to a societal view, but traveling has allowed me to know myself. I love who I am today, and I love knowing I still have a lot of growing to do.
  7. What advice do you have for someone who wants to travel but doesn’t have the funds to?
    1. Excuse number one! There are so so so so so many ways to travel on a budget! I have been lucky enough to grow up with a mom who never told me I couldn’t do something, and to this day when I tell her I want to do something she never asks how or why, just expresses excitement and joy for me. The hardest part is making the decision in the first place. I’ll leave a few websites here as a beginners guide to start looking into traveling for yourself 🙂
    2. Workaway.info: This awesome website offers travelers to work a bit in exchange for accommodation (and usually some food!). Any skill you have, I mean literally any skill, is useful to someone out in this world. Let’s say you want to spend some time in Tuscany-go to workaway (unfortunately there’s a fee, but if you use the site properly, it’s definitely worth it) and type in Tuscany. All kinds of profiles will pop-up offering you a place to crash in exchange for approximately 20 hours of work a week. That work could be babysitting, farm work, designing a website for a new company, or some sort of hospitality. My most recent experience with workaway had me living in a hostel for a month with a bunch of other travelers, making sangria and paella and socializing with people from all over the world in exchange for a bed and food. Does it get much better than that?
    3. Couchsurfing is another popular one. I personally haven’t tried it yet, but a lot of friends have tried it and they all had a great times. The plus to both workaway and couch surfing is that you are usually staying with families, or at least locals, so you get an experience you wouldn’t get at a hotel.
    4. Skyscanner, Skypicker, and Google Flights are all awesome websites to find cheap flights. Skypicker has been the cheapest for me so far, but they’re all awesome because they compare a bunch of different companies, and skypicker and google flights will even let you see surrounding airports. So you might have plans to go to Europe but aren’t sure where to start. These sites will show you a map and you can literally map your trip out based on what is cheapest. Sounds kind of crazy, but the best adventures are usually the ones you dont plan.
    5. Then there are just general things like travel expenses in general. There are         shortcuts everywhere, you just have to look for them. For example, in Europe       there is a car sharing company called blablacar (literally named for how much     you want to talk with the other people in the car. one, two, or three blas). This   company allows you to cut travel expenses at least in half-and an added bonus,   you get to meet locals!

I have all kinds of travel tips that you are more than welcome to email me             personally about! I think one of the most important things we can do in this         world is explore and get to know people out of our circles. The world is so much bigger than any of us can even imagine, and the opportunities to see it are endless. Don’t let your fear or doubt detour you from doing something amazing!

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Isle of Skye, Scotland (Faerie Pools)

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