AWAY WITH MAY: TRAVELING THE WORLD ON A COLLEGE STUDENT BUDGET
What made you want to start AwayWithMay?
I made the decision to create the Instagram account AwayWithMay because I wanted to show my friends and family some of the cool pictures I had taken from my travels. I wanted it to be solely focused on what I captured while traveling rather than what most people use insta for. After gaining a few thousand followers and being asked multiple times for the link to my travel blog, I decided that it was time to take the leap and actually make my website, awaywithmay.com . . . My original inspiration was to create something that would force me to journal and write about my travels. I knew that once I put a little skin in the game, I would consistently add to it.
Calling you well traveled would be an understatement. How do you travel as much as you do being a senior in college? What does that planning process look like?
Everyone says that traveling while in school is difficult, and it definitely is, but if you want it, you will do it. In my sophomore year and junior year of college, I not only was on the university basketball team, had two jobs, and was taking 18 credits, but I still managed to make at least four trips [my] spring semester. It is possible, but it comes down to scheduling the right classes at the right times and finding flights that fit with your schedule.
Now, being in my last semester of university, I have been given the opportunity to study abroad in Scotland at the University of Edinburgh. Here in Europe, classes and schedules are quite different. In Edinburgh, you can only take three courses. I go to class eight hours a week, four hours on Monday and four hours on Wednesday. This leaves me with loads of time to travel. Thankfully, flights here in Europe are so much cheaper than what they are in the States. I have yet to spend over $85 on a round-trip ticket to anywhere, and so far, I have booked eight flights. Thank you, RyanAir!
[W]hen it comes to actually planning trips, I am terrible at it. I usually fly by the seat of my pants when it comes to planning because, in all honesty, nothing ever goes to plan. For example, my second trip here in Scotland was to Ireland. I planned out exactly how, when, and where I was going to go with a rental car I had already booked, and as soon as I landed at midnight on [Wednesday], I soon discovered that you aren’t actually allowed to rent a car until you’re twenty-five. My entire trip was flipped upside down in a matter of minutes. Without a place to stay or a car . . . the McDonald’s bench in the Dublin airport became my bed for the evening. I was able to figure out the bus system, and saw most of Ireland by bus, so everything in the end actually worked out, but I have just decided plans aren’t really for me.
How do you create a traveler’s budget?
HAHA, a traveler’s budget. Every traveler’s worst nightmare. Last summer, I thought that I would be able to live off of $1,500 in South America for three months. That was a joke. Thankfully I have an amazing mother who this one time was able to help me in my last couple weeks of travel, but the reality is, do your research and then double it. Last summer was my first big excursion away from home and my first big solo travel. I had loads to learn, and the budget was definitely one of them. When you travel, you make so many friends and memories, everyone is on a budget, so do not be afraid to say no. Do not be afraid to stay in one night instead of going out for drinks or don’t be afraid to say no when everyone else is renting scooters and it just isn’t in your budget. If it isn’t in your budget, then don’t do it. Nothing is worse than running out of money while traveling. Personally, this summer I had a budget of $2,000 for two months in Thailand and Vietnam so I made sure I had $4,000 in savings for the trip. Creating a traveler’s budget is difficult, but it is doable.
Another tip, I like to spend my big trips in places where the U.S. dollar is worth way more than the local currency. For example, I spent one month in Thailand where it is 30baht to 1USD, and then I spent one month in Vietnam where 27,000dong is equivalent to 1USD, thus making travel extremely affordable. In South East Asia, you can stay in a hostel for roughly 3 – 5USD a night.
Keeping to the budget is hard, so give yourself a cushion, know when to say no, and make sure you keep an eye on your account because you often forget how much you are actually spending!
For beginning and aspiring travelers, what are some tips you can give them?
My first and most important tip is, JUST DO IT. Just book that ticket. Find the time. Get away. This planet has so much more to offer than just the good ole’ USA. God did not create such a vast land for all of us to just stay in one place.
Second, please understand that nothing ever goes to plan. Do not get frustrated. Do not get scared. Most importantly, do not quit. Traveling will make you experience some of the craziest things, like spending six hours in a personal taxi with random Peruvians in hopes that you’ll actually make it to Lima, or when [you] accidentally take one wrong turn only to discover a hidden private beach filled with puppies. Plans should just be a guideline or else you will be extremely disappointed.
Third, travel alone! I tell this to everyone. Every single human being should travel alone at least once in their life. My first solo expedition was three months in countries that didn’t speak English. Should you do that, probably not, but you need to at least spend a weekend alone in a foreign place. It is so pivotal for the development of your heart and mind. Ask any of my friends: the person I was two years ago is not the person I am today, and I could not be more proud of myself. Traveling alone teaches you to be independent. You have to rely on yourself and you have to make your own decisions. Traveling alone is so therapeutic, I live by it.
Fourth and finally, BE OPEN MINDED. A lot of these tips coincide with each other, but the biggest issue I see traveling, especially found in Americans, is that we all have a tendency to be close-minded. You have to realize that when leaving your country, you have simply done just that. You are no longer in your country. People will not abide by your rules because that is how it is in your native country; this is theirs. So many people I have met have had bad things to say about countries based off of how they were treated, and my question to them is How did you treat them? When you open your mind, eyes, and soul to other cultures, countries, and people, you become a better person. Your soul will change, but only if you let it.
What is your favorite country you’ve been to so far?
I dread this question. It’s so hard to narrow down what my favorite country is. I’ve had so many amazing experiences all over the world. Every country has a special place in my heart, but what makes them so much better is the people. In Ecuador, I met and traveled with a fellow volunteer who showed me the ropes to solo travel. She inspired me to continue traveling, so for that, I love Ecuador. But, on the other hand, I met five incredible men in Thailand who showed me what it was to like to live life fully. Then, to finish it off, I met an incredible guy in Thailand whom I spent a month with in Vietnam. He gave me so much wisdom, showed me things about myself I had never discovered, and most importantly, he taught me how to love again. With all of these combined, I guess my three favorite countries are Ecuador, Thailand, and Vietnam.
What is a country you haven’t been to yet but want to go?
Susan Sontag puts this nicely for all of us who have the travel bug: “I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.” That quote couldn’t be truer. I want to go everywhere, but to name a few places that are currently on my calendar, I am headed to Spain, Denmark, Czech Republic, Italy, and I hope Iceland.
As an American today, the world’s view on the United States has shifted. Do you feel that when you become the foreigner?
Oh, you bet. Being in the U.K., I get nothing but banter from my fellow classmates and flatmates. We spend countless hours talking about Trump and America’s political system. To be quite frank, I am sometimes incredibly embarrassed to call myself American. I love America and it will always be my forever home, but sometimes . . . just sometimes, I wish that someone would take Trump’s twitter away. I will also be the first person in a room full of foreigners to admit that I voted for Donald Trump. Although he is sometimes a disgrace to our nation, he has brought many things to the surface that needed to be addressed. Do I think Trump is the answer? No, but I don't think Clinton was either. I just hope for the sake of all of us, the next candidate has their sh*t together.
What is one of your favorite memories traveling the world?
My absolute favorite memory takes me back to my last few days in Thailand. After a heartfelt goodbye from the five guys my best friend and I spent half of our Thailand trip with, Julianne and I made our way to Krabi, Thailand. We decided to buy these huge blowup floaties, rent mopeds, and take these inflatables out for a spin. The only way we could transport these floaties was by wearing them while driving. While she wore a huge donut and I wore a huge flamingo, we definitely attracted attention. We looked like complete noobs, but I remember driving my moped and thinking to myself, “Gosh dang, this has to be one of the best moments of my entire life.” I was laughing so hard my cheeks were hurting, the locals were having fun with us, and I was simply just enjoying life to the fullest. I knew I had to savor every giggle because although the moment ended, it had to have been when I was the happiest I have ever been.
I think everyone develops an itch to travel at some point in their life, but traveling is different between men and women. As a woman, what has it been like seeing the world through your eyes, and having the world look back at you?
I LOVE THIS QUESTION. Nothing is more liberating than sticking your tongue in the faces of those who said you couldn’t and shouldn’t do it. Being a woman has sometimes been terrifying. I am not going to admit that it’s all fun and games being a 5’11”, blonde solo traveler. Men in other countries are not always nice. In South America, I would have to wear my headphones walking because if I didn’t respond to their catcalls, I was being the disrespectful one. On the other hand, in other countries I am given the utmost respect just because I am a woman, I also sometimes get discounts that the men don't (always a plus). Being a solo female traveler is becoming more and more popular. I meet so many incredible forty-something single women traveling the world because they were simply unhappy with their 9 – 5, and they are my inspiration. Women across the world have created their own community, and right now, it is the time for us to be traveling. I think we are finally making an impact and people are starting to realize that women can do everything and more than men can do. As a woman, you have to realize that the world isn’t always nice, but when it is, it is the most invigorating feeling to be experienced.