Lala Letter #2 - Lala Girl Abroad, Rachel
I’m 23, female, and I travel full time. Solo.
It’s the exact combination of traits that match the profile of every travel horror story imaginable. Or at least, that’s what people assume. But shall we take a step back and debunk some of the stigma that revolves around traveling as a confident young woman?
So strap in #GirlBoss because I’m going to show you how you too can do the same!
Lemme break it down for you…
What exactly is it that you do?
So I’m a weird case when it comes to travel. A lot of people identify long term travel as doing something like backpacking. I don’t backpack. I don’t own a fancy climbing pack that’s taller than me. I don’t know the first thing about gear, so not your girl on that facet of travel. Plus backpackers’ trips usually have an approximate end date to them.
I do long term travel a bit differently. So when I say “I travel full time”, I honestly view the world as an extension of my home. It’s how I plan to live my life (hopefully) for the next couple years. I go to a new place every week/three weeks, depending on how much I like that place. I plan where I’m going next, one to two days before.
How the &$#*@ do you afford to travel?
Always the big question. But here’s the shocking thing, it’s honestly not anymore expensive than living at home.
It’s all about budgeting and finding a plan that’s right for you. Just like living in a stationery place, you pay rent and probably own a car. I just take those costs that are necessary to living at home to living abroad. I view rent as the cost of my accommodation. Whatever I believe I’d be paying in rent at home, I make that budget for my month in terms of where I stay. Same with the cost of a car, I take the price of paying for insurance, gas, etc. every month and apply that to my cost of transportation.
Rachel but still how do you afford that if you’re traveling? Do you work?
Yes, I knew traveling was going to be a big part of my life after I graduated college. In fact, I chose a profession that would allow me to work on the road and make that a reality. I’m a freelance graphic designer and I have loved every unpredictable second as one. I pay for all my day to day living expenses with the cash made from freelancing (i.e. Diet Coke (a necessity), groceries, tours, experiences, etc.)
Before I started traveling I also saved up a good sum of money from odd jobs and investments my Dad made on my behalf. This is essentially my travel fund that pays for my accommodation and transportation! I knew I needed to start with savings, as I’m just getting my start as a freelancer, so work is not as steady as it hopefully will be in the future.
With that being said, I’m just like any post-grad. I’ve had to make a few sacrifices being off Mom and Dad’s payroll. But I would have had to do that had I gotten a regular 9-5 job. I’ve been on the road since July and I can assure you I haven’t gotten it all right. I’m three months in and I’m just now finding the groove of things in terms of money. It’s okay to find that wiggle room and figure out what exactly your standard of living is going to cost.
Money is usually the main obstacle people have with travel. No doubt, if you’re not spending smart, it can surely add up. But once you stop looking at travel as this unattainable thing you can only afford when you’re rich, it starts to look a bit more doable. But then that brings us to the other concerns…
If you only spend $800/month, where the heck are you staying?
Yeah I’m not staying at the Ritz. Four nights in a standard hotel would put me well over my $800 limit. So I find my home in the world of hostels. “OMG ew! Hostels are so dangerous and so gross, plus you have to sleep with other people.”
Yes you do have to sleep in a room with other people but this is how you make friends. 8/10 they’re people just like you wanting to have a good time. Plus if you’re traveling alone, trust me you’re going to get lonely. And this is the whole reason why you started traveling right? To meet people from other cultures and backgrounds! Hostels are meant to be fun. I’ve stayed in more cool hostels than I have cool hotels. They always have a super trendy aesthetic and cater to young people like having rooftop bars or family dinners.
As for the danger meter. Yeah, it’s not quite as much in the red zone as you would think. I’ve stayed in over 15 hostels and never once have I felt unsafe or threatened. Sure I might have encountered a dodgy person once or twice but nothing to the point of panic. Plus if you ever feel unsafe, all you need to do is alert someone that works there. While they expect you to rough it in certain areas, nobody wants you to feel uncomfortable. Contrary to popular belief, most people are looking out for your best interests.
And for cleanliness; I have not experienced something that was not at least bearable for a couple days. If you’re someone whose standards lie a bit under bougie, but a level above low maintenance. Seek out chain hostels like Meininger, St. Chistopher’s, etc. Those are a good bet to be clean and run with a certain level of professionalism.
And since I stay in places for a longer periods of time, Airbnbs are a great option as well. If it’s a long enough stay, you can even receive a discount!
So you said you traveled as if the world is an extension of your home? What do you mean by that?
So that’s the catch to traveling full time. Just because I’m in a beautiful new place doesn’t mean I can view it as vacation. Hostels and Airbnbs usually have kitchens, so I often cook my own meals. Sometimes I have to miss out on certain experiences because I simply can’t afford it. Which at first seems like it would suck but simply being somewhere should be enough! And not every day is jam packed full of activities. I’ve spent the last two days organizing my finances, working on design stuff, and watching Netflix. It’s all about finding balance and experiencing these places in a way that isn’t always being a typical tourist.
Seems like you’ve got it all figured out…
Wrong. I don’t. Traveling has been simultaneously the easiest and the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It was an easy choice to make because this has been my dream for as long as I can remember. Many of the things I predicted would be hard have been. It’s funny because the things I imagined to be my biggest challenges haven’t been a problem at all. However, it’s the things that I never even spotted on my radar that have made it more difficult than I imagined. But I’m getting through them and I’m learning things about myself that I didn’t know before. Which is another reason why you travel!
This leg of my journey started in July and will go till December where I’ll see my family for Christmas then hit the road again. It’s been a European tour, so far visiting 7 countries and I plan to visit 7/8 more.
This post isn’t necessarily aimed to convince you to travel full time as it is to just encourage you to travel at all. Everyday I talk to friends that don’t travel for a long list of reasons. The time isn’t right, nobody will go with me, it’s too expensive, blah blah blah. And this brings me to my last point… “It’s so dangerous”
Honestly, the hardest thing about traveling hasn’t been living in hostels, sticking to a budget, or feeling outside my comfort zone. Nope. It’s been dodging the negativity of people that tell me I shouldn’t do this or that I simply…can’t. Whether the reasons range from being financially incapable or that I’m simply a walking time bomb for being sexually assaulted. I can assure you, I’ve heard them all and it’s important that I stress that I never let them change my mind.
I’ve traveled by myself loads of times. I studied abroad and worked in London on my own. While I got some flack for doing those as well, it certainly didn’t amount to the level of discouragement I received this time around. I think since this chapter of my life has such a severe label on it, “traveling alone as a young 23 year old women”, it strikes fear into everyone’s hearts. The standard response usually consists of a long list of warnings, as if I’m not already clear on the risks I’m taking by leaving my home, my family, and my friends.
Am I mad at these people? Not exactly. The majority of concerned comments comes from a place of love. And how lucky am I that I have people that are worried about me? Very.
But the point is, danger lurks around every turn. Before I left for my travels. I was horrified to learn that my home town is a huge hotbed for human trafficking. My small southern hometown?? That can’t be right…right?
Here I was being consumed with thoughts that my risk for being taken or abused was going to skyrocket once I was by myself and in an unfamiliar place. When in reality I was facing just as much danger going to my local Wal-Mart. Am I saying that traveling alone as a female doesn’t pose it’s own special set of risks? Of course not, it definitely does. But to everyone making the argument that you shouldn’t do something so important as to travel because it’s “too dangerous.” Cut it out. Right now.
The only thing you need to be to travel is smart. Just be smart! As in, don’t walk down dark alleys, look like you know where you’re going when you don’t, don’t run off with strange men! It’s the stranger danger lesson your parents taught you when you were four. You guys already know this because I know you’re smart! Because you wouldn’t be reading this if you weren’t already a #GirlBoss! And that’s not to say women who have gotten in hot water traveling alone weren’t being smart. That’s the thing about risk is bad things often happen to good people. But that doesn’t mean it’s a guarantee that it will happen to you. You can’t live your whole life in fear because of the possibility that something bad is going to happen. You wouldn’t apply that mindset to your everyday life, so why would you do it to your wanderlust?
Finally, there is no wrong way to travel. If you’re idea of traveling is staying in $800 hotel rooms a night. That’s awesome! Do that! If it’s roughing it even more than I do, more power to you. You are a trooper.
The next steps I would advise you to take is to do two things.
First, join an all female fb travel group. Literally just type it into the fb search bar and you’ll find tons of women who love traveling and lots who even do it alone. Now you won’t feel like you’re so crazy. Then follow some travel vloggers. I suggest Kara and Nate, they’re so cute and I identify with them because they follow the same kind of structure I do. But there are tons out there that you might like better!
Second, read Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel by Rolf Potts. It’s an awesome read that basically explains a lot of what I just said…just way better. My dad was not crazy about me going on my adventures until I got him to read this book. It really helped explain this far-off notion in a condensed and logical way.
There’s a saying that travel is the one thing you can buy that makes you richer. I know… so cheesy but it’s #tru. If you’ve never even thought about traveling, hopefully this post will encourage you to look into it. And if you’ve thought about it a lot, hopefully this post will encourage you to do something about it!
Your Lala Girl Abroad,
Questions for Rachel? She'd love to hear from you. Email her at Rachelmccaslin.firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her journey by following her on instagram here.