Updated: Jan 26, 2021
Hi! My name is Laura!
I'm an elementary music teacher, with a decently low salary in comparison to my area's cost of living. That being said, my lifestyle is 100% an intentional choice. Over the last five years, I've spent a year in Thailand volunteering, backpacked Southeast Asia, camped across Iceland, yoga'd my way through Bali, taught in Jordan, hiked in the Italian Alps, and drank all the delicious Spanish wines in Barcelona, Spain. The overwhelming gratitude I feel for the people I've met and the places I've been, words can't do justice. Travel is the chance to see the world more clearly, to love someone different from me, to live on the edge of my seat, if only for a moment, and obviously to eat a lot of delicious food along the way. Duh.
A few years ago, I was at a friend's wedding when a young woman my age said to me, "Laura, I live my life through your life." But you know what? If you're a middle-class person with a stable job in the US, travel is accessible- it's actually more accessible to you than a vast majority of the rest of the world. And you know what else?! You deserve more than living your life through someone else's. You're living, man! These are your glory days! Not someone's you follow on instagram, not your friend who's a "free spirit."
They're your days you've been gifted to live- and You deserve to live the dreams of your heart.
Here are a few tips for how I've gotten this far.
1. Work Hard, Play Harder.
I'm a public school teacher- I've literally known since 9th grade I was never going to be rich. In the last five years, I've worked up to three jobs outside of my normal weekday 9-5. Those jobs have included: part-time musical director at a children's theatre, front desk girl at a ranch, private voice and piano instructor, bar-band singer, and classical page-turner for the fine arts center (yes that is a thing).
I've worked through summers. I've worked twelve hour days. I've cleaned up a small child's vomit (not at school) as his parent's watched and then didn't get tipped. It's not always pretty, people! But you know what is pretty? Sunset cook-outs on the beach in Bali.
I work really hard, so I can play even harder.
2. Stop spending money. No, really.
I chose houseplants to maintain over a dog, they're much more low maintenance and significantly more cost-effective. I buy jeans once a year. I let myself buy shoes twice a year (end of spring, beginning of winter). A solid amount of my clothes are pieces I bought in college or at least have owned for a couple years- Others I swapped with friends. The point is- you don't need that new pair of earrings, Sheila.
This is my secret, and you're going to laugh but It's the realest thing I know- and I will die
upon this truth. Any cash I'm given, I keep in a jar- and I don't touch it. I don't spend it unless it's on something I really want and I literally bring the jar with me and pay for it. Is it a little unorthodox? Yes. Did it pay for my most recent flight to Thailand? Also, yes.
What do you actually want? I mean, really? It can be big or small. Do you want to take a painting class? Do you want to snorkel in Belize? If your answer is, "Every Saturday morning I want to drink endless mimosas at brunch, and then go to Nordstrom Rack." Girl, you do you and I will cheer you on! But if you're admiring someone else's instagram and thinking, "Man. I wish I could do that." Newsflash: You can. It starts with you and your spending habits.
Stop spending money and save for what you really want.
3. Travel doesn't have to be glamorous to be good
Hello, let me reintroduce myself. I'm the world's greatest "I mean, it's not the Hilton but it'll do" traveller. Like I've done the days of staying in super gross and cheap places when I was in college. I have moved upward and onward to "only slightly gross if we really can't find another place to stay."
But seriously, Find a budget that works for you and do it! I've stayed at cute box hostels in Bangkok, AirBnb walkups in Spain, and boutique homestays with rice paddy views in Bali. Did I also stay at a super gross hostel in Bali and definitely get a stomach bug? Also, yes. It's all about balance, people!
Stay in boutique resorts, but also don't overlook the slightly dodgy place when you inevitably have a last minute change of plans and it's all that's available. None of us are too good to be a little uncomfortable. The world awaits you and so does at least one lumpy mattress!
4. Volunteer- but like don't be an a-hole about it.
You have gifts. You can use those gifts to lift other people up. And- you can fundraise! This last summer, I experienced Jordan over three weeks through a volunteer teaching/cultural exchange program. Did I fundraise? Absolutely! People want to encourage other people in making this world a better place. Is posting pictures of yourself with marginalized people a
good reason to volunteer and travel? Absolutely not. Is volunteering to highlight the beauty of others, build cross-cultural relationships, and learn from someone else while also bringing something to the table, a GREAT reason to volunteer and travel? Absolutely yes.
Do some good. Ask for some help. People want to help others make this world more loving. Make sure the organization you volunteer with has a handle of their privilege and their perspectives.
Look at your gifts and ask yourself, "How can I lift others up with these?"
5. Make friends, Stay with friends, Be a friend.
Traveling with a friend makes everything instantly cheaper and immensely more fun. Find a travel partner. Split the cost. If you're thinking, "but none of my friends travel." Get outside
of your comfort zone and find a friend who does. That's what travel is all about, right? Also, would it be so terrible to buy the ticket and make friends as you go? This summer, I stayed in Italy, Germany, Madrid, Spain, and Denmark totally for free because friends. Last year I stayed in Seattle, New York City, and Washington DC- you guessed it, for free- because friends. This January, I'm going to Thailand- and staying for free- because, friends.
Do I show up on people's doorsteps and expect to stay? Absolutely not. I believe life is about loving people all over this world. I LOVE being a friend, like once I love you- you're stuck with me. I think it's imperative to love and experience people and cultures different from me. Having a place to stay is secondary to the friendships formed and trusted.
Make friends. Know someone different from you.
Isn't that the point of this whole thing, anyway?
Thanks for taking the time to read my blog! Traveling is one of the most meaningful, inspiring ways for me to experience life. I pay more attention, breathe a little deeper, and hopefully return home loving a little louder. To follow along with my travels, pop on over to my instagram: Lauramiller91
Until then, happy travels! I hope this helped you find a meaningful and cost-effective way to love and experience this world for as long as you can!