Hi everyone! I'm Alexis, Michelle's younger sister and blogger at FITnancials.
Many of you might already know me, but if you don't, I've been spending the past two years traveling around the world as a blogger, au pair, and volunteer. I’ve also taken several mother and daughter trips with my mom. I write a lot about my travels, which you can read about here.
I caught the travel bug from my dad, who passed away when I was 14. He spent his life traveling around the world and had plenty of stories to share because of that.
Michelle and I both have boxes and boxes of photo albums from our dad, and I love opening up a photo album to see that I’ve taken a picture in the same exact spot as my dad. It's almost as if we are traveling together, which is an amazing feeling when your dad has been gone for 10 years.
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I wasn't really sure what to expect when I left the United States for the first time. I didn't jet off to Europe like most kids my age do. Instead, I went to South America and spent two months in Peru, where I volunteered four days a week at a special needs orphanage. A few months later, I took off to Australia and then to Europe, where I was an au pair for three months. After Europe, I went to Japan and Mexico, and I am currently getting ready for my next trip.
I took a gap year from college and began traveling because I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to experience the world and see what it had to offer. Surprisingly, I came back from every trip more confident, courageous, and independent. Each country has taught me something different about the world and myself, which I wasn't really expecting.
I encourage traveling, especially solo traveling, because you can travel at your own pace and for several other reasons that I write about here.
Like I said, I’ve learned many things through my travels, and I’d like to share the lessons I’ve learned with you.
1. Make responsible travel decisions.
If you’d like to see animals and watch them in their natural environment while you’re traveling, it’s important to be aware that there is a lot of animal abuse in the tourism industry. And, thanks to social media, word is getting out, but not fast enough. I learned early on to never participate in any of these kinds of tours.
TripAdvisor is currently working to end their ticket sales for businesses that promote animal abuse. While this is incredibly helpful, it’s important that you make yourself aware of these types of businesses.
There are many places that you can visit that care for animals, like sanctuaries that rescue animals from these types of companies. However, before you participate in animal tourism, check out this list of 10 animal attractions around the world that you should NOT visit.
2. You'll make lifelong friends.
It’s not uncommon to meet people on your travels that will make you ask yourself if you knew this person in a previous life. I have made Italian, Peruvian, Mexican, German, and British friends that I am so close with that I would even want to invite them to my wedding, which is saying a lot.
While in Italy, I met with someone from an online au pair group, and after 10 minutes of talking, I felt like we had been friends for my entire life. We only spent one day together, but we still stay in touch through Facebook.
Be prepared to meet some incredible people that will change your life, make you laugh so hard you'll feel those invisible abs (British friend), or prepare an unbelievably delicious meal for you (Italian friend).
3. We're all the same.
Traveling teaches you that we all have one thing in common- we’re all pursuing happiness. I've met people from six continents, of different ethnicities and religious backgrounds, and we are all looking for that same thing. We all want happiness for ourselves and our loved ones. I’ve met people from Egypt, Myanmar, and Mexico, and none of us ever cared or asked about each other’s religious or ethnic background.
Instead, we enjoyed asking each other questions about things like what it was like to grow up in a country other than our own.
4. Stay open minded.
It’s important to be open to trying new foods and seeing places aren't on a city’s “must-see” list.
Don't be afraid to get lost, as you'll usually have the most fun experiencing a city off the beaten path. Once, I got lost in Florence, which landed me in a jewelry shop that was filled with the most beautiful pieces of handmade jewelry that I've ever seen. Because I’m not really interested in jewelry, I would have completely missed this.
5. Don't let your fears hold you back.
We've all heard of certain countries being dangerous or off limits, but I wouldn't totally let that determine which cities you visit. If I only listened to what people said online, I would've never visited Mexico, Peru, Chicago, or southern Italy.
Yes, you should obviously be smart and aware of any place you visit, but don't let what people say online affect where you plan to travel. Mexico and Peru have the most generous and loving people in the entire world, yet we're often told to avoid these areas or to just stay on resorts. Unless there's a special travel advisory warning you not to visit a place, I wouldn't listen to whatever you see on the internet.
6. Be open to falling in love.
This can be falling in love with someone romantically or just as a friend. You can end up falling in love with a country, and who knows, maybe you'll love it so much that you'll plan on moving their one day.
I've had friends from the US who have packed up their entire lives and moved abroad, met their significant other while traveling, and now permanently live in another country.
Be open to anything because anything is possible when you're traveling abroad.
7. Learn to say no.
When traveling, don't have a case of FOMO (fear of missing out). If you say yes to everything, you'll be exhausted, broke, and burnt out. If you are staying somewhere like a hostel, you'll most likely be invited out to a bar or event every single night.
But, we all need a break, even while we're traveling abroad. Don't feel bad if you want to stay in for a night after two weeks of nonstop traveling.
8. Traveling doesn't have to be expensive.
While in Europe, I traveled from one country to another for under $5o. Some tickets were as little as $10. I took advantage of Blablacar, which is basically Uber for long distance driving in Europe while on a budget.
Couchsurfing, hostels, and Airbnb make my accommodations budget much more affordable, and I always make sure to try to find the cheapest available accommodation and transportation option. Couchsurfing has been an outlet for me to meet locals who can show me the best spots in town that aren't flooded with tourists. Plus, when you visit a city, you want to visit the spots where locals eat and go for fun, right?
Since I travel for long periods of time, I switched from AT&T to T-Mobile and have zero regrets. I get free texting, internet usage, and $.20 per minute phone calls when I'm abroad. If you travel a lot, I encourage switching as soon as you can.
Dining doesn’t have to be expensive either. In South America, I could easily find a five course meal for $5 USD, and Tokyo has places with an amazing meal under $10. To find cheaper dining options, go off the beaten path and far away from tourist areas. Here are 10 ways to create a more affordable trip.
9. There's no place like home.
Experiencing different cultures and meeting people from around the world is incredible, but there will never be any place like at home with my boyfriend and our dogs. There's nothing like coming home from a three month trip to over-joyous love from your dogs who are smothering you with licks, kisses, and occasionally some pee.
I live in Austin, Texas with my boyfriend and our rescue pups, and I am spending my time as a full-time blogger and volunteer for a couple different rescues and farm sanctuaries. I plan on one day opening my own sanctuary for rescued farmed animals.
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