She may only be 22 and recently graduated from university, but Michelle Serra has already been able to travel around the world, probably more than most twice or even three times her age. “I love to travel, and I try to do it as often as I can. It’s such an amazing privilege to get to discover new cultures, food, languages, and meet people from all over the world. You get a much better understanding for other people, and for what’s going on in the world, when you actually see it for yourself,” she says of her opportunities.
Born and raised in Stockholm, Sweden, Michelle has traveled most of her life. “…My parents really like to travel as well, so growing up we took a lot family vacations. As I got older, my love for travel really grew, and I started doing it more on my own.”
So far, she has traveled around Europe (Spain, England, France, Greece, Sweden, Germany, and Italy), the United States (LA, NYC, SF), Asia (Hong Kong, Malaysia, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Macau), and Central America (Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala). She’s been able to experience all sorts of travel so far: solo, with friends, and, as mentioned before, with her family.
“I’ve always really liked to travel… When I was younger I always longed to be somewhere else. I was your typical teenager always dreaming of bigger cities, longer nights, and exciting adventures. Now that I’m older, I love having the freedom to actually make it happen, knowing that I can go anywhere I’d like.”
Naturally, her life of travel has lead to more than just short term trips. She began to experience the expat life as well. Her first experience was living in Hong Kong for a semester to study at Hong Kong Baptist University from January to the end of May, 2014. “I grew so much. It was the first time I was on my own in a foreign country, the first time I took a flight by myself, and I was swept away from my comfort zone. I gained so much confidence finding out I could really do it, and being taken away from my family, friends, and usual life. I learned more about myself, away from all the things I was used to.
“The whole semester was like getting a break from real life, it was like being in our own little exchange bubble for a while. It was so much fun, and there was always something happening. Everyone just wanted to have a great experience, and we all got along really well!” Living in Hong Kong was also her first time in Asia. It thus got her curious about a whole new continent.
Since graduating, Michelle has become an expat again, moving to England a lot sooner than she had initially planned. “Moving to London was really crazy! The whole thing happened really fast. I was in Mexico when I started applying for jobs in London, thinking it would take a while to get interviews, and if I got something, I wouldn’t be able to start right away. I was wrong. A couple of days after I started applying, I got an interview, and a couple of days after the interviews I actually got it, and they wanted to me to start the following Monday.
“So, I basically finished up in Central America, packed my bag, and booked a flight home. I only had two days in Stockholm to re-pack and do laundry before heading back to the airport and flying off to London. When I got on the flight, I didn’t really have anything planned out. I didn’t have that much money saved up, didn’t have a full-time job, just an internship, and didn’t have a place to live. I was staying with a friend for the first week while doing my internship and looking for a place to live. Luckily, it all worked out within the first week!”
After moving her life abroad twice, Michelle offers this advice. “Embrace the experience! Moving countries is really fun, whether you’re moving for a month or a year or ten years. Living in different places are great experiences, and everywhere you go you’ll take something with you. Looking at social media, following bloggers from wherever you’re going is a great place to gain some inside knowledge. Social media is also a great way to find new friends. Just comment on someone’s blog or Instagram, and see if they want to grab a coffee. Friend dating is awesome!”
With so many places explored, it’s impossible for Michelle to pick just one favorite. “They’re all amazing in their own way. I did really like Italy, and keep dreaming of going back and traveling around the country more. Going to Central America by myself was another one of my favorites, just because it was my first solo travel… I fell in love with Mexico the moment I got off the flight, and I know for sure I’ll go back and spend more time there.
“I also really liked visiting Abisko in Sweden. I went with my family in 2014 to see the northern lights. I’d never seen it before, and never really travel that much in Sweden. It was a really cool experience, and the first time I was up north in Sweden. The landscape was truly breathtaking!”
Of course, traveling is not without its challenges. Michelle experienced particularly challenging times in Central America, with things often going wrong, something always needing to be fixed or handled, and often times just feeling overwhelmed. Whether it was trying to find where hotels were, problems with bookings, or long bus rides with no toilet breaks, nothing was very smooth. However, it’s still a region she wants to return to.
As for her future plans? She always wanted to visit New York again as the last time she visited was ten years ago. “I would love to go back for a longer period of time, and now that I’m older I can enjoy the city in a different way.”
She also places India, Japan, and South Africa in the top three of her endless wanderlust list. She’s hoping to make India, Iceland, and the Netherlands happen in 2016.
“Just go for it. There’s no such thing as the ‘right time,’ you have to make it the right time. There are a bunch of different ways to travel, whether you want to work abroad, backpack, vacation, or volunteer, etc. There are many ways to do it. Just figure out what’s right for you and go for it. Take advantage of the social media madness, find people who have done what you’re interested in, ask for advice! Find new friends or use it for research, it’s an endless pool of cool people and inspiration, use it!”
You can check out Michelle here:
Have you traveled around the world? What are some of your insights?
Interview by Samantha, Photographs by Michelle