How Nabila Traveled as a Full-Time College Student

woman traveler in the desert

We love our travel community members, and today we get to hear from a young pharmacist who found her love for traveling while she was a full-time college student. Meet Nabila, a twentysomething New Yorker who now works as a full-time pharmacist in LA. When she’s not working, she loves reading, spending time outdoors, updating her Instagram (@doseoftravel), and googling new ways to travel cheaply and find cool opportunities! It’s so much fun to hear from people who are exploring the world — let’s see how Nabila does it!

What is your travel style?

Honestly, it’s all over the place, with the majority of my trips being solo backpacker journeys. As a doctoral student, I traveled on a budget and was always looking for ways to maximize all my time off!

I love backpacking and staying in hostels, and I also love traveling slowly and actually living in different destinations. Slow travel allows me to really immerse myself in the country and culture so I can make local friends, learn the language, and find an opportunity or job while I’m there.

How did you start traveling, like really traveling?

When I moved away to college to study pharmacy, I was really miserable and confused. One of my best friends was an au pair in Belgium on a gap year, so I took the opportunity to visit her over Christmas break. Seeing her living her life in a way that was so so different, enriching, and exhilarating while I was feeling unsure if college was for me led me to buy a one-way ticket to Spain during finals week!

I found a job as an au pair outside of Madrid for the summer. My conservative Muslim parents were in shock and so was I, because I’d never been so bold or much of a risk-taker. That trip changed me forever, and I was really able to find the answers I was looking for. I’d never dreamt of traveling — let alone traveling solo — but it turned out to be exactly what I needed. There I was, an 18-year-old living in Spain with my new host family, learning Spanish while simultaneously taking care of three children under the age of 5.

Traveling solo with not a lot of experience taught me confidence, decision-making, and trusting myself. I found the culture of backpacking on this trip and met so many people my age who had been on plenty of trips alone, had the coolest stories to share, and were so full of life! I became obsessed with traveling and haven’t looked back since!

woman traveler in front of waterfalls

Where did you travel to after?

After Spain, I decided I’d never waste a spring break, winter break, or summer again. I had to be more strategic with my days off!

Since I was in school for the long haul (seven years), I planned longer trips. I visited Vancouver to reconnect with my au pair friend from Spain, then I went to Turkey with my younger sister. But my next big trip was to the Veneto region in Italy, where some of the best red wine is made.

I got another position as an au pair in Valpolicella, just outside of Verona. (This experience was so unreal that I finally got to live out my Lizzie McGuire dreams! My beautiful house sat on top of a hill that looked over the wine region. My job was to look after a 13-year-old girl who became somewhat of a little sister to me. It was such an authentically Italian cultural experience.

While I could’ve chosen Rome or Florence, I appreciated living in a smaller town to get to see and experience that kind of Italian living. I lived with my host family, learned how to cook the most flavorful pasta, tasted the sweetest wines, and even learned some Italian phrases.

As a student, how did you fund your trips?

Up until recently, I was a workaholic. I started working at a high-end boutique in my hometown at the age of 14. Even though I was the youngest worker, I feel like I loved my job the most. For eight years I worked at that boutique, even going back for the Christmas season. While in college, I had up to eight jobs at a time… on top of studying — I know, I’m crazy! I worked at a pharmacy on weekends, in the shoe department of Lord & Taylor, at a study center at night (where I pretty much got paid to study)… In between, I was a university tour guide, tutor, resident advisor in the dorms, worked at concerts, and at other side gigs.

As I mentioned, I wasn’t in love with my studies and used working as a way to figure out my passions, find my purpose, and save money for whatever that happened to be. Luckily, then I found out that I loved travel, and I had a good amount of savings to be able to use toward my trips. I worked while school was in session and then traveled when we were off.

woman traveler on mountaintop looking down at ocean

How’d you end up in Southeast Asia?

My then-boyfriend and I were looking to backpack without having to work so we opted for a cheaper destination. We went to Thailand and Cambodia because it had everything we were looking for. We didn’t have a plan, but we found a cheap flight so we went for it!

Visiting ornate temples, eating delicious cheap street food, getting massages every day, and partying on various Thai islands made our 30 days in Thailand so much fun! We made a visa run to Cambodia spontaneously and spent a week in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, where we learned all about Cambodian history and culture.

This trip was pure fun and much needed after my first year of pharmacy school!

What brought you to Africa?

During my first time in Africa, I was researching a project on public health and hygiene. I had participated in an innovation challenge, and my team won a trip. We got to test my project’s idea in Kampala, Uganda. We spent two weeks visiting primary schools in multiple villages and discussing hygiene and sanitation. I honestly fell in love with Uganda and knew that I had to come back to Africa.

woman traveler sitting on cliff's edge rock over ocean

When did you get to the continent of Africa again?

During pharmacy school, I opted to do one of my clinical rotations in Zimbabwe. I figured if I had to spend the year rotating and essentially working for free, I’d want to do it on an adventure!

My professor and I set up a special rotation in Zimbabwe that focused on global health and HIV/AIDS. That month and a half was a real game-changer for me. I was put in a house with strangers, lived on campus, took the school bus to the hospital, and was doing incredible and meaningful work. I found Zimbabweans to be the most generous and kind human beings. I learned so much about the history of Zimbabwe, and I actually stayed in Africa for three more months and continued to explore other countries: Zambia, Botswana, Tanzania, and South Africa.

Overall, what’s the most surprising thing you learned while traveling?

I’ve learned a lot of things but the one that continues to surprise me is my growing self-confidence and how I view myself. It’s easy to feel like my life is a mess at home, feel down or unconfident, and be harsh on myself. However, whenever I’m traveling, I find that I’m able to make decisions easily, trust my gut, and draw people to me naturally. I feel like I have a different persona, and people are magnetized to that.

I actually learned to love myself while traveling.

woman traveler kayaking thailand philippines

Solo travel is often seen as dangerous. Have you ever been scared while traveling alone?

Honestly, not really. People often ask me this question — as I did a lot before I actually left. But I haven’t had any experiences that really scared or freaked me out… thankfully!

The closest I’ve gotten to being scared while on the road was when I had a bit too much to drink at the Full Moon Party in Koh Phangan, Thailand, or taking a cab at night in Tanzania after hearing a story of a taxi cab robbery. Ever since, I’ve tried to take Ubers, find someone to ride in the cab with me, or avoid travel at night altogether.

woman traveler taking photos of elephants on a safari in africa

How can you afford to book all of these trips? Are you rich?

Haha, I wish! I’ve never been rich in terms of money, but that hasn’t stopped me from being rich in experiences. I am very fortunate to have parents who paid for my undergrad education and rent. That said, I went to a public university, on scholarship, and was a resident advisor for two years (so I worked in exchange for rent). I also mentioned that I had like eight jobs at a time throughout college and pharmacy school.

For me, I chose my travels based on how cheap the flight was, how affordable the country was, and if I could find a job there. Staying at hostels cut costs and gave me a great solo travel experience. It’s all about priorities, sacrifice, and strategizing!

Is having a community of travelers important for you?

That is the most important thing to me!

I love to support, guide, and encourage others to go out there and do what they’ve dreamt of doing. Other than encouraging others, I really enjoy having a community that I can share stories with, relate to, and get travel advice from. When I’m not able to travel, I lean on my friends and followers in the community who can share stories and remind me of travel or plan my next trip!

backpackers resting in the shade at hostel

What’s it like to be at home now during this pandemic?

My travel style changed dramatically when I graduated last May, because I started a full-time job in Los Angeles. I’m still working full-time as a pharmacist on the frontline, so that’s an experience!

Travel-wise, I’ve had to cancel two trips already, and it has set me back from my travel plans for the future. I’m relying on the travel community right now to share stories, plan future trips, and see what we can do right now to get a dose of travel!

What travel advice would you give to a college student dying to travel?

Simple: do it. Once you accept that you will, in fact, go to the place you’re dying to go, the rest will come easy. The money will come and go, but traveling during college is just an opportunity you do not want to miss.

  1. Work to save: Find a job on campus, tutor, or find a side gig to fund your travels.
  2. Visit your study abroad office: Go to your study-abroad office and talk to an advisor. There is so much little-known free money on campuses. There are several scholarships that will send you abroad for a few months or even a year. Those scholarships may not have much competition depending on where they’re going and for how long.
  3. Ask your financial aid advisor: Apply to any scholarship for academics, financial aid, etc., and use that money for your school expenses so you can add to your travel savings!
  4. Work overseas during school holidays: If that doesn’t work, find a job abroad! Go explore South Korea while teaching English, work at a ski resort in Colorado, become a scuba diver instructor in Thailand.

There are so many ways to make it happen!

traveler parachuting down over the coast

What’s in store for your future travels?

Whenever the doors open up to travel again, I’d really like to go to Australia. It’ll be my sixth (!) continent, and I’ve always been drawn to it. Ideally, I’d like to spend a year working there on a working holiday visa.

I also am dying to visit Pakistan, where my grandparents live and where my family is originally from. Pakistan is a beautiful country and opening up to travel, and I want to see it before it becomes the new hot spot!

How can we keep in touch with you?

Of course! You can connect with me on The Nomadic Network. For travel stories and photos that will fill you with wanderlust, you can find me on Instagram (@doseoftravel). I also have a blog dedicated to the topics of travel and pharmacy called Connect with me — I’d love to hear from you!

Note: We love featuring our travel-loving members, if you’d like to be interviewed for this blog, send us an email at info @ thenomadicnetwork . com with the subject line “TNN Blog Interview.”

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