In a world filled with travel Instagrammers—you know the ones: mysteriously jobless yet staying at five-star resorts in designer clothes—31-year-old Melissa Roy is a ray of hope for those who may not be #blessed with hundreds of thousands of followers and "influencer" contracts.
Roy, who, like many late-20-somethings, was feeling some type of way as her 30th birthday approached, decided to kick her travel game up a notch and visit 100 countries by the time she hit the milestone. (At 29, she had been to 66.)
"I was having a midlife crisis about turning 30, and I'm like, 'I haven't gotten married, I haven't had kids, I need to do something really cool before I turn 30—what should I do?'" she told INSIDER.
Country #100: Sri Lanka. I did it! I can't believe it — I have actually achieved my goal of 100 by 30! I'm more than halfway to seeing every country in the world! And Sri Lanka was a perfect place to celebrate this milestone... A Buddhist, less chaotic version of India, the resilience of these tsunami survivors really inspired me, while their kindness and unwavering hospitality instantly made me feel at home. Can't wait to come back here again! 💯🎉💯🎉💯🎉
Next thing she knew, a year had gone by and she was ringing in the big 3-0 in Antarctica—her 100th country and seventh continent—with Gentoo penguins.
Thank you so much for the thoughtful birthday wishes!! Couldn't have dreamed of a more magical place to celebrate my 30th than the great white continent of Antarctica with the lovely Gentoo penguins who stole my heart! An unforgettable trip of a lifetime... kayaking amongst icebergs, mountaineering up a glacier, snowshoeing, camping, and of course, polar plunging into the subzero Antarctic waters! Photos and videos soon to follow... although they simply don't do it justice! 🌨❄️🐧☃🇦🇶🎂🍾
What makes Roy's story unique, other than the off-the-beaten-path adventures she's chosen (she crossed the tumultuous Colombia-Venezuela border by foot, went off-roading in Swaziland, and was adopted by a girl squad in Malaysia), is that she pays for her travels out of her own pocket.
And her favorite way to save money—and get a deep understanding of a foreign place in just a few days—is Couchsurfing. Couchsurfing, an online network of millions of people willing to host travelers in their homes for free, is in over 239 countries around the world. In addition to the unbeatable pricetag, it allows travelers to connect with locals everywhere they go.
“Engaging with locals for three days is a fuller experience than staying for two weeks,” Roy said. And that can be felt through her Instagram account, where breathtaking landscapes are pictured beside smiling photos with host families.
Country #96: Malaysia is a really diverse country in terms of its population, nature, food, culture, everything, with a big Chinese and Indian presence. I met this awesome group of girls at 2am on my way to the city from the airport and they offered to host me at their place minutes after meeting me! So hospitable and sweet, they took me to eat traditional Malaysian Nasi Lemak the next day and then to the incredible Batu Caves. How lucky I was to have met them!! 😍 #goodtravelkarma
Roy, who says her passion for travel grew as a result of yearning to escape a rough childhood in Indiana, makes the money she does spend on flights and adventures by acting in commercials in Los Angeles. (She even took flight with Alec Baldwin in his Capital One Venture Card commercial.)
“I would go back to LA, work in Hollywood, do commercials, save up the money, and then travel,” she said. And by the looks of her Instagram these days, some brands are starting to take notice and send perks her way to help.
It's a good thing, too, because Roy, who has now been to 109 countries, has a big goal to tackle next: seeing them all.