09/25/2014 06:34 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Why Education Is My Ticket to Travel

When I was growing up in Tennessee, I had friends who took picturesque European vacations while my family stayed much closer to home. Of course, where you go doesn't really matter so long as you're together, and I enjoyed every trip we took to the Smoky Mountains or to Florida's coasts.

A small part of me did wonder if my chance to see more of the world would ever come, but I figured it was useless to dwell on something so unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future.

As it turns out, that chance never did come -- at least, not in the way I would have envisioned it. I've still never had the typical experience of booking a round-trip ticket from the US to Europe to sightsee for a few weeks. Instead, I've lived in Europe for chunks at a time thanks to relentlessly hunting down scholarships and grants (and just plain penny-pinching) to fund otherwise out-of-reach pursuits.

Round 1: Oxford, England


Magdalen Tower, Radcliffe Camera, St John's College; Photo Credits: Katy Miller

My first opportunity to visit Europe came during my junior year at university. I'd always wanted to study abroad, but my full-tuition scholarship didn't contribute much toward such far-flung adventures. That summer, I juggled three jobs at over 60 hours per week, a period punctuated by the potatoes I ate straight out of the microwave and little else. Somehow I managed to scrape together the funds I needed, and off I went to Oxford, England.

It was a magical time within an insular fairy tale, despite my unfortunate diet of frozen pizza. I visited ruins and palaces, took frequent trips to London, and even managed to squeeze in budget flights to Italy and France (which involved questionable lodging choices like sleeping outside the Milan Central train station).

Round 2: Manchester, England


John Rylands Library, Whitworth Hall, Peak District; Photo Credits: Katy Miller

That was the end of my travels for two years until I was able to obtain several postgraduate scholarships and boarded my second-ever European flight to begin a master's degree at the University of Manchester.

While at Manchester, which is located in northwest England, I explored the North and the Midlands in my spare time. The gorgeous Peak District quickly became my favorite place in England, and I took cheap trips to nearby Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. I even got to see Austria during a holiday break.

My decision to do a degree abroad was a marvelous one indeed, but I assumed that after it was over, I would be headed back to the United States for good.

Round 3: Córdoba, Spain (and beyond)


Patios sculpture, Palacio de la Merced, Casa del Bailío; Photo Credits: Katy Miller

I've recently finished that degree but have not ended up back in the states -- at least, not yet. This time, the third round of living abroad has nothing to do with my own education but with that of my partner. He decided that an international masters degree was for him, too. Now we live together in gorgeous Andalucía region of Spain during his funded MSC that will later take us to Portugal and then back to England.

Before this newest adventure, I'd never been to Spain before, nor thought that I would make it there anytime soon. Nonetheless, here I am.

Generous grants and scholarships have provided the chance to live in places my partner and I couldn't even have visited on our own small budgets, and for me, that imbues these years with even more value. So if your own pockets are as shallow as mine, don't despair just yet. I haven't seen nearly as much of the world as have some, but I've seen more of it than I ever imagined I would. That in itself is enough for me.