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.
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.
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.
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.
This story originally appeared on Travel + Leisure.