“I travel to learn,” Mottola said. Her eyes were shining with excitement as she smiled radiantly at the prospect of exploring new lands and going to new horizons.

A psychology major at Stony Brook University, junior Megan Mottola has led the unusual life as an independent backpacker who has hiked across 25 states at the mere age of 24. When she was a budding freshman in the fall of 2010, trying to accustom herself to the perks of studying in an enormous hall like Javits and vying for the attention of professors amongst hundreds of students, Mottola realized that her life needed a change of great lengths.

“I took my first year of college off and decided to travel parts of the East Coast,” Mottola recalled fondly. After her adventures were over, she made her way back to Stony Brook to study special education but decided again that being cramped in a lecture hall just wasn’t her scene.

“So I took more time off to travel to the West Coast,” Mottola said.

“I’m not a complacent person at all,” she said. She explained why she repeatedly felt that she wasn’t going to gain knowledge while being bound by the four walls of the classroom. “I just wanted to find out more about myself and what I wanted.”

“Meg is a deeply empathetic person,” Lauren Simicich, Mottola’s best friend, said. “She’s always attentive to others’ emotions, thoughts and feelings and constantly gives others the benefit of the doubt.”  They’ve known each other since high school.

The first time Mottola realized that travelling and knowing people and cultures was her forte was when she was a recent high school graduate from Floral Park, New York, visiting her friends in Maine. “I met this kid who was a sailor and he took us on his boat, and we just talked about his life and how he spent it travelling, and I was like ‘that’s exactly what I wanna do,’” Mottola recalled.

Travelling around the country may sound fancy to a regular college student, but Megan Mottola faced her fair share of hardships. From struggling with depleting travel funds and crashing at her friends’ to battling anorexia when she was a teenager, Mottola used her strength of character as a tool to find her purpose in life.

“I had to travel for my condition to a residential rehab in Pennsylvania,” Mottola said as she described the realization of her health problems at 16, which triggered her to change her life for the better. “It was then when I realized that I don’t want to be like this for the rest of life and become a better person.”

“At first, my parents were a little skeptical and would tell me, ‘shouldn’t you be in school?’ But then they realized that it wasn’t making me happy. They are very supportive of me, thank God.”

Estelle Gyimah, a coordinator at Mottola’s student job at the campus recreation center, has known her for a few months. Gyimah describes her as a strong, level-headed person. “I think Meg just understands who she is. Meg is strong, funny, and she gets it,” she said.

“While I was in school, I just kept thinking about travelling. I just couldn’t stay in the classroom and do things that didn’t make my soul happy,” Mottola said.

Mottola is a non-conformist on principle. She just couldn’t see herself leading a normal life, being just another plain Jane.

“Being in school wasn’t making me happy at all. I knew I was just doing what society wanted me to do, that I had to complete school in four years, that I had to get get into a relationship, then get married and then have kids, get a job–just a robotic lifestyle,” she explained passionately, in one breath. “I wasn’t about that.”

Megan Mottola’s travels have taken her all the way from the Carolinas to Los Angeles and Oregon. “I would love to visit Hawaii soon,” she said of her future travel plans, which includes travelling across the rest of the country. She is going to visit Oregon again this winter.

“Society would definitely label me as a rebel,” she said.

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