Sarah Lugo has always wanted to see the world. She recently spent two and a half years away from home.
Maitland native Sarah Lugo has felt it her entire life: the desire to travel and explore.
She’s backpacked through Europe and Mexico. She lived in Australia for six months. She studied abroad in Spain.
Lugo loves the Winter Park/Maitland area, but the urge to venture off was always there.
“Growing up here and going to college here, I felt really contained,” Lugo said. “I really wanted to get out of my comfort zone in a big way.”
The 27-year-old has deep roots in the Central Florida area. She went to Maitland Middle School, Winter Park High School and Rollins College.
But in September 2014, that itch to explore took over once again, and she ventured off on what would become her biggest adventure yet. She left home to take a trip backpacking through Thailand for three months.
Or at least that was the plan, she said.
“I always had that desire to backpack through southeast Asia, so originally I was just going over there to travel for a few months,” she said. “I even promised my family I’d be back in a few months.
“I was supposed to be traveling, and I liked it so much that I was like ‘I kind of want to stay here,’” she said.
Lugo spent two and a half years away from the United States, spending time between Thailand and Indonesia.
She just came back to the states this summer.
It’s difficult to explain what drew her to Thailand in the first place, she said, there was just a unique sense of place there.
“I think it was the peacefulness and the temples,” Lugo said. “There’s this vibe from the eastern world that so many people look to. I wanted to have an experience so far off from what I had here.”
There was another reason, too: a classroom of 30 kindergartners on the island of Phuket.
Lugo got her teaching certificate online prior to the trip and decided to put it to good use in Thailand teaching English. She formed a close bond with the children, who ended up teaching her parts of the Thai language, as well.
“I was teaching kindergarten, and I just really bonded with the kids,” Lugo said. “At first, I was thinking I’ll do this for six months, but when you really have that bond with them, you feel this obligation to be there. I couldn’t shake that. I did it for a year.”
She later realized it wasn’t a sustainable option to teach kindergarten, and that she wanted to do something more stimulating. She became interested in the lifestyle of being a “digital nomad” — someone who strictly works on the go from cafés and community work places by using Wi-Fi.
Lugo had heard about the lifestyle and wanted to find out what all the fuss was about, she said.
“What are people doing that they are able to have this flexibility and mobility?” she said.
Lugo met the founders of a tech startup in the city of Chiang Mai and started working as a marketing specialist.
She also continued to travel, spending a year in Bali, Indonesia.
Lugo eventually left the tech startup and started her own digital marketing company called Visibility Guru.
In May, Lugo made the decision to return home to the Central Florida area — a result of her wanting to once again feel like “a small fish in a big pond.”
“You go there and you want to be inspired, but I started to feel like I needed to go back to the U.S. to be re-inspired,” Lugo said. “The reason I left (Central Florida) was because I thought it was so small here, but then it kind of looks pretty big when you’re living in a Third World country.”
Lugo said she realized sometimes there’s freedom in coming home. She’s still looking for clients for her digital marketing business, while searching for somewhere else to place her roots.
She left for Canada this week.
“In the beginning, I just wanted to travel, living out of a backpack and feeling so much freedom,” Lugo said. “Now I feel like there’s more freedom to be had in having some roots and having the flexibility to travel. The ultimate freedom is having both.”