By Gabrielle Bluestone
Updated Sep 18, 2018 @ 2:00 pm
Photo Illustration, Photo: Getty Images

Pretty Little Liars star Lucy Hale doesn’t play a high school teenager on TV anymore, but she just got back from one hell of a summer vacation.

“I went to Cambodia. I went to Paris. I went to Mexico, Hawaii, and South Korea,” Hale tells InStyle. “I took a little bit of time off for the first time in a really long time, and got to do normal people things and travel. It's nice. Time off is great. Now I'm ready to get back to work.”

That’s exactly what she’s doing now, sitting in the green room at AOL Build studios. She’s just wrapped a TV interview to promote her new partnership with St. Jude’s Children’s Research Center, the hospital that successfully treated her now-22-year-old step sister, who was diagnosed with cancer at just four months old. Hale is acting as a celebrity ambassador for the hospital, which means making a lot of appearances during Childhood Cancer Awareness Month and visiting with sick kids.

“I feel like my role is just sort of getting the word out to my generation about how they can help,” she says.

Luckily enough, the building we’re in is surrounded by a crowd of screaming members of her generation, as well as a vertical wall of paparazzi, all of whom she hopes will help her get the message out to her fans. Hale also has a massive platform of her own: 21.8 million Instagram followers who hang on to her every post, and a cool 7.5 million Twitter followers.

Hale readily acknowledges that having that kind of platform shouldn’t be taken lightly.

“You see the number and you're like, ‘Oh okay, but those are actual human beings.’ Which is just wild to think on, and it kind of scares me a little bit,” Hale says. “Instagram is our good days. It's our good angles. It's the good lighting. It's like we’re having so much fun, look at our great lives. I tend to respect people more when we get to peek behind the curtains a little bit.”

Of course, every time Hale does let people peek behind the curtains, it makes headlines — whether she’s posting lookalike selfies with the actress Sarah Hyland, complaining about the ongoing scorpion infestation in her house, or giving recommendations for icing zits with a cold can of Red Bull. If she started filing freelancer invoices to the websites that regularly aggregate her Instagram account, she might be able to retire from acting altogether.

But that’s the last thing she wants right now. Hale perks up the most when it’s time to talk about St. Jude's and her upcoming projects. She says she can’t say exactly what’s on her slate right now, but allowed she’s gearing up for “one TV thing and a couple of film things, but very different from anything I've done before, and wearing new hats if you will.”

And though her school days are long gone, fall 2018 still feels like the start of a new chapter.

“I made the conscious choice to take a little time off so I could be picky about what I wanted to do,” Hale says. “It's been hard being patient for the right stuff, but I found the right things and I'm just excited that I love what I do. I genuinely love being an actress so it'll be fun to start it back up again.”

UPDATE: This article was updated from a previous version on 9/19/2018.