Hometown: Born in Paris, grew up in Madrid, studied in Montreal, now live near Geneva, Switzerland
Quote: “To awaken alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.” (Freya Stark)
How did you find out about Vagabonding, and how did you find it useful before and during the trip? I read the book a few years after returning from my trip – and wished it had existed before I left!
How long were you on the road? 3.5 years in my mid-forties was the longest – but I’ve traveled for up to a year at a time on other occasions.
Where did you go? Up the Eastern spine of Africa, through Southeast Asia, the Baltics, and Cuba
What was your job or source of travel funding for this journey? Initially my savings; then a smattering of freelance assignments; and then I was finally appointment as a newspaper foreign correspondent.
Did you work or volunteer on the road? I worked often – usually writing but occasionally teaching or doing communications work along the way.
Of all the places you visited, which was your favorite? Eritrea. I arrived just after three decades of civil war. Hope was in the air, everyone was optimistic, even those who had lost family or limbs in the brutal conflict. Gender equality was proclaimed, Eritreans started coming home to rebuild their country. And then the regime hardened into a repressive one, and I know if I returned I would no longer be able to feel so positive about it.
Was there a place that was your least favorite, or most disappointing, or most challenging? I think Nigeria was the most challenging country I’ve ever visited. Not only is it huge, but few tourists go there so it doesn’t have the tourism infrastructure. Of course Nigerians travel extensively in their own country so where they go I could go, but it wasn’t as straightforward as, say, Kenya or South Africa.
Which travel gear proved most useful? Least useful? My sarong, bought for a song in Thailand, is probably the most useful thing I have with me. I can wear it around my room, sleep in it, use it as a towel in a pinch, headscarf, protection against wind and sand. A close second is my trusty rubber doorstop. Just slip it under the door at night and sleep like a charm. Least useful is anything I can easily buy abroad.
What are the rewards of the vagabonding lifestyle? My biggest reward has been to travel slowly and get to meet incredible people along the way, many of whom have become lifelong friends. By taking my time, at least a month in each country, I was able to begin to understand it, not entirely, but certainly more than if I’d drifted through for a day or two.
What are the challenges and sacrifices of the vagabonding lifestyle? My biggest sacrifice was distance from my loved ones, no contest. I traveled well before social media and Skype brought the world closer together. When I was on the road full-time, I was limited to the occasional international phone call and at times, I missed my family terribly. I also missed having a home base, as I got rid of everything before starting to travel. For a number of years, I felt like a tourist in my own life.
What lessons did you learn on the road? I learned so much… to rely more on myself, to be more confident, that I needed far fewer ‘things’ than I thought, that I could make friends anywhere… and that people were basically helpful and kind, with exceptions, but that’s what they were – exceptions.
How did your personal definition of “vagabonding” develop over the course of the trip? Initially I thought travel was about time and distance. Eventually it became about depth and breadth. I began to care more about understanding than seeing, which meant spending a lot more time in a place than I’d ever planned.
If there was one thing you could have told yourself before the trip, what would it be? Stop worrying.
Any advice or tips for someone hoping to embark on a similar adventure? Do your homework, make your plans – and be ready to throw them out the window when an opportunity arises.
When and where do you think you’ll take your next long-term journey? It will be in 2015… Either across the USA – I’ve always wanted to visit it in-depth – or perhaps through Scandinavia. I’d love to spend a month or two in Madagascar or Mexico…