I recently got an email from Jen and Ted, a pair of Canadian Vagabonding readers who perfectly sum up how, sometimes, the most important thing one must do in order to travel the world long-term is to simply realize that it is possible. Here’s their story, in Jen’s words:
I have been unsure for the past few months how to word this, as this is basically the biggest thank you of my life. Our story is as follows: My husband & I have been married just over 2 years and were (unknowingly) stuck going about the typical life pattern of going to university, working away our young years at professional jobs, and making good money to go on expensive, rushed 2-week vacations a couple of times per year. We both were happy in our positions with good pay, benefits, and pleasant coworkers that made work enjoyable. I am a Emergency Room nurse at a well-reknowned paediatric hospital in Toronto; it is a stressful but rewarding job and I love it immensely. My husband has a great job in programming & software development working on cutting-edge projects and he too enjoys his role. Both are well-paying jobs in the fields we studied in university & we are grateful for these positions.
However…each time we travelled on vacation, it opened up that incredible thirst to see new cultures, to experience life in a different part of the world. It was such a tease. We would jealously meet people in our travels around the world who would be backpacking for a few months or indefinitely. We never considered ourselves capable of being in that category – we assumed those people were special, they had no-strings-attached & we had plenty of strings. They must have had different jobs, different circumstances than us. We thought they were “lucky”. Reading your book opened an entire way of thinking for my husband and I, one that we were both too afraid to even fully believe/feel. It made us realize that luck did not find these people and transport them around the globe. A conscious decision was made to change the course of their life, and they went out and achieved it. They were not just dreamers, but passionate achievers.
So we began to toy with the idea of dropping everything & exploring all of the places we so desperately want to see. Not just see on a crammed, over-priced vacation – see in a way that we experience and live in different places, something more long-term. Initially there was a lot of fear. What will happen if we leave? What about our jobs, our families, our friends? In the end the realization was that the answer was this: nothing. Nothing will happen. Our jobs will carry on without us – we will be swiftly replaced and our absence will soon be forgotten about by the presence of the next employee. The opportunity to return will likely be there and if not we will seek other jobs if need be. Our families? They will continue their day-to-day activities, jobs, and responsibilities. We will miss them immensely but we will continue to keep in touch like we currently do living out of town from them. Our friends? They will also continue with their routines of work, social activities, some maybe commenting that they wish they could do what we were doing. But I know when we return nothing will have changed. But we will have changed. And that is the motivating factor behind all this.
Your book put us in a position where we realized that our life could have passed us by. We could have continued, under societal pressures, working indefinitely, banking in money, saving up for things like a house and a baby – things that would just ground us even more here. I feel like I almost missed the most important thing that could have ever happened to me. And truly, as ridiculous as it may sound, I may have missed that opportunity had I not read your book.
So thanks so much, for giving us the push that we need to seek out our dreams. It’s honestly changed our mentality and way of living. As of today, we have literally sold everything we own. We are moving into a furnished place in 4 days to pay literally half the rent we currently pay for the next 3 months. We are quitting our jobs and have a non-cancellable one-way flight booked for Cartagena, Colombia on January 3, 2013. We are travelling for 6 months, possibly more/indefinitely.
Thank you for writing your book and giving people the courage to live their life in a meaningful way & to pursue their dreams of seeing the big and beautiful world that is at our fingertips.
Jen & Ted
There were a lot of comments on my last blog entry for this site, relative to the normal amount these posts receive. (“The What-ness, part 2: Choose what to lose”, can be read at http://www.vagablogging.net/the-what-ness-part-2-choose-what-to-lose.html). The post was about avoiding easy clichés and sterile recounting in your travel writing, and putting in the effort to drill down into the core experience and character of the place.
The comments were very thoughtful and generally reiterated the importance of trying to avoid, in one commenter’s words, “play by play A-B accounts of been there, did this and ate that.” He continued, “What I really want when I pick up a travelogue is to know about the people of a place that make the place special but instead.”
Another commented, “I like to focus on the senses and relationship. While I often include part of what you’re talking about as a framework, I’ll fill in around it with what I see, taste, smell, touch, and hear and how it relates to my emotions, past experience, and present experience.”
That’s exactly right, and it’s the conversation I meant to inspire. It’s also indicative of the fact that many people find travelogues to be dry, adjective-based accounts of “I did this and went here, and it was (hot/cold/rainy/lame/expensive)”.
When recounting the day’s events in your journal or penning an article for readers eager to be transported by your words, search for insights and rich sensory data that give flesh to the bones of description.
The planet and its inhabitants are marvelously diverse. Our little blue marble is teeming with stories waiting to be told. Those stories deserve your best. Ditch the adjectives and dig deep.
As I’ve made final preparations for my backpacking trip the past few months, I’ve come to realize there was one thing I completely underestimated: The act of telling people of my plans and dealing with their reactions is much more time-consuming and emotionally exhausting than expected.
Even more surprising was that this happened in different ways than I’d anticipated – the reactions I imagined actually never came true, and the reactions I never expected happened on repeat.
I’d expect this to be the case for many others who are planning their first trip, so I’ll share my experience in hopes of helping you be better prepared:
What I thought vs. what happened:
Everyone will think I’m crazy. This was the number one thing I worried about. I thought people would think I was going through some life crisis, or having a break down. But nobody thought this, and instead, the most overwhelming response I’ve received was that people admire me for following my dream and are inspired.
They won’t understand “wanderlust” because they don’t have it. They get it. In fact, many of them will tell you about their friend or family member who did something similar, and how cool they think it is, and how they wish they could do it.
I’m going to be lectured on the poor economy and this being a terrible time to quit my job. I did get a couple off-hand comments about this, but for the most part, people responded with things like, “If you’re going to do something like this, now’s the time” and “A job’s a job – there will be more waiting when you get back.”
What I didn’t expect, but constantly happened:
People were afraid for my safety. As I mentioned in my post last week, I was prepared to respond to the safety concerns of others, but I wasn’t prepared for that to be the number one response I’d hear from every single family member – complete with horrified looks on their faces. I wasn’t prepared for people to refer me to articles such as the most dangerous cities in the world, or for people to take it upon themselves to research safety for me (as if I hadn’t already done so myself).
People were shocked that I’d only be bringing a backpack. In fact, a couple of my friends asked if I’d be shipping my belongings in advance. A coworker who’d just returned from a 5-day vacation with a huge suitcase was speechless. Another coworker was fascinated by the foreseen freedom that comes from such limited belongings. I’ve received about a half dozen requests for my packing list.
People were amazed that I’d be going alone. It’s important to remember that most people are used to going on “vacations” with other people. The idea of a 29-year-old woman traveling through Latin America alone can be extremely appalling to them. I’ve learned to explain that in the backpacking world this is quite common, and that I’ll meet other travelers and volunteers along the way.
A conclusion I’ve made is to remember that people who don’t travel often or have the desire for a traveling lifestyle haven’t read the hundreds of blogs and half-dozen books that I’ve read, nor been exposed to the huge online community of people who do this every day – and it’s not their fault. So it’s important to be prepared to explain it to them, and when you do, you’ll find that most people are much more understanding and accepting than you might expect.
I’ve always been one to care too much about what other people think, but this process has helped me realize it’s not worth worrying about. People who know you and care about you will support you. And as long as you’re confident in your decision, that’s the only opinion that matters.
One of the coolest things about writing a book is hearing back from the folks who read it and took its message to heart. Based on recent reader emails, here are some reasons why people are finding Vagabonding useful and inspiring:
To spark a personal urge to drop it all and hit the road
“Read Vagabonding. Quitting my dreamless job as a mail carrier, finding new homes for my dogs, renting out my house, and taking off. Taking 2 years or whatever and seeing the world with whatever will fit in my backpack. I’m 45, divorced, no kids, no ties. I’ll be back. Maybe not. See ya.”
To lend philosophical grounding to travel ambitions
“I recently bought your book Vagabonding and am writing to say how much I enjoy reading it. I find it very inspiring. Your writing style is amazing, the references and resources are wonderful, I love the quotes and the travelers’ profiles. I also love the book’s philosophical depth that is so accessible and never rings hollow. It’s a book with a heart. It is the perfect read for someone who, like me, is planning their first solo travel abroad.”
To encourage the notion long-term travel with children is possible
“You helped me find the answer to a very serious problem I have been having. I was in the Army for 4 years and I spent those 4 years dreaming about the day my enlistment was over, and how I was going to “just bum around”. I ended up getting married and having a daughter towards the end of my enlistment and therefore, my plan was no longer a possibility. Now my daughter is 7 and I am single again and I want so badly to travel. I went to Africa earlier this year alone and it was amazing, but I need more. I have been trying to figure out how I could do this and still take care of my daughter at the same time and your book has answered the question for me. I can take her with me!!! I have thought of this before, but I guess I wasn’t looking at it clearly. I was too afraid. Whatever it is, I feel confident now that it would be a great experience for her. You really have helped me become clear about what I want and how I am going to get it and I am seriously grateful.”
To show friends why travel is important
“I love traveling, and when people ask me “why do you travel?”, I present them Vagabonding, because you wrote the best answers… thank you!”
To focus travel plans, and ease the transition home
“I really want to thank you for your book, Vagabonding. Your book found me at a time when I couldn’t pinpoint what I wanted to do or where I wanted to go. You managed to succinctly and passionately express all that I was thinking and feeling. After reading your book I sold all of my things that couldn’t fit in my backpack and hit the road. I have just returned home after wandering around Alaska, SE Asia and Australia for a couple of years. It has been a bit challenging assimilating back into “normal life,” but I am able to approach each task with a renewed sense of enthusiasm and humor. I have made gift of numerous copies of Vagabonding and it really excites me to see others head off on their journey.”
Every so often I share outtakes from letters and messages readers have sent me. From a recent sampling of emails, here are some of the ways Vagabonding has encouraged people:
To stop putting off lifelong travel ambitions
“I’m 31 and just planning to start my solo travels in January. A lifetime ambition that I have been, for a variety of reasons, putting off. Your book has inspired me to take action and finally stop procrastinating. More importantly, you have eased some fears and given me confidence. I have spoken to many ‘travelers’ over the years but none have provided the grass roots insight and wisdom that you so naturally convey.”
To feel less alone in the urge to travel
“My husband and I have been talking about traveling since we met, and we’ve been saving a little here and there for the last 10 years. However, we finally wanted to get serious about it and I saw a review of your book, Vagabonding. I read the whole thing in one sitting and have re-read it many times. It made me feel like we weren’t the only ones with a crazy idea to leave our lifestyle and go off discovering. We’ve both just quit our “great” jobs in the tech industry, and we’re getting ready to rent out our house. We bought tickets and we leave in October for a round the world trip that I expect will take at least a year. We’ll be celebrating our 40th birthdays somewhere on the road, doing what we’ve always dreamed about.”
To slow down and get the most from a journey
“I want to thank you for writing Vagabonding. I recently spent a month in Vietnam, but I spent most of the first week rushing around being stressed and somewhat culture shocked. Then I ran into your book in a secondhand bookshelf in Hoi An and read it in one go. It made me see I was approaching the trip with the same mindset as I had back home, so once I relaxed and slowed down I had the best time of my life out there.”
To spend less and live more
“I read Vagabonding for the first time a few years ago and wanted to finally write and thank you for your wonderful book. I came across it during a time in my life when I was dreaming of a long-term travel adventure around the world but doubted whether or not it was a viable possibility for me. After reading your book, I was inspired and committed to stop making excuses and start making plans. The Vagabonding philosophy truly resonated with me and even since returning from my travels, I have looked to your book repeatedly to be reminded of how and why “spend less, live more” applies even after you clear customs and come home.”
To realize that travel can be a lifelong endeavor
“Your book re-inspired me to believe travel was something I could keep doing for the long term. When I graduated from college, I assumed my travel would end and I’d get a 9-to-5 job. At the time, I thought that travel was for college students or retirees. Reading your book that summer I graduated made me realize I could keep on traveling. Instead of looking at countries as places on a map, now I see them as tantalizing future destinations to work or visit. Even now, I still break out Vagabonding occasionally to re-energize myself. A quick glance though your book reminds me why I’ve made the decision to leave the bubble of a tropical paradise to explore the world.”
Though I’ve spent recent months promoting my new book, Marco Polo Didn’t Go There, I continue to get plenty of feedback for my first book. Here are some recent outtakes of reader emails about Vagabonding, and how people are finding it useful in their own lives:
As a “little kick in the pants” to hit the road
“I wanted to thank you for writing that wonderful book. The desire was always there, and the time was right, but Vagabonding gave us the last little kick in the pants that we needed. It was a joy to read.”
As an argument for more mindful travel
“While researching an upcoming trip I came across your book and I can actually say your book changed my view of the outlook of my life and it gave me reassurance that it is possible to be on a journey on my own terms, anywhere, for myself. In a few months after I graduate, I’m taking a trip. I’m really excited and my head is filled with anticipation and curiosity. I’m longing to grow, to experience, to embrace simplicity, to feel and taste life.”
As fuel for latent travel ambitions
“I discovered your book three years ago while browsing the travel section at Borders in Phoenix. It caught my eye because it described exactly what I wanted to do, abandon everything and see the world. It influenced me so much that, when I interviewed for a job at STA Travel and was asked where I see myself in 5 years, I blurted out a single word: vagabonding. The manager laughed a bit and hired me. I only worked during the high season, but it was enough to keep the desire ignited within me. I have been to Europe twice, once to Canada, and all over the US. Each journey taught me something different and I grew a little more.”
As inspiration to leave your psychic comfort zone
“A friend of mine gifted me with your book after we talked one day, mainly about my fears of leaving what I was “comfortable” with in my life. Your book inspired me. It didn’t change my mind, per se — it was already yearning for something more — but it changed my worldviews, and my view of what I am capable of. Basically that there is a way to make your dreams happen. I’ve applied some of the knowledge and advice contained in your book, and I can honestly say that wherever I might find myself I no longer fear that I might not possess the capacity to make the experience worthwhile, fun, educational, safe, and of course survivable.”
As a catalyst for laid-back, long-term journeys
“Your book is a catalyst that now has me researching this long-desired journey. I loved every page of it. I love your open and insouciant attitude about travel, your can-do pep talks, and the implied “who says you can’t?” goading throughout.”
As motivation to head south and live the expat life
“I’ve always wanted to move outside the U.S. and explore the world, but I read your book Vagabonding and it became less of a want and more of a need. My husband and I have decided to sell all our possessions and move down to Costa Rica to teach English. (We leave in five weeks!) And after that, who knows where we’ll end up? I’ve passed your book on to countless others in the hope that through living in the world (instead of in a country), more and more people will begin to realize everyone is the same. And maybe in the end, we seemingly-lost, vagabonding travelers will change this place for the better.”
As of next month, Vagabonding will have been out for five years — and emails continue to arrive from readers who’ve found inspiration in its pages. Here, arranged by theme, are a few outtakes from folks who’ve found the book useful for their life travels:
For making long-term travel a realistic goal
“I read Vagabonding for the first time a few years ago and wanted to finally write and thank you for your wonderful book. I came across it during a time in my life when I was dreaming of a long-term travel adventure around the world but doubted whether or not it was a viable possibility for me. After reading your book, I was inspired and committed to stop making excuses and start making plans. The vagabonding philosophy truly resonated with me and even since returning from my travels, I have looked to your book repeatedly to be reminded of how and why ‘spend less, live more’ applies even after you clear customs and come home.”
For making work more bearable as one plans a new journey
“Thank you for writing Vagabonding. In 2006 I took a one-year sabbatical from my office job and traveled across Africa. Now I am miserably back to my desk. Your book helped to give a name (and hope) to this period of senseless work before I can get back to the road; I now know I am in ‘vagabonding gestation’ and feel much better.”
For reaffirming the relevance of past travels
“This note is long overdue. I came across your book a couple years ago and can’t recall how many copies I have since given to friends. It is a wonderful book that I wish had been available when my wife and I quit our ‘real’ jobs (in 1990) a couple years out of college to travel for a year. …Your thoughts on travel, the people you talk to, the stories you write make a valuable contribution to the literature of travel.”
For creating a positive attitude for new travelers
“My wife and I are Clinical Psychologists who for the last ten years have been teaching a University of Vermont Graduate class on intercultural psychology by bringing students to Bali, Belize and Samoa. Even though our classes are only two weeks in country, we use your book Vagabonding as part of our reading list and have found it to be straight on in conveying an attitude toward travel that we hope our students will adopt.”
For focusing life goals in general
“I was so sad when I finished Vagabonding that I’m just going to have to start reading it again. I’ve been recommending your book to everyone I know, especially those who have no intention of traveling. I’ve been explaining it is as a guide to moving through your world, however you chose to define it. What an inspiring outlook on travel, interacting with others, and life in general!”
For more information on Vagabonding, click here.
Four years after it was first published, Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel continues to sell steadily and attract the attention of travelers and travel-dreamers worldwide. Here are some recent snippets of feedback from reader emails, organized by theme and utility:
For leaving behind the world of work:
“I just finished your book, and I must say what an inspiring read it was. I’m glad that you address the specifics of leaving behind the typical work life for vagabonding. I’ve been wrestling with the actual logistics of long-term travel for many months. …I loved the whole concept of the anti-sabbatical. I shared this with a friend and just as I imagined, she responded with a puzzled and concerned look. Most everyone around me will probably look at such concepts as an excuse for being lazy. After all, doesn’t everyone associate “travel” with vacation and therefore, leisure? How do you even begin helping them understand that our lives were not meant to be devoted purely to work?”
For practical travel information:
“I just wanted to say thank you for writing Vagabonding. It was introduced to me by a really good friend and I have passed it on to others who have also enjoyed reading it. It has been a great source of reference and guide.”
For slowing down and not micromanaging our travels
“I absolutely loved Vagabonding. Just from reading your book, you’ve really helped me relax already! My whole life, I’ve always been go-go-go. …As I plan my trip, I keep thinking about how much I want to pack in — but reading your book has made me slow down and not try to plan every minute (something that’s very difficult for me to do).”
For helping to focus old travel dreams:
“For a number of years now, I have been waiting for my chance to strike out on my own on what I have always called my ‘hoboing trip’; no one I know seems ever to understand my impassioned desire for a journey in freedom, so when I read your book, it was like discovering a whole new world full of like-minded people. My ‘hoboing’ is simply a personalized version of what you and others have termed vagabonding.”
For inspiration to live life creatively
“I actually recommended the book to some friends of mine who aren’t as interested in travel per se, as it contained a lot of great life insight. I was especially interested in the part about living your home life with the same exploratory zeal you would normally save for your travel life. Good stuff.”
“I’d like to say that your book Vagabonding has completely opened my eyes, and I’m very excited for the future ahead. Your ideals consist of everything I’ve been thinking and concluding about in my head for years, and I always wondered if I was alone in the world. It doesn’t help when every single person I’ve ever talked to about traveling always shuts my ideas down, and now that I know about vagabonding and that many people do it then now there’s nothing stopping me.”
[Above: Contestant Justin Pitts gives props to Vagabonding.]
Last month, while I was traveling in Cuba, several readers sent me emails saying that a contestant on the syndicated game show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” had told host Meredith Viera that — if he won money on the show — he wanted to travel the world as much as possible, adding “I’m reading a really great book called Vagabonding.”
As far as I know, this is this first time my book has been endorsed on a game show, so I did a little followup, and it turns out the contestant was Justin Pitts of New York City, and he ended up winning $25,000 on the show. Vagablogging has been in touch with Pitts, and we hope to interview him about his upcoming travel plans soon!
It’s been almost four years now since Vagabonding was first published, and I continue to be encouraged by readers who’ve found travel inspiration in its pages.
Here are five outtakes from recent reader letters that underscore the practical and inspirational strengths of Vagabonding:
As travel inspiration:
“Hey man, I just finished Vagabonding and of all the books I have ever read in my life, yours was the most inspirational — I have started referring to it as my new bible, and have recommended it to everyone I talk to. I read it while I was on a three-week jaunt through the Pacific Northwest. …As a firm subscriber to the belief that traveling is about the journey, not the destination, your book really got me fired up, and totally made me re-evaluate the way I want to live my life as a traveler.”
To fuel and focus your travel dreams:
“A friend who is absolutely enamored with the idea of vagabonding recommended your book to me and I ate it up as well, and I’m eager for my first travel experience. Such a nice book you wrote — you’ve given me a dream that should soon become reality.”
To more fully embrace life:
“I have read your book Vagabonding and absolutely loved it. It really started making me think about what’s out there and what’s possible. I have decided to do this myself, to actually live, and I’m very excited.”
For practical and philosophical travel information:
“I had been planning to travel for years (tied down with the college thing) and I stumbled upon your book when trying to find a Latin word to describe the type of traveling I would be doing. Your book rocked my world. I found more than a word, I found a guide, a philosophy, resources and the mistakes I made on previous trips. There is already a waiting line for my friends that want to borrow the book. Your book probably saved me countless hours of head-pounding failed Internet searches and many mistakes I would have made on the road.”
As a guide for living deliberately:
“Your book was a great inspiration to me. Not only do I think that it is a brilliant guide that shows us how and why to travel, I think that your book outlines the underlying principles of how we should be our best selves.”