Vagabonding Case Study: Aron and Mariana
Aron and Mariana
Hometown: Mexico City
Quote: “Life is short. Go! Now! Our only regret is not having done this sooner.”
How did you find out about Vagabonding, and how did you find it useful before and during the trip?
We first found out about it on Rolf’s site. It’s “yes, it can be done” philosophy became part of our inspiration, and a lot of tips from the book helped with the pre-trip organization.
How long were you on the road?
Fourteen months… and counting. We’re still on the road.
Where all did you go?
First we traveled three months within Mexico, our home country, from north to south, visiting cities and small villages in 12 states. After that we flew to Belgium to begin our European leg of the trip: Brussels, Gent, Bruges, London, Liverpool, Norwich, Amsterdam, Edam, Cologne, Giessen, Leipzig, Berlin, Barcelona, Bilbao, Madrid and Seville, where we currently are.
What was your job or source of travel funding for this journey?
We saved some money before quitting our long-time jobs (as a translator and a journalist), and we sold a lot of things when we left our apartment. However, this trip was meant to become self-sustainable at some point, and for the last several months we’ve been doing all sorts of odd jobs to fund our traveling way of life.
Did you work or volunteer on the road?
We’ve worked researching textbooks in Spanish; painting apartments; posing for photographers and painters; as movie extras; doing translations and proofreading; as real estate agents; and acting in commercials, among other things. Not everything is great money, of course, but most things make up for it by being interesting experiences.
And we just started working in a hostel in sunny Seville, so we’ll be living for some time here. We’re very excited about that.
In addition to that, I (Aron) am a photographer, and we’ve been selling some of my photographs when we’ve had the chance, both in flea markets and online (you can check my work at www.aroncovaliu.com.)
Of all the places you visited, which was your favorite?
Berlin! We didn’t know what to expect when we arrived and our plan was only to visit for a week or two, and we ended up living there for over two months. We felt at home there and loved the atmosphere of openness and tolerance; we met some really friendly people and had memorable experiences. The city is vibrant: it’s full of art, music, parties and very interesting characters. There’s something for everyone. We left happy and wishing we could stay longer or come back soon, which is how you should leave a place.
Was there a place that was your least favorite, or most disappointing, or most challenging?
Barcelona was probably the most challenging. We wanted to stay there for a long time for several reasons, but getting any kind of job there is really hard, even for the locals, and life is very expensive.
Did any of your pre-trip worries or concerns come true? Did you run into any problems or obstacles that you hadn’t anticipated?
We were worried about what would happen when we ran out of money, which obviously, eventually happened. However, we learned that you don’t really need much to be happy.
Which travel gear proved most useful? Least useful?
Most useful: thread and needle (we’ve repaired everything with them, from clothes to our backpacks); sunblock; and our netbook, to be in touch with the world and manage our couchsurfing.
Least useful: bike locks, we had read they could come in handy for our backpacks, and carried them for a few months. We ended leaving them near a bunch of bikes in Cologne so somebody else could find them and use them.
What are the rewards of the vagabonding lifestyle?
Freedom. We do what we want, and we love it. And the unexpected. Some of the best things are those you didn’t anticipate – things that can only happen when you travel, like finding yourself in the middle of an eerie night funeral procession for the town’s tailor in rural Mexico; crashing a traditional juchiteca wedding; spending a romantic evening with cheap wine and pizza in a crappy roadside hotel after hitchhiking unsuccessfully for hours; or being part of the cast of the Rocky Horror Picture Show Berlin for one night. Also, the friends we’ve made. Most of the last 14 months we’ve been couchsurfing, and it has been the most rewarding experience. We’ve become really close to some great people we would have never met otherwise. Our trip is measured by experiences and friends (if you’ll excuse the cliché), and we consider ourselves lucky.
What are the challenges and sacrifices of the vagabonding lifestyle?
Financial uncertainty, of course, is always present. We don’t have the financial security and the purchasing power we used to have (although thanks to that we’ve become much wiser with the money we do have). And depending on the kindness of strangers: we’ve met the most wonderful and generous people, but still you’re vulnerable to them and have to adjust to their lives.
Also, it can be tiresome from time to time. Sometimes we miss having our own home, having a wall to hang a picture we like, being able to just go there and stay quietly alone in bed… but we figure someday we might have all that again, plus what we have now. The best of both worlds.
Another sacrifice is always being away from your people. Even when you meet someone new to whom you become close, or when you run into old friends on the road, after a while you leave them too. You’re always saying goodbye.
What lessons did you learn on the road?
You become very tolerant, and very adaptable. You start seeing life from a new perspective.
And you realize that what you read is true: almost anyone can do it. It’s a matter of attitude. A couple of months ago we met a 60 year old woman who’s been traveling for over three years, couchsurfing, wwoofing, volunteering and working whenever she can, and she’s not ready to go home yet. Fear is natural but you can’t let it rule your life. Life is short and you won’t get back all the time you’ve wasted, so you better start doing –whatever the hell you want- now!
Traveling we learned to hitchhike on the highway; to cook a lot of different things (and to make the most out of cheap ingredients); to say cheers in several languages; to paint apartments (in Leipzig) and to charge for that (in Barcelona).
We’ve also learned to say yes as often as we can, to anything. When you’re open to life, good things happen to you. Try new things. Don’t be picky. Get your hands dirty. It’s OK. Life is fun!
How did your personal definition of “vagabonding” develop over the course of the trip?
We understood the concept of travel as a way of life. It’s as hard as having a “normal” life (probably harder, when you used to have a safe, comfortable life), but much more rewarding. This is your life, you live “here”. When you’re moving, and when you settle down for a while, as well. Travel is a way of life and a state of mind. We get so annoyed when people think we’re on a long vacation.
If there was one thing you could have told yourself before the trip, what would it be?
That money you saved? Be a bit wiser with it.
Any advice or tips for someone hoping to embark on a similar adventure?
Life is short. Go! Now! Our only regret is not having done this sooner. The right time never comes, so you might as well make it happen yourself. You don’t even need to be that brave. People always tell us, “You’re so brave! You’re such adventurers!” We don’t see ourselves that way. The guy who crossed the Amazon on foot is brave and adventurous. We just like to move, learn, share a beer with friends… wherever they are.
Read from people who did the same thing you want to do (there’s lots of great sites and blogs) to get an idea and start with confidence. Then go and learn for yourself.
And when you find yourself in a situation where you would normally say no, smile and instead say yes, what the hell. See what happens.
Also: TRAVEL AS LIGHT AS YOU CAN. You don’t need so much stuff anyway, and you can always wash those 4 t-shirts. Your back will be eternally grateful.
When and where do you think you’ll take your next long-term journey?
People keep asking us, “What’s your next step, what are your plans?” and we never provide a satisfactory answer. There are lots of places we’d like to go to, but we’re still taking it slowly and being open about things. That said, we’d really like to explore South America, and we’d also like to do a road trip in the US. Africa is very tempting, as well!
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