Vagabonding Case Study: Benny Lewis

On October 16th, 2015

Benny Lewis of Fluent In 3 Months

Age: 33

Hometown: Cavan, Ireland

Quote: “There are seven days in a week, and “some day” isn’t one of them.”

How did you find out about Vagabonding, and how did you find it useful before and during the trip?

I read the book several years into my travels, based on recommendations from other travelers and despite already being a pretty seasoned traveler, I did like a lot of the ways the concepts were explained in the book and it’s helped me to verbalize my own thoughts on travel and express them better.

How long were you on the road?

Over twelve years so far, and it continues.

Where all did you go?

Spain (2 years), France (1 year), Brazil (1 year), USA (almost 2 years), Italy (7 months), Germany (9 months), Quebec (3 months), Taiwan (3 months), China (2 months), Argentina (3 months), Czech Republic (3 months), UK (3 months), India (3 months), Thailand (3 months), Indonesia (1 month), Australia (3 months). I’ve also briefly visited Mexico, Uruguay, Poland, Austria, Singapore, Hong Kong, Macau, and Slovakia but I prefer to live in one city for several months.

What was your job or source of travel funding for this journey?

I’ve had dozens of jobs, mostly teaching English, but also working in youth hostels, teaching Mathematics, working in several shops (once a yoga shop), bunch of office jobs, engineering internships etc. Then I switched to location independent work, as a freelance translator of engineering documents, since I have a degree in Electronic Engineering. For most of the last years, I have been earning as an author and through my blog and speaking engagements / consultations.

Did you work or volunteer on the road?

I volunteered as first-aid assistant once, but other than that have had to work paid jobs most of the time. Volunteering is definitely something I’ll be focusing on later.

Of all the places you visited, which was your favorite?

Brazil. I love the people and culture so much! My Portuguese is good so I get to talk to everyone in-depth whenever I’m in Brazil and they are genuinely the nicest people I have come across.

Was there a place that was your least favorite, or most disappointing, or most challenging?

Paris was all three. The purpose of my travels are to become fluent in the local language and I have been very successful everywhere I have been by avoiding English speakers and socializing just with locals. Paris was the only place that made this very difficult. It took me a long time to figure out how to get on Parisians’ good side, while still being able to socialize with them in French.

Did any of your pre-trip worries or concerns come true? Did you run into any problems or obstacles that you hadn’t anticipated?

The main obstacles you will find are cultural misunderstandings, which are even more evident when you have a language barrier to get through and refuse to give in and hang out with other English speakers to simplify things!
I spent the vast majority of my travels alone, and this made it really hard to make friends when moving quickly. Luckily, I now travel with my partner and much prefer it this way!

Which travel gear proved most useful? Least useful?

My laptop/smartphone is the most useful. Love reading on my Kindle, since “dead tree” books are impractical if you move so much.

What are the rewards of the vagabonding lifestyle?

Really getting to know the local culture beyond restaurants with English-printed menus. I actually like being a “tourist” though, but I prefer to see typical monuments from a modern local, rather than historical, perspective.

Also, since I can speak several languages now, this will be something that will stay with me forever! When I meet non-English-native travelers, they are always appreciative of being able to speak their own language out of home.

What are the challenges and sacrifices of the vagabonding lifestyle?

The social aspect of it is tough. My main sacrifice was to give up English entirely to ensure I have a more authentic experience (most friends I make in the country would not even speak any English). It’s frustrating to know that I could easily go down to a hostel and hang out with like-minded people and be able to relate to them much more, rather than struggle through a different language in the initial stages, but the long-term benefits of this sacrifice last a lifetime!

What lessons did you learn on the road?

The typical ones like listen more to learn more, life is too short to worry about the little things, friends and family are the most important things in the world etc. I go home regularly and always look forward to it. As far as languages go, I’ve learned that putting yourself out there and speaking them with locals will have you speak them quicker and everyone (apart from Parisians until you learn how to work them…) will hugely appreciate it and give you tons of encouragement.

How did your personal definition of “vagabonding” develop over the course of the trip?

I can’t say I use the term much myself. I prefer “technomad” since I’m still highly reliant on technology for work, building a social circle (via Couchsurfing etc.) and generally being a 21st century nomad!

If there was one thing you could have told yourself before the trip, what would it be?

Actually nothing – I have no regrets! I’ve made a huge amount of mistakes in the early parts of my travels, but it has all helped me to learn. I feel great that I wouldn’t have changed one bit of it!

Any advice or tips for someone hoping to embark on a similar adventure?

Stop thinking about it too much. All the worrying about travel problems, inability to speak the local language etc. is never going to help you. Leaving a little up to serendipity and being spontaneous will give you the best experiences by far! All negative experiences I have had have turned out to be hilarious stories later, and improved me as a person.

When and where do you think you’ll take your next long-term journey?

Every 3 months I change my home and move to a new city in a new country to attempt to learn the language or discover something interesting about the culture. I’ll be coming up to doing this for 13 years, and I think it’s time I finally got a base somewhere, so I’ll look for that and then change my travel lifestyle to be the much more reasonable one of not traveling with everything I own in the world. I can’t wait for that new way of doing it, that most people take for granted! I don’t know where I’ll be yet though. That’s the adventure!

Read more about Benny on his website, Fluent In 3 Months.

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Image: Giuseppe Milo (flickr)