Vagabonding Case Study: Cat Gaa
Hometown: Wheaton, Illinois
Quote: “Remember that, wherever your heart is, that is where you’ll find your treasure.” – Paolo Coehlo
I find I’m happiest when I surround myself with what makes me happiest – usually people, food and sunshine. That, in essence, is why I went to Spain for a year.
How did you find out about Vagabonding, and how did you find it useful before and during the trip?
I had already lived in Spain for two years when I saw a copy of Vagabonding on a friend’s bookshelf. I slipped it in my bag, read it that night and dog-eared the pages on a book that didn’t belong to me!
At that point, I was struggling to figure out if I’d been wasting two years in Spain on a profession that didn’t thrill me, in a relationship I didn’t know if there was a future in, and an unshakeable desire to change the course of my life.
How long were you on the road?
As an expat in Spain and a full-time teacher, I escape every time I can. In fact, I left a prestigious, secure job to have more time to commit to the things I love doing – it took some cojones, but every day I’m thankful that I did it, particularly for my well being and my relationships.
I currently have a job that affords me a lot of long weekends (I have Fridays off!) and holiday breaks, and I use nearly every single one to go somewhere. This has been fatal to my budget, but has given me a heightened sense of myself, of my place in the world, of problem solving and of what it really means to roll with the punches!
Where did you go?
I’ve called Spain my hogar dulce hogar for seven years, and during this time I’ve traveled all over Spain and Europe, with some trips to Africa and Asia on the side.
My disconnect from life came in the summer of 2013 when I trekked across northern Spain on the Camino de Santiago. I’d undergone a lot of changes in my personal and professional life, and wanted two weeks to sort it all out with a trusted friend and no other distractions.
What was your job or source of travel funding for this journey?
I went on the Camino during a school break where I normally worked at a summer camp. Case Expat Insurance reached out to me when hearing my Camino story and helped me with gear and a flight back to Seville. The meals, medicine and overnights I paid myself.
Did you work or volunteer on the road?
I didn’t volunteer during the Camino, but beforehand I raised $500 for pediatric cancer support programs at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. The family I worked closely with lost their youngest daughter to sarcoma in late 2011, so I walked the Camino in her name, as well.
Of all the places you visited, which was your favorite?
We chose to skip the French Route, by far the most traversed, in favor of the Northern Route that follows the Northern Coast. It was staggeringly beautiful, particularly in the stretch in Asturias. We were just getting our Camino legs, so to speak, so they were challenging days but quite fulfilling between the natural beauty and getting used to the pilgrim routine.
Was there a place that was your least favorite, or most disappointing, or most challenging?
Getting blisters! I suppose it’s part of the experience, but a painful one!
Which travel gear proved most useful? Least useful?
I spent the most money on my feet, without a doubt. I went to see a podiatrist two months before the trek began, and they developed custom insoles, and I bought top-of-the-line boots that got a lot of use pre-Camino. I was very careful about what I packed, and I threw in a few too many pairs of socks and Ts made of wicking material. Three is the magic number when it comes to gear.
What are the rewards of the vagabonding lifestyle?
I like to consider myself a semi-vagabond because I like to have the security of home, though vagabonding builds confidence and strengthens connections.
What are the challenges and sacrifices of the vagabonding lifestyle?
I found it challenging to be without a few creature comforts while on the road, particularly a private room and shower after long days, though it was great to disconnect.
What lessons did you learn on the road?
The Camino is a great teacher. I learned that I can push myself past my limits, was reminded of the compassion and kindness of strangers and the power of positive thought. I can’t wait to do it again alone.
How did your personal definition of “vagabonding” develop over the course of the trip?
I was literally carrying my possessions around with me for two weeks in a bag, traveling from one pilgrim’s inn to the next. Despite the want to vagabond on an endless trip, I’ve come to realize that I’m more of a short, meaningful trip kind of person, and that I’m ok feeling that way.
If there was one thing you could have told yourself before the trip, what would it be?
I have to remind myself every so often to keep putting one foot in front of the other. The Camino is a grand metaphor for life, and ending with a clear head and a full heart was the reward for the grueling mountain climbs and aching muscles.
Any advice or tips for someone hoping to embark on a similar adventure?
Research. There are some things you can leave to chance or fate or whichever train is leaving next, but I firmly believe in having a loose plan. For the Camino, you should investigate routes, weather and gear, and then be open to the challenges and adventures it brings!
When and where do you think you’ll take your next long-term journey?
Though I’ll be grounded for a while – I just bought a house in Spain and am getting married next summer – I’m greatly looking forward to this upcoming journey, even if there is no rucksack or boarding passes. When we can afford the sort of honeymoon we’d like to take, we’re going to the place we have discussed eventually traveling to on our first date – Japan!
|Website: Sunshine and Siestas||Twitter: @sunshinesiestas|
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