Vagabonding Case Study: Fabian Dittrich

Fabian Dittrich

Age: 30

Hometown: Berlin, Germany

Quote: “One shouldn’t listen too much to what other people say about “dangers” in countries where they never went..

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

I saw Rolf speaking at Do-Lectures and ordered Vagabonding before I left on a backpacking trip to Morocco. I had a flight from Berlin to Tangier, I arrived around 6am at the airport, just to find out that my plane was 3 hours late. Very angry, like all others who were on the same flight, I walked up and down at the airport. Then I started to read Vagabonding and it the following three hours of reading it converted me from an angry time fixated German into a laid back traveler who takes things as they come. It was just a two weeks trip, but not until the last day I thought about when my flight would go back, I was totally living in the moment, not even using a Lonely Planet or any other travel guide. I just let it flow, didn’t plan anything, just hung out at places until somebody would cross my way and take me somewhere. By living in the presence and being open I met the most interesting people on that trip: I traveled with an american Vietnam veteran, a Moroccan refugee and the woman of my dreams.

How long were you on the road?

I am still on the road, currently driving a 23 year old Mercedes-Benz from Berlin, Germany to Cape Town, South Africa. It´s been six month now since I left Berlin and I still have about 8 months to go.

Where all did you go?

I went through Germany, France, Spain, Morocco, Mauritania  Senegal, Gambia, Mali, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Cameroon and Gabon.

From here I will travel through Kongo-Brazzaville, Kongo-Kinshasa, Angola, Namibia and South Africa. There I am going to sell my car, catch a plane to Argentina, get a new car, and do the same thing from South America to Central America, crossing Argentina, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela and Colombia.

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

I got funds from three sources: First, I worked the last years as a freelance web-developer and saved some money. Second: I won 10.000$ in a video competition by Ford. Third, I found 3 small sponsors for my trip, they provided hardware (Cam, MacBook, etc.) and a little money too.

Did you work or volunteer on the road?

During my trip I visit small grass root projects and raise money for these projects in combination with a crazy bet: For each 10 bucks donated, I have to find 1 person that sings a song with me. If i don´t make it a penalty awaits me. Just like last time: I raised money for Gambian orphans, 1110€ were donated and i thus had to find 111 people to sing with me. This time I made it, you can see the result here:

I also film a lot on the way and release webisodes about my traveling, think of a travel diary in video form.

For me all this is fun, rather than work, so the answer is more a “no” than a “yes”.

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

I don’t really care about places, for me the people I meet make all the difference. Mali is definitely my favorite county in Africa. It is full of art, vibrant street markets, amazing nature and very hospital people.

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

Most challenging: Nigeria! Crossing borders in Africa with a car is never really easy, but Nigeria is something else. I entered through Benin had to have long and tedious discussions with the Nigerian police, customs and gendarmes  From the border to Lagos, about 20 miles, I got stopped around 20 times, by police, immigration, health control, anti bomb squad and anti drug squad. When entering Nigeria through Benin I nearly reached my limit: I got stuck for 7 hours in the worst traffic jam I ever saw in my entire life. It was midnight on a 4 lane motor highway when my cooling water ran out because of a spoiled tube. Two Nigerians helped me pushing my smoking car out of the traffic and on the side of the street, but instead of fixing the problem they sabotaged my car, acted like they didn’t do anything and demanded money from me to fix it. Other people approached my car and tried to catch a glimpse through the window to see what was in my car. I was stuck, exhausted and at my limit, totally dependent on the 2 Nigerians, because only they knew how to fix what they had sabotaged.

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

My trip worries were based on stereotypes and prejudices imprinted into my mind by western media and story of people who “heard something bad from a friend”. There is so much rubbish being told in the internet, in bad travel guides and by people. When I was in Gambia people told me I should be aware in Ghana. When I was in Ghana people told me Gambia is dangerous, if you read the website of the German foreign ministry you´re not supposed to even go further south in Africa than Morocco. At the end none of this gossip was true. Africans are incredible hospital, friendly and helpful, much more than in Germany! Problems I hadn’t anticipated? The only real problem is the visa for Angola which seams to be really hard to get, I am still working on it.

Since I regularly upload videos and internet connections in Africa are really slow this also has become quite a challenge.

Apart from that – no problems!

Which travel gear proved most useful?  Least useful?

In an environment which constantly changes (because I drive in a car) it´s good to have something that doesn’t change. That´s why I have to say the most useful gear was my iPod. Without music I wouldn’t have had the strength and motivation to do a trip like that. Since I have a car I can carry a lot of things, I have a tent, sleeping bag and an air mattress which are very useful to me because i mainly sleep outside.

Least useful? I brought 6 books, didn’t read any of them cause i preferred to get local literature.

What are the rewards of the vagabonding lifestyle?

Learning to take things as they come, to live in the present and to, without actively planning it, find yourself in the most amazing situations.

What are the challenges and sacrifices of the vagabonding lifestyle?

I guess the biggest challenge is to go back and integrate what you have learned into society.

What lessons did you learn on the road?

I call it “human to human” communication. Imagine an onion with three layers, the chore is the human being, it´s the same for all of us, in the chore we are no different. The second layer is culture, traditions, rituals, race, color and the third is your role, your job. Now imagine you are crossing Nigeria in a car, a policeman stops you, he would usually ask you for some money. I nearly never had to pay anything, cause I tried to stay in my centre, being just a human being like him, not taking either my role (over lander in Africa) or his role (policeman) to serious. The human to human communication helps me a lot in all sorts of situations.

I also learned that one shouldn’t listen too much to what other people say about “dangers” in countries where they never went.

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

I had my definition sorted out before I went on this trip. The most vagabondish experience I had was two years ago on a trip to Morocco, since then it didn’t change much.

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

“Get your Angola visa in Germany!”

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

– Mercedes cars are the best for Africa, definitely diesel, you can get one in Europe for 1000$ and sell it on the way for 3000$.

– People say it´s more expensive to travel in Africa than in Thailand or India. I don´t think it´s true. If you have a sleeping bag and an open mind you can always find locals who let you sleep in their place. Concerning food you can eat for about 4$ a day.

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

In Cape Town I will catch a flight to South America and spend around 6-8 months there. This for me is the next long-term journey. I guess when coming home to Berlin I will stay there for some years, I can´t always travel and I want a place to rest to write a book about the experiences I made during my travels.

Website: Twitter: fabandvivien

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Posted by | Comments (3)  | November 28, 2012
Category: Vagabonding Case Studies

3 Responses to “Vagabonding Case Study: Fabian Dittrich”

  1. K-eM Says:

    You’ve described Nigeria perfectly.

  2. Ezra B Says:

    Very interesting travel account of Africa and your new found knowledge about experiencing these countries first hand, instead of just reading about them in a book.

  3. Claudia Says:

    This guy is amazing. I’ve been following his adventures, now with the Startup Diaries, truly inspiring!