Vagabonding Case Study: Jessica Festa
Hometown: Farmingville, New York on Long Island
Quote: You may say I’m a dreamer, But I’m not the only one, I hope someday you will join us, And the world will be as one – John Lennon (Imagine)
How did you find out about Vagabonding, and how did you find it useful before and during the trip?
Vagabonding was one of the first travel blogs I ever came across, probably about four years ago when I was embarking on my own journey into blogging with Jessie on a Journey and Epicure & Culture. I found it useful not just for travel, but also for improving my writing and getting inspired, especially with the “Stories and Reportage.”
How long were you on the road?
I also checked out some of the South America-related Vagablogging Field Reports before a four-month backpacking trip through South America (and Mexico and Colorado on the way back). I enjoyed it because it added insight that went further than the typical list guide posts.
Where did you go?
I started the trip in Brazil and made my way through Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and the Galapagos, doing lots of hiking and cycling along the way. I loved being able to explore such beautiful landscapes and diverse destinations by bus and on a budget. I actually wrote a post on Jessie on a Journey titled, “Why South America is the Best Destination for Backpackers.”
I’m actually very excited, as I’m returning to South America — specifically Colombia — on Tuesday for a few weeks of hiking, camping, dance classes and lots of food!
What was your job or source of travel funding for this journey?
During this trip I was already travel blogging, so my websites, freelance stories and photography were how I funded this trip. Before blogging I was a waitress and restaurant manager for almost five years, so I also had money saved from that part of my life.
Did you work or volunteer on the road?
I have. In terms of volunteering, the experiences I took part in — teaching English during a summer in Thailand and working at an orphanage for a summer in Ghana, both over four years ago — I found extremely rewarding and felt like I was making a difference.
That being said, the more I delve into the world of responsible tourism — Epicure & Culture focuses on ethical travel and I’m also the founder of Responsible Tourism Twitter Chat (#RTTC) — the more I realize the experiences weren’t as responsible as I would have liked them to be. I was essentially thrown into projects without being asked about my skills, and I didn’t ask the proper questions beforehand to figure out how I would be impacting the community.
Orphanage tourism especially is tricky, as the constant stream of voluntourists coming in and out of the children’s lives can have negative consequences on their mental health. I know our volunteer group in Ghana did some good, though — we built a chicken coop and bought chickens so the kids would get some protein in their diet, and the ones over 18 could sell some in the markets. We also showed them how to care for the animals so they could take over the project once we set it up.
If I could do it again, though, I would definitely do a lot more research into the impacts of the project and the ethics of the organization I’m working with. On Epicure & Culture we have an article titled “Common Volunteer Mistakes and How to Fix Them” that delves into all this.
As for working, I was employed at a pizza place in Australia answering phones and cooking, while also taking part in an internship that had me crafting neighborhood guides around Sydney for study abroad students. Both jobs were great!
Of all the places you visited, which was your favorite?
Oh! That’s really difficult to answer. It really depends on where I’ve just been as well as what type of travel I’m in the mood for. There are a few places that stick out in my mind: the Kansai Region in Japan for the variety of cultural experiences and the delicious food; Patagonia for the otherworldly trekking landscapes and adventure opportunities; Kerala due to the nature of the trip, cycling and staying on organic farms; and Jordan for the mix of history and culture. In Jordan, hiking through the Dana Biosphere Reserve to Feynan and being invited into Bedouin tents for goat’s milk along the way was really special!
Was there a place that was your least favorite, or most disappointing, or most challenging?
I sort of have a love/hate relationship with Ghana, Africa. I lived with a family so it was great being immersed in the culture; however, we had no running water or plumbing, barely any electric and were eating a lot of rice water, so it was definitely a challenge going from a comfortable New York lifestyle to that — although it definitely made me appreciate what I had, and showed me just how adaptable people really are.
I also found it challenging to have the locals all shouting “oberoni!” (foreigner!) at me literally every two seconds, which I was told by my homestay mom meant they wanted to talk. To me, it felt like they were yelling or making fun of me. That took a lot of getting used to.
Which travel gear proved most useful? Least useful?
I’m a big fan of pickpocket-proof clothing from companies like Clever Travel Companion or Clothing Arts, where there are hidden inside pockets so thieves don’t even know you have valuables. I also never go anywhere without a long sleeve Smartwool shirt to keep dry when hiking, and I love my GoPro and Nokia Lumia Icon which both allow me to get great video/photo footage and don’t take up a lot of space in my backpack. That being said, I try to keep tech gear to a minimum when traveling, although I need to bring a few items to blog on the road. To me, it’s when important to be present when traveling, and often our gadgets can be an unnecessary distraction from what’s around us.
What are the rewards of the vagabonding lifestyle?
Extreme growth. I’ve learned more on the road than college could have ever taught me (although I did go to college, too, and actually have a Master’s Degree). I’ve become more humble, immersed myself in other cultures, learned new ways of viewing issues, and have seen the world beyond words in a textbook. I’m incredibly thankful for being able to travel and have so many adventures at such a young age. I’ve especially learned a lot traveling solo as a female, especially about myself.
What are the challenges and sacrifices of the vagabonding lifestyle?
The main challenge for me is missing out on important events in loved ones’ lives: birthdays, weddings, births, graduations. Moreover, the past year I’ve been in a serious relationship that has also at times been difficult, wanting to be here in New York with my boyfriend but also desperately wanting to move to Guatemala for a while or head to Indonesia to backpack for six months. There are a lot more compromise to my itineraries now.
What lessons did you learn on the road?
The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that anything is possible. When I graduated with my BA/MA in Communication there weren’t really any jobs available in my field. So I made my own through travel blogging. Now I work for myself and can see the world. Anything is possible.
How did your personal definition of “vagabonding” develop over the course of the trip?
The definition itself didn’t really change for me. What changed was having it go from being a word I’d heard, to a word I was living. That was an amazing feeling.
If there was one thing you could have told yourself before the trip, what would it be?
You’ll figure it out. Before that particular trip I was particularly nervous as I was traveling solo as a female through all these countries that people were telling me were dangerous. Despite the fact I knew other bloggers who had traveled through South America without issue, I still was nervous about being robbed, losing my passport, my Spanish not being perfect, getting lost. The truth is, when presented with a problem you’ll figure out the answer. This is especially rewarding when you’re traveling solo, as you really learn how much you’re capable of.
Any advice or tips for someone hoping to embark on a similar adventure?
Pack light! The more you bring, the more you have to worry about (and the more your back will hurt!). The lighter your bag, the lighter your worries. Also, leave those valuables at home. Hopefully this doesn’t happen, but if you do lose your bag/it gets stolen, you’ll want it to be filled with easily-replaceable items, not your grandmother’s jewelry or your $2,000 laptop.
When and where do you think you’ll take your next long-term journey?
As mentioned above, I’m going to Colombia on Tuesday for a few weeks. I’m also hoping to rent an apartment in Guatemala for a few months next year. My boyfriend and I went to Guatemala in the beginning of this year and both absolutely loved every moment of our trip, from volcano hikes to exploring Lake Atitlan to sleeping in a treehouse outside of Antigua. It was fantastic.
|Website: Jessie On A Journey & Epicure and Culture||Twitter: @JessonaJourney|
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