Vagabonding Case Study: Keith Martin

Keith Martin

Age: 36

Hometown: Atlanta, GA

Quote: “The vagabonding lifestyle opens up a grand new world where you begin to relish the journey as much as the destination.

How did you find out about Vagabonding, and how did you find it useful before and during the trip? I don’t remember how I originally found out about Vagabonding, it was probably mentioned on an online travel board. I found it useful before and during my trip – It helped me plan my life and get everything organized and ready for the trip, it helped me get up the courage to go and it taught me how to travel well.

How long were you on the road? About five years, but I visited home for a few months every year.

Where all did you go? I visited all seven continents and about 30 countries: Antarctica (I know, not a country) twice, New Zealand, Australia, Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Argentina, Chile, South Georgia, Tristan da Cunha, S. Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Ireland, England, Turkey, Greece, Egypt, Jordan, France, Peru, Sweden, Norway, Puerto Rico, USA, Saint Lucia, Aruba…

What was your job or source of travel funding for this journey? I saved enough money to travel for one year working as an engineer in California before I started traveling. I built the rest of my travel fund working contract jobs as an engineer in Antarctica and California while I traveled.

Did you work or volunteer on the road? Yes, I worked for 9 months in Antarctica, and two times in California for a few months each. I volunteered as a research assistant for a few months in the Peruvian Amazon studying macaws and parrots.

Of all the places you visited, which was your favorite? I loved things about everywhere I went, but Antarctica and the Amazon stand out as favorites for natural beauty. My favorite country I visited was Mexico, which surprised me. Another of my favorite sights was the view of a crisp horizon in every direction from the top of the mast of a tall ship.

Was there a place that was your least favorite, or most disappointing, or most challenging? Egypt was the biggest let down for me, though I still loved it. It came towards the end of 11 months of traveling and I was tired, so the hectic tourism industry there got to me a little and overshadowed the grand monuments that I had wanted to see since I was a kid.

Did any of your pre-trip worries or concerns come true? Did you run into¬†any problems or obstacles that you hadn’t anticipated? I traveled solo and I had worried that I was going to be alone for the whole trip, which in hindsight was absurd – I ended up having as much or as little company as I wanted every step of the way (except for a lonely, beetle infested bench in the Resistencia, Argentina bus station at 2:00 am). I also worried a bit about being robbed, but the only thing taken from me during my travels was a cheap belt that I had left hanging with my clothes in the laundry area in Honduras.

Which travel gear proved most useful? Least useful? It doesn’t really fit into the minimalist packing mindset, but I took a water filter/purifier with me and it was the most useful piece of gear (excluding the obvious backpack, shoes and clothes) that I took with me. I have a huge problem with bottled water and disposable plastic containers, so with my filter I always had clean water, which only took about 10 minutes per day to make, and I contributed less than 20 plastic bottles to the mountains of plastic that nearly every city in the developing world has on its outskirts. It also saved me a huge amount of money since the filter cost $60 and buying bottled water would have cost me 3 or 4 dollars a day (I drink a lot of water), or about $1800 over the duration of the trip. I eliminated most of the unnecessary things from my bag as I went, but I started with a sleeping bag, which I used just a few times and eventually took home.

What are the rewards of the vagabonding lifestyle? I started my traveling career taking expensive 1-2 week package tours that insulated me from discomfort, hardship and the ‘scary’ locals and I found those types of trips unrewarding and rushed. The vagabonding lifestyle opens up a grand new world where you begin to relish the journey as much as the destination, you get to move as slowly as you want and experience all of the wonderful discomforts and hardships of independent travel. It also forces you to interact and make friends with the locals, who, it turns out, are no different in their wants and desires than me.

What are the challenges and sacrifices of the vagabonding lifestyle? Spending long amounts of time away from my home, family and friends, fitful nights on lumpy mattresses, loud snoring in hostel dorms – There aren’t many!

What lessons did you learn on the road? I learned that everyone, regardless of race, religion, location, language, or lifestyle wants the exact same thing out of life – Happiness. I also learned that the world outside the US border isn’t nearly as scary and dangerous as we are led to believe it is in the media.

How did your personal definition of “vagabonding” develop over the course of the trip? When I started traveling I was trying to live on a miniscule daily budget and it stressed me out when things I wanted to do didn’t fit into it. About a month into the trip I decided that it wasn’t working so I changed my philosophy – Now I live as inexpensively as I can without sacrificing the experience that I am hoping for, which means that in some places my $10 per day budget is generous and in others it looks more like $150 per day.

If there was one thing you could have told yourself before the trip, what would it be? Enjoy the journey as much as the destination and get rid of all of that useless junk in your backpack!

Any advice or tips for someone hoping to embark on a similar adventure? Pack as lightly as possible (remembering that you can buy anything you will need on the road), if you take a guidebook use it as a guide and not a how-to manuel or a ‘travel bible’ and don’t be scared to get as far off the beaten path (off of the pages of the guide book) as you can. Also, stick to the surface of the Earth as much as possible – Take boats, trains, cars, busses or walk and enjoy the long, bumpy journey into the unknown landscapes that you usually see from 30,000 feet.

When and where do you think you’ll take your next long-term journey? I have no firm plans at the moment, but I didn’t spend much time in Asia, so I imagine that will be the setting for my next long term journey, or maybe I will sail around the world…

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Posted by | Comments (1)  | September 29, 2010
Category: Vagabonding Case Studies

One Response to “Vagabonding Case Study: Keith Martin”

  1. Hugh Says:

    Congratulations Keith! That’s a great story, very inspiring. I am the guy who takes the 1-2 week vacations now but I can’t wait to travel more slowly and for longer periods of time.