Vagabonding Case Study: Larissa and Michael Milne


Larissa and Michael Milne

Age: 53

Hometown: Philadelphia, PA

Quote: “Don’t wait for the perfect time to see the world. It may not come.

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

Rolf Potts is sort of the guru of traveling the world so we had heard of him before we started our journey. Vagabonding is a motivational tool because it shows you that someone has set out to do what you are trying to do and lived to tell the tale. It made us feel like chucking it all in mid-life wasn’t the craziest idea we’d ever had, but was actually quite sane.

How long were you on the road?

We left Philadelphia for China in August, 2011 and are still on the road. So it’s been 2 plus years and counting.

Where did you go?

We touched down on six continents, starting out in Asia working our way down to Australia/New Zealand, across to the Middle East, up to Europe, back down to Africa then South America before returning to the United States after 14 months overseas. We’re continuing the adventure with a massive North American road trip.

What was your source of travel funding for the journey?

We had lived in our house for 20 years so we sold it and have been living off the equity. We are also freelance writers so that helps. The key to long-term travel though is not so much the money that comes in, but watching carefully the money that goes out. As full-time global nomads with no fixed address, our expenses are very low. Michael hasn’t even had a cell phone for several years now.

Did you work or volunteer on the road?

Our travels led to new careers as travel writers. We write regularly for the Philadelphia Inquirer as well as other media outlets. Life on the road is not the constant vacation it seems since on many days we are burrowed inside writing.

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

It depends on the criteria; the food, the people, the scenery? Overall Vietnam really surprised us. We’ve always been a fan of the cuisine but the people were also so gracious. We spent a day touring the site of the My Lai Massacre from the Vietnam War when a local family of Vietnamese asked where we were from. Considering where we were standing we were hesitant at first. When we said we were Americans their reaction surprised us. They gathered around us, hugging us and shaking our hands and repeating “US-Vietnam friends now, US-Vietnam friends now.” It was such an unexpected and gratifying response.

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

We were shocked by the pollution on the beaches of Bali; to see this precious resource turned into an open-air plastic trash dump was quite overwhelming. It was in stark contrast to the Balinese who were the friendliest people we met anywhere. We had taken a relatively short flight of 5 hours from Australia to get to Bali. I can’t imagine the disappointment of someone flying halfway around the world to arrive there.

North Korea was a challenge. Because of the totalitarian regime it’s a controversial place to visit. North Koreans are fed a steady diet of anti-Western propaganda and have no access to the outside world. We feel the only way they’ll get exposure to a life outside their own is by foreigners visiting the country. The people were not the automatons they are portrayed as in the media and genuinely curious about life beyond North Korea.

What travel gear proved most useful? Least useful?

We’re not backpackers anymore so the most useful items were our wheeled suitcases. We thought we’d be embarrassed by them, but were gratified when we ran into 30-somethings who were complaining about their aching backs and casting envious glances at our luggage.

The least useful was a good one not to be used: our first aid kit. During the 14 month global part of our journey, despite all the dodgy water, questionable street food we ate and flying germ tubes, neither one of us was sick for even a day. When we returned to the U.S. Michael caught bronchitis within 2 weeks. Go figure.

What are the rewards of the vagabonding lifestyle?

Well we’re never bored. Almost every day is a new adventure and we’ve met so many new people around the world whom, with the magic of social media, we can still keep in touch. We’ve expanded our horizons and no longer feel constrained to live in a particular place because, well, that’s where we’ve always lived. As vagabonds we feel like the entire world is our home so we never get homesick.

What are the challenges and sacrifices of the vagabonding lifestyle?

We don’t know where we are going to live from month to month but see that more as an opportunity than a burden. As vagabonds we have no place to call home so the lifestyle is not for people who feel the need to nest. One of the sacrifices is really missing good New York style pizza. It’s hard to find so now Michael makes it for us. It comes pretty close to the real thing.

What lessons did you learn on the road?

What started as a one year lark has morphed into something grander. On the road we learned that we weren’t just taking a break from our former lives but making a break. We knew we couldn’t go back to doing what we were doing before. That’s not something we would have picked up if we hadn’t made such a drastic change.

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

Initially we were traveling too fast and seeing too much. It’s hard to resist; one day you’re in Singapore and from there you can catch a train to Kuala Lumpur, from there it’s a short flight to Cambodia, from there to Vietnam, from there to Thailand. Before you know it you’re hopping all over the place. We eventually pulled back on the throttle and try to stay places at least a month now.

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

Don’t put all that crap in storage. Even though we gave away most of our possessions, we still had enough of the detritus of life to fill a 10’ by 10’ storage unit. After 14 months out of the country we returned to the unit, rolled up the door, took a gander at all the junk that was too “important” to throw away, (seriously, why did we have so many lamps?), slammed the door back down and walked away. We just didn’t want to deal with it. Six months later we returned and finally emptied out the unit and got rid of the last vestiges of our former lives. It was so cathartic.

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

Don’t wait for the perfect time to see the world. It may not come. We were in our 50s before we took off and boy do we envy the 20-somethings we meet who didn’t get sucked into a conventional life. Maybe they will someday, but they’ll always have their grand adventure to look back on and hopefully repeat. To people closer in age to us we ask “What are you waiting for? Retirement?” The heck with that. Go now when you’re relatively young and healthy. The tag line of our blog at Changes in Longitude is “Just go already!” That’s our advice. And wear comfortable shoes.

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

Since we’re still on the road it’s more a question of where we want to see next. There are still a few places in America we haven’t been, so we’ll see those first then perhaps head to Japan to start another circumnavigation of the globe. But since we don’t plan more than a month in advance, who knows?


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Posted by | Comments (1)  | February 28, 2014
Category: Vagabonding Case Studies

One Response to “Vagabonding Case Study: Larissa and Michael Milne”

  1. Vickie Says:

    This is a very interesting and enlightening site. I plan to always return and share if you don’t mind.