Vagabonding Case Study: Paul Karl Lukacs

Paul Karl Lukacs

Hometown: Los Angeles, CA

Quote: “You may start to question who you are and where – or if – you still fit into the world.

How did you find out about Vagabonding, and how did you find it useful? Rolf’s book! It’s a cliché to say that a book changed your life, but that’s what Rolf’s did.

I was like most Americans. I thought that “travel” meant spending a week in an expensive hotel and that long-term travel was reserved for college kids from wealthy families. It blew my mind to realize that living abroad or on the road – sometimes, in the plushest or most beautiful surroundings – could cost a fraction of what it cost to live in Los Angeles.

When did you hit the road? Originally, I flew out in mid-2006 and stayed abroad for a year. I came back to LA just as the recession was starting – great timing, eh? – and was somewhat taken aback by the negative reaction to my vagabonding. So I took graduate courses in Asian history at UCLA, and, when those ended in spring 2010, I left again.

What do you mean by a “negative reaction” to your vagabonding? Before I left, many people offered their compliments and promised to hook me up with job interviews when I returned. Very few came through. The recession was certainly a factor, but several people sheepishly admitted they couldn’t champion my resume because “my boss will think your traveling is weird” or “we’re only interviewing people already in full-time jobs.”

My strong advice to would-be vagabonders is to consider the culture of your industry and to sketch out a re-entry plan before you leave. I am a lawyer, which is a conformist profession with fairly rigid career tracks. The career paths in tech and media are apparently more fluid, with people moving between traditional employment, time off and self-employment/start-up work.

How do you fund your current travels? I do business under the name The Nomad Lawyer, and I research and draft legal filings and memoranda for other attorneys. For example, a lawyer may be served with an emergency motion on Friday but not have the time to deal with it over the weekend. She zaps it to me, and I draft the opposition, which lands in her In Box when she wakes up Monday morning. I also contribute pieces to various periodicals.

How long do you plan to travel this time? I’m at the point where “vagabonding” is shading into “expat life.” The United States is the greatest and freest place on earth if your goal is to maximize absolute wealth or status. If your goal is different – say, to maximize freedom or experiences or relative wealth – other nations may be a better fit.

What is your style of vagabonding? It’s an intense form of hanging out. I pick a country, see how long they’ll let me stay and then move into a sublet or a serviced apartment for a few months, taking periodic trips to neighboring countries.

What gear do you use? All I need is a quiet room with a fast and reliable internet connection, a sturdy chair and a good-sized working surface like a desk or a dining room table. That being said, it’s amazing how difficult it can sometimes be to find all of those components in one place for the $500 to $1,000 a month I’m willing to pay for lodging.

Once I find a suitable flat, I usually buy a cheap inkjet printer – so that’s about $150 including paper and ink – because I’m old enough to want to edit and proofread documents on paper before I send them out.

Where have you been? East and Southeast Asia mostly, because it’s cheap, and I have an academic interest in the region, and many of the governments are easy with visas. Three months in Paris was fantastic, but pricey. I tend to rotate between low-cost destinations like Phuket, Thailand, and higher-cost places like Hong Kong, where I am now.

What are the rewards and sacrifices of the vagabonding lifestyle? All the words begin with S.

As a vagabond, you can have almost anything. You can have Security, if you budget well or work hard. You can have a Spouse, and you can go on the road with your Spawn. But you cannot have Stuff, because that’s too cumbersome.

And – this may be the hardest part for people to cope with over time – the longer you are on the road, the more you are stripped of Status. Your place in the world is heavily determined by your job, your neighborhood, your visible consumption patterns, and the institutions with which you are affiliated. When you are vagabonding, most of these fall away. Other people find it increasingly difficult to peg you, and you may start to question who you are and where – or if – you still fit into the world. That might be the sign that it’s time to either go home or settle down as an expat.

If I Google your name, the main thing that comes up is “I Was Detained By The Feds For Not Answering Questions.” What’s that about? U.S. citizens have an absolute right to re-enter their country. The U.S. cannot condition the right of re-entry upon your submission to an interrogation about where you were, who you saw, etc. You have a Fifth Amendment right to silence which applies at the border, so you do not have to answer the questions posed to you orally by Customs and Border Protection officers. Of course, if you don’t, you will be hassled, and I wrote up an account of my being detained at SFO for refusing to submit. The post went viral, and I’m happy that more than one million people now know they have a right not to answer CBP’s questions.


Are you a Vagabonding reader planning, in the middle of, or returning from a journey? Would you like your travel blog or website to be featured on Vagabonding Case Studies? If so, drop us a line at and tell us a little about yourself.

Posted by | Comments (3)  | April 6, 2011
Category: Vagabonding Case Studies

3 Responses to “Vagabonding Case Study: Paul Karl Lukacs”

  1. David William Says:

    Great post! This guy is an inspiration. If a lawyer can do it, then damn near everyone can.

    I’m off to google that article now. You should’ve posted a link! 🙂

  2. Vagabond Lawyer Says:

    […] thoughts about social status vs. income vs. vs. relative wealth vs. quality of life. (Via Venkat.) Link. Pass it […]