Age: Ryan, 31: Laura, 29
Hometown: Chicago, USA
Quote: “Stop making excuses and make travel a priority. Enjoy the adventure of not always knowing where you’re headed next.”
How did you find out about Vagabonding, and how did you find it useful before and during the trip?
I started off reading Rolf’s book and this site in 2004 before we left to travel through South America for a year. Rolf was way ahead of the curve in the online travel writing community and was more professional in his writing than any other online travel source I had encountered then.
How long were you on the road?
Where all did you go?
South America: Argentina, Brazil; Oceania: Fiji, New Zealand, Australia; Asia: India, Nepal, Tibet, China, Laos, Cambodia, Burma, Thailand; North Africa: Egypt; Europe: Turkey, Greece, Albania, Montenegro, Croatia, Italy, Switzerland; Africa: South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia and Tanzania
What was your job or source of travel funding for this journey?
We worked in marketing and PR. We weren’t bankers or doctors. We just made saving a priority.
Did you work or volunteer on the road?
We volunteered at an orphanage in Mazabuka, Zambia. This was a real highlight of our trip and we left feeling very humbled. We were excited to volunteer as a way of teaching and giving back, but selfishly, ended up learning and taking much more away from the experience than we could have imagined.
Of all the places you visited, which was your favorite?
India, because of its intoxicating smells, foods and peoples, and the way it shocks you into feeling so deeply, and New Zealand, because it’s clean, green and prioritizes nature better than any place on Earth.
Was there a place that was your least favorite, or most disappointing, or most challenging?
Egypt fit the bill for all three of those questions. We believe a lot of it had to do with our visit being the middle of Egypt’s summer (110 degrees every day) and having come from two laid-back months of travel through Burma, Laos and Thailand in SE Asia. We just weren’t ready for the adjustment and jolt that was Egypt. We had a 24 hour layover in Cairo on our way home at the end of the trip and had a very different, positive travel experience so we wouldn’t feel comfortable recommending others not to visit (we wouldn’t listen to anyone telling us where not to go, anyway).
Did any of your pre-trip worries or concerns come true? Did you run into any problems or obstacles that you hadn’t anticipated?
Our pre-trip concerns had to do with having the right gear, the right pack, the right shoes, the right medicine. We were soon reminded on the road that none of that mattered. Most of what you find at outrageously-priced outdoors stores back home can be found for chump change in any bazaar or market on the road. As for issues on the road, we fell for a few scams here and there but the only serious episode we encountered was in Egypt. Laura was accosted by a man in Cairo and learned first-hand the base treatment of women there.
Which travel gear proved most useful? Least useful?
Ryan: I would say the most useful was, sadly, my netbook (an iPhone would have been even better) for downloading travel guides, maps and Skyping with family. The least useful was the Swiss Army knife that I forget to check and was taken by TSA on our very first flight.
Laura: Most useful were my Chacos sandals. I referred to them as my “little Hummers” because they could really tackle any terrain we encountered. The least useful would have to be some of the medicine we lugged around. Much of our portable pharmacy could have been left at home as we certainly could have picked up most drugs we needed along the way.
What are the rewards of the vagabonding lifestyle?
We’re both experiential learners and so learning by doing and seeing things with our own eyes proved to be a very rewarding aspect of our vagabonding experience. It’s also a tremendous feeling to wake up each day and ask yourself, “What will I do and learn today?”
What are the challenges and sacrifices of the vagabonding lifestyle?
Missing family and friends. All of the other challenges and sacrifices are a small price to pay for what you get in return.
What lessons did you learn on the road?
Patience. Acceptance. Forgiveness. Appreciation for what you have. And travel has us constantly re-evaluating how we define success. Travel does not kill ambition, but it certainly puts it in perspective – what are we willing to give up to get ahead?
How did your personal definition of “vagabonding” develop over the course of the trip?
It broadened, we guess. I think “vagabonding” has some negative connotations to it, as in this unambitious, aimless Kerouacian character looking to mooch his way around the world. It’s not so much about how little you spend or how culturally immersed you get, but rather about letting go of preconceived notions of what it means to travel and explore a place. Sorry, that sounds all philosophical and really pretentious, which is exactly what we’re trying to get away from!
If there was one thing you could have told yourself before the trip, what would it be?
Slow down. It seems the more we travel, the more we’ve learned that the greatest experiences come from quality, not quantity. We could’ve used a bit more of that thinking during parts of our trip.
Any advice or tips for someone hoping to embark on a similar adventure?
Go. Now. Stop making excuses and make travel a priority. Why wait until you’re old and retired to do the things that you want to do now? Don’t make checklists to cross places off. Enjoy the adventure of not always knowing where you’re headed next.
When and where do you think you’ll take your next long-term journey?
We’d like to do it again with kids. We have to have them first, of course. I think when we have a family and the kids are to the age when they’ll be able to remember and appreciate the travel experience, it will be time to head out on the road again.
There’s much of the U.S. that we have not even begun to explore so that’s on the list, but in terms of far-flung locales, Central Asia would be a dream trip. Traversing the Silk Road from western China through the ‘Stans or the Persian Royal Road from Iran to coastal Turkey would be a hell of an adventure. I greatly hope that Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan will be safe again because those are cultures and peoples that are due for a better shake than their and our respective governments and media allow.
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