Vagabonding Case Study: Sarah Gonski

Sarah Gonski

Age: 25

Hometown: Phoenix, Arizona

Quote: “Don’t sell yourself short – try with all your might to communicate to people in their language.

How did you find out about Vagabonding, and how did you find it useful before and during the trip? I stumbled upon it on a travel blog a few months before I left for Spain, and I found the inspiration intoxicating.  I just soaked up all the stories from abroad, and I couldn’t wait to have some more of my own to tell!

How long were you on the road? The plan is to be in Spain for two years, using it also as a home base for all sorts of other traveling.

Where all did you go? Málaga, Spain and the surrounding Costa del Sol is where most of the magic happens, but so far on this particular jaunt we’ve also managed trips to Rome, Naples, Tuscany, Paris, western and southern Spain, and a few rural parts of eastern Portugal. We are hoping to also visit the UK, rural France, Belgium and the Netherlands, among other places.

What was your job or source of travel funding for this journey? My husband and I are teaching English here in Spain, and we saved well from a few years at corporate jobs in the States.

Did you work or volunteer on the road? Yessir I do!  English teaching is a great way to earn money in another country, plus, as a lifelong grammar geek, the ability to teach others about the evils of split infinitives really is a treat.

Of all the places you visited, which was your favorite? On this particular trip, my favorite place may just be the spot I live in, Málaga.  It isn’t the prettiest city in Europe – heck, it isn’t even the prettiest spot in Spain – but it’s got sunshine and palm trees and outdoor markets and miles of Mediterranean coastline.  The people here are some of the friendliest, most easygoing people I’ve ever met, and they do three important things really well: olives, wine and naps.

Was there a place that was your least favorite, or most disappointing, or most challenging? My least favorite place was probably Naples, Italy. The infamous trash problem there is every bit as bad as they say it is, the streets are filthy and the buildings gritty, and there’s an overall feeling of desperation.  The pizza, however, is first rate.

Did any of your pre-trip worries or concerns come true?  Did you run into any problems or obstacles that you hadn’t anticipated? The biggest pre-trip worry I had was that my Spanish wasn’t good enough to function well here in Spain.  That turned out to be kind of true, and kind of not true (i.e. it was good enough to order at restaurants and buy bus tickets, not really good enough to talk to landlords and find an apartment), but I survived anyway.  Also, there were the usual worries about not packing enough, or that I had packed too much, or that I had forgotten something really important and irreplaceable.  All of them just kind of faded once I was here.  I have everything I need, and I’m in a first-world country – if I need something else, I walk to the store and buy it.

Which travel gear proved most useful?  Least useful? Most useful – earplugs for noisy hostels and, surprisingly, vacuum pack bags for my luggage.  A friend here turned me on to them for backpacking trips.  Previously, I thought only people in infomercials used them.  But they are incredibly useful, especially in the winter when you’re backpacking with a bunch of sweaters and bulky warm clothing that need to be compressed.  Least useful thing is probably the American dollar bills and change that was in my wallet on departure day, and is still sitting around collecting dust.  It’s really much easier and cheaper to just withdraw local currency straight from the ATM with my international card than it is to go to a currency exchange.

What are the rewards of the vagabonding lifestyle? Imagining myself being eighty years old and exhilarated by life and memories, glad that I lived these years with adventure and abandon!

What are the challenges and sacrifices of the vagabonding lifestyle? Being away from family and friends is hands down the roughest part. Skype, email and Facebook have undoubtedly made that part easier, but there’s no digital substitute for gathering around the tree in your pajamas on Christmas morning or smelling the barbecue during a family pool party in the summer.

What lessons did you learn on the road? Don’t trust an Italian on a Vespa to stop at a stoplight. Do try the octopus – it’s delicious. Always carry pocket tissues to use as toilet paper in a pinch. Don’t give a big lip-smacking cheek kiss when you greet a European – they’re supposed to be AIR kisses (definitely learned that the hard way, and boy was that person surprised!).

How did your personal definition of “vagabonding” develop over the course of the trip? I started out on this trip being very excited to come to Spain, but also really excited about all the in-between traveling and gallavanting. But being here in one spot has really won me over to the idea of moving a little slower and not being in such a rush to run off to see different things – to stay at each place a little longer, get to know this city and this town and this people better.

If there was one thing you could have told yourself before the trip, what would it be? Flashcards, girlfriend. Do more flashcards!

Any advice or tips for someone hoping to embark on a similar adventure? Don’t sell yourself short – try with all your might to communicate to people in their language.  It’s so incredibly rewarding, and you’ll get under the skin of a place in a way that would have been impossible otherwise. Also, it’s time to shed any introverted impulses you may posses – traveling is all about making new friends and having them introduce you to new ways of living and seeing the world. Lastly and most practically, you can make free calls to cell phones and landlines in US and Canada on your computer through Google Mail – even better than Skype.

When and where do you think you’ll take your next long-term journey? My husband and I had the incredible opportunity to be in the Middle East last spring, and we felt so drawn to it.  We love Jordan, especially, and so the thought of being able to spend more time in that area is exciting.  Or maybe we’ll take advantage of our newfound Spanish proficiency to poke around South America for a bit, as that’s a place we haven’t explored at all.


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Posted by | Comments Off on Vagabonding Case Study: Sarah Gonski  | January 26, 2011
Category: Vagabonding Case Studies

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