Vagabonding Case Study: Sean Upton
Hometown: Southampton, UK
Quote: “The minute you stop making excuses and start making changes is the minute your vagabonding adventure begins.”
How did you find out about Vagabonding, and how did you find it useful before and during the trip?
I picked up a copy of Vagabonding in this indie bookstore in Santa Monica on the very last day of my first trip. I stumbled across it completely by accident. I spent the afternoon on Venice Beach devouring it. It put into words everything I’d been feeling about my travels. I finally had a word that encapsulated everything I had been experiencing. I closed the last page, boarded my flight and started planning where I’d go next.
How long were you on the road?
In a sense I’m still on the road. My first trip had me spend four months travelling around the United States, after returning to the UK and graduating I spent a year getting myself back on my feet financially and then I moved to South Korea to teach, I’ve been here for 6 months and have 6 months left before I give up the 9 to 5 and hit the road again.
Where all did you go?
Around the US I spent a great deal of my time on Cape Cod, I see that place as a second home now, my time on the Cape inspired me to keep travelling, keep meeting new people, keep living life to the fullest. I travelled a lot of the East coast, New York, Boston, Buffalo, DC and Providence before flying to the west and checking out Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and San Francisco. The friends I met on my trip opened up new travel possibilities I never thought I’d even consider, Romania being one that stands out. As for now, I’ve just got back to Korea after spending some time in Japan and am laying down some basic plans for my next big trip which will take me through Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, China, Mongolia, Russia, Poland, Germany and France.
What was your job or source of travel funding for this journey?
For my American trip I was lucky enough to be on a student working visa so saved a lot of money on Cape Cod before travelling around the country. For this trip I spent a year working at a bookstore whilst I got my things together (did my TEFL course) and I’m currently saving money whilst living / working here in South Korea. I’d recommend a TEFL qualification to anyone interested in travel. Making my work part of my travel experience is important to me, you learn so much from living and working in a culture for an extended period of time and it inspires you to keep saving so you can explore new destinations.
Did you work or volunteer on the road?
I’m currently working at a public school in South Korea to raise the funds for my next big trip. As I mentioned previously it is a great way of getting underneath the skin of a place. I’ve always been fascinated with Korea and it’s always been high on my list of places to visit, so getting the chance to actually come and work here whilst still raising money to keep travelling to other places… It’s the ideal situation for me.
Of all the places you visited, which was your favorite?
It’s a tossup between Japan and Romania, oh, and Yosemite National Park. Argh! What a question! Japan because it was everything I dreamt it would be and a whole lot more. Romania for the amazing friendships I made. Yosemite because of its stunning beauty, I climbed Half Dome on my own near the end of my US trip and I sat up there and thought about all the things I’d done, places I’d seen, people I’d met, it put everything in perspective for me. Mountains are funny like that.
Was there a place that was your least favorite, or most disappointing, or most challenging?
I wouldn’t say I had a least favourite place. Certainly there have been challenges but that’s all part and parcel of the vagabonding lifestyle. It’s not all about the highs; you gotta have the lows to put it all in perspective.
Did any of your pre-trip worries or concerns come true? Did you run into any problems or obstacles that you hadn’t anticipated?
Most days I’ll run into a minor setback, which is inevitable. Travelling has taught me that worrying is pretty pointless. You can’t micro-manage everything, obstacles are always going to arise and you’ll learn a lot from them. It’s all part of the experience.
Which travel gear proved most useful? Least useful?
Less is more. The most useful gear will always be the space you leave empty in your luggage. Less weight, room for trinkets you might pick up on the way. However, my iPhone is also a great asset, easy to use wifi, currency converters, and other useful apps that make travel that little bit less stressful. Of course, an open mind, a free spirit and a sense of adventure is worth taking along as well.
What are the rewards of the vagabonding lifestyle?
Freedom. Freedom to do what you want, when you want and how you want. Also the opportunity to get to know yourself. And, of course, you get to see those places you’ve always dreamed of seeing.
What are the challenges and sacrifices of the vagabonding lifestyle?
Letting go. It’s not easy to leave everything that is familiar behind. Your family, your friends, your culture.
What lessons did you learn on the road?
I learnt that all you need to change your life is some new perspective.
How did your personal definition of “vagabonding” develop over the course of the trip?
At first I thought that just getting out into the world would answer all my questions, but I quickly learnt that people would do the same things when they were travelling as they would do at home. That simply moving away wasn’t enough, but that you had to take life full on and do things that challenge you and scare you. All over the world backpackers and travellers are looking to experience something new, but what’s new for them might not be new for you.
If there was one thing you could have told yourself before the trip, what would it be?
That I shouldn’t have been treating travel as an escape. Whether you’re taking a seven day vacation or embarking on a year long adventure you need to be travelling for the right reasons, otherwise you end up taking your emotional baggage along with you and it can really affect how you experience your destination.
Any advice or tips for someone hoping to embark on a similar adventure?
I urge everyone who wants to travel to just pack a bag, book a ticket and go. Everyone says that, right? I’ve always thought it sounded a little condescending, but it’s true. The minute you stop making excuses and start making changes is the minute your vagabonding adventure begins. Don’t put off tomorrow, what you can do today.
When and where do you think you’ll take your next long-term journey?
I’m still on it, after finishing up here in Korea, my next stop is Thailand. It’s clichéd for a reason, right?
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