Vagabonding Case Study: Todd Stine
Hometown: McLean, Virginia
Quote: “The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that most people are incredibly friendly and beyond helpful, often when you need it the most.”
How did you find out about Vagabonding, and how did you find it useful before and during the trip?
I stumbled upon Rolf Potts’ Vagabonding in the travel section of a local bookstore nearly 5 years ago. At the time I realized that I really didn’t have anything holding me back from international travel and ‘Vagabonding’, in a way, gave me the courage to do my first short-term solo trip to Portugal. Afterwards I immediately had the itch to do a more substantial RTW style trip. It took a year or two and a friend getting laid off with similar travel desires to finally get the initiative to put the career on hold and take the leap.
How long were you on the road?
I’m currently near the end in Month 3 of what will be probably a 7 – 8 month trip.
Where all did you go?
This trip started down the west coast of the United States and on to Hawaii. Then to Sydney, Australia and I worked my way up the coast to Brisbane. A flight to Singapore, then overland (mostly train) travel through Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. Followed by flights to India, Egypt and Turkey. Since the trip is a little under half way done my next planned stops are Prague and probably Spain. I’ve learned some of the best travel is unplanned travel.
What was your job or source of travel funding for this journey?
I’ve had a full time career since I left high school. My bachelor’s degree was completed on nights and weekends. Ten remarkably fast years later and I was a Project Manager for an IT company, saving money for my “adult life”. Once I got the itch to travel, I realized that I had saved more than enough to sustain a year abroad and had no valid reason not to do it. Luckily my company was nice enough to offer me a leave of absence while I complete this trip.
Did you work or volunteer on the road?
No, however I’m not ruling out some work/volunteering for accommodations later on.
Of all the places you visited, which was your favorite?
Cambodia. The people of Cambodia are easily the most welcoming and friendly people I’ve ever encountered. From the moment we arrived, every hostel and person treated us like family and often I would find myself sharing a beer or food with their actual family. My time in Cambodia felt more like I was an invited guest in someone’s home over being a tourist.
Was there a place that was your least favorite, or most disappointing, or most challenging?
Bangkok, Thailand was probably my least favorite of places I’ve traveled. We discovered that we arrived in Bangkok about a week and a half out from Songkran (Thai New Year), which is celebrated by a city-wide public water fight. Naturally after hearing a few stories of the craziness, we wanted to be right in the middle of it. I found Bangkok to be a place that wears on you though. There are some great sights, amazing food, good night life… but along with that comes a certain level of accepted seediness. Having unknowingly stayed on a few streets which are almost entirely dedicated to sex tourism, after being there for a week and half, the city just started to feel gross. In the end being in the city for Songkran made the excessive time spent in the city worth it. How could you not enjoy running around a city with a water gun, drenching both locals and tourists?
However, the most challenging place was India by far. Arriving late at night and not being totally prepared for how well orchestrated some of the scams could be it was a long first night. But in the end some helpful drivers navigated us through everything and by the end of our time in India it turned out to be one of the most rewarding countries I’ve traveled to.
Did any of your pre-trip worries or concerns come true? Did you run into any problems or obstacles that you hadn’t anticipated?
Absolutely. Getting food poisoning in Cairo was one of obvious the low points of the trip.
Which travel gear proved most useful? Least useful?
The most useful gear I brought was my recently purchased iPod Touch. After deciding that I wasn’t bringing a cell phone, it’s been a much needed savior. From being able to show directions to your hostel to tuk-tuk drivers to being able to read from the Kindle App on a 16 hour train ride from Saigon to Hoi An; it has been indispensable.
What are the rewards of the vagabonding lifestyle?
I feel like vagabonding certainly changes your personality if you’re willing to let it. Experiencing different cultures first hand alters your perspectives on the world and, well, everything. Learning about the history and immense struggles of people around the world can dramatically alter how you view your own life and the struggles you’ve endured. For me traveling is as much about seeing the sights as it is about meeting local people and experiencing their culture and life. And thankfully, I’ve had plenty of experiences on this trip that will resonate with me forever. Being able to help and experience a day in the life of an impoverished family in a rural village in Cambodia was both eye opening and amazing rewarding. Our driver in India inviting us into his home as friends to share dinner with his family showed me what the definition of true generosity is. If you are open to change, it’s hard not to while traveling.
What are the challenges and sacrifices of the vagabonding lifestyle?
Being away from friends and family can be tough, but Skype and email these days is a life saver. The fact that I could be there in some regard for holidays and birthdays went a long way.
What lessons did you learn on the road?
The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that most people are incredibly friendly and beyond helpful, often when you need it the most. Before you go into an area you’ll read about dozens of scams and of people just waiting to prey on and exploit ignorant travelers. And I assure that they exist, but for every person ready to scam you there are dozen people willing to help you if you’re lost, talk to you if you are sitting alone in a restaurant, and give you advice without prompt. I’ve been on long train rides with no local money and the person in the next seat generously bought a dinner for me without thinking twice. All across the world people are generally good.
How did your personal definition of “vagabonding” develop over the course of the trip?
The first thing I realized was that traveling is different from person to person. Some are trying to save every dollar, while others are eating out at every meal. Both sides can be equally rewarding though and finding out what comfort level of travel fits your needs will go a long way. Your travel should be for your own personal reasons and experiences and not for other people (whether to impress or otherwise).
If there was one thing you could have told yourself before the trip, what would it be?
Don’t be afraid to let the trip be defined as you go. Being spontaneous and in the moment is half of the fun.
Any advice or tips for someone hoping to embark on a similar adventure?
First and foremost if you are interested in traveling, do it. Take whatever leave you have at your job, pick a place you’ve always wanted to go or maybe just don’t know anything about, and go there for a week or two. Odds are you’ll realize just how easy and rewarding travel can be and start planning your next trip. Maybe it won’t be a year long trip but it’ll be a start.
When and where do you think you’ll take your next long-term journey?
Since I’m only a little over the halfway mark with this trip, I have some time before I’ll take my next one. But that’s not to say I’m not already thinking about countries I’ve missed on this trip or adventures I want to add. Trekking in Nepal, exploring South America, and stepping foot on Antarctica are probably going to be the focus of some of my next travel endeavors.
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