Case Study: Kevin Short & Katie Heller

On June 3rd, 2016


Names: Kevin Short & Katie Heller


Ages: 30 & 29

Hometown: San Francisco, CA


Kevin: “All your life / You were only waiting for this moment to arise” -Paul McCartney

Katie: “If it’s not fun why do it?” – Ben & Jerry

How did you find out about Vagabonding, and how did you find it useful before and during the trip?

Kevin: I read Rolf’s book years ago, and have actually re-read all or portions periodically since. I used to read the blog in moments of distraction during the workday at my office job. The Vagabonding case studies in particular were useful for me when dreaming about my own journey. They helped to kind of just built up my confidence to leave home and travel for an extended period of time. Sometimes you just need someone who’s done long-term travel to tell you it’s ok to pick up and go. (This is me telling you it’s ok to pick up and go 🙂

Katie: I read Rolf’s book on Kevin’s recommendation and while I feel compelled to admit I haven’t read the entire thing (eep, sorry!), I appreciated that it focused on the psychology behind long term travel. And, as this is one of Kevin’s favorite books on travel, it helped give me insight into his mentality and inspiration for our time abroad, which is an important thing to thing to know when you’re about to travel with someone for a long time!

How long were you on the road?

Kevin & Katie: We departed in January 2016. So we are currently about 3 months deep.

Where did you go?

Kevin & Katie: Our first stop was Cape Town, South Africa. We rented a small house spent a month living in the city there. Afterwards, we travelled for a few weeks around South Africa, then a road trip through Namibia. After that, Bangkok for almost 2 weeks, and now Chiang Mai in northern Thailand for a month.

What was your job or source of travel funding for this journey?

Kevin: I saved money specifically for this journey from professional jobs over the past 2-3 years (I’m an architect in California). I created a savings account called “Tour du Monde” and dumped as much as I could in there each month. I heard somewhere that it’s much more difficult to save without a specific goal in mind. So naming the particular savings account is a great way to really feel like you are working towards your goal. It also helps to prevent from withdrawing unnecessarily from the account… you will feel like you are moving farther from your travel goal if withdrawing.

Katie: I worked as a creative consultant for nonprofits before leaving for this trip, and while I have been an excellent saver since I was a wee-one (and have been saving money for this kind of thing for a long time!) I’m partly able to do this because my dad passed away a few years ago, leaving me and my sisters some money. He was the one who introduced me to travel at a very young age, and helped fill my passport as he volunteered internationally, so it was important for me to earmark the very bittersweet gift for something I knew he’d appreciate.

Did you work or volunteer on the road?

Kevin: Currently, I’m just enjoying living cheaply off our savings and traveling around. That said, perhaps there will be some work in the future. I’m spending a lot of energy focusing on my photography portfolio ( I want to use it to eventually get more photography work. We are also putting A LOT of effort into our blog! It has become a huge passion project, and an incredible way to share our journey with friends and family. It might also become a source of income at some point.

Katie: Not yet! Although I’m open to the possibility. For now, I’m incredibly happy to use the blog ( as a means to work on and share creative ideas, graphic design, and other personal projects while getting inspiration from all the places we visit.

Of all the places you visited, which was your favorite?

Kevin: Namibia combined so many things I love… the desert, driving around in a 4×4 truck, camping for weeks on end, grilling, wildlife (we found 100+ wild elephants in a field one day), open roads, unreal sunsets… it had it all. It’s such a cool place for adventure. It’s also an easy introduction to travelling in Africa.

Katie: Cape Town was amazing. I’m naturally drawn to big cities, but can’t live without nature (it’s why I love San Francisco), and Cape Town felt like they took all the best parts of California and made it one amazing city. Beaches, mountains, city, sea, vineyards — that place really has it all. It’s SO far away from pretty much everywhere else in the world, but what it lacks in travel-convenience it makes up for in everything else.

Was there a place that was your least favorite, or most disappointing, or most challenging?

Kevin: Definitely no place has been disappointing. That said, the crime in South Africa challenged us. We had 1) our car broken into; 2) were part of an ATM scam; and 3) had our credit card info stolen, all in the span of 7 weeks! And by no means do we consider ourselves inexperienced travellers. In fact, Katie would probably say I’m overly cautious and can be annoying about it. But crime is just a real thing there, it’s part of life. We weren’t victim to anything serious, so I can’t complain. And I would absolutely go back to visit again. The country is one of the most beautiful in the world… Cape Town is just stunning.

Katie: Namibia was the most challenging for me, but also, incredibly rewarding! I had never camped for that long (18 days) and at about day 15, I started to get pretty grumpy. I was sick of the heat, tired of sleeping on top of a car, and craving fresh vegetables, dreaming of our return to modern comforts. Buuuut, just as my whining reached a climax, the universe swooped in a delivered us a whole herd of wild elephants on our last safari drive of the trip, and I (for the thousandth time) learned the value of patience and loving what is.

Which travel gear proved most useful? Least useful?

Kevin: My Opinel knife is incredible. Too many hostels and communal kitchens have terribly dull knifes that can barely cut through butter. Remember, a blunt knife is the most dangerous tool in the kitchen. My Opinel knife is razor sharp, and makes cooking so enjoyable. This kinda sounds like an infomercial for Opinel knives right now! But seriously, get one. The least useful gear in my bag is my 2nd Opinel knife!! Not even kidding, I have 2 and it’s completely unnecessary. My brother gave me the 2nd as a gift just before leaving, and I just held onto both. Maybe it’s sentimental? It really just makes no sense. Note: I check-in my large backpack when flying, so having a knife (or 2!) works for me.

Katie: Packing Cubes — the really thin Eagle Creek ones. If you don’t have them, get them. And if you have them, YOU KNOW WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT.

What are the rewards of the vagabonding lifestyle?

Kevin: Time. Without a doubt it’s time. I have so much more time now. My life is slower, which I like. When we want to move around and see a lot, we have the ability to do that. But when we want to just chill out and write or work on other creative pursuits, there is time for that.

Katie: Constant inspiration. I’m learning and seeing brand new things every day, and because we’re in the “business” of story telling via the blog, I get to look at the world through that creative lens and brainstorm my little heart out. It inspires writing, design, illustration, AND, as Kevin said, I now have the TIME to do actually put it to paper.

What are the challenges and sacrifices of the vagabonding lifestyle?

Kevin: Hmmm… Not going to lie, it’s a pretty good lifestyle. Maybe it’s just that we are only 3 months into our trip, but I don’t feel like I’m missing or sacrificing much. I know all my friends are back home, working, hanging out, living their lives… and I know they’ll be there when I return. I’m not the type to suffer from overwhelming FOMO. Also, I’m doing exactly what I want right now, which is what travelling should be all about. I feel like I’m focused on today, which is a great headspace to be in.

Katie: I feel like my biggest sacrifice has been San Francisco’s VERY agreeable climate. HA! But seriously, since we’ve been gone, maybe the biggest challenge for me has been facing Asia and Africa’s extreme heat on both the physical and mental level. This very fair-and-sensitive-skinned gal really misses wearing layers and walking around a sunny but brisk city. But! I’m learning to embrace heat and humidity more and more every day!

What lessons did you learn on the road?

Kevin: Let’s see… here are a few… Distances in Africa are much larger than they look on the map. Organized group hikes are a great way to meet like-minded outdoor type people. Party hostels are not awesome when you’re 30. Hipsters make great coffee. Uber is really changing the way we move around cities (Cape Town). Baboons are very dangerous and kind of terrible. When driving 4×4 in the sand, do not stop moving under any circumstances! Learning just the key phrases in any language will go such a long way. When stuck, laughter transcends language. Bangkok is a great place to “re-fuel” (replace clothes, get a haircut). Southeast Asia is very hot in April-May. Most of the world is just normal and kind of boring on a day to day basis. Travelling compacts so much life experience into a short amount of time.. And you could never get this unique experience by just staying at home.

Katie: What Kevin said.

How did your personal definition of “vagabonding” develop over the course of the trip?

Kevin: This journey is starting to feel more like a lifestyle than just an extended holiday. And I want to make this lifestyle work for the foreseeable future. It’s not just about travelling to as many different places as possible and seeing everything. It’s about spending concerted time in a location. Getting into the culture, the food. It’s become about living intentionally, with travelling as the main priority.

Katie: Up to now, travel for me has been mostly in the form of vacations — maxing out my time and budget to see (and eat) everything I can in a short amount of time. But learning to live slowly and simply as we go has been a nice adaption of my former travel style, teaching me that vagabonding long-term is actually economically, psychologically and spiritually sustainable.

If there was one thing you could have told yourself before the trip, what would it be?

Kevin: Research any visas you may need! You can get a lot of them well in advance, and some will allow you a few years to enter the country before they expire (I’m looking at you, India). We didn’t do this, and now have to scramble in various capital cities to find embassies, wait for a few days without passports, etc. It’s just one less thing to stress about when on the road.

Katie: Oh my god, yes, the VISA’s!

Any advice or tips for someone hoping to embark on a similar adventure?

Kevin: Don’t put off traveling. And by that, I mean practice traveling while still at home. I used to travel often by myself on surfing trips in California, or just to other places I thought were interesting to take photographs. I made it a mission to travel to at least one new country a year. I went on camping trips numerous times a year. I travelled to other places in the United States (Southern Utah is amazing). I went to Burning Man for the past few years. This was all while working a professional job and getting 2-3 weeks of vacation per year. I made it work. Traveling was a priority then, even before I was able to embark on an extended journey. So don’t wait.

Katie: I tried to pack the PERFECT bag, with lots of versatile clothing, extra toiletries I thought I couldn’t live without, etc. HA! Ha, ha, ha! The world is more developed than you think, and you’ll be fine to pack light and pick up stuff where you go. Of course, bring what you want, but don’t place too much emphasis or effort researching the absolute BEST things to pack.

When and where do you think you’ll take your next long-term journey?

Kevin: After Chiang Mai, we are heading to the Thai islands and beaches for about 3 weeks. After that, Bali. We are travelling the whole year, and plan on visiting Burma, Vietnam, Laos & Cambodia, then off to Kenya & Tanzania for a safari, and finally to India and Nepal towards the end of the year. Pinch me please 🙂

Katie: I also really want to fit in Japan, but we have to see if our budget will allow it towards the end of the year since it’s a pricey place.

About us:

Kevin and Katie met while sharing an overpriced salad in San Francisco in 2012. Four years (and many salads) later, they left their home on a year-long journey through Africa and Asia.

Both are artists — Kevin is an architect and photographer, Katie is a designer and illustrator — and their travel blog Postcards from Yonder allows each to share unique stories while showcasing their individual creative styles. You’ll find practical guides alongside editorial content, humorous thought pieces, and other abstract musings inspired by the places they visit.