Vagabonding Case Study: Dale Davies & Franca Calabretta

On July 3rd, 2015


Dale & Franca, of AngloItalian

Age: 29 & 33

Hometown: Leamington Spa, UK & Alberobello, Italy

Quote: Never Say No – Us

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

It feels like such a distant memory now but I remember that it was a link on social media. Someone shared a piece that Rolf had written and I can recall spending the following hour just going through the site.

How long were you on the road?

We’ve been on the road for over two years and will (hopefully) celebrate the end of the third this June.

Where did you go?

Initially we spent some time in Europe but when we arrived in Kiev to start our visa application for Russia we were refused entry to the building and got told we’d have to fly back to our individual countries to apply for it. In hindsight, they were just being difficult and we should have just pressed on, but we were new at this whole ‘travel’ business and had yet to build any real confidence.

We flew to Japan and had one of the most amazing months of our lives. The country is incredible, and the people make it so.

Following that we hopped around from South Korea to Taiwan, from there to Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Laos, before we unfortunately had to return home due to a death in the family. Since that period we’ve spent the following 18 months hopping around Europe and house sitting as much as possible so that we take things slow, and immersed.

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

Franca spent her working life in marketing and advertising prior to our travels, whilst Dale spent his time working in retail stores on the shop floor. Much of the money we saved came from money made from those jobs prior to our hitting the road.

Did you work or volunteer on the road?

The only ‘work’ we’ve ever done during our travels has been on our travel blog. We write articles highlighting the things we enjoy most about travel – people, culture, food.

Our volunteering has been some of the most enjoyable and rewarding work we’ve done in our lives. Volunteering at two dog shelters in Thailand led us to not only help street dogs have better and news lives, but it also taught us more about the animal world and how many animals never have their voice heard, going without the bare minimum of care or necessities of life.

All of those lessons led us to go vegetarian in the days following our volunteering, then vegan in 2014 – one of the best decisions not just of our travels, but from our lives.

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

Though it’s becoming quite a cliche; Thailand.

Volunteering in Thailand changed the course of our lives altogether and has put us in a direction that we love.

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

Laos. Lovely country, beautiful scenery, worst possible timing.

We crossed the border into Laos from the north of Thailand as our visa was running out. We needed to go somewhere and had heard so many great things about the country that we thought we’d be fools not to take at least a few weeks to travel around it. Unfortunately, our minds were elsewhere.

At the very same time that we headed into Laos we learned that we’d be able to volunteer in Thailand for the first time (this was prior to the volunteering mentioned above). There was an opportunity to return to Thailand and start our first volunteering experience at Care for Dogs in Chiang Mai.

Walking around Vientiane and our minds were with the dogs. We tried our best to enjoy and engage with the local culture in the city, but nothing seemed to compare to the excitement we had in our heads at that moment.

We wanted out.

To make things worse, when we went to apply for return visas to Thailand we learned that there was to be a prolonged holiday weekend for a national holiday in celebration of women. Much like Women’s Day in Italy. It compounded our misery and urgency to leave. We felt that things were just getting in the way of our desperate need to head to the shelter, and unfortunately we let that spoil our remaining time in the country.

It’s sad really that we left the country feeling so down about it as we did, but at that moment we were so keen to make a difference elsewhere that we couldn’t see anything but our main objective.

One day we’ll return and give Laos the time it clearly deserves as almost every article we read showcases a beautiful country with beautiful people.

Which travel gear proved most useful?  Least useful?

Purchasing the right backpack was paramount to us both.

Almost three years down the line and our backpacks are look as good as new, and our backs have not suffered for a second. It was really important for us that we picked out packs that would be hard wearing, yet comfortable.

We made sure to purchase our backpacks in person, making sure to not just try them on empty, but filled to the brim with a heavier weight than we’d be planning for. It’s important to test out your bag AND your back prior to choosing to backpack long term, because the last thing you want to do is find yourself in pain in the middle of nowhere, unable to pick up your pack.

What are the rewards of the vagabonding lifestyle?


Sure we could say that the freedom of movement and ability to say, “you know what, I’d like to change the scenery” is the best thing about vagabonding, but the reality is that people make the biggest impression, they craft and shape the best experiences we have around the world. They make you laugh, they make you cry. They stare at you because you’re different, they talk with you to know about those differences. They invite you into their homes and make you feel like you’re a member of the family who became separated a long time ago, but are welcomed home with smiles, stories, and great food regardless.

What are the challenges and sacrifices of the vagabonding lifestyle?

The biggest challenge is keeping the lifestyle going.

We set off with about $30,000 for the both of us, hoping that we’d make it to a year of travel around the year. Almost three years later and that fund is almost near empty. We don’t work or make a solid income from anywhere and always avoided the #digitalnomad lifestyle of freelance working because it was work we were trying to leave behind us in the first place.

Now we’re starting to see that as a challenge we need to face. To make our lifestyle really that – a style for the rest of our lives.

What lessons did you learn on the road?

That nothing is as bad as it seems. You’ll have good days and bad days. Learn from them.

Don’t let something as silly as a delayed train upset you. If you get robbed (as we did), you have to just pick up the pieces and move on. Don’t dwell. Bad things happen to everyone and the moment you start to let them interfere with your mentality, the harder and less enjoyable your travels will be.

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

Vagabonding to us now is about immersion and putting ourselves into a country not as tourist, but as locals. We try our best to do as locals do, stay in the same types of houses, buy the same groceries, and to do the same fun activities that locals do. We’re by no means perfect, but the best thing about vagabonding is that there’s no perfect method. No set checklist of rules which we must follow to be a vagabond. Anyone can be one. You, us. Anyone.

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

Take things slowly. Trust people. And always be open to anything. You never know where the next invitation or path will lead you.

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

Take things slowly. Spend a minimum of a month in each country (if you can) and immerse yourself in the local culture. Meet with as many locals as you can and listen. You don’t always have to talk to learn something. Let people tell you about their lives and see what makes them tick.

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

Hopefully this one we’re already on will always continue!

Read more about Dale and Franco on their blog, Angloitalian or follow them on Facebook  and Twitter.

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Image: Andi Campbell-Jones (flickr)