Vagabonding Case Study: Adam Groffman

On October 2nd, 2015

Adam Groffman of Travels of Adam

Age: 30

Hometown: From the Dallas-Fort Worth area of Texas, though I lived in Boston for a while before leaving the USA. Now I live in Berlin, Germany

Quote: Jack Kerouac, “the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars”

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

It was one of two travel books I read while planning my trip around the world. I loved it so much, I ended up gifting it to another friend immediately since she was also planning to quit her job and travel. Spoiler: we both ended up traveling!

How long were you on the road?

I left Boston for a trip that I thought would last a year. Instead, it was almost 16 months of traveling around the world.

Where did you go?

I didn’t travel to as many places as I originally planned, but rather traveled slow and took things as they came. It started with a month in southern Spain, then to Morocco and Egypt before passing into Jordan, Israel and Palestine. When I was in Tel Aviv, rather than continue on to Turkey, I decided to volunteer at an Israeli-Palestinian NGO and spent the next four months learning all I could about the complicated region. After my volunteer internship, I left for India to try and find some solace in humanity before continuing on to Southeast Asia – backpacking in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. In Vietnam, my $20,000 travel budget was on its last legs, so on the spur of the moment, I booked a ticket to Berlin, Germany with plans to backpack Europe. But I ended up never leaving Berlin…

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

I’d spent the year before my travel saving money and selling most of my possessions. I was able to save up $20,000 with the explicit purpose of using it just on this travel adventure. It was my entire savings but I figured, at 25, I could use some adventure.

Did you work or volunteer on the road?

I only took one volunteer job, spending four months working at the Geneva Initiative in Tel Aviv — an Israeli/Palestinian NGO. It wasn’t in my original travel plans, but after visiting the region, I was so curious and so determined to make a difference.

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

This is an impossible question to answer but one that everyone seems to want to know! I’ve had a lot of favorite places around the world over the years. Ask anybody when I’m new in town and I’ll almost always declare my current location as “the best place ever!” (I’m pretty easy to please, guys!) But during my RTW (round-the-world) adventure, there were some stand-out destinations:

  • Israel was incredibly important because I learned so much…about myself, about the region, about history and about politics.
  • India was truly amazing. There’s no place on earth like it and though it was often challenging, in hindsight it was probably one of the few destinations that ever had a serious impact on my life philosophy. India made a big difference in defining who I am.
  • Cambodia was one of the most surprising countries I visited. I didn’t expect to fall in love with the country, but thanks to some amazing travel buddies, some delicious meals and some truly humbling experiences, leaving Cambodia left me with a hole in my heart.
  • If Cambodia was surprising, Vietnam was even more so. The stories about Vietnam range from the horrible to the delightful, but thanks to some gracious hosts (family relatives, actually), I really enjoyed my time there. Plus the food can’t be beat!

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

India was an incredible challenge, partly because I was visiting after an intense few months in the Middle East, but also because the country has its own intensity to it—the noises, crowds, people. It can be overwhelming. It took time for me to adjust to India and find a balance, but I ended up loving it.

Which travel gear proved most useful? Least useful?

I didn’t travel with much special “travel gear” but rather with my usual stuff. I did keep a shoelace looped around my wrist for much of the travels, though, and I’d use it to secure things to me while sleeping on trains. It was a pretty lousy deterrent but served as a sort of security blanket.

What are the rewards of the vagabonding lifestyle?

Traveling like that was an incredible experience – not always easy and not always fun, but I learned so much about myself and the world. I came away with a whole new perspective on life.

What are the challenges and sacrifices of the vagabonding lifestyle?

Leaving behind family and friends is never easy, and the return to a life back home can be a struggle. For myself, I never really returned home and instead ended up as an expat in Europe.

What lessons did you learn on the road?

I definitely learned the value in calmness, in talking to people, in experiencing the world around me. One lesson I came away with that I really like to talk about is that it’s important to spend money on yourself, to live impulsively and to take some time and money to really do whatever it is you want. Live out those secret desires and unspoken plans. It’s totally liberating.

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

Pretty much within a week of leaving behind my life in Boston, I realized the entire itinerary I’d written up was useless. I started moving slower, figuring out things day by day and worrying less about the bigger picture.

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

I wish I’d known that the trip would change me. I guess I always kind of thought it would, but I never really realized to what extent.

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

It’s a good idea to plan, but don’t over-plan. Trust your instincts and live a little impulsively while you travel—it’ll open you up to so many more experiences you may never have expected.

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

I’m not sure I’ll actually do it again. Looking back at that trip, five years ago, I can’t help but think of it as just one piece of many parts of my life. I loved the freedom of backpacking but I’m not 100% certain I want to do it again. Saying that, however, I’d love to go back to India for a month or two, try and see and experience the place again with a bit more knowledge and experience under my belt. I also do dream of going to South America and studying Spanish—I see these less as journeys, though, and more as experiences…however long they may last.

Read more about Adam on his website, Travels of Adam.

Are you a Vagabonding reader planning, in the middle of, or returning from a journey? Would you like your travel blog or website to be featured on Vagabonding Case Studies? If so, drop us a line at and tell us a little about yourself.

Ready plan a Round The World adventure?

Image: Mariano Mantel (flickr)