Vagabonding Case Study: Becky Ances

On October 30th, 2015

Becky Ances of Writer. Traveler. Tea Drinker. unnamed

Age: 39

Hometown: Peterborough, NH, America

Quote:Most of our problems arose from our connections to our hometown. On the traveling side we had problems every now and then, but it is just easier to roll with it.”

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

I originally heard about it from Tim Ferriss’ book, The Four-Hour Workweek. It is very inspiring for anyone dreaming and planning to take the travel plunge!

How long were you on the road?

In the original interview, I was excited about being gone for a year and still going. I’ve now been outside of America for six years and now have no expectations of going back to America. For the first few years I deluded myself by saying “just one more year.” I no longer say that and when people ask when I’m going back to America I just kinda shrug my shoulders. I never expected to feel so at home here.

Where did you go?

Since 2009 I’ve lived in Hanzhou and Xiamen, (both in China) though over the years I have traveled to all corners of the country. (I just returned from a month in Gansu and Xinjiang Province where I was a stone’s throw away from the Pakistani border.) I’ve also traveled around South-east Asia and places like Taiwan and Macau.

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

Teaching English. I still teach at a university which is in session for 32 weeks (which means I get 20 paid weeks off a year). I’m not going to get rich teaching English but it provides enough money to fuel my travels. Originally I worked in America and saved enough money to fund a year. Now, I rely solely on my teaching salary which does come with some limitations. Chinese RMB doesn’t go far in the world so I tend to avoid the expensive countries like Europe, America and Japan where the RMB doesn’t go far. Luckily, Asia is vast and varied and I’ve barely scratched the surface so I have lots of places still to explore.

Did you work or volunteer on the road?

Not in general, no.

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

I don’t quite have a favorite place per say (all places have their good and bad qualities) but I will say going to Thailand in the winter is a pleasant memory. I got to shed the bulky jackets, hats and gloves and eat fresh fruit and walk in the jungle. Going back after a month was tough to deal with the bitter cold winter again.

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

I was surprised at how challenging my recent trip to Xinjiang was. I have traveled extensively in China, and can speak Chinese fluently. But out in Xinjiang, despite it being China, the people are Uighur which is culturally more akin to Turkey than China. Tensions between the Uigher’s and Han Chinese are high, and there is huge amount of security and guards all over. I found that sometimes it was better to speak English than Chinese just to avoid offending them. But despite the difficulties, and the big language barriers, it was an amazing place and worth the trouble. The people are very friendly and there is some stunning scenery out there. I was just surprised out how different it was to travel in a different part of a country I know so well.

Which travel gear proved most useful? Least useful?

I’m pretty minimalist, just a small 40 liter backpack so I don’t have to deal with checked luggage on the plane. Although I guess I can’t state the importance of my unlocked iphone. Whenever I enter a new country, the first thing I do is buy a SIM card so I can have data wherever I go. I think of all the apps, the map has truly revolutionized travel for me. No more wandering around confused as hell looking for an English speaker to help me! Because of my iphone I found my laptop just wasn’t necessary and too heavy and worrisome to travel with. I now leave it at home.

What are the rewards of the vagabonding lifestyle?

This might sound cliché and trite, but through the vagabond lifestyle I was able to finally become the person I was meant to be. When you travel you don’t have the baggage of other people’s expectations keeping you back. You aren’t held back by your past successes or failures and every new interaction is a new opportunity. Because of this lack of pressure, I have been able to open myself quicker and forge deeper relationships. You never know how long you will be around a friend when you travel, so I stopped being coy, shy or judging others and just enjoy being around them. It doesn’t always work, I get frustrated and annoyed with people, but I find so much more joy in interactions with people.

Also, 4 years ago my husband and I broke up. While I had done a lot of traveling in my life it was always with another person, either a friend or my ex. As I began to travel as a single woman I really had to stretch myself, break out of my shell and I learn to deal with everything by myself without support. This has been one of the most important changes in my life and I’m proud how this formerly shy girl has not only risen to the challenges but has conquered them.

What are the challenges and sacrifices of the vagabonding lifestyle?

Now that I have crossed over to the realm of permanent long-term traveler, of course relationships back home suffer. I’m on facebook and other social media so I keep up with who is getting married/divorced/having children, but I rarely get to meet these spouses or new children. I only go back to America every 2 years or so just for a short visit so I don’t get to see a lot of people. Also, I have two cool nephews who I’ve missed most of their childhood (they’ll be entering the teen years soon). Sadly, there have also been a few deaths and all I can do is offer my long-distance condolences which can feel a bit cheap at times.

Also, when I go “home” I feel a bit of a stranger. After living outside my native culture for so long I don’t feel like I belong when I go back. I feel more comfortable in new places and different cultures than I do in the one I should consider my own. It’s a bit of a weird disconnect.

What lessons did you learn on the road?

I’ve been able to shed the culture of busyness it seems the world is so obsessed with. My job is quite light, only 14 hours a week of work. Many other foreign teachers find part-time work to make more money and I am offered jobs on a weekly basis. But I always turn them down. While my friends call me lazy, I would rather spend my time doing what I love now. I used to try to defend myself by talking about all the things I did, but then I realized it was stupid. Now I just nod and say I’m lazy while packing my bag for my next trip, or spending time in cafes writing (my other passion). I don’t need to defend myself to others, or get caught up in this “if I’m busier than I must be more important” mentality. I don’t want to be important if it means giving up myself and my time.

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

I think it changed from a “phase” to a lifestyle. I’m caught in a weird position as I’m not a full-time traveler always on the move. I have a home base in Xiamen, China, though I take it year by year and I could be gone at anytime and I travel to new places/country regularly. I still consider myself a traveler but a long-term one. Thinking of what country I want to travel/live/work in, isn’t a metaphorical dream, but the realities of my situation. So it’s just my life now, now a phase or “trip.”

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

I still wouldn’t tell myself anything. The excitement of life is not knowing what’s ahead. I’ve learned to trust myself that I always will try to do what is best for me. If I mess up, and something goes bad, then I know I will work towards fixing it, or getting myself in a better position. I feel like I have done my younger self proud, and I trust that my future self will continue to do the right thing for me, even if that means I have to fight convention and the expectations of others.

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

I want to especially encourage single female travelers. I know that we get a lot of pressure to not travel alone, or to not go places by ourselves because of the “dangers.” But as long as you are smart about it, you’ll find people are kind all over the world, and many of the fears are overblown.

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

Since I have no plans to end this one, I don’t need to plan the next.

Read more about Becky on her website, Writer. Traveler. Tea Drinker.

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Image: Bernd Thaller (flickr)