Vagabonding Case Study: Becky Ances


Becky Ances

Age: 34

Hometown: Peterborough, NH

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? One year so far and still going!

Where all did you go? China. We live in south east China and have spent time traveling all around, especially the southwest part.

What was your job or source of travel funding for this journey? We saved up a lot of money for about 1 year prior (I got a second full-time job) to pay our bills in America while we were gone (student loans, mortgage, etc) and both my husband and I work as English teachers at a Chinese university. We don’t get paid a lot compared to an American salary, but money goes a lot further in China!

Did you work or volunteer on the road? No. We have on previous trips, such as working in hostels for free board, but we didn’t do it this time.

Of all the places you visited, which was your favorite? My favorite place is where we live, Lin’an, China, but as for travel destinations I think I liked Dali, China the best. We went in wintertime and the weather was incredibly mild, and the town very small and historical with green mountains on one side and a huge blue lake on the other. The air was crisp and clean (which is a rare thing in China) and the locals were friendly.  The area is also home to some of China’s minority groups, so it was good to learn about other cultures in China.

Was there a place that was your least favorite, or most disappointing, or most challenging? Traveling in China is always a challenge because of the language barrier. What I found most surprising was the lack of English resources in popular travel destinations. Of course in the big cities, like Beijing and Shanghai, it is no problem. But in some smaller, but very touristy places like Lijiang (a UNESCO world heritage site) there were few resources. We tried to buy a train ticket and the only schedule they had was fully with characters which we couldn’t read! Luckily, most young people know a small amount of English from school and people are very friendly with your broken, mangled Chinese.

Did any of your pre-trip worries or concerns come true?  Did you run into any problems or obstacles that you hadn’t anticipated? The biggest problem was one of our cats died while we were gone which was hard to deal with while being so far away, both emotionally and physically. Other small things were a hassle, such as filing taxes. I usually do them by hand and I thought e-file would be easier than it was. We also had a lot of trouble collecting rent from the person who rented our house. We even had to go through the eviction process to get him to pay up! He was clearly taking advantage of the fact that the landlords were thousands of miles away.

Luckily we have 2 very trusted friends who were privy to all our affairs. They were indispensable to handling some things. We even gave them some signed blank checks to pay for emergency things while we were gone and they came in handy! (Like when the tenant was so delinquent on the phone bill it went to collections under OUR name! Or the vet bill for the autopsy and cremation.)

As you can see, 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 and it doesn’t bother me as much as the stuff at home.

Which travel gear proved most useful?  Least useful? Little things prove the most valuable, like my travel alarm clock, and of course my camera. To be honest it seems like you can get just about anything, just about anywhere so if I really needed something I could just get it. I didn’t have anything that was not very useful. Despite bringing very few clothes I did realize that some of it was unnecessary and I could have brought less. I think that’s something every traveler says!

What are the rewards of the vagabonding lifestyle? There are so many rewards I know don’t know where to begin. When you go traveling, even if it is for a short time, you change completely. You gain confidence as you navigate strange places, your mind becomes more open as you see and meet more people, your horizons widen as you have new experiences. Also, as a writer, I find having new experiences helps with my creativity.

What are the challenges and sacrifices of the vagabonding lifestyle? Obviously the biggest is missing friends and family as well as some big events such as weddings or family reunions. I just remind myself that while I might miss some important events, I am having new experiences that far make up for it.

Also, I own a small business, and there is a lot you can do online to promote yourself these days, but you don’t get a chance to go to business conferences and other face-to-face venue for meeting and getting new customers. Also, I am spending my time on traveling, learning Chinese and meeting new people, not promotion or meeting customers which has hurt my writing business. (But again, I wouldn’t change a thing. The benefits of traveling far outweigh the challenges.)

What lessons did you learn on the road? This is a tough question! I think the most important thing is not being so anxious. I tend to get anxious about plans working out perfectly. They never do when you travel so you have to quickly let the ideal go or go crazy!

How did your personal definition of “vagabonding” develop over the course of the trip? I didn’t change so much over the course of this trip, but I have noticed a change from my last big backpacking trip in 2000. Back then I was a recent college grad, in my 20’s. Now I’m older, married, own a house in America. I find that I am a little more conservative. I don’t want the “If it’s Tuesday it must be Germany,” style of traveling I did when I was younger. I like staying places longer now, to look closer at things and to spend longer in one place.

I also find myself looking for more off-beat/off the tourist track destinations. Maybe because I don’t like going out to bars or clubs, I prefer places that don’t have a huge tourist market.

Also, I almost always get a double in hostels instead of dorms. Before I was willing to do anything to save a little money, but now I prefer my privacy and getting a good night of sleep without other people talking or snoring in the middle of the night.

If there was one thing you could have told yourself before the trip, what would it be? I was recently asked this question by a woman who is coming to teach in China. I told her that I wouldn’t have changed anything. Before we started this trip I told myself many times to not worry and just relax and go with it. Sometimes at home I can plan out my day, or I have expectations in mind, and when the reality doesn’t meet that plan I get anxious. But before the trip I said to myself, “Don’t plan. Don’t obsess, just go with the flow.” It was something I kept in mind for the first several months.

Pre-planning is not big in China. For instance I got my class schedule 4 days before school started. Turns out I was teaching 4 different subjects and had to create the curriculum in 4 days with no help from the school admin. I was nervous as hell, but now, looking back, I think it was the best way to do it. I could only plan one week at a time, and that way I was able to tailor the classes according to the students abilities and interest levels. If that happened to me at home I would have been upset, complained for days to my friends, and whined through the whole thing. But because I told myself to go with the flow I was able to handle it much better!

Any advice or tips for someone hoping to embark on a similar adventure? There is not a lot of advice aside from just getting out there and doing it! When you are home, planning, it seems like there is a lot to think about. But once you get rolling you see how things start to fall in place much easier. Even simple things, like packing your bag everyday, become a new habit and take minutes. The longer you go the easier it all is!

When and where do you think you’ll take your next long-term journey? We’ll be in China for the next year and after that, who knows? Teaching English has been an amazing experience for us, and China is not the only country that has English teachers so we might look into another Asian country such as Vietnam or South Korea. Or we might have enough money saved up to travel without working for awhile. To be honest, our doors are wide open at this point!

Email: Twitter: BeckyMCFC Website:

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Posted by | Comments (1)  | July 28, 2010
Category: Vagabonding Case Studies

One Response to “Vagabonding Case Study: Becky Ances”

  1. Hugh Says:

    Thank you for this case study. Becky’s story is very inspiring and she has a great attitude about the whole thing, which I’m sure is essential to enjoying the vagabond experience and getting the most out of it.