Vagabonding Case Study: Karin-Marijke Vis

 Karin-Marijke Vis  91d070970c91ded525b47dd6db527ba9 /

Age: 45

Hometown: Apeldoorn, the Netherlands

Quote: “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” ~Lewis Caroll


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

Somebody gave me Rolf Pott’s book, which subsequently made me check out this website. I didn’t use either as resources for my own travels since I have been on the road for 11 years but I read the book out of curiosity, to see how somebody else looks at vagabonding and found myself agreeing to many of Rolf’s ideas.

How long were you on the road?

My partner Coen Wubbels and I left the Netherlands in 2003 in a 30-year-old Land Cruiser. We took 3.5 years to travel to Vietnam and have been exploring South America since 2007. We are currently in Peru.

Where did you go?

2003-2006: Greece, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, northwest China, India, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Yunnan (China) and Tibet, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam.

We shipped the vehicle to Buenos Aires and from 2007 – today we have been crossing borders between Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia, Brazil, French Guiana, Suriname, Guyana, Peru and Ecuador.

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

Before leaving we sold our belongings and for the first three years on the road we lived low budget on our savings. Around the time we concluded that we wanted to continue this nomadic lifestyle but also realized we would need to find a source of income, we were approached by four-wheel drive magazine with the request for stories and photos. We took up the opportunity and have been working as a freelance duo since: Coen is a photographer and I am a writer. We have done a variety of projects and our articles/photos have been published in numerous four-wheel drive/car magazines and a number of travel magazines.

Did you work or volunteer on the road?

We have never signed up for volunteer work as this naturally asks for a bit of planning, which is not something we are good at. We prefer living day by day and being open to whatever opportunities present themselves, which sometimes happens to be giving a helping hand. As a result we shoveled dirt after the big earthquake in Bam (Iran, 2003) so people could rebuild their home, and helped distributing relief goods in south India after the Tsunami in 2004.

We are always ready to help when and where we can. For example, Coen, who besides being a photographer is also a graphic designer, has designed numerous logos and given advice on website designs for restaurants, guesthouses and other businesses or organizations whose owners were in need of professional help.

We never ask money for this as we love a world in which we share knowledge and help each other out, and this doesn’t have to be on a reciprocal basis. We receive a lot from local people, whether this is a meal, a bed, or getting our car fixed and we love to give back in any way we can.

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

Iran and Brazil are high on our list because of the extraordinary hospitality we received there. North Pakistan ranks #1 for its mind-blowing mountainous landscapes, which are fantastic for hiking. We will look back at Patagonia with good memories of rough camping, and we loved India for its madness in the good sense of the word.

But that doesn’t answer your question.

If I could pick only one place to go back to, I’d say: Iran.

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

Interestingly enough Iran was simultaneously my most challenging country to travel. We visited it during the beginning of our journey, when everything was still new and at times intimidating, and it was the first Muslim country where I had to make major adjustments in various ways (wearing a headscarf, changing my interaction with the other gender, etc). It took a while to adjust before I actually liked traveling there. It is a long story, but after three weeks I fell in love with Iran and as I mentioned above, it has become my favorite country, loving the people whose religious way of living I still find hard to comprehend.

Our three-month stay in Iran taught me a lot, one of it being that you need to give a place time to grow into, to appreciate, to know, to connect with. You’ll miss out by judging a place just because of one (negative) experience. Of course that is no revolutionary thought but the realization of it hit me hard there.

Which travel gear proved most useful?  Least useful?

I’d say our pressure cooker has been our best investment. We bought it in India after having spent months in the mountains where it would take ages for potatoes to cook, if at all. A pressure cooker needs little fuel and water to cook, plus the food taste so much better. We love it. Obviously this is not a backpacker’s choice, but as far as we are concerned a pressure cooker is a ‘must’ for overlanders with a car.

Least useful: We bought a 70-dollar, stand-alone heater after people drove me crazy about stories of -4 degrees Fahrenheit on the Bolivian altiplano. We didn’t, and still don’t have, a working heater in the car. However, despite those temperatures our car turned out to be so well insulated that we never used that heater. Wearing an extra sweater and putting a sleeping bag over our lap has been sufficient.

What are the rewards of the vagabonding lifestyle?

Freedom. Living outside society with its norms and values, especially the unspoken ones. Each society has them: you should dress X or Y for your job, work at A,B, or C for your career, do X,Y,Z to keep your friends/family happy, etc. I’ve never liked that and pretty much did my own thing, however, I could never escape some elements of it.

Mind you, we will always read up on the country we are about to visit to understand the norms and values, and, of course, we will learn the language – or at least the basics. It is not as if we walk around ignorant of local customs. But by living a nomadic lifestyle makes it much easier to live our lives to our own rules and desires without that outside pressure (bureaucracies withstanding).

What are the challenges and sacrifices of the vagabonding lifestyle?

Missing family and friends in the Netherlands and the social life that comes with it. Of course we make friends on the road and we have been fortunate to have been taken in by many families, but these are always a short-term relationships and can’t replace the love and long-term friendships from home.

What lessons did you learn on the road?

To let go of fear, to live today, and to have faith in myself.

I come from safe and pretty predictable surroundings, simply summarized as a “I finished highschool, got my college degree, worked for a company, and saved money for my pension” kind of lifestyle. I enjoyed that life for many years until I found myself running around in circles and didn’t know how to get out of it. I was caught in that vicious circle of wanting to make changes but didn’t dare making them because of (false) securities: a job with good employment benefits, insurances, pension.

Going on a long-term journey (we had no idea it would become our way of life) was a way to finally step out of that circle by simply giving everything up. It was on the road that I learned what I said above: To let go of fear, to live today, and to have faith in myself as well as in my neighbor.”

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

Truth be said I’ve never given it any thought until I read Rolf Pott’s book. We grew into it. It never was a matter of making major choices or making long-term decisions. I see there is a difference in what Rolf describes as vagabonding – taking long-term trips and going home in between – whereas I would more describe our way of life as nomadic since our car is our home and traveling is a more permanent way of life.

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

Well, it would have saved me a culture shock (Iran), quite some suffering as well as arguments with Coen had I been able to let go of that fear I talked about earlier, to live today and have faith in myself before we left.

If I had to chose one: letting go of fear, because by letting that go the rest will follow.

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

Don’t prepare too much, don’t delve too deep into too many websites / blogs telling you what you should or should not do. They will drive you nuts. Follow your instincts and common sense. Most of all, enjoy every single step of your preparation as well as your journey.

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

I’m living it right now.


Read more about Karin on her blogs, Land Cruising Adventure / Notes On Slow Travel , or follow her on Facebook and Twitter.


Website: Land Cruising Adventure / Notes On Slow Travel Twitter: @Karinontour

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Posted by | Comments (1)  | October 29, 2014
Category: General, Vagabonding Case Studies

One Response to “Vagabonding Case Study: Karin-Marijke Vis”

  1. Hetty Valk Says:

    Globe trotter,
    leef je leven. Edwin Honig’s levensgeschiedenis net gevolgd op TV. Ontroerend, ondergegaan met Alzheimer. Is begenadigd dichter geweest. Geridderd etc. Geleefd van 1919- 2011. De website leest goed.