Vagabonding Case Study: Sebastian Cuevas

On November 27th, 2015

Sebastián Cuevas of Between Distancesunnamed

Age: 31

Hometown: Born in San Diego, raised in Guadalajara.

Quote: “En aquel tiempo yo tenía veinte años y estaba loco. Había perdido un país pero había ganado un sueño. Y si tenía ese sueño lo demás no importaba.” Roberto Bolaño (“Back then I was 20 and was mad. I had lost a country but won a dream. And if I had that dream nothing else mattered.” Roberto Bolaño)

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

I found out about it while exploring the world of travel blogging. I identify with the ethos of the project and hope I can contribute to encouraging others to take a risk and give this lifestyle a try.

How long were you on the road?

I like to think that in a way I still am on the road, even though I live a largely sedentary life at the moment. The reason for that is that I’ve been living abroad for the past 11 years. A month ago I relocated to Berlin. I do go on the road pretty often, though. After all, one of the benefits of living in Europe is that international borders are usually but a short drive away, so I try to take advantage of that whenever I can.

Where did you go?

Ever since I left Mexico back in 2004 I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy long-term living experiences in California, Oregon, and, since 2009, Germany. During that time I traveled as much as possible. I still dearly remember the hitchhiking trip I made back in 2009 from Frankfurt to Istanbul and back.

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

During my time living abroad I’ve done all sorts of things. I translate and proofread texts every so often. In Heidelberg I was a research assistant at my faculty all through my grad studies. Now I work at a museum here in Berlin. I didn’t manage to save any money while studying in Heidelberg but still went traveling often, however on an extremely low budget.

Did you work or volunteer on the road?

I haven’t but ideally blogging would be my job and the road my office. I usually just try to get by with whatever little money I have, and luckily usually succeed.

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

I have been to a number of really interesting countries that have earned a spot in my heart, but I’m going to have to go with Bosnia on this one. The warmth and generosity of the people I met there was incredibly moving, especially after hearing what a lot of them went through during the war. People who have experienced being in need are the first to give. People opened up and shared their stories with me minutes after first meeting. It is also one of the best countries for hitchhiking!

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

There are countries that have impressed me more than others but I think you take away something positive from everywhere regardless, even if you had a bad experience. I luckily have never had a truly bad experience, and not because I don’t take risks, but rather because I am a lucky dog! Germany still challenges me, not because I’m unfamiliar with it but because it’s here that I’m building my life, and elements of that such as entering the job market and dealing with its infamous bureaucracy are not easy for anyone (including Germans).

Which travel gear proved most useful? Least useful?

I usually don’t take anything with me other than the old backpack I took on my first trip to Europe back in 2004. I reckon I should buy a new one. I usually just go on websites such as hitchwiki to find my way from city to city and rely on what I’ve read and a few websites to plan my trips. For the most part I just improvise, really. Guess taking a smart phone with internet next time wouldn’t be a bad idea but I don’t see it as entirely necessary.

What are the rewards of the vagabonding lifestyle?

There are many, but to keep it short I would say the experiences you collect along the way, be it seeing a place that was long on your list or having an unexpected conversation with maybe one of the most interesting persons you’ve ever met. They are all in a way and to different extents life-changing, and they all contribute to giving you a very unique perspective on life—and on where you come from.

What are the challenges and sacrifices of the vagabonding lifestyle?

Being new anywhere is not easy at first but it’s at the same time incredibly refreshing and exciting. My idea when I moved “back” to the US and when I moved to Germany was integrating, which was particularly difficult in Germany because of the language. It was daunting and even frustrating at times, but in due time it happened.
I also haven’t been home in three and a half years because I just simply couldn’t afford it as a student in Germany. I hope to be able to go see my friends and family back in both Mexico and the US in the near future.

What lessons did you learn on the road?

I learned the value of perseverance and patience. I have experienced the satisfaction of helping and being helped without expecting anything in return. Most importantly, I learned that nothing is as valuable as the freedom to decide where to go and what to do.

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

While it at first defined how I travel, it came to define my world view and attitude toward life. I now see it as a permanent state regardless of whether I am physically on the move at any given time or not, for I am still on a journey.

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

Go with the flow and enjoy the ride. When I went back to the States in late 2004 I was so fixated with coming back to Germany that I couldn’t fully appreciate what I had at the moment. I eventually shook it off, and ended up coming back in the end anyway.

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

Don’t throw the towel and be stubborn as hell! Moving to a foreign country with no contacts is difficult and at times even frustrating, but the rewards of sticking to the project are enormous. Just let the good times roll.

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

I can’t wait to go to back to the Baltic when it gets warm again next year. I want to spend more time in Estonia and go to Latvia and Lithuania. Thinking about turning that into a trip from the Baltic to the Black Sea and visit every former western Soviet republic. At some point I will also cross Russia, but I am now also immensely interested in traveling across the US and around Latin America.

Read more about Sebastian on his website, Between Distances.

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Image: Thomas Milne (flickr)