Vagabonding Case Study: Trent McCay

Trent McCay

Age: 24

Hometown: Birmingham, AL

Quote: “Vacations are comfortable, adventures are not.

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

Actually, I didn’t find out about Vagabonding until I was already on the road.  For me, the Vagabonding website was about solidarity – knowing other people do this kind of thing, too.  I loved comparing and contrasting my thoughts about travel to theirs.  It turns out, although we all face the same bedbugs, language barriers, and hostel bathrooms, we often do it in search for dramatically different things.

How long were you on the road?

I was gone for about 11 months.

Where all did you go?

Australia – I spent an entire year traveling the country, and I still haven’t seen the whole thing.  Notably, I went from Sydney, to Melbourne, up to Cairns, back down the east coast to Sydney, and then right to the heart of the continent to see Uluru, aka. Ayer’s Rock.

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

The pre-trip money, which I intentionally kept to a minimum, all came from waiting tables.

Did you work or volunteer on the road?

I had to!  Making money as I went was tremendously important to me.  I didn’t want to travel Australia as a tourist; I wanted to see if I could earn my keep while I was on the move, away from the comforts of parents and hometown connections.

My plan was to get jobs in various locations, save money, and then move to the next town while I taught myself to make video blogs.  I ended up being sponsored by a hostel chain and taken around Australia to make promotional videos for various hostel locations.  I could have never seen it coming!

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

At any point in the trip, if asked, I would have replied, “THIS place is my favorite!” and meant every word.  Each location had its perks and drawbacks.  Melbourne, with its excellent nightlife and trendy population, can’t be properly compared to Cairns, with perfect weather, free outdoor gyms, and beautiful scenery.  The same goes for any two locations I was lucky enough to visit.

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

The hardest part of my trip was Byron Bay.  The culture there has a strong new-age, hippy vibe, with plenty of drugs and drum circles.  While I loved the atmosphere, I don’t do drugs OR drink, and I think it put off a lot of the people I would have loved to make friends with.  For a town so famously relaxed and friendly, I ended up a little lonely.  On top of that, I hit a snag with my hostel video sponsorship and was almost thrown out on the street without enough money to find another bed.  (By this point, I had long since spent my initial money, and was living solely off sponsorship funding.)

Did any of your pre-trip worries or concerns come true?  Did you run into any problems or obstacles that you hadn’t anticipated?

Most of the problems I ran into on the trip were not only anticipated, but desired.  I wanted to struggle with making money on the go, with finding friends and learning skills without slowing down.  Those sorts of challenges were expected, and while sometimes tough, were overcome.  By far the trickier obstacles were short-term and unanticipated, like being hired to make a video for a hostel, and showing up to realize that whatever superior hired you didn’t bother to let the place know you were coming.  “Hi, I’m Trent, and you’re supposed to let me stay here for free, because I’m making you a video!” sounds like the start of some elaborate con, even if it turned out to be true.

Other small, unexpected problems include:  bedbugs, fending off foreign germs, and finding creative private places to have sex in hostels.

Which travel gear proved most useful?  Least useful?

While I must officially claim my laptop and video camera as travel MVPs, an unexpected but super-useful piece of travel gear was the satchel (or “man-purse”) I bought in Sydney.  Going everywhere on foot makes it difficult to carry around a camera, Lonely Planet guidebook, and Moleskine notebook at the same time.  I now understand why girls have purses, and to this day still carry around my Australian man-purse with great pride (and functionality).

Least useful was the suitcase I brought.  I only used it for rare scenario items like interview clothes, while all my functional stuff stayed in a duffle bag or backpack.  Nonetheless, I had to roll the suitcase up and down narrow hostel staircases and across cities.  If possible, I would highly recommend carrying a maximum of two bags, preferably none of which occupy your hands.  A travel backpack and a satchel make a great combo.

What are the rewards of the vagabonding lifestyle?

I think the rewards are different for every traveler.  I met many who traveled to get away, to live a less structured lifestyle, or to go crazy on a year off.  More than anything, I met people trying to “find themselves.”  For me, traveling was about growth.  I wanted to put myself into difficult, uncomfortable situations to catalyze self-improvement.  I wanted to know whether I could make it away from my parents’ bank account and known-since-1st-grade friends.  After even a few weeks of vagabonding, I felt tremendously more confident, and 10 months after that took me places I never thought I’d go – not just in Australia, but in myself.

What are the challenges and sacrifices of the vagabonding lifestyle?

As a vagabonder, you may not know where you are going next, or where you’re sleeping, or how you’ll pay for your bed.  And when you finally figure out where you’re going, chances are you won’t know how to get there.  Is that challenging?  Absolutely.  Is it a sacrifice?  Hardly.  In fact, without leaving some of the certainly behind, the trip wouldn’t be worth as much.

What lessons did you learn on the road?

The lessons I learned were too numerous to recount.  I learned how to be persistent in job hunting, and how to make trivia-night quizzes.  I learned that creating value always generates wealth, and that shopping, cooking, and eating together can make a group of strangers into a family.  I learned how to play urban golf, twirl fire, and entertain a bar.  I learned first-hand what it’s like to be in a male escort photoshoot (and no, I didn’t work as one).  I learned why Ayer’s Rock is also called Uluru, and why you shouldn’t climb the rock, even if it is legal.  Most of all, I learned just how much you can learn, if you’re only willing to move outside the familiar places where you spend all your time.

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

I learned this:  A great vagabonding experience is an adventure, not a vacation.  How many of us see Indiana Jones in a jungle, running from traps and avoiding natives, and think, “I want to go on an adventure!”  Then we take a cruise to Costa Rica with a rainforest tour, and wonder why the experience didn’t seem as exciting.  Vacations are comfortable, adventures are not.  There is nothing wrong with taking it easy, having your trip planned out, and paying not to have problems, but if you want a truly life-changing experience, you must be willing to leave your comfort zone.

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

Go!  Go, and enjoy every minute.

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

First, travel alone.  You’ll make more friends, and you won’t be tempted to decide on your adventures through a committee.  Second, bring a quick dry, super absorbent towel.  It’ll save you from the constantly finding a non-obtrusive place to hang a regular towel for several hours, and you can pack it right after you use it without worrying much about mildew.

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

As I type this, I’m on a three month trip to England.  After that?  I don’t know.  I don’t tend to travel for traveling’s sake, but as a means to something else.  I’m excited to see where my life will take me next!

Twitter: TrentMcCay Website:

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Posted by | Comments (3)  | August 24, 2011
Category: Vagabonding Case Studies

3 Responses to “Vagabonding Case Study: Trent McCay”

  1. Andrew Says:

    Another great case study at the site. I really must buy a quick dry towel. Enjoy your stay in England.

  2. Trent Says:

    @Tyler: Here’s the short version: I won a video competition at a hostel, which was then shown to that hostel chain’s board meeting. The chain’s “media coordinator,” on the way back from said meeting, happened to stay in the same hostel. He found out I was there, and offered me the deal. Things from there were far more… complicated.