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Note: Rolf now answers travel questions through his "Ask Rolf" column at the Travel Channel's World Hum online. He can also be contacted through his personal website.
| I am just coming off two of the greatest months of my life spent traveling in Thailand, Cambodia, and Malaysia. In about a week and a half, I'll begin my second year of teaching high school. I've found that the teacher/student relationship here in the US is much more strained and difficult than it needs to be. I wish I could treat them more as equals and make the environment more fun. Do you have any suggestions on incorporating the relaxed, commonsense rules of the road that I've learned into my classroom to make it a different, yet effective, learning environment from what my students ordinarily see?
Doug Hill, New Jersey
I know the feeling you're going through right now. I call it "re-entry" that time when you have to readjust to your old (yet strangely new) situation, which used to feel "normal", but doesn't anymore.
As for teaching, that will be a challenge of sorts, since the class environment is more structured and hierarchical than life on the road. My father, who taught high school for 20 years, says that the classroom is, by necessity, a two-dimensional learning environment. That is, your students are learning through texts, lectures, videos, etc and not through real life experience. Because it's 2D and not 3D like the world in general, it's harder to pull things off as "equals". Hence, initially in the year you can't be too relaxed. Aim for good relations with your kids, but let them know you're in charge. Once you have the respect and trust of your students usually after a month or so the class environment can relax a little and become more fun and reflective of the spontaneity of the road.
It helps, of course, if you have a lot of enthusiasm for what you're teaching. The kids will catch on and be a part of that enthusiasm. They'll also respond if you respect them, despite all of their annoying tendencies and imperfections. So set limitations and establish discipline, but respect who they are.
On a final teaching note, my father says it takes 3 to 5 years to really hit your groove and feel comfortable in regard to your students and your classes. So, like travel, it's a process that gets easier if you allow yourself to be creative and disciplined, and learn from your mistakes.
| What are your thoughts on retirement savings? At the tender ages of 32 and 30, my wife and I have been dutifully plugging money into our IRAs and 401Ks for quite a few years, but wonder how others handle the topic while traveling. Any thoughts?
Sean, Metairie, LA
My first instinct was to tell you to not sweat it for those 18 or so months; that your investments will be fine if there's a brief break in incoming money. Since I am not an investment expert, however, so I posed your concern to a couple of financial advisor friends.
They told me that you might want to place the money into some type of "asset allocation fund" (which is a fund that diversifies into different investments all within one plan) and then just forget about it while you're away. A more conservative option would be to put your money into a CD or some type of fixed investment. This would earn low interest but there will be no risk. Finally, my financial advisor friends add that if long-term finances are a major concern for you, a good goal when you return from vagabonding would be to double up what you normally save to try and catch up a little.
Whatever you decide to do, your goal should be to arrange things so that you don't have to dwell on long-term finances as you travel. The more you can keep yourself "in the moment" as you travel, the richer that travel experience will be.
| I am 19 years old and I am currently in the process of planning and saving up my money for a long-term trip. I am curious: Besides North America where is a good region for a first-time vagabonder to go?
Matt, Springfield, MO
For travelers your age, Europe is an instinctive first destination, since the countries here are easy to travel and packed with culture and attractions. With the weakening of the dollar against the Euro, however, you'll get more experience for your money in more exotic and far-flung destinations, such as Southeast Asia, Australia/New Zealand, or Latin America. In addition to being cheaper, these areas will also give you more adventure and variety than Europe will.
Of these regions, Southeast Asia probably offers the best combination of good values, ease of access, and friendly host-cultures. It also has a well-established traveler circuit, which will be easy for you to follow as a newbie, and just as easy to deviate from once you get some vagabonding experience. Thailand, with its southern beaches, northern jungles, and exuberantly chaotic capital city, makes a good place to start. From there, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam are easy to access overland; I spent six months on this overland loop in 1999, and was never once lacking for new adventures. Thailand also borders fascinating countries like Burma and Malaysia. Moreover, Indonesia, with its wealth of exotic islands and cheap prices, is a short hop away by air. English is not always spoken in this part of the world, but a good phrasebook and an open attitude will get you a long way.
An additional advantage of Southeast Asia for first-timers is its proximity to slightly more difficult (but inexpensive and consistently rewarding) travel regions, such as South Asia and China. After a few months in Thailand and Cambodia, for instance, a foray into Rajasthan or Sichuan will seem much less of a shock than if you had gone there straight from the United States.
Southeast Asia is also relatively close to Australia and New Zealandthough these two countries make great first-time vagabonding destinations in their own right. Indeed, travel in Australia and New Zealand is similar in many ways to travel in the American West: wide-open spaces and natural wonders abound; roads and interpretive facilities are first-rate; indigenous and immigrant cultures are rich and fascinating; and English is spoken most everywhere. Moreover, both Australia and New Zealand have cheap, clean and ubiquitous backpackers' hostels, reliable bus services, and hundreds of national parksall of which make things a breeze for the independent adventurer Down Under.
Finally, Latin America makes another good starting point for a long-term trip. Many young Americans get their first extended travel experience in Central America, for instanceoften starting in a traveler-friendly hub country such as Costa Rica, and journeying overland from there. Further south, Peru and Ecuador also offer great value and variety for first-timers looking to get a taste of extended travel.
Ultimately, Matt, your decision of where to go shouldn't be too difficult, since all of these regions have so much to offer, andwherever you goyour instincts for long-term travel will improve with each day on the road.
| I read Vagabonding a year ago and have finally paid off my student loans and saved up enough money to head off for as long as my finances/stamina will allow. My only concern is this: I've played cello since I was 6 and I'm afraid my technique and skills will wither away after a year or more away from it. Is there any solution to this problem you can see?
Matt, Ohio, USA
A cello is far too cumbersome for easy vagabonding, but this doesn't mean your cello skills need to deteriorate as you travel. I suggest two possible solutions: either contacting local cellists and orchestras as you travel, or bringing along a collapsible travel cello.
Of these options, the first might be the most interesting. I'm not sure how easy this would be to do, but you might try contacting national and community orchestras along your travel itinerary (either in advance or as you go). These orchestras are surprisingly common, and can be found in almost any country, from Thailand to Egypt to to Latvia to Paraguay. This process is potentially going to be a bit time-consuming but it could also be quite rewarding, as it will give you a pretext to meet fellow musicians in other countries. Music schools might work as well. The idea is to meet cellists who can help you find a practice instrument in their town. I'd imagine many such cellists will even invite you to play with their quartet or orchestra especially in smaller communities, where having an American guest cellist would be a novelty.
The second option would be to make the (somewhat pricey) investment and buy a travel cello. A little Google research reveals that a few companies make them. In a CNN.com interview, for instance, New York Philharmonic cellist Carter Brey recommends the electronic SVC-50 cello by Yamaha, which can collapse to fit in an airline overhead bin (star session cellist Erik Friedlander has also mentioned this as his travel cello). This model costs about $1800, but you might find a cheaper model on eBay. For a cheaper, non-electronic travel cello, check out the collapsible Prakticello.
One advantage of traveling with a collapsible cello is that it will be a great conversation-starter in whichever hostel, guesthouse, garden or street you choose to practice!
| I'm thinking about renting my house and hitting the globe with my 3 sons, ages 13, 10, and 8. I want to take them out of school for a year and travel Europe, etc. What grade would they go into upon our return? Would they have to make up the grade they missed?
Jackie Stackable, NJ, USA
I think it's great that you're taking your sons on the road with you. There are many inherent challenges in such an undertaking, but the educational and experiential (and family) benefits of such travel are huge. I'm sure your experience will be unforgettable!
As for school concerns, you will probably want to "homeschool" them for that year abroad, so that they can advance to the next year of classes upon return. What you'll need to do is contact your state department of education and apply to legally homeschool your boys. You will need to meet certain requirements and teach certain concepts during your year abroad and the boys will need to take a test before and after that year but homeschooling is very realistic and doable for this situation. Standards vary from state to state, so check with your regional authorities to ask questions and get the process started.
| I am planning to be off vagabonding for at least five years, and I like the idea of using my ATM card to access cash. But what if I am still overseas when it (and my credit card) expires? What is the best way to get them to where I am?
John, Mt. Holly, NJ
First off, you'll want to have the card sent to a trusted friend or family member in the United States - probably whoever is keeping an eye on your finances while you're gone. Have them mail the card to a pre-agreed address overseas where you can pick it up. The Poste Restante mail-pickup system overseas (which I mention in Vagabonding) is reliable for general mail - but for ATM and credit cards, you will want to use a safer and more dependable method. One is method is to have the cards delivered in care of a friend or business address in your overseas destination (you might not have friends in far-off places now - but you will once you start vagabonding!). Use a service like DHL or FedEx to ensure that the package is secure, that it arrives quickly, and its progress is being tracked. Avoid mixing the credit card with other items or documentation ( i.e. make sure the card is only item in the package), as this might tie things up at customs.
If you need the card in a hurry and you don't yet have any friends in a given town, the local American Express office is a good place to receive mail. Hotels and local English schools have also been suggested as good places to receive mail overseas.
| I am considering traveling from Thailand to Southern Nepal, via Myanmar. Is it possible to do this all by rail, bus, and boat or do you think I may need to think of a more creative way there?
Pat McDonnell, Bryson City, NC
Crossing Myanmar overland is next to impossible, especially for a private traveler. In the summer of 2004, a Land Rover expedition became the first Western team to legally cross Myanmar overland in 50 years but the red tape was a huge headache for them, and they were not allowed much time to linger during their transit. So if you want to go overland to Nepal from Thailand, the easiest and most enjoyable way to do it is via Laos and China.
Of course, Myanmar is a wonderful country that deserves your time as well. I might just fly to Myanmar round-trip, via Bangkok, and spend a good, slow month there before heading back to Bangkok. Then, from Thailand you can fly to Katmandu, or fly to Calcutta and overland it from there, or do the full overland haul via China (which in itself will be pretty complicated). Good luck!
| What do you do to deal with the occasional dumpy hotel you are bound to hit once in a while? You know, late into town, everything booked except the one place that's not for obvious reasons.
This is a definitely a good topic to discuss in anticipation of travel. In your initial query, Lars, you suggested the following:
- Ear plugs
- A bag liner
- Some kind of door wedge
- A wet sarong if it's hot and humid
- DEET (if necessary)
- A bit of bonding with the owner/caretaker/guy at the front desk and some other guests.
I think these are great ideas, but to an extent, I think it's personal. I've never used eye-shades, for instance, and the one trip where I brought a bag liner I rarely used it (though liners are required in many European hostels). I'd also use a mosquito net before I used DEET. That said, however, I consider earplugs to be almost essential (especially if your flophouse is near a disco or a bus station or a mosque), and I think it's a great idea to bond with the hotel owner and guests (if they are receptive to such a gesture).
Beyond that, my flophouse kit might include essentials that flophouses don't provide, such as:
- My own towel
- My own roll of toilet paper
- My own soap
I usually also bring a light cable and small padlock to secure my luggage if it seems like security is an issue (not a fail-safe way to protect from thieves, but in eight years I've never had anything stolen from my room).
In addition to these ideas, I posed the "flophouse hotel" question to my blog readers, and they had a few more suggestions everything from Ben-Gay (to ward off bad smells) to the occasional Ambien (as a sleep aid). Full blog suggestions can be found here.
| What are the intricacies of packing for an extended period of solo vagabonding? I'd like to be as mobile as possible, but I don't want to forgo the items that will allow me to get the most from my experience.
Adam, Northport, NY
This is a key question in any vagabonding journey: What should one bring?
Fortunately, the answer is easy: Bring as little as possible. Basic clothes, basic toiletries and medicines, a guidebook or two, good shoes or sandals all packed in a small and sturdy backpack. This might sound like a scant amount of gear (especially in comparison to all the junk we seem to require in our day-to-day lives at home), but ultimately you will "get the most" from your vagabonding experience not from what you bring on the road, but from what you find on the road.
Superfluous gear and gadgets and toys will only block your view of the wonders the world has to offer - and even clothes and toiletries can be cheaply purchased along the way. So pack as light as possible and enjoy your journey!
| How important do you think it is to travel with a concept in mind if you plan on writing a travel book? I have an extended solo journey planned that I want to write about, but I'm lacking a concept. Should I postpone my trip until I have found a concept that will lend itself to enjoyable reading?
Justin Glow, Columbia, MO
Don't postpone your travels waiting for a writing concept to occur to you just get out there and travel. For starters, you will learn so much on the road that any pre-vagabonding concept you dream up will probably seem kind of silly once you're amassing your actual travel experiences. Moreover, it's doubtful your concept will attract the attention of an agent or editor unless you already have some travel and publication credits under your belt. And, finally, trying to adhere to a rigid "concept" on the road can sometimes get in the way of your wandering - and simple wandering is one of the best things you can do on the road.
In the end, travel and writing are both processes that you get better at with time and experience. I should know, since at age 23 I tried to write a book about my 8-month North American vagabonding experience - and failed. But that failed book was a great exercise in finding my voice and learning persistence. It wasn't until five more years and many more travels that I finally started getting my travel stories published - and the experience I accumulated in the meantime made all the difference.
Hence, my advice is this: Throw yourself into your travels, and let your travels change the way you see the world. Have fun, and seek out new places, people and ideas. Take copious notes, and start writing stories. Submit those stories to online or print magazines. Laugh off the rejections, and celebrate the successes. Don't be afraid to fail (as a writer or a traveler), and learn from those failures. Be patient. Read voraciously. Get a job (or volunteer) overseas. Fall in love with someone from a distant land. Write letters home regularly. Learn new languages. Become an expatriate for awhile. The deeper these travel experiences, the better equipped you will be to write about your travels, and the better your chances of finding a personally meaningful concept for a travel book.
And, of course, even if these travels never lead to a book, you will at least have had the pleasure of living them - and living life richly is more important than publishing books about it.
| I might have a chance to teach English in Spain. I will not be paid, but I will only have to work 10-15 hours per week in exchange for housing with a host family. The problem is I don't think I will have enough money to go anywhere else after the 2-3 months are up. Any advice from the pro?
Volunteering as an English teacher is a great way to get to know a country and a culture. Paid or not, it's a great vagabonding option. Hence, I think you could teach for 3 months in Spain, and come home with a great cross-cultural travel experience, even though you stayed in one place the whole time. Indeed, people who come home with a rich experience of one place have often accomplished something more significant than those people who try to jam a dozen countries into the same amount of time.
That said, however, you do have travel options beyond your initial teaching experience in Spain. One option would be to work in the United States and save up as much money as possible - a travel "nest egg", if you will - to use once your volunteering in Spain has finished. You might also be able to find an under-the-table side-job in Spain, such as bartending or construction labor or IT work (just don't expect these to pay well). The best option, however, may well be to get certified as an ESL/EFL teacher. That way, you can put your Spain volunteer teaching experience on your resume, then move on to find paying teaching jobs in eastern Europe, the Middle East, east Asia, or South America. I've known English teachers who've mixed work and travel in such a way that they've been "on the road" for over ten years!
For more information on teaching overseas, or overseas work in general, check out the Resources listings in Vagabonding, or subscribe to Transitions Abroad magazine.
| I want to go around the world in eighty days without the use of planes and only $1000 with my friend. We would have to work from city to city to pay for train fare and ship fare, but I honestly think it can happen. What do you think?
Jamie Swartz, Mill Valley, California
I like the idea of going around the world without the use of planes. Have you read Jeff Greenwald's The Size of the World? It's based on a similar concept. The only thing that makes me leery about your plan is that you are going to try to do it in 80 days. I'm sure it's possible to do this, but in the process of trying to rush around the world you are going to miss the best details and distractions. So, instead of using 80 days as a "gimmick", you should just keep the land-travel concept, drop the 80-day concept, and travel for as long as it takes to make it around the world, enjoying the many diversions along the way.
Another stumbling block could be the $1000 budget. This amount can actually go a long way in the less expensive countries of the world, but freighter passage alone will take a big bite out of that sum (planes are actually cheaper than freighters) - not to mention you'll have other significant expenses just to eat, sleep and get around in places like Australia. And, while it is possible to get work in various places around the world, this kind of short-term work pays next to nothing - so you'd actually be better off working in California and saving up your money in advance of the trip. Don't get me wrong: Working overseas is a great way to learn what it's like to live in other cultures, but when it comes to a short-term method of making travel money, it's hard to beat a job in the U.S.
So my advice would be to save up much more money in advance - say, $3000-$5000 - and not set any time limits, so that you can enjoy your overland/oversea round-the-world sojourn to the fullest!
| Do you have any knowledge of vagabonders who have left a child at "home" with the child's other parent? I am divorced, my ex-wife and I get along great, and I love my son (age 4), but I am ready to head out and go overseas. My only concern is leaving my son and him not seeing me for months on end, possibly (probably) longer.
Noah, Idaho Falls, ID
At the heart of things, I think this is not a travel question so much as a parenting question. Thus, it's not a question I can answer for you, since only you can set your own life priorities. Moreover, there may not be one single decision that will make everyone involved happy.
One thing to keep in mind is that vagabonding is something that will be available to you your whole life. It may seem like your current travel opportunity is a "now or never" situation, but if you live mindfully you'll find that long-term travel is something you can cultivate and return to at many points in your life.
Again, I can't presume to understand all the details involved in your situation - so I strongly advise that you discuss this in depth with all the parties who will be affected by your decision.
| I am currently 18 years old and have recently graduated from high school. Having done a bit if traveling with my parents during my high school career and loved every minute of it, I've had the 'bug' for quite a while. I'm wondering if it is common, or acceptable, for a person of my age to head off for an extended trip? Or would you suggest that if college is in my future, which is most definitely is, to pursue college first and then head off?
Andy S., Woodbury, NJ
You ask a great question. Should one go vagabonding right out of high school, or wait until college is finished? To be sure, the vagabonding road is full of intelligent, energetic, and capable young people traveling right out of high school. Many of them are from Europe or Australia (where long-term travel is more of a cultural norm), but young Americans have been prolific overseas travelers since the days of the 1960's Hippie Trail, and before.
Personally, I chose to go to college before I traveled. For me this was a good choice because I wasn't quite psychically ready for it at age 18, and four years of college gave me some extra maturity and confidence. It helped that, with the help of scholarships, I was able to get through college without much debt (which, admittedly, is not possible for everyone), and hence I was able to go vagabonding within a year of graduation (after first working as a landscaper and saving money for eight months). In this way, college was a good prelude to my later journeys.
At the same rate, however, some people are ready to travel right out of high school. They can find decent jobs to fund their travels, and avoid the financial debts that college might incur. And, even more importantly, some people simple aren't ready for college right out of high school, and travel can be a good way to add focus to one's life. Whereas an 18-year-old freshman might have no idea what he wants to study, a student who has a year or two of travel under his belt will start college with a lot more passion and heightened focus for what interests him.
In a way, travel (if done mindfully) is a complete education unto itself, and can be implemented either before or after formal university studies. In the end, it's a matter of personal inspiration, preparation, and attitude. If you think you can travel the world right out of high school, you probably can!
| I'm planning a long trip through Europe and Asia. As I'm keeping the route open-ended, obtaining visas ahead of time is impractical. How might I obtain a visa for say, Turkey, while I'm already abroad in France?
James Carson, Boston MA
This is a good question and it's also a fairly easy one, since procuring visas en route is simple to do as you travel. All you have to do is drop in at the embassy or consulate of your destination country in whatever major city you happen to be in. In Paris, for example, you should easily be able to pick up a visa for Turkey at the local Turkish embassy. Just check your guidebook to see where this embassy is located in Paris (and also check to make sure you need a visa at all; when I visited Turkey five years ago I just picked up an arrival visa at the border).
Ostensibly, you could get visas for just about any country in the world from nearly any national capital in the world. I've gotten Mongolian and Russian visas in Beijing, Chinese visas in Seoul, Indian visas in Tel Aviv, Syrian visas in Cairo, Laotian and Cambodian visas in Bangkok, Vietnamese visas in Phnom Penh, and Brazilian visas in Buenos Aires. In fact, I don't think I've ever gotten an overseas visa in the United States (save my original Korean work-visa years ago). Any good guidebook will inform you as to entry-visa requirements for any country (and many countries don't require visas at all), as well as embassy locations for any capital.
Anyhow, I'm glad to hear that you are keeping your travels open-ended. Once you're on the road you'll realize how easy this type of travel can be and you'll end up thanking yourself for allowing the flexibility and spontaneity that open-ended vagabonding provides.
| I loved "Vagabonding" and it has pushed me to look at my life and take a much-needed (and much desired trip) around the world with my long-time partner. We are adventurous and want to explore places like Nepal, Thailand, Indonesia, Mongolia, etc. My questions are...What should we look out for? Are there places we should not attempt because it will be dangerous for two men in their early thirties to be travelling together? While we are far from flamboyant, we don't want to feel unbearably uncomfortable in certain hostile places.
John B., New York
Your question is an interesting and valid one. And, thankfully, your situation shouldn't pose that much of a problem for you and your partner when you travel. For starters, most any destination guidebook worth its ink will give advice and cultural information regarding gay travelers. Lonely Planet always has a gay-travel section (and their website has a gay-travel discussion board), though most quality indie guides do as well. This advice will tell you exactly what the taboos are, country-by-country. For example, Thailand and Myanmar are extremely gay-friendly, and you can pretty act however you want, within reason. Brazil is gay-friendly in some cities, less so in others. Egypt is definitely not gay-friendly, but oddly enough you will probably find lots of men taking a sexual interest in you. So the situation will differ from country to country, situation to situation, and keeping informed as you travel can be a big help.
In general, of course, it helps to (as you said) not be too flamboyant in the interest of cultural sensitivity. With the proper amount of decorum, in fact, you probably won't be taken for gay (let alone be harrassed) unless you blatantly advertise it. In places like India and Korea, for instance, all men are much more physically affectionate with each other than they are in the West. In fact, you could probably walk through Madras hand-in-hand with your partner and attract less hostility than if I walked hand-in-hand with a girlfriend, simply because the cultural norms there don't see it as strange!
So, in the end, you and your partner should have no problem traveling together in Asia. For extra measure, however (and since, being straight, I might have missed some considerations), there are a variety of gay travel guides and websites that can give advice as well. Just do a Google search to find them. But keep in mind that many of those books cater to the gay tourist market, and that tends to "ghettoize" gay travelers. Sitges, Spain, for example, might make a great gay getaway, but why isolate yourself there when you can mix in with the rest of the world and have more far-flung adventures?
On a final note, the countries you mention (Thailand, Indonesia, Nepal, Mongolia) shouldn't be hostile. Buddhist countries in general are more tolerant than the west (in Myanmar I once watched a transvestite cabaret perform alongside puppet shows and pop singers at a festival in a Buddhist temple). Again, it's good to double-check your guidebook, but you should be fine.
| I would like to do some traveling as a volunteer worker. Being non-American, is there anything out there besides Peace Corps?
Definitely check the resources in Chapter Nine of Vagabonding. This will give you a big variety of non-American volunteering leads, many of them with websites, including WWOOF, the International Volunteer Programs Association, Volunteers for Peace, Idealist.org, and the IICD.
As for magazines, Transitions Abroad is a great resource for volunteering. Be sure to check out their website.
Your book has inspired me greatly. After reading your book, my fiance and I went to Asia. We taught English in Korea for 9 months, and then traveled another 8 coutries. It was amazing.
We want to go away again and see a different part of the world, but there always seems to be one thing nagging us: our careers. We are both graduates in technical fields. We feel that if we don't get and keep jobs in our fields we may be unhireable in a year or two when when we decide that settling down a bit is the thing to do. Employers may feel that we are not serious about being career-minded people, and I fear we will have a difficult time finding work when we get back. Any advice?
David Kliman, Canada
I'm glad to hear that my book was an inspiration, and that you and your fiance were able to travel Asia a region I know and love well. I wish you many more enriching adventures!
As for your question, it certainly is a common and valid one and perhaps there is no universal answer. My best advice would be to side-step the "resume-gap" issue by presenting your travel expriences right there on your resume. You say you're in a technical field, right? So I would just strategically write your resume so that any relevant "technical" experiences you encountered on the road from helping in internet cafes, to teaching and volunteering in your discipline, to actually working overseas tech jobs appear as part of your work history. This might require a slight bit of embellishment on one hand, but on the other hand you should be able to design your travels so that tech experience is a part of it. Granted, I don't know what kind of technical work you do, but it isn't that hard to seek out colleagues in your field as you travel overseas, and/or volunteer your tech skills in certain situations. Even if it isn't a full-time pursuit as you travel, you can present it on your resume in such a way that it fills that employment "gap". Some of your friends from professional and volunteer situations overseas might even write you letters of recommendation!
Again, I don't know exactly what you do in the tech field, but I'd say that creative resume presentation of your travels can go a long way. Another option, should travel be a big priority, would be to shift your career to something more portable, such as teaching (which it seems you have already done) or health care or hospitality. Overseas working and volunteer opportunities abound in these sorts of fields.
| Loved your book! I receive a monthly pension that I intend use for my travels. What is the best way to ensure that I can access my funds monthly in third world countries, off the beaten track? Also, should I carry cash or travelers checks?
Mark W., Boise, ID
I'd recommend talking to your bank and setting up an arrangement wherein your pension check goes directly into your account each month. That way your funds will be accessible at overseas cash machines via international ATM services such as Cirrus (check with your bank to see which ATM service you'll use). And, believe it or not, these ATMs are available in almost every big city in the world and they will automatically give you local currency at the going international exchange rate (minus a service fee of $1-$2). As for remote, off-the-beaten-track areas, you should prepare for these regions by getting ATM cash in the cities first. For safety reasons, of course, you should never carry more than you will need and be sure stash it in several different locations (money belt, wallet, hidden pockets, the bottom of your bag) so that you'll have backup funds in the event of loss or theft.
Actually, overseas ATMs should be able to meet most of your cash needs. Nevertheless, it's wise to carry modest sums in cash and traveler's checks as a backup. On a multi-month vagabonding journey, I'll usually bring $200 in cash and $500 in traveler's checks and only spend them when I absolutely have to. Often I return home without having touched the traveler's checks which is a testament to the prevalence of ATM machines these days.
| Having hiked the Appalachian and Pacific Crest trails in the States, I'm hooked on walking. I'll be starting my world travels post-Peace Corps later this year. Any recommendations for nice long trails anywhere in the world?
R. Hirsch, Vanuatu
The world is full of great hiking so much so that, in the end, your decision may well be where not to go. If you you're looking for classic mountain treks, for example, you might consider the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal, or the Inca Trail in Peru which are both wonderful, time-honored options. Outside those trails, the Himalayas and the Andes provide countless trekking options. Europe has great trail systems, too as does New Zealand.
In fact, you'll discover previously unknown (to you) hikes everywhere you go in the world. Just this year, I disovered some great trails in southern Chile; two years ago I spent a week on the trails of the French Pyrenees; four years ago, I walked most of the way across Israel on well-marked and maintained trails.
Travel guidebooks are a great way to research which trails might be best for your interests. A good general trekking book, which covers classic hikes around the world, is David Noland's Outside Adventure Travel. I'll mention (and link) a few other trekking books below, by region:
Oz and New Zealand
| I would like to bring a digital camera with me on my RTW trip, but I have some concerns as far as memory. Do you know of any services out there that you can easily download pics off memory cards from internet cafes?
Christy, Cleveland, OH
It's not hard to offload photos from your memory card at Internet cafes, which are located almost everywhere these days. There, you can offload from the memory card onto the Internet cafe computer's hard-drive, then upload onto an online photo service. Many travelers I know use a Kodak online service called Ofoto. Other online photo storage services include Fotiki, Sony's ImageStation, Web-a-Photo, Zorpia (which also hosts journals), PhotoWorks, and Shutterfly.
There are actually plenty more photo services online, but that should get you started. Also, as you travel, I might recommend bringing some photo editing software, such as Adobe's PhotoShop, to install and run on Internet cafe computers - and you might also bring a few blank CDs, as many cafe computers have CD burners. I've met many people on the road who store data this way, and most of them have no complaints with carrying (and sometimes mailing home) a few extra CDs!
| I was inspired by your book and I am planning a trip to Europe for a few months. I am feeling a bit overwhelmed, however, by how much it all might cost. Any advice for a budget oriented college student dying to see new and wondrous things?
Trish Bohannon, Tampa, FL
As a college student, you have many great advantages in Europe. Your student card alone should save you lots of money on museums and historical sights around the continent. You should also check and see if your campus has a student travel office with information on travel discounts and overseas work opportunities. The Student Travel Association, for example, is a great resource for saving money and generating travel ideas for the road. Student Traveler magazine is another great resource worth checking out. Also, as a student, you'll want to check into Let's Go guidebooks, which have been the leading budget travel guidebooks for college students for the past thirty years (I used a Let's Go guide myself when I traveled the USA for eight months when I finished college). A guidebook will clue you in on the best forms of transportation (which doesn't always involve Eurail passes), as well as cheap hostels, places to eat, places to party, and sights to see. Online, Eurotrip.com is another useful resource and travel community. The Lonely Planet Thorn Tree and the Bootsnall.com forums can also come in handy if you need an online forum to vent your questions and fears.
In addition to these resources, I might also suggest keeping your eyes and ears open as you travel Europe itself. The other travelers you meet as well as the locals should help to point you in money-saving directions. They'll also help you have a good time, and provide you with some of your best travel memories!
| I want to travel in China but I want to work there as well, so that I don't have to live off of my savings. Currently I am a substitute teacher in the USA. Do I have just as good of a chance flying over there to travel and look for work in teaching or other fields, or would it be better to set up a six month job with a school over in China first?
Looking For Change and Adventure
First off, I'll say that teaching overseas is a great way to get to know a country and to fund further travels. I did it myself in Korea for two years, and - while it was tough at times - it was a hugely rewarding experience.
As for securing your teaching job before or after you arrive in China: I've known people who've been happy with their jobs both ways but I might recommend traveling to China first, then finding a job when you get there. Say, give yourself 2-3 months to wander the country as a vagabonder before you settle down with a job. Not only will this give you a better sense for the huge and culturally deep place that China is but it will allow you to personally seek and investigate job options as you go.
A travel memoir about teaching English in China is Peter Hessler's River Town. A good online resource for teaching English overseas is Dave Sperling's ESL Cafe. And, as an additional note of advice, I'll recommend that you get certified as an ESL/EFL teacher, as it will diversify your job prospects in China.
| I love both traveling and photography, to the point that traveling without my camera makes the trip half as enjoyable to me. I will be starting my first solo trip (RTW) in one month and I got the idea from your book that bringing along an expensive camera could be an issue. Is it really much more dangerous to travel with a nice camera than doing it with an unexpensive one, even if I'm very careful?
Jose Yanguas, Madrid (Spain)
| I do advise against bringing expensive cameras in my book but if photography is a big part of the pleasure you'll derive from vagabonding, then by all means bring your good camera! My advice to bring a cheaper camera was mainly for travelers who are just looking to document their experience (and I've found that an untrained photographer isn't going to get that much better photos with really expensive equipment than with cheap equipment). If you do bring an expensive camera, just remember to take extra safety precautions: Keep it in a locked and secure bag when you aren't using it; don't be too conspicuous with it, especially on buses and trains, and in seedy neighborhoods; make sure to keep it protected from the elements, such as damp and dust. And remember, of course, that some cultures will think it rude if you photograph people (especially children) without permission, so be sure to ask first, even if you have to use sign language! |
| I'm Malaysian & our currency is pegged to the US dollar, which is currently undervalued. Should I wait till the USD goes up before I go vagabonding? Is there anywhere that is still not too expensive to go?
Amatananda WT Thang, Kuala Lumpur
| Financially, there have probably been better times to travel in the last few years but undervalued currency doesn't necessarily mean you have to stay home. Since you are in Kuala Lumpur, one option might be to travel overland to Thailand. From there, it is not too expensive to travel on to cheap places like Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and China. You could spend months in any one of those places! Or, if you don't mind the expense of an initial plane flight, you do live close to two of the cheapest travel destinations in the world: India and Indonesia. Once you land in these destinations, overland independent travel shouldn't be too expensive, even with the devalued dollar. Just remember to keep a tight budget, and the follow cheaper options recommended in books like Lonely Planet or Rough Guides or Footprint Handbooks. Plus, it doesn't take too many days of vagabonding to get a crash course on how to save money as you travel. It really is cheaper than you might think! |
| I am planning a 3 month trip to Europe this summer. I was thinking of buying a pair of sandals. Is there a particular type you would recommend for an adventurous guy like myself?
Kevin Kennedy, Cleveland, Ohio
| Sandals are a great option for a summer trip in Europe, since they don't take up much space in a backpack, and they can cover most all of your footwear needs (unless you plan on spending lots of time in nightclubs or more formal situations where you would need shoes). In fact, if you don't plan on do a lot of rugged hiking in Europe, you could probably get away with wearing a $3 pair of shower flip-flops. But, since it sounds like you're looking for adventure, I'd recommend going to your local outdoor sports store and shopping for sandals there. The leading brands are Tevas and Chacos. I wear Tevas myself, but I really think it'd a matter of personal preference, so try on several different brands, grill the salesperson with questions, and see what you like! |
| I'm looking to buy a small water filter unit to use while vagabonding overseas. I think it will be cheaper than buying bottled water, as well as no polluting plastic bottles. Have you come across any good filters, and can you recommend any?
My instinct is to tell you to leave the water filters at home. I say this not because portable water filters are bad (though some of them are quite useless), but because in seven years of overseas travel, I have yet to meet a traveler who used a portable filter for more than a month before giving up on it. At home, it's easy to think you can spare the world a few empty plastic bottles, but on the road even the most stalwart idealists I've met get sick of filtering their own water supply several times a day. If you really want to avoid plastic bottles, try treating your water with iodine or purification tablets (but check with your doctor first on the long-term effect of these products). If you're particularly intrepid, take note of how the locals prepare their water, and follow suit. This will require a period of building up resistance (i.e. getting sick), but to a big extent it will wean you off plastic bottles. [Note: I don't recommend this for everyone.]
My most basic advice, however, is to just go ahead and use plastic bottles. Granted, there are few official recycling programs in the developing world but locals have a way of reusing plastic (as fuel funnels, for example, or fishing buoys) in ways First World folks have never considered. For a second opinion, however, I checked with Joe Ehrlich of the Travel Gear Blog, and he concurred. "I buy bottled water wherever I go," he said, "and I just try to make sure that it isn't owned by Nestle, Coca-Cola or Dannon (I'm trying to support only the local companies!). The owner will be clearly listed on the label." As far as filter recommendations, Ehrlich says this:
"From what I've learned, Pur is the market leader. Katadyn is, from what I can gather, #2 in the market place. Also, I have used the fine products from McNett in Bellingham, WA, (makers of "Seam Grip", my favorite seam sealer) and I will attest that the water taken out of a tropical fish tank and run through their special bottle using the McNett product tastes like, well, water. Their product is a sold for a fraction of what the others are. Do check it out. I haven't used the MSR. Check that one out too, but look at the others first. [Note: Filter reviews can be found at online sources such as TheBackpacker.com, GearReview.com, and Backpacker Magazine.]
"The big issue amongst them seems to be whether or not they can deal with viruses. (I wouldn't personally trust any filter to effectively filter out viral strains and still make palatable water, which is why I recommend bottled water.) Most people are worried about giardia, and with good reason. Once you get it, you will be very, very sorry. Most filters should filter out giardia. Your local, independent specialty retailer will be happy to demonstrate them. If they won't actually demonstrate the water filters in front of you, just walk out and try someplace else."
| I've recently become interested in Buddhism, and I want to experience it to the fullest when I travel in SE Asia. Might you recommend any Buddhist meditation centers in Thailand?
Terri, Goleta, CA
I can easily recommend some specific starting points for practicing meditation in Thailand, but it might be more instructive to just tell you this: Find your own damn Buddhist meditation retreat! In saying this, I'm not being grumpy and standoffish; my point is that you shouldn't pick-and-choose your spiritual quest in advance like it was something that can be ordered from a catalogue. Religion may be divinely inspired, but it also comes into being within a socio-cultural context. Unless you allow yourself to wander away from the wats and see how normal Thais practice their Buddhism, you'll only be "accessorizing" your own Western socio-cultural notions with convenient, smooth-edged Buddhist ones.
So my advice is this: Travel to Thailand, but save the monasteries for last. Give yourself a month (if you have the time and I recommend that you make the time) to wander the country, north and south, jungles and beaches, Bangkok and Isaan. It's dirt cheap to travel in Thailand, so knock yourself out. Talk to everyone along the way Thais and travelers, rural villagers and middle-class urbanites and listen to what they have to say. If it comes up in the conversation, ask people about Buddhism, or Buddhist meditation. Watch how people live, and try to get off the travel-circuit and explore small, everyday Thai towns. Learn Thai phrases and make Thai friends. After a month of this, your visa will have expired, and you will probably have fallen in love with Thailand. Perfect. Now pop across the border, renew your visa, and come back to Thailand. Not only will you know by then what kind of meditation center best suits your interests you'll also have an experience of Thailand that is far more intimate and authentic than what you'd have experienced walled up in some monastery. You'll also have a better idea of the role Buddhism plays in the lives of the people who've been practicing it for thousands of years and not just the role it can play in your California (or wherever) lifestyle.
For an expanded discussion of this topic, read this weblog entry about Buddhist retreats in Thailand. And, if you absolutely don't have the time to sniff out your own meditation centers as you travel Asia, try these online guides:
| Is it possible to work some of the fare off on freight/cargo ships? Do you know of any freighter company names? Any tips for catching a ship from Israel to England?
Alex, Skokie, IL
Despite the romantic image of Jack Kerouac working his way around the world as a merchant seaman in the 1940's, working for your fare on a freighter is not a present-day option. In addition to the fact that Filipino or Maldivian deckhands are better trained and more dependable than hop-on travelers, work visas for people from First World countries are almost impossible to acquire (since freighters usually fly under Third World flags).
As for the Israel-England route, I'm sure it's possible (though in the Mediterranean region you could combine passenger ferries and overland travel and get there just as easily). It's not hard to check around, and a Google list of freighter agents can be found here. Inquire with more than one booking agency to find an itinerary that suits your exact needs (and be sure to ask about your specific destinations, since the latest schedules are not always listed online). Keep in mind that freighter travel is not a customer-oriented affair, so make your plans far in advance, allow for a flexible itinerary, and don't expect the glowing customer service you might get from a cruise line. Full payment in advance is standard.
For more information on freighter travel, including costs, itineraries, amenities, and what you can do onboard, check out the Freighter Travel FAQ at my weblog.
| I'm planning a trip overseas and I want to be prepared (at least financially) for an emergency, so I've been looking into travel insurance for emergency medical treatment and evacuation. All of the on-line sites I've found so far have rates based on trip cost. But, as I'm traveling in a vagabonding style, I'm not purchasing a tour with a specified cost. Are you aware of travel insurance that would work for independent travel?
Christine, Westchester, IL
This is a good question, since accidents can happen, and an evacuation can cost upwards of $30,000 is some parts of the world. There are lots of options available and insurance terms can be complicated so be sure (beyond the advice I give you here) to ask your insurance representative lots of questions when getting a policy, so as to ensure that the policy suits your specific needs.
That said, the first place to start when arranging travel insurance is your present insurance company. Often, your existing health insurance policy applies overseas, and emergency medical/evacuation can be added on.
In the event emergency medical and evacuation aren't available through your existing policy, there are plenty of travel insurance specialists to choose from. Insurance Services of America, for example, provides a variety of flexible insurance plans for trips ranging from two weeks to four years. Coverage varies according to age. For age 29 and under, for example, $50,000 in medical coverage can be as low as $24 a month (the high end $1 million in medical coverage costs $60 a day). All ISA policies include medical evacuation, repatriation, emergency reunion, trip cancellation, trip interruption, and 24-hour worldwide assistance.
Specialty Risk International offers a plan for independent travelers, called "Liaison International" (details can be found on their website by clicking on "Travel Medical"). Coverage ranges from $50,000 to $1 million in medical, and evacuation is a standard benefit with any plan. Prices are $34-$55 per month based on a $250 deductible. You have the option of choosing your own deductible through SRI (raising the deductible, of course, will lower the premium, and vice versa). An additional company to inquire with is WorldTravelCenter.com, which has an "ExPatriot Plus" plan that can work for vagabonders.
Beyond health, many travel insurers also offer on-the-road property insurance, in the event your luggage goes astray (though, ideally, you will be traveling light and not be lugging expensive items to begin with).
| I'm planning a round-the-world trip, and I'd like to do it solo. Do you think it will be safe for me as a woman traveler on my own?
Nancy , San Jose, CA
Traveling alone as a female shouldn't be a problem. These days, women travelers go to the same places and do the same things on the road as their male counterparts. Not only is there a wide body of literature to prove this (see the Vagabonding.net female travel resources here), but a cursory visit to any travel scene in the world will reveal similar numbers of male and female vagabonders. Despite this seeming equality, however, women do have a few unique challenges to confront as they travel from place to place.
For example, most foreign streets are as safe or safer than the streets at home, but as with home you must be wary of where you wander. Use your guidebook and word-of-mouth to know which areas to avoid, and never walk alone at night. Always be alert and aware of your surroundings, especially at night. If you ever feel uncomfortable on your own in some part of the world, there's always safety in numbers. As a solo traveler, it's always easy to find temporary company in other travelers (male and female alike) should you feel the need. Just go to a local backpacker guesthouse and strike up a conversation. Odds are, you'll find plenty of people headed in the same direction as you are.
For more information, check the female travel resources on this website, or check the tip sheets in Vagabonding.
| Is it possible to get a free one-way flight by being an air courier i.e. delivering documents for a company? If so, how do I contact these companies?
David Dufour, London, Ontario, Canada
Air courier travel is an arrangement that allows travelers to save money on economy-class overseas plane tickets by forfeiting their luggage space to a shipping company. This means that you can only take carry-on luggage. Usually, your luggage space is used for "overnight" documents (not drugs!). The only obligation is to carry a bit of paperwork to the courier representative at your destination. Air courier travel can be a great way to save money on overseas flights but free flights (as well as one-way flights) are quite rare.
For more information on courier travel including specific savings, destinations, and how to find tickets check out the Air Courier Travel Tip Sheet on my blog. Courier organizations online include: the International Association of Air Travel Couriers, the Air Courier Association, and the Global Courier Guide.
| As a former vagabonder (1994 through 1997) I find the bug is back, but now I'm married and in my mid-40's. Any thoughts or observations on travelers who've chucked it again, at such an "advanced" age?
Garry, Falls Church, VA
Your question has great timing, since just yesterday I was hanging out with a fifty-something couple who were traveling their way along Thailand's backpacker trail. They'd been at it for nearly a year, and they planned on continuing on the road for another six months. I also recently got an email from a forty-something friend (who I originally met in Laos) who plans to crew on a boat that is circumnavigating the world for three years! So not only are there "older" travelers out there, they also happen to be taking advantage of some great opportunities. For advice and insights from travelers in their 40's, 50's, 60's and 70's (as well as younger travelers), surf to the Vagabonding Voices portion of my website.
In a way, older travelers have the best of both worlds. Not only are younger travelers interested in and accepting of their elder wanderers (as I discovered while traveling with my sexagenarian parents in China and Mongolia), but conservative cultures naturally afford more respect to more mature folks. While traveling with my parents, for example, I saw I side of Chinese hospitality that I never saw when I was traveling there with my 23 year-old cousin. One interesting trend I've seen among older vagabonders is the tendency to spend a lot of time close to local cultures, particularly in the form of volunteering. Whereas younger travelers spend a lot of time in party scenes (nothing wrong with that), older travelers have a great habit of taking their time, making local friends, and lingering in one place for long periods of time. I think this is great, and I definitely recommend it.
In short, there are great travel opportunities out here for people of all ages. I'd say harness your travel bug and go for it!
| Is it possible to buy one-way air tickets in this day & age? I ask because I've heard of people being detained or even turned back after a non-return overseas flight. I want to go to SE Asia & make my way across Asia & Europe.
David Dufour, London, Ontario, Canada
This is actually something I touch on in the pages of Vagabonding since I think it's better to buy your first-leg airfare and improvise your travels from there (as opposed to buying a complete, pre-planned RTW ticket in advance). And, indeed, it is possible to buy one-way air tickets though they aren't always cheaper than round-trip tickets. To get a sense for the difference in price between round-trip and one-way tickets, go to an online ticketing agency such as Travelocity, Expedia, or Hotwire and test some dates and destinations. If the price difference isn't all that great, you might just play things safe and buy the round-trip fare.
As for being turned back at customs for not having a return ticket, this rarely happens but it has been known to occur. The safest option in this case would be to fly into a city (such as Bangkok) where customs officials don't check for an outgoing ticket. But even destinations that have been known to require an outbound ticket upon arrival (such as Jakarta) are usually not too dogmatic about things. A good tip in any airport situation is to dress nicely and maintain a neat appearance in customs. This may sound funny, but countries are more likely to wave you through customs if you look like a clean-cut joe rather than a ragged hippie who might overstay the visa.
| I'm 27 and have gone through college and Grad School and now have an "office job" that is really dull. I want to plan to do some volunteer work in the Peace Corps next year but am afraid that it will be me and a lot of 20 year old college kids. Am I too old to be trying to do something like this?
Erin , Massachusetts
From what I know of the Peace Corps, age is rarely an issue for volunteers especially if you're in your late-20s, which appears to be a common age for people to volunteer. Since I don't have direct Peace Corps experience, however, I sent your question along to a number of my RPCV (returned Peace Corps volunteer) friends, and got nothing but positive responses. The most concise response came from Ethiopia RPCV John Coyne, who runs the Peace Corps Writers website. He says: "You're right, she would do fine. The average age in the Peace Corps is 28; 95% are college graduates. The oldest volunteers have been in their 60s, 70s, even 80s. As you know as well, most traditional countries value age and experience. Tell her to go for it."
For more feedback about the Peace Corps from RPCV's (including people with experience in China, Thailand, and the South Pacific), read my weblog entry on the topic here.
| I've been wanting to take time off and travel the world for about as long as I can remember, but now - with all this war and anti-Americanism overseas - I suddenly feel like I've lost my chance. Is it still safe to go vagabonding?
Lynne, Houston, TX
The short answer to this is: Yes, it's still safe for Americans to go vagabonding. Despite the impression you might get from the news media, the world is still an inviting place for travelers of all stripes now as much as ever. You'd never guess this from watching the evening news, of course, but travel allows you to see the world a way that traditional news media never will. If you need a little encouragement in this regard, just check out traveler message boards at BootsnAll or Lonely Planet. Listen to dispatches from Americans abroad (including a recent one from France by humorist David Sedaris on public radio). Email your friends traveling overseas and ask how they're faring. Without exception from Egypt to China to Peru the refrain I've heard (and seen I'm in Thailand right now) has been this: people around the world may vehemently dislike George Bush's bellicosity and/or American foreign policy, but they invariably treat Americans with respect and humanity.
The only catch here is that you, as a thoughtful American traveler, must return that respect. Even if you collect George Bush memorabilia and derive your self-esteem from American foreign policy, your job as a traveler isn't to argue and pontificate, but listen to what people overseas are saying (this goes for anti-war liberals as much as pro-war conservatives). Ask questions. Learn. Grow. You might go into a country worried about how you are perceived as an American (as I was a couple years ago in Syria and Palestine), but you will invariably come out with new and encouraging perspectives. That is one of the charms of travel.
Admittedly, there is no such thing as risk-free travel. Guidebooks warn against crooked cops in Mexico, bad roads in Mozambique, and aggressive monkeys in Myanmar. Various websites, such as the U.S. State Department Travel Warnings (which you should definitely peruse when researching your travels), detail hazards in countries worldwide. But keep in mind that even these are worst-case scenarios. Statistically, you are no more likely to come into harm traveling overseas than you are walking across your hometown. Be careful on the road, but not paranoid. Engage local people and travel in such a way that you benefit local economies. And, as much as anything, exercise your humility as you walk through the world a strategy sure to win hearts and minds everywhere.
| I bought "Vagabonding" for my nephew, and now he's eagerly planning a one-year trip when he finishes college in 2005. I'd like to keep him inspired in the meantime might you suggest a travel magazine that will help him in his preparations?
Anne T., Bremerton, WA
| There are lots of great travel magazines to choose from out there from classics like National Geographic, to indie travel magazines like Outpost or Modern Nomad. Unfortunately, many travel magazines (particularly the "high end" ones) have recently scaled back their international coverage to compensate for wartime and post-9/11 travel fears. This is kind of a vicious cycle (if travel magazines don't offer a personal view of the world and encourage bold overseas journeys, who will?), and I hope it will change soon.
Of all the independent travel magazines out there, Transitions Abroad stands out in its thematic consistency and unadorned, no-nonsense approach to traveling and living overseas. It doesn't feature many literary travel stories, but it is unrivaled as a practical resource for long-term travel. I first discovered it when I was living in Korea in 1996, and simply paging through its resources clued me into overseas travel, work, and volunteering opportunities I never knew existed. If there's one gift subscription to consider for a potential vagabonder still in his planning stages, Transitions Abroad is hard to beat. |
| I am curious: How can I get your job? I mean, just how does a person get to be a professional travel writer?
Elaine, Burlington, Vermont
| I get this question all the time, and I usually tell people that the short answer is to travel a lot, write a lot, and read a lot. There are plenty of additional business-type concerns, of course (and very few people make a full-time living as travel writers), but that will at least get you started. So: go vagabonding, keep vagabonding, write every day (be it articles or story notes or journal entries), and read as many good books and articles as you can get your hands on. I have more comprehensive advice online in the Writers section of my personal website. But don't just take my word for it. I've also interviewed close to 30 other travel writers over the last three years (including the likes of Simon Winchester, Holly Morris, Jeff Greenwald, and Pico Iyer), and those Q&A's can be found at the Profiles page. Don't just read the interviews with the big-time writers, either the lesser-known freelancers, guidebook writers, and travel editors that I've interviewed offer insights that are just as meaningful and useful as the famous people's advice. |
| I want to go vagabonding when I finish college (in two years), but I'm afraid all my student loans will make it impossible. Should I take a year off and travel now? Or should I finish school and deal with the loans later?
S.C., San Francisco
| First off, I'll say that student loans aren't my area of expertise. Whatever you choose to do, make sure you're familiar with the conditions of your particular loan, since different rules apply to different loans. For example, taking a year off doesn't necessarily mean that your loan is put on pause; you might have to start paying it back immediately if you aren't literally taking classes. So, a conservative part of me wants to tell you to finish college before you go vagabonding ("stay in school!" don't I sound like an celebrity athlete?). This is because, quite simply, it's good discipline to finish what you start. There may actually be more vivid lessons to learn on the road, but college can help you learn how to learn and that's important. So, assuming that you finish college first, there are several ways to deal with your loans after graduation. For starters, many people manage to get a one-year deferment and use that time for travel (again, this will depend on the type of loan). A popular deferment for aspiring vagabonders is the Peace Corps. Not only can you defer your student loans while you're working for the Peace Corps, you'll learn more about life overseas in the process than you'd ever imagined. Here in Asia, it seems that every second American vagabonder I meet has Peace Corps experience. Check the Peace Corps website for more information. While we're speaking of overseas work, I'm going to give you some subjective advice and recommend that you pay off your loans after college by getting a regular overseas job. Check with your campus career guidance office for details (if you haven't already read chapters 2 and 9 of my book) it's amazing how many work opportunities are out there for people brave enough to go abroad after college. Teaching English is a particularly common post-college overseas job; I taught EFL in Korea for two years, myself. Whatever overseas work you find to pay off your loans, you'll learn plenty about non-American life in the process. And those lessons will give you a big boost when, free from debt, you finally get to strike out on the vagabonding road. |
| I'm planning an around-the-world vagabonding trip beginning in February or March. I'm thinking of just getting a one-way ticket to my first stop (say, India). Is it going to cost me much more by planning as I go and not getting a round-the-world ticket? I plan to spend about a year on the road. Suggestions?
| Getting a one-way ticket to your first destination (and leap-frogging by land and air from there) is definitely the best way to go. People tend to worry unnecessarily about flight arrangements and the flexibility that comes with an open-ended itinerary is always the best way to allow for discovery. I've met too many people on the road who would love to alter their travel plans after they've found wonderful new people and places but are bound to the restrictions of their pre-planned and/or RTW tickets. One note: keep in mind that sometimes one-way tickets are more expensive than round-trip tickets. If this is the case, the most logical thing to do is to just buy a round-trip ticket and not use the second half (which is not particularly kosher with airline policy, but I've never known this to be a problem in practice). As for your initial destination, the simplest way to choose it is by price. From the U.S. West Coast, Bangkok is a popular entry city to Asia though sometimes Hong Kong, Singapore or Kuala Lumpur can be cheaper (with enough advance planning, you need never pay more than $600 to get to Asia). Of course, this is where you'll need to do your research and compare prices and destinations (both one-way and round-trip) with Internet travel services such as Travelocity or Expedia. You might also check with ethnic travel agents in your local community (Indian and Chinese travel agents, for example, know the best deals back to their homelands), or keep an eye out for consolidator tickets advertised in big newspapers like the LA Times. Ultimately, try not to stress too much about flight arrangements, since the most memorable parts of your travels will happen on the ground! Good luck!! |
| I recently read that it's possible to travel from country to country as a passenger on cargo ships. Do you have any kind of advice for catching a freighter, or is it only for crazy adventure type people?
Suzanne, Loveland, CO
| Catching a ride on a cargo ship is not just for crazy adventure-type people. In fact, the accommodations are much more comfortable than your average day on the vagabonding road. I took a freighter from the Suez to Bombay in 2000, and had a great time. It took about 15 days. I had a nice cabin, the food was fantastic, and the crew was very entertaining (I was the only non-crew passenger onboard). I got to travel through the Suez Canal, the Red Sea, and the Arabian Sea and we stopped at one Saudi and two Yemeni ports (though I couldn't wander past the port without a visa). There was even a pool and a gym onboard neither was of good quality, but I used them anyway. The caveat is that it was not cheap. It is a myth that you can hitch international freighters like you might hitch rides on the side of the road. My freighter, which was on the cheap side, cost about $60 a day (when added up, that's about three times as much as an air ticket would have cost to travel the same distance though this did include full room and board for two weeks). This said, however, it was a great value, as the accommodations were first-rate, the feeling of being at sea was exhilarating, and the experience was completely unique. Riding a cargo ship is not always non-stop entertainment (although staring out at the sea can be bewitching), so bring plenty of books. And, unless you really like being at sea, don't plan a trip of more than two weeks or so. Do a basic Google search to start researching and comparing freighter booking agents and trip options. |