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Vagabond Journey Early Travels

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I was asked by a reader named Amanda to write about my travels from the time when I set foot off of the farm in 1999 until the time that I really began publishing on Song of the Open Road in May of 2007. This is a long story, not only in time or distance traveled, but in my own development. I have to strain to see the kid I was a decade ago in the person that I am now. I am still here, I know this, I am still the same man, but the Road has worn a map into my face that is difficult to trace back to its origins.

I do not mean to provide a fool proof text of where I was or what I was doing for the eight years between 1999 and 2007. Rather, I would just like to give a light impression of how I set out, and found a way to keep, traveling.

Wade traveling by train in India in 2005


So lets start out with this:

Nine years ago in June, after being booted out of high school a few months previously, I set out to travel a bit around the eastern and mid-western USA in a beat up old van, playing music to unsuspecting audiences for gas money. Well, at least music is what we called it. Noise is probably a little better description of what we were actually making. So Erik the Pilot, myself, and Sean Dreg went for a ride about the USA making noise where ever and whenever people wished to hear it. All too often they regretted the decision to let us play immediately after we plugged in out guitars. We were punk rockers – we had mohawks, we had leather coats, and, worst of all, we had ideas. We fashioned ourselves to be politicos, wore anarchy A’s, and thought that we could fix the world. Perhaps our intention was to make people realize that no world problem could be all that bad when compared against our music. Our noise probably sounded like some manner of colossal invasion. Erik played the tanks, Sean the took care of the air-strikes, and I screamed orders over the blow horn. We thought that we were for real. I did not know then that I was just having fun.

We played a Turkish brothel in the backwoods of Connecticut, and the owner traded us a meal of falafel for us to stop playing, we were hungry so we obliged; we played an empty bowling alley in the middle of some auto-park town in Illinois, and the crowed was made up of only a single, dancing teenager; and we were a hit in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where we formally met the timber punks. I was young, I was with friends, and I somehow found my knack for getting myself into humorous situations: like being chase around the woods of Connecticut by a crazed redneck who did not appreciate me kissing on his little sister.

“Where is Wade?”

“Oh, I think he is being killed by that guy over there.”

I was. Nearly every town in those days required a fast get away.

Stubbs, one of my best traveling companions ever, in Thailand


These little adventures, this constant excitement, showed me that travel would be much like I imagined it to be as a kid who had a perilous habit of dreaming his way across the seas from the fields and orchards of Upstate, NY. My teachers would yell at me, I always had a stack of undone homework, and my parents could not understand why I refused to apply myself in school. But I was too busy day dreaming for any of this to matter. I always figured that I would just travel around the world, without penny or care. My mother gave me too many maps to gaze at and adventure stories to read, for the notion of being a traveler not to have set in. Kids who stare into maps do not grow up to be cowboys, or highway workers, or office goons: we become travelers.

I can remember once I was riding around my little home town in the car of Erik the Pilot just prior to our high school graduation ceremony:

“What are you going to do?” he asked me rather seriously. This was a conversation about the rest of our lives and he did not take kindly to the fact that I just replied with a big, “I am just going to travel around and do whatever I want.” I had never really thought about doing much else. I am still unsure as to whether I lacked ambition in those days, or had too much of it. But, at any rate, Erik the Pilot essentially flipped out on me for my curt seeming answer, and went into a diatribe about how he was going to be a pilot. It is kind of funny for me to think about it now, because I did just travel around, doing whatever I want, and he really did become a pilot. I suppose we both really knew what we wanted to do.

After we returned from out little noise making tour about the USA, I promptly took off down to Southern Florida. I had a thing for science and herpetology back then, and I really enjoyed running around in the woods catching snakes. So, after opening a book of university listings and putting my finger randomly down on a page, I discovered myself down at Florida Atlantic University studying biology.

A young me getting my photo in a Nepali newspaper for some unknown reason


The university biology studies did not last too long, as a met in girl in that class which depleted my herpetological ambitions in full. I became much more interested in Human Biology and tested my theories in practice. I am of the opinion now that I got a little too close to these studies for my own good, as I ended up with a pregnant girlfriend. I seem to have learned all too well about meiosis and mitosis for comfort, and I soon had to ax my whole romance with biology and take a bus across country to Connecticut.

Why Connecticut? How should I know? But I had a friend who had an empty apartment there with no one to fill it. So I moved right in and slept in a spare room for three months. I worked my first job as a Blimpies sandwich technician, or, more precisely, a fast-food stiff. I also spent a lot of time alone in the woods and in libraries. From here, I knew that I needed to get out.

Get out of the USA.

I stumbled across Harry Franck’s A Vagabond Journey Around the World one day while browsing through the shelves of Central Connecticut State University’s library and it change my life. I can still remember my intuitive urge to look down towards the bottom of the shelf and how brightly the yellow words Vagabond Journey Around the World shined out to me from their position along the spine of a very antique and seldom read book. This was exactly what I was looking for. I read this book with great relish, and I have kept a copy of it in my rucksack to this day. From Vagabond Journey I found that a person really can travel the world without money, plan, or hesitation, and I knew more than ever that this is what I wanted to do.

So in a rash series of movements, I found myself first back in Florida and then in Ecuador.

Ecuador blew my mind. The country and the experience was what I wanted and needed. I knew then that I would not do anything else that did not require traveling. I enrolled in an archaeology field school, and spent the next month and a half excavating on the Manabi coast. From this vantage point I was able to travel around Ecuador and I really began to discover what traveling was like and the how to be a traveler. I met many backpackers in the hostels who schooled me well from simply talking and sharing traveler tales within earshot of me. I have always had big ears, and knew when to listen. I was by now firmly set on the path that continue traveling to this day. This was in the summer of 2000. I was 19 years old.

In the spring of 2001 I began doing archaeology professionally in the USA, and this work enabled me to make money while traveling at the same time. That year I worked in New York, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Wyoming, and Pennsylvania, and by autumn I had more than enough money to again go traveling around South America.

So that is what I did for the next half a year. Then I returned to the USA, worked some more in New York and North Carolina, and then went to Patagonia for another half a year.

After Patagonia, I returned to the USA for a few months before going to Ireland, where I found a job as a gardener. I knew nothing then, and I still know nothing now, about gardening. I also worked for a crabby, soggy old Irish women. But it paid, and I made enough bean money to hitch-hike all around Ireland and make it to France and then Spain. On mainland Europe my money dried up pretty quickly. So, broke and without the will to look for a job, I went to London and, after a little while, the USA.

Now back in the USA, I decided that I was going to be a backwoods man and headed up into the Adirondack North Country. This was beautiful. For three months I just walked around in the mountains and tried to figure out how to tan hides and hunt deer and fish. I soon realized that, even though I grew up out way out in the countryside of Upstate NY, that I was not yet a backwoods man.

So I packed it all in and went to Japan on a grant from the Freeman Asia foundation. I got really into Buddhism, and found myself walking and hitch-hiking around Japan rather than completing the work for the grant. I learned here that sometimes there are responsibilities outside of what is considered responsible. I needed to do what I did, I needed to learn what I learned. So I traveled the 88 temple pilgrimage on Shikoku Island, discovered get ways to take free rides on the Japanese railways, how to use the “station hotel,” and that Japan is one of the best countries in the world for tramping. I traveled in Japan for four months not spending more than $15 a day. This set my wheels a turning. Could I keep doing this? Could I just keep traveling by any-means-necessary?

Traveling by boat in China in the spring of 2006.


The next year I found myself traveling with Stubbs from Hong Kong across southern China, down into Southeast Asia, and eventually making it to India. This is where my traveling habits, and my love for Asia, really set it.

The next year I returned to China to learn to speak Chinese. I based myself in Hangzhou at Zhejiang University, and went traveling out in Qinghai province and western China whenever I had the opportunity. I also fell into studying Chinese Medicine and continued my studies of Oriental poetry, which were a left-over passion from my Japan days.

By summer time I was ready to return west and met up with Erik the Pilot, who was studying how to party in Costa Rica. This is where I met Mira for the first time. Erik and I then traveled through Nicaragua and a little in Honduras before we had to return to the USA so that Erik could get some much needed medical attention.

My wheels were spinning full speed at this point, and I kept on the Road by working a few archaeology jobs in the east. I met Mira again at her mother’s home in Philadelphia and we paired up quickly.

We both returned to school and went to study in India. Mira and I were based in Bangalore and found the city to be the definition of awful. Give me Calcutta, give me Delhi, or give me Bombay, but I will not ever commit to staying in Bangalore ever again. It is the worst place in the world that I have ever tried to stay. But there was ample opportunity to get out of Bangalore, and I found great joy in traveling in the south Indian country side as well as the Rajasthan.

Mira and I then returned to China and I won a big grant from the Gilman foundation to continue studying Chinese. So I went back to Zhejiang University and studied all day long for the next five months. Finally, my resolve broke, and we took off towards the north and traveled through Qingdao and visited Beijing. Mira went home from Beijing and I continued north to Mongolia. In Ulaanbaatar I met Loren Everly and he talked me into returning to China for a great hitch-hiking endeavor. I happily accepted and we found ourselves returning to the Middle Kingdom by train across the golden Gobi Desert. Loren and I then hitch-hiked across China and split up along the way. I then stopped back in to Hangzhou, and put some things in storage. Hangzhou is one of the places where I hang my hat.

We are now caught up to where Song of the Open Road starts off. I had been writing this travel blog from time to time since I was in Japan in 2004, but did not do so with any regularity until the spring of 2007.

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About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 76 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3053 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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Wade Shepard is currently in: Cincinnati, Ohio, USAMap