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The Working Ugly

The Working Ugly — It has been well documented that the writer V.S. Naipaul is quite proud of the fact that he has never work a day in his life outside of writing. This fact is written in the author bios of his books, successful writers tout him for it, those with day jobs snarl. [...]

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The Working Ugly —

It has been well documented that the writer V.S. Naipaul is quite proud of the fact that he has never work a day in his life outside of writing. This fact is written in the author bios of his books, successful writers tout him for it, those with day jobs snarl. He would say something to the effect of “I never wanted to interact with people in that way.”

Nobody wants to interact with people in this way.

But perhaps he is correct: interacting with people in a dichotomy where everyone is  selling the time of their life in common bondage is perhaps a sad way to socialize.


Payson, Arizona, Southwest USA, North America
Monday, November 16, 2009
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On the other hand, to sell yourself in the common bondage of work is to meet people you would not otherwise meet, and to experience a twist of life that you could not otherwise ride.

Working jobs that have nothing to do with writing is good for the writer. Writing is a one way path: it comes in through experience, stimulation, and observation, it goes out in the form of written words. To sit still — alone in an empty room — is to kink the intake hose of this stimulation: the raw materials, the word-stuff, of writing.

So I work, I travel, I find myself worn out and weary by the end of the day, but I earn the word-stuff to write yet another entry into this travelogue. Perhaps the written word must be worked for, perhaps the word-stuff does not offer up its spoils without an offering of blood, sweat, and drool. Perhaps it should hurt to type out the merry words to a merry tale.


This summer in Maine I worked on a farm. I put in three months of servitude to the plow and the grain to make up the funds to travel with my wife and baby. I reveled in the seeming irony of working my days away in the most metaphorical of sedentary trades in order to find my itinerant wings (read Travel and Work on Farms)

One day, I am driving home to Bangor after a long day of shoveling shit, planting seeds, and weeding fields by hand. I sink down deep into the driver’s seat of my car, trying to move my limbs the least amount possible while still maintaining control of the vehicle — my right arm was slung over the steering wheel and the left propped up my head with the elbow stuffed into the armrest protruding from the driver side door. I stop at one, two, three, four, every damn stop light in the entire friggin’ city of Bangor. Stoplights are perpetually red while on the way home from work.

The light is still red. My hand hangs over the steering wheel with my wrist being the only point of contact. I look at my dangling fingers in front of me. They dangle. I watch cars drive through the intersection perpendicular to my path of travel. The cars stop coming. The light is still red. Why the f’ck is the light still red? Nothing is coming. I continue watching nothing come.

The light is still red. The farm dirt all over my body grinds between the creases in my skin, some of it turns sticky with sweat and beads into little ponds of body sludge. My dirty clothes irritate my skin. I am itchy. The dirt in between my socks and feet beg for my attention. They feel itchy, too. The light is still red.

I look in my rear view mirror. There is a lady alone in the car behind me. I watch her. Pursed lips and heavy eyelids and a wobbly head tell me that she, too, is returning home from work. She looked to be deep into her second decade of bondage and servitude. She looked very ugly.

She probably felt the same as me — sitting at every red light in Bangor wondering why she is reaping this carnage upon her life (the only one she has) for five days a week until she either croaks or is too old to know that she is alive.

Did I say that she looked very ugly?

It was then that I realized that I probably looked as ugly as her. I stuck my head a little ways out the driver’s side window and looked into the side view mirror. I did look ugly.

I quit my job that night. I didn’t want to be that ugly ever again.

I thought that I would take two weeks without formal work to just publish on Vagabond Journey before traveling out of Maine and taking on another season of archaeology field work.

The very next day I get an email: Come to Arizona right now, work, make money, do archaeology.

I went to Arizona. I worked. I made money.

I feel ugly again. I stare into a computer screen and force the words to go up onto the blank blast of white that stares me in the face. My weariness from working is stepping in front of what I love to do — too much work perhaps impedes the flow of the word-stuff as much as too little. I force my way through another travelogue entry and go to sleep way too late at night to rise the next morning at 5:30 AM to begin the cycle all over again.


The archaeology fieldwork with the company that I have been working with in Arizona is beginning to fizzle out. Two more weeks. Though two more weeks is one month too soon. Even though I have worked formal jobs more this year than I ever have before, and even though I can friggin’ taste the sweet flavors of traveling without working, I want to keep this working until Christmas.

If I can work until Christmas I will have enough money to travel with my family for the next year. The end of November seems a little too soon. I am making up the traveling funds for three now.

I am feeling ugly, but even an ugly old cuss still needs to show his face to the world each day — eating just to be hungry, working to make just enough money to work some more.

I will work through my weariness. I will look for another job in another town, travel there, and commit myself to the bondage of another archaeology project.

And the curtains before the traveling stage will then open up wide: Chaya, Wade, and Petra will have the entire world before them, and enough money to get them there.


Unless granted with more expedient means, work is necessary for travel. If I can find ways to work on the Road then I can travel perpetually. For ten years I have found ways to work while traveling — by any means necessary.

I often receive emails from readers asking how to travel perpetually. There is only one answer: work while traveling, travel in search of work. A three month job here, a few weeks there, trading labor for room and board is enough to get you across the world. And, yes, if you are frugal and don’t spew your earnings all over a bar tab, I am quite sure that the periods of traveling “in search of work” will always be far longer than the periods of being employed.

The legend of the penniless wander is a myth, the traveler with empty pockets is one in search of work.

I know this. I want to travel, so I work.

Though as I stumble through the last hour of a ten hour day of work, the life of the working ugly is no longer very appealing. I often think of V.S. Naipaul. I must admit that I still dream of the day when I will be able to write my way around the world.

The day when my work will be for me alone.

The day when VagabondJourney.com grosses $30 a day.

Vagabond Journey on travel work
[seriesposts orderby=date name=”Travel work” ]


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Filed under: Make Money for Travel, USA, Vagabond Journey Updates, Work

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3719 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

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