Grant Lingel is a talented author who embodies the Twenty-Something Travel philosophy. Leaving college just 7 credits short of a degree, Grant moved to Mexico with nothing but a plane ticket and $300 in his pocket. The resulting adventures through Mexico and Central America are described in his new book Imagine: A Vagabond Story .
Despite the dreamy title, you won’t find a ton of emotional platitudes about self-discovery here. Grant concentrates on reliably and honestly recounting his adventures working for a resort in Playa Del Carmen, road-tripping through Belize and Guatemala and partying with locals and travelers alike. His style is engaging and honest, even as he delves into unseemly stories of sex and drugs. It’s a fun read and will inspire anyone to start considering his or her own vagabond plans.
Grant was kind enough to answer some of my questions regarding his experiences and his book:
For those who haven’t read the book yet, could you explain what led you to Mexico?
A friend of mine from college had moved to Mexico and started working at a beach resort running beachside/pool activities. I spoke with her during my last semester of college and after hearing her enthusiasm and excitement about her new job, I was instantly intrigued. I ran the idea through my head countless times, told friends and family it was an option, and finally decided if I didn’t jump on the opportunity immediately, I’d be beating myself up for the rest of my life, not knowing what could have happened.
In what ways were things in Central America as you expected and in what ways were they different?
I can honestly say I didn’t have too many expectations. I knew it would be warm and beautiful, but beyond that I kept expectations to a minimum. I was blown away by how happy, friendly and loving the people in Central America were and how welcome I felt from day one. The beauty of the landscape, the people, and the culture all pleasantly surpassed the few expectations I had.
It seems like a major component of your travel adventure was meeting many people from all walks of life. How was this an important part of your travel experience?
This was by far the most important aspect of my travels. Clearly, where you go is important but the people you spend your time with can really make or break a trip. I told myself from the beginning that I was going to be as open-minded as possible and that I would be up for almost anything. Having this attitude made it possible for me to end up joining a van full of strangers heading south in a van from Playa del Carmen, Mexico to Antigua, Guatemala. Joining those guys introduced me to a very comfortable world, a place where open eyes and the right attitude can bring you anywhere with anyone and make it an experience that will last a lifetime.
My travel philosophy has evolved from ‘I go to Florida every year’ to ‘I don’t want to do anything but travel.’ Before this trip, my travels were few and far between. Now all I can think about is the open road. My travels definitely helped me grow into a more worldly person, more curious about the people and places that make up this great rock than ever before. I am forever grateful for acquiring this hunger for the road.
What was going home like? In what ways has going abroad affected your current life (for better or worse)?
At first, it was tough… very tough. I had an extremely hard time adjusting to things back home after having such a new and different freedom while abroad. I had a very hard time finding a way to vent about my trip because the last thing I wanted to do once I got home was drive everyone nuts talking about my adventures. That’s part of the reason I wrote my book, as a way to cope with being home while my mind was still on the beach in Mexico and in the jungles of Guatemala. My travels have affected my current life in the best of ways because they have taken me down a new and beautiful path that I never would have embarked upon had I not gone in the first place.
In your book you mention that travel is “like a drug,” which leads you from Mexico to Belize and Guatemala and finally to Spain. How are you incorporating travel into your current life?
Even though I am grounded right now in New York City, travel still plays a large role in my life. If it’s not planning future trips or reading about amazing places, it’s interacting with the countless people in NYC from all over the world and learning as much as I can about other cultures, languages and ideas. I have had some part-time work in hostels as a way to stay close with the sub-culture of nomadic backpackers I fell in love with on the road, and as a way to stay connected to the backpacking life, even if at the moment my pack is empty in the closet.
At the end of your book you write about your compulsion to write down and share your experiences. What are you hoping people will take from your story?
I really want people to finish my book and say, ‘Hey, I can do that!’ And I don’t necessarily mean go to Mexico, Belize or Guatemala. And I don’t mean work at a resort or do a lot of drugs or have a lot of sex. I want people to realize that with the right attitude and mindset, it is possible to do almost anything. I also want people to see that it doesn’t take years of planning and a fat wallet to do something like this either. I left with $300, a one-way ticket and a bag full of clothes. I want people to learn that it is okay to step outside their comfort zone every once in a while and it is okay to be a little different than the ‘norm’ and go against the grain from time to time. It is a big and beautiful world out there and most people don’t realize how welcoming it really is.
What advice would you give to others considering a vagabond adventure of their own?
The most important thing I can tell anyone planning on being a vagabond is to keep an open mind. Nothing is more important than that.