All posts by Vago Damitio

Vago Damitio  (@vagodamitio) is the Editor-in-Chief for Vagobond. He jumped ship from a sinking dotcom in 2000 and decided to reclaim his most valuable commodity, time. He bought a VW bus for $100, moved into it and set out on a journey to show the world that it was possible to live life on your own terms. That journey took him from waking up under icy blankets in  the Pacific Northwest to waking up under palm tress in Southeast Asia. Three years later, his first book, Rough Living: Tips and Tales of a Vagabond was published. After diving into the Anthropology of Tourism and Electronic Anthropology at the University of Hawaii (with undeclared minors in film and surf) he hit the road again in 2008. Since that time,he's lived primarily in Morocco and Turkey, married a Moroccan girl he couchsurfed with, and become a proud father. He's been to more than 40 countries, founded a successful online travel magazine (this one!), and still doesn't have a boss. Life is good. You can also find him on Google+ and at Facebook
Stock broker turned travel journalist

Extraordinary Vagabond Stock Broker – Steve Jermanok

Great travel writers of the worldWhen you visit Steve Jermanok’s website, on the front page, you find this description:

An insatiable curiosity coupled with a passion for people, places, culture, and history has compelled me to visit the far-flung corners of the globe in search of answers. Or kept me planted in my desk chair for weeks delving into the far from obvious insecurities a protagonist must overcome to reach his or her dreams. Seeking clarity in a calamitous world is the job of the writer. Thanks for checking in.

The words are fitting for the man. Understated, interesting and filled with the promise of adventure. Steve was a stock broker until the mid-1990′s when he realized it was a dead end job (literally as he saw a man fall past his high rise window to his death) and then embarked upon a new career as a travel journalist. Since then he has written hundreds of articles, visited more than 60 countries, authored guidebooks, key noted tourism conventions and lectured at universities.  My interview with Steve Jermanok made me feel both humbled and refueled with a lust for new adventures. I hope you enjoy it too.


Vagobond: I love the story of how you became a travel writer. As another guy who was once a stock broker and gave it up to be a penniless writer in Hawaii – your story of sudden realization about the life sucking nature of the corporate world and then your decision to leave it strike me as nothing short of awesome. Can you tell Vagobond readers about it? Was it the best decision of your life?

Steve Jermanok: The late 80s was a time of excess in New York. I’d often go down to Wall Street for business lunches and we wouldn’t leave the restaurant until 8 or 9 pm in the evening. When my boss started getting into coke, coming back from the bathroom with a white line on his lip, I knew that I had to get out of there or I’d probably be dead before I was 30. I booked a flight on Air New Zealand, stopping at 12 different stops on the way to Sydney and never looked back. I was fortunate to get my midlife crisis over at 25. I think they actually call it a quarter-life crisis these days.


Stock broker turned travel journalistVagobond: You’ve written a huge number of travel articles for a wide variety of publications – which articles stand out the clearest in your memory?

Steve Jermanok: Ask me to remember the pearly white sands of a Hawaiian beach, a sunset in Santorini, or a hot-air balloon ride over the Masai Mara and I would have a hard time. It’s the mishaps that you remember vividly. In the late 90s, I was asked by Men’s Journal magazine to hike a portion of the Desert Trail, a trail that snakes from Mexico in the south to Oregon in the north, with one of its founders. I chose a five-day trek through the Mojave Desert on the California/Nevada border. I had to backpack in with over 40 pounds of water, food, tent, and sleeping bag. It didn’t help that I borrowed a former WWII army pack from my buddy’s father that was digging into my shoulders. I had blisters on my feet by the end of day two. Day three was sweltering, well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. I took out my trusty microcassette recorder to dictate some notes and the tape had melted. That was the last time I used a cassette recorder on a trip. By the end of the trip, I was cramping and couldn’t wait to get back to Vegas, soak in a hot tub, and get on my flight back home. Unfortunately, there was a blizzard back in Boston. I was forced to watch Siegfried and Roy types of shows in Vegas the next four nights.

Vagobond: Are there any articles that you wish you would have written, but haven’t yet? Any that you wish you hadn’t of written?

Steve Jermanok: The articles I love most have a central character, like cocktail writer Wayne Curtis leading me around the bars of New Orleans in search of pre-Prohibition era drinks. When I speak to students studying writing at the universities in Boston, I always note that travel writing has far more in common with fiction than other forms of journalism. You need great characters, sharp dialogue, colorful description of the scenery, and hopefully some humor. That said, there are a lot of great characters around the world I’d like to meet.

The one article I wish I didn’t write was a travel story for The Boston Globe on my favorite swimming holes on Cape Cod. These are coveted ponds that locals didn’t appreciate me divulging. Sure, there are over 300 kettle ponds on the Cape and I was only discussing ten of those beauties, but it was disrespectful of the locals on the Cape who call it home.


Travel Journalist Steve JermanokVagobond: How has the world of the travel writer changed since you began? Can you suggest a couple of positive and a couple of negative?

Steve Jermanok: When I started in travel writing, I would type up a pitch letter and send it with a self-addressed stamp envelope to a publisher. Then I would head to the mailbox and pick up my stack of rejection letters each day. For some masochistic reason, I still have a thick file of rejection letters and pass them around to journalism students who think they want to give freelance writing a shot. You need to develop a tough hide and not be so sensitive about rejection.

These days, I pitch my editors via email and wait for a response. What I love about travel writing currently is the ability to write about anything I want via a blog or tweet. I find it incredibly liberating, not having to wait for an editor to say yea or nay to write about a subject that interests me. I also just jumped into travel consulting with my wife, an accredited travel agent. That way, if people in this new world of A.D.D. don’t have the time to read my stories, I can still point them in the right direction. This stems from a trip to the Marquesas Islands in French Polynesia. I had just returned from a freighter cruise trip on the Aranui, spending two glorious weeks looking in awe at these verdant and jagged islands that rise precipitously from the ocean waters. So incredibly picturesque are these islands that Herman Melville jumped ship here and wrote his first novel and Paul Gauguin would live out his final days in Eden. Just before I left French Polynesia, I met this honeymoon couple in the citified island of Tahiti who had just spent their past week at an overpriced hotel. I felt like smacking them. Instead, I’m now helping people avoid that mistake.

Vagobond: More than 60 countries since you left that Manhattan office – do you have any favorites? What about least favorite destinations?

Steve Jermanok: Just like my favorite stories revolve around intriguing characters, my favorite places in the world contain locals that are incredibly welcoming (so why, you ask, do I live in Boston where people refer to the local drivers as Massholes). In Fiji, where in the days of yore they dined on my ancestors, I’ve had a Fijian chief cook me a feast at his hut and serve the numbing kava drink. I’ve returned to Kenya often, first wanting to see the animals on safari, now wanting to visit friends I’ve made in Nairobi. New Zealanders not only picked me up when I was hitchhiking, but then took me to their homes for dinner and a night’s sleep. In Israel, I loved having hummus and fool with taxi drivers in the old Jaffa section of Tel Aviv. In Bali, I was fortunate to be invited to a funeral and really understand the powerful spirituality that resonates on this island. In Mae Hong San, I smoked opium with a leper, who mentioned that he wasn’t contagious. Those are the memories I cherish.

Vagobond: Tourists and travellers – are they the same thing with different packaging?

Steve Jermanok: I tell travelers that even with a limited amount of time, you can still have an authentic experience. Just leave the shyness and the cool machismo vibe back home. Jump into each culture with a vengeance, tasting the foods, learning their indigenous culture, and yes, meeting the people. Don’t be afraid to travel alone. You’ll meet people from around the world that will be your friends throughout life. After entering a mud hut to meet the many wives of a Maasai warrior on the Tanzania/Kenya border, he asked if I’m on Facebook. Yeah, I said I’m on Facebook. Now he’s a Facebook friend making comments about my mundane life, and I love it. The world’s a far smaller place than you think.



Jack London, extraordinary vagabond, vagobonding

Jack London – Prince of the Tramps, Patron of Vagabonds

Jack London – Prince of the Tramps

For many, all they know about Jack London is that he wrote dog stories. In fact, he did much more than that. Jack London was born January 12, 1876 and his life reads like an adventure novel.

Jack London was a passionate socialist, sometimes drunk and sometimes a prohibitionist, a sailor, a pirate, a gold prospector, a tramp, and of course, all of that makes him a vagabond.

London started out as a poor kid doing wage slavery in San Francisco but borrowed money to buy a boat and became the ‘Prince of the Oyster Pirates” before his boat sank. From there he joined the ‘Fish Patrol’ and then signed onto a schooner which took him to Japan.

Returning to the USA he again became a wage slave and then quit to become a tramp and marched across the country with unionists before getting arrested and thrown in jail for vagrancy.
Jack London, extraordinary vagabond, vagobonding
To me, one of his best books is ‘The Road’ which details this period of his life. It’s also one of the hardest of his books to find.

London returned to San Francisco and attended Berkley before splitting for the gold fields of the Yukon. One would think that he spent a long time there, but six months of suffering was enough and he returned to California where he wrote his most famous books “Call of the Wild” and “White Fang”

London was one of the original members of the Bohemian Club which met in the redwoods and included such figures as Ambrose Bierce and John Muir.

London started making money at writing and bought a ranch in California which became a vagabond camp of sorts from which he became a vehement socialist. (John Barleycorn).
London spent most off his life fighting against wage slavery and lived in London amongst the poorest of the poor. His book The Iron Heel, details some of what he learned and saw in this period.

Later he sank most of his fortune into building a ship called “The Snark” which he and his second wife sailed to Hawaii. When they tried to go further, the ship sank. This part of his life is detailed in Martin Eden.

On his ranch, London became an advocate of sustainable agriculture before most people ever knew what the term meant. He also began to drink more and more, which led to his sinking into awful depressions and ultimately probably to an early death.

Jack London Surfing

London made many trips to Hawaii and was one of the first Californians to take up surfing. He learned the sport from the legendary Duke Kahanamoku! (Incidentally, I once met London’s grandson and great grandson on Kauai and they were typical California surfer dudes.)

Jack London in Underwear

Unfortunately, like many of the men of his day, Jack London had some ignorant racial views. He is often cited as a racist and the truth is that he was, but so was every other white man living at the time. London just happened to write his views and so is often singled out. He wrote some science fiction which is interesting, one is about China taking over the world by population and a war coming as a result. It seems to be a future that is coming to exist.

London died at the young age of forty years old of a morphine overdose. Some say it was suicide, but what is certain is that he was in extreme pain from illness which is why he had the morphine to begin with.

Jack London was an extraordinary vagabond.

If you’d like to write about an extraordinary vagabond, living or dead, past or present just use the contact form to let me know. You can either send me your completed article and I will publish it or you can ask me questions. Here is what I am looking for:
500 + words
An extraordinary vagabond
picture (at least one)
website (if they have one)
about the author (that’s you!)
link to your website (if you have one)
While I can’t pay for your articles, you will receive credit and all stories will be featured on Lonely Planet, Vagobond twitter (5500 followers) and on my Facebook fanpage (1500+ fans). In addition your story will be seen by the many readers of

Kalakaua sails to Japan

Royal Vagabond – King David Kalakaua – The Merrie Monarch

He was a champion of Hawaiian culture, the last King of Hawaii, and is celebrated as the Merrie Monarch – but he also had dreams of a Hawaiian-Japanese empire and was the first monarch to circumnavigate the globe.

He was both a celebrated musician and composer and a dedicated archivist and writer. It was King Kalakaua who first gathered together the Myths and Legends of Hawaii. Friend of Robert Louis Stevenson and Thomas Edison, he was a technology geek, and all around cool guy – King David Kalakaua was one awesome royal vagabond.

He had a passion for music, dancing, parties, and the finest food and drinks during his 54 years and he lived up to the title of  Merrie Monarch. The king’s reign, however, was also marked by tragedy, pain and dark clouds hovering over the Hawaiian kingdom.

Born on November 16, 1836 in Honolulu to High Chief Kahana Kapaakea and the High Chiefess Analea Keohokalole. Per Hawaiian custom, the infant was adopted by the chiefess Haaheo Kaniu, who took him to the court of King Kamehameha III on the island of Maui. When Kalakaua was four, he returned to Oahu to begin his education at the Royal School.

He was fluent in English and Hawaiian when he began to study  law at the age of 16 and by 1856, he was a major on the staff of King Kamehameha IV. He was also been a leader of a political organization known as the Young Hawaiians who used the motto was “Hawaii for the Hawaiians.” At the time, American business interests and missionaries had already subverted the Kingdom and begun the process of making Hawaiians 2nd class citizens.

In December 1872, King Kamehameha V died without having designated an heir and pursuant to Hawaiian law, an election was held to determine his successor.  Kalakaua made his first bid for Hawaii’s throne in 1873. The Hawaiian legislature, comprised largely of native Hawaiians and haoles qualified by wealth or landownership to be either electors or elected representatives in the legislature, was presented with two choices: Kalakaua, who ran on a campaign slogan of “Hawaii for Hawaiians,” a sentiment that did not endear him to the islands’ white power brokers, and William C. Lunalilo.

Lunalilo won easily, but he died a year later, leaving no successor. Another election was held to determine Hawaii’s monarch. Buoyed by the support of the influential Walter Murray Gibson, Kalakaua was victorious in the 1874 election over Queen Emma, widow of Kamehameha IV – the bad feelings from this election lasted throughout the two candidates lifetimes.  Supporters of the queen rioted andKalakaua requested help from American and British warships in the harbor, and the uprising was quelled.

The triumphant Kalakaua toured the islands, stopping in every district to affirm his primary goals. “To the planters, he affirmed that his primary goal was the advance of commerce and agriculture, and that he was about to go in person to the United States to push for a reciprocity treaty. To his own people, he promised renewal of Hawaiian culture and the restoration of their franchise,” wrote Ruth M. Tabrah in Hawaii: A Bicentennial History.In late 1874, Kalakaua sailed to the United States amid much fanfare. In Washington, he negotiated the Reciprocity Treaty of 1875, which eliminated the tariff on sugar and other Hawaiian products. As a result, Hawaii’s sugar industry boomed and the kingdom enjoyed a period of economic prosperity. Ralph Kuykendall reported in The Hawaiian Kingdom that American minister to Hawaii Henry Peirce successfully argued that a treaty with Kalakaua’s kingdom would hold the islands “with hooks of steel in the interests of the United States, and … result finally in their annexation to the United States.”  Kalakaua was the first King to visit the United States.

Upon his return, Kalakaua moved into his palace with his wife, Queen Kapiolani, the granddaughter of King Kaumualii of Kauai. He decided he needed a more luxurious home, however, and had Iolani Palace built at a cost of $350,000—an unheard of sum at the time. It was one of the first buildings in the US to have both electricity and indoor plumbing. Kalakaua’s friend Thomas Edison also came and made the first movies in history of Hawaiians and Oahu.

Many of his ministerial appointments  went to native Hawaiians, a reflection of the king’s consistent loyalty to his core constituency. None of this made him popular with the haole community who loathed both him and  Walter Gibson, Kalakaua’s American premier, whom they viewed as a traitor. Kalakaua’s white opposition grew increasingly frustrated with their lack of power, and their rhetoric grew increasingly bigoted in tone as their anger grew. “Attempts to build a strong political party of opposition ran into the dismal fact that Kalakaua and Gibson controlled too many votes,” wrote Gavan Daws in Shoal of Time: A History of the Hawaiian Islands.  The king though dominated the legislature.

Kalakaua was the first sovereign to circumnavigate the globe and he did it not just once (the first trip in 1881) but twice.  On January 20, 1881 His Majesty David La‘amea Kal?kaua departed Honolulu Harbor aboard the steamship City of Sydney on a nine-month diplomatic mission around the world. The voyage was one part of a strategic plan to achieve greater recognition throughout the world for the Kingdom of Hawai‘i as a legitimate and sovereign nation-state. Many of the American business interests who had backed Kalakaua in his election victory over Queen Emma were now quickly moving towards greater control of the government. The King also witnessed the loss of sovereignty by Native peoples in New Zealand, the Marquesas and elsewhere, highlighting growing imperialism in the Pacific. Kalakaua saw a formal procession of state visits from the King himself, along with the signing of treaties and conventions, as powerful steps in protecting his nation’s sovereignty.

As the ship carrying Kalakaua touched the landing, the Emperor of Japan had his military play Hawai‘i Pono , the anthem the King himself penned seven years prior. At a luncheon at the Imperial Palace on March 14, the Japanese Emperor conferred on Kalakaua the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Chrysanthemum, the highest honor in the Japanese Empire. In a later audience with the Emperor Meiji, Kalakaua proposed an Asiatic Federation to link the two countries, along with others, in mutual support that would attempt to balance British and American dominance. The King sought to further tie the two Nations through a proposed future marriage of the Princess Ka‘iulani and the Japanese Prince Komatsu. Neither of these efforts came to fruition though he was successful in his  decision to welcome increasing numbers of foreigners (especially Chinese and Japanese people) to the islands. In 1883 a government representative delivered a speech in Tokyo in which he declared that “His Majesty Kalakaua believes that the Japanese and Hawaiian spring from one cognate race and this enhances his love for you,” reported Kuykendall. “Hawaii holds out her loving hand and heart to Japan and desires that your people may come and cast in their lots with ours and repeople our Island Home with a race which may blend with ours and produce a new and vigorous nation.” Thousands of Japanese families accepted Kalakaua’s offer, to the chagrin of white landowners and businessmen who feared further loss of influence.

The white landowners were also not very keen on Kalakaua’s plan to grant universal suffrage to women and the poor. Such a move would have made the wealthy white male votes far less significant.

Although Kalakaua’s visit to Japan was one of the trip’s highlights, it was certainly not seen as the only success. On this first circumnavigation of the globe by any monarch, the King of Hawai’i met with leaders of nations that included China, India, Egypt, Italy, Germany, Wales, Belgium, Portugal, Spain and others.

The second trip was an incredible journey that began in 1887 and took King Kalakoua to the Unites States of America, Japan, China, Hong Kong, Siam, Singapore, Malaya, India, Egypt, Rome, London, Belgium, Vienna, Spain, Portugal, France, and back to Hawaii through the United States again. A unique and insightful glimpse into these states and elites at the end of the nineteenth century full of fascinating events, encounters, and stories can be found in Around the World with a King.

Kalakaua sails to JapanThe Hawaiian culture enjoyed a revival under Kalakaua, including hula and chants, surfing and indigenous handicrafts.  In July 1887, however, an organization called the Hawaiian League which was made up of mostly disgruntled American planters and missionaries forcibly took control of the government and presented the king with a new constitution.  Called the “Bayonet Constitution” (for obvious reasons), Kalakaua had no choice but to sign it. The new constitution severely restricted his powers and signaled the end of the monarchy. It also destroyed his dreams of a Hawaiian-Japanese empire in the pacific. When you consider all of these events, it causes one to severely rethink the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Hawaii, after all, was offered to the Japanese but stolen from Kalakaua’s sister and successor Queen Liliokalani by the U.S.  government.

In November 1890,after sailing to California for medical treatment. He died at a hotel in San Francisco on January 20, 1891. His final words were, “Tell my people I tried.”