Interview with Vagabondish

Interview with Vagabondish

Mike Richard, founder of the popular travel website Vagabondish. com is one of the most interesting and weltraveled bloggers we’ve ever met. Here is his story

Please tell us more about Vagabondish.com… when did you start it and why?
It began as a labor of love. I was working a lucrative corporate gig as the Creative Director for a web development company. I loved my work but was growing tired of the daily “grind”.

In 2006, I started Vagabondish.com purely as a personal blog using WordPress. Believe it or not, this was even before the days of YouTube and Twitter. The term “blog” was not part of the mainstream lexicon. At the time, my site focused purely on random tidbits of travel-related things that interested me – news items, travel gear, inspiring photos, etc.

In 2008, I decided to have a go at turning the site commercial with a flashy design (very similar to the current design). I transformed it from a personal blog into a group-written travel magazine. I hired a couple of writers and made a big to-do about the new direction of the site.

Almost immediately, people gravitated towards it. Traffic went up, I started getting a few e-mails a day, then 20, then 50. Advertisers were literally filling my inbox. Before I knew it, it was a full-fledged business.

Does the site make enough money to live off of and support your travels, or is it more just for fun?
Fortunately it does turn a profit – enough so that I quit my aforementioned career in 2010. I work harder every day and earn less now than I ever did in Corporate America, but I haven’t looked back. Leaving the “9-to-5” was the best life decision I ever made!

Your site has been voted one of the most helpful travel websites on the web. What sort of information can travelers find on your site?
That’s always flattering to hear. Reading e-mails from fans who’ve been inspired by Vagabondish.com is still one of the greatest feelings in the world.

The site’s always been very offbeat with a healthy dose of sarcasm and tongue-in-cheek humor. As testament to the fact we don’t take ourselves too seriously, our tagline is “Essentials & ephemera for the curious traveler”. Readers can expect to find solid tips & advice that apply to almost all types of travel – form backpacking to midrange budget to luxury. We also post daily updates on the latest quirky bits of travel news and goings-on around the world.

You must have heard and seen some crazy things in your travels – can you tell us your most outlandish experience?
It’s actually a story I haven’t told publicly before. I can’t say where or when for a number of reasons that I can’t get into …

But it was a diving trip to experience Great White Sharks in their natural habitat. In this particular case, we were diving a hookah setup which just means that, instead of standard scuba tanks, 40-foot oxygen hoses are run from the boat down to our dive cages. It provides the divers with a single, constant supply of air. On our second-to-last day out, we encountered a particularly curious shark. Over the course of the day, with each successive dive, he grew increasingly curious – swimming in tighter and tighter circles around our cage. The photos and video we snapped from inside the cages were just phenomenal.

As the last dive of the day was ending, we began our slow ascent up to the ship. He followed our cage to the surface – again swimming in tighter and tighter circles still as if he just couldn’t get close enough. His movements never appeared violent or aggressive however. Ten feet from the surface, with the boat still reeling in the chain to pull us up, something evidently snapped in the shark’s brain. He jerked violently back towards us and bit down hard on the coil of oxygen hoses just above our cage, effectively severing our only supply of air.

I watched all of this in what felt like slow motion mere feet away from him. All I could think was: “I’m trapped underwater, beneath a thrashing 15-foot shark, and I won’t be able to breathe in 3 … 2 … I’m out of air!”

Trying to breathe through a dive regulator with no air flow is like sucking hard through a straw with your finger on one end. There’s just *nothing*. Fortunately, the ship stocks the cages with backup air tanks in case something like this happens. UNfortunately, I put two of the regulators in my mouth and neither worked. Without looking up, I had no idea if the shark was still right above us but I was out of air and options. I dove hard up the ladder, out of the water, and onto the ship. Two hands immediately grabbed me and pulled me out.

It was chaos on the boat – everyone was shouting and I couldn’t see anything. It was like somebody was shining a flood light in my eyes. I made it out of the water a little disoriented but, to my surprise, I was laughing about the whole thing right away.

The crew spent the rest of the day patching the hookah system back together and, much to our surprise, was able to get everything working again.

Looking back, I realize it was one of the closest near-death experiences I’ve ever had. These days, I’m very selective about how much of my travel plans I share with my mother.

Oh my gosh – that is crazy!! Thanks for sharing it with us. What’s your favorite place to visit?
This is a tough one. I would say Ireland for the people – they’re staggeringly friendly. Having grown up in New England – where the locals are very reserved and keep to themselves – if a stranger starts paying a bit too much attention to you, you assume they want or are selling something. So visiting Ireland was eye-opening for me – some of the most welcoming folks in the world. For the scenery and breathtaking landscape, I’d vote Alaska/British Columbia. It’s massive, beautiful and calming. As a hiker and outdoor lover, few places I’ve visited resonated with me as much as northwestern America.

Favorite thing to write about?
I’m a nerd at heart so I love travel gear – backpacks, mobile apps, ways to pack better and the like. These days, I mainly write for our Modern Vagabond column which reviews and discusses better ways to travel through technology. It’s always been a passion of mine and there’s always some new travel gadget to ogle!

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