All posts by vagabrothers

2015 – A Retrospective

2015 has been a great year.  Some people get bummed on New Years.  The freak out by the inexorable passage of time, feeling older. I do not.

For me, the 31st of December is like a viewpoint that suddenly emerges from the covered canopy of a mountain trail.  It is a chance to pause, catch one’s breath, and look backwards at how far we have come.

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Temescal Canyon Hike, looking over Los Angeles

The result is gratitude – thankfulness for both the good as well as the bad, for the lessons we’ve learned and the people we’ve met along the way.  So in this post, I’d like to take the time to thank you personally for supporting Alex and me on our journey.

Making a life from YouTube would not be possible without an audience.  That reality can inadvertently cause creators to conflate their own success with quantifiable numbers – how many views their videos get and how many people subscribe their channel.

It’s easy to obsess about growing the size of your audience or making content that goes viral.  And there were many times in the year when we fell victim to this “status anxiety” so pervasive in our society, using the yardstick of subscribers or channel views to measure ourselves alongside more established creators.

Such thinking is not healthy.  And whenever it struck, Alex and I would ground ourselves by appreciating the people who tune into our channel every week.  Reading comments from viewers who say our channel has helped inspire or inform their own travels reminds us why we do what we do.

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Budapest, Hungary

Even more helpful has been focusing our on energies not on advancing our “careers,” but on perfecting our “craft.”  Each week we have tried to improve the quality of our filmmaking and the strength of our storytelling.  We have aimed to move beyond tired cliches about travel (including the over-used California slang “epic” and “awesome” – guilty!) and really get into what makes each place we visit special.

To that end, we had the priviledge to have gone on some truly unique adventures with you guys.  Let’s recap.

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Winter forest in Finland

We kicked off 2015 with our Winter in Europe series, traveling by train throughout Central Europe in the midst of winter.  The trip was partially inspired by Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, which celebrated the wonderful aesthetic of Bohemia in the winter.

Central Europe is a place where buildings are painting all sorts of bright colors.  They look wonderful all year round, but with the first snows of winter arrive they make the landscape truly pop.  We were on the road for two full months, traveling from Finland to Pilsen, Prague, Budapest, the Austrian Alps, Chamonix, Iceland, Bavaria, Cologne and Berlin.

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Charles Bridge, Prague

We spent spring time exploring a bit of our backyard in California before heading north to the Canadian Heartland to film in Alberta and Saskatchewan.  It was a great chance to see a part of Canada that a lot of visitors miss.

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Dinosaur Provincial Park, Alberta

After VidCon, we were invited on a road trip up the California Coast by Ben Brown, who challenged us to daily vlog the trip.  The resulting seven-video series was a big departure from our normal style and was quite well received by our audience.

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Yosemite National Park with the YouTube Travel Crew

Many encouraged us to continue daily vlogging, however we have no appetite for that lifestyle.  The format is quite popular on YouTube, but it does not suit us.  Our channel is about the places we visit and people we meet, and we didn’t want to shift the focus to ourselves.

Still, we knew we could learn a lot from the experiment at daily vlogging.  For one, we enjoyed letting the videos breathe a more.  Instead of editing three days of travel into a single eight-minute video, we decided to keep the daily vlogging format while traveling.  Secondly, having longer and more numerous videos allowed more of our personalities to come through, which people seemed to enjoy.

We also wanted to take what we could from daily vlogging while keeping our production quality high, so we decided to film each day of the trip but only release two videos a week.   That way, we would still have time to adequately research our upcoming trips and put the effort into the edits that define our signature style.

The result was a new series – a trip through the Nordic capitals exploring New Nordic Cuisine in Copenhagen, Stockholm and Helsinki.

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Rooftop view in Copenhagen

After that shoot wrapped, instead of returning home to California we decided to travel to nearby Estonia to chill out for a few weeks while we worked on the edit.  We got an affordable AirBNB in Tallinn ($350 for a week) and got to know the capital quite well.  It was a cheap and enjoyable way to balance out work/life as digital nomads.

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Hanging out in Tallinn, Estonia

Our last major shoot of the year was a nine-day road trip through Ireland, which produced our second “vlog series”, and a further improvement on this new hybrid style we pioneered.  Both of us stand by the Ireland series as our best work to date.

In the midst of all this, a funny thing happened.  Our audience tripled in size to 69,000 and our channel racked up three million views.  Little by little, more and more people found the channel, liked what they saw, and stuck around for more.  Perhaps you are one of them.

So as 2015 draws to a close, we’d like to thank you once again.   In the last month, we’ve launched a new channel trailer (below), a clothing company, and a brand new website (you’re looking at it!).

We’re happy to be where we are, and excited for what comes in the future.  Thanks for traveling with us this far – we look forward to more adventures in 2016!

Introducing: Vagabond Lifestyle

Today is Thanksgiving in America, and we’ve got something extra special to be thankful for.  After months of hard work, we’re happy to announce that we’ve started a new clothing company called Vagabond Lifestyle.  See the full announcement video here:

The idea is to create a clothing company designed for travelers: comfortable clothing that looks cool and travels well.  As you may know, Vagabrothers comes from the word “Vagabond” – someone who wanders.  So we’re trying to express that in our initial fall line:  _DSC0751Recognize those mugs?  That’s just one of the first three designs we’ve created to kick off the launch.  Check out pics of all the designs below.

We’ve also redesigned this fabulous website, so take a look around.  You now browse our content by destination, topic and by series.  So if you’ve got some time this (holiday) weekend, make sure to catch up on our latest series!

All shirts can be purchased through the webstore in the upper right corner of the website.  Check out and let us know what you think!

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Guest Post: Cuba Libre

This week we have a guest post from our good friend Andrew McGill and his girlfriend Kestrel Jenkins of Falcon Related, who just returned from a two week jaunt across Cuba.  Check out Drew’s photos and Kestrel’s writing below.  – Marko

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“It’s complicated.”

For the people of Cuba, this is life. In a recent adventure across the largest island in the Caribbean, we consistently heard this sentiment. From taxi chauffeurs, park rangers and housing hosts to lifeguards and restaurateurs, the conversations all ended up in the same place: with an acceptance of the complex reality they live.

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Just 90 miles off the Florida coast, Cuba has been disconnected from trade with the U.S. since 1962. After the revolution, the embargo and inefficient agriculture led to regular food shortages. While people today are generally able to bring home enough rice and sugar through Cuba’s rationing “libreta” system, they often have to seek out other foods, especially eggs, milk and meat.

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Food becomes even more complex when you insert the double economy. Cuba functions on two separate currencies. Cuban pesos, or nacionales (MN), are the money of the people. Citizens employed through the government are paid in nacionales. The other coin, largely known as the CUC (convertibles), was created specifically for tourists and initially set to be 1 to 1 with the U.S. dollar. To put the divide into perspective, 1 CUC = 24 pesos (MN).IMG_7987

From afar, Cuba is known for its time warping image: colorful vintage cars, historic buildings, and classic street scenes. While it has all of that, its layers of history and beauty go far beyond.

In a landscape emanating complexity, travel can be just as difficult.

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When we arrived in La Habana, we were abruptly bombarded with hagglers and chaos. In a quick attempt to escape the mayhem and search for a more nature-rich scene, we hopped on the first bus to Baracoa, which sits on the coast on the opposite side of the island.

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22 hours and multiple breakdowns / fixes later, we cruised into the picturesque and isolated beach town of Baracoa. The road that leads into Cuba’s oldest town is windy, narrow and well, mountainous.IMG_8316

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Our caffeine free arrival was met with a gang of bici-taxis ready and raring to capture our bags, and bring us to their family or their friend’s casa particular. Casa particulares are a more recent way that Cubans can start a private enterprise. By renting a room out of their own home, they are able to earn CUCs, an income impossible on a government salary.

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One of the most profound realizations we came to in Cuba was that everyone belongs to one or more “networks”. These webs of interconnectivity help every Cuban connected to that channel capture a chunk of the tourist CUCs spent along their adventure.

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For instance, a taxi driver drops you with another taxi driver who can take you to your next destination. The original taxi driver tells the second taxi driver the location and name of a casa particular in your anticipated destination city. Before you know it, you arrive at the most incredibly welcoming home. A casa particular with an ocean view, a mother and daughter with glowing personalities and some of the most flavorful food you could imagine. It happened in Rancho Luna. And we were beyond grateful.

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Now, this situation can go to the contrary in the blink of an eye. Once you get on a travel avenue, it’s like you’re amidst a relay race. You will be passed along onto someone else – a casa particular, another form of transportation, a restaurant or a guide. Before you know it, you may be in an entirely different place than anticipated, which could be a blessing or extremely frustrating. For us, we realized that when we didn’t like something about the current we got caught in, we set ourselves free entirely, and started fresh with a new race.

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The tourist bus system – the Viazul – was one of those specific avenues we ejected ourselves from. After our initial overnight cross-country ride, we were over the bus scene. The Viazul generally stops at government-run restaurants, which serve buffets complete with bland and overpriced food – establishments overflowing with collections of tourists.

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For us, the bus left us feeling like we had lost our freedom to choose, to explore, to ask questions, and to connect more with the local community. After some early struggles in understanding the culture and way of communicating, I finally threw my inhibitions out the window and decided it was time to barter right back. This attitude and our Spanish-speaking skills allowed us to jump into the taxi trellis, a travel option we found to be more economical for city hopping, and also far more rewarding.

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Colectivos are taxis that travel from city to city on the regular and load up with as many people as possible. It costs pesos for the locals, but if you can speak the language, you can work your way into a seat for a far more reasonable price than the bus. In addition, you’ll have the opportunity to cruise the roads in some pretty insane vintage rides, while having the chance to chat with local travelers crammed into the car beside you.IMG_7277

Some of our most vivid memories are from our cross-country colectivo travels. The extreme green jungle views, the humid breeze blowing through the windows, the squeaks and sounds of the antique cars, the conversations, the questions, the connecting and the smiles.

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What is travel without having the chance to engage with the people? That’s where the true beauty lies.

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Big thanks to our good friend Andrew McGill for sending over these incredible photos and to his girlfriend and partner-in-crime Kestrel Jenkins for writing up this insightful article.  Go check out Drew and Kestrel’s website and give them a follow! 

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