Vago Damitio of Vagobond Online Magazine
Meet Vago Damitio, published author and founder & publisher of the popular Vagobond online travel magazine. Vago has been a world traveler for most of his adult life and was blogging well before most of us even knew travel blogs existed. He’s also written a dozen books on travel & life. Yep, he’s a veteran: writer, traveler and blogger.
After 10 years of blogging, Vago has produced his own online magazine, Vagobond. He has also become somewhat settled, for the time being, in Morocco with his wife and young son.
In this intriguing interview, we find out the differences between travel blogs and travel magazines, peak into Muslim family life, and hear about Vago’s favorites places…
Q1. Your travel site, Vagobond, is an online magazine rather than a travel blog. Could you please distinguish for us what’s the difference?
Vagobond started out as a travel blog. To be honest, I was never very happy having the word blah (as in blah-guh) describing my work, but at the time I began – it was definitely a blog. I was writing mostly from a personal perspective, describing my travels and adventures, I was the only author, and each post was open to commenting.
While there are a lot of definitions for what a blog is – I would say that the primary one is a personal publishing format which allows for reader/author interaction through comments. That described Vagobond until late 2010 when I began paying other writers to write about places I hadn’t been. I began to accept a fair amount of guest posts.
Most importantly, in 2011, I decided to shut down the commenting system. What I saw was that 80% of the comments were self promoting spam, 15% were from people with travel blogs who were both being supportive and self promoting, 4% were from interested strangers, and 1% were from my mom and my ex-girlfriends.
So, three things primarily differentiate Vagobond from a travel blog:
1) No commenting system – you can email or use social media but strictly off site.
2) Vagobond employs professional staff writers and has stringent requirements for guest posts.
3) Vagobond is not about a person in different places – it is about places and the people in them. I’ve published magazines, worked as a managing editor for newspapers, and been a staff writer for a few publications. Vagobond is run like a magazine – the only difference is there’s no paper or ink.
Q2. How long has Vagobond magazine been around?
As an online magazine, Vagobond has been around since late 2010. I bought the domain back in 2009.
Before that I was blogging on a number of different domains. Chrisdamitio.com, Terrorsuspect.com, Existensis.com, going all the way back to Roughliving.blogspot.com in 2003 and even earlier than that, my first attempt at an online magazine Conchsense back in the 1990’s.
So, Vagobond is just a few years old, but it’s like a new church built on Byzantine ruins.
Q3. You mentioned that you personally started blogging way back in 2000, so you obviously have a lot of blogging experience. Why did you decide to shift from a blog format to an online magazine?
I think that social media has made blogs (with commenting on site) irrelevant. And then there’s the evergreen factor. When I was a kid, my grandmother had a lot of National Geographics and the thing about them was that it didn’t matter how old they were – the pictures, the stories, the features – they were still relevant. Pick up a 1920’s National Geographic today and it’s still enjoyable.
I’d like people to check out the archives of Vagobond in 100 years – I think travel blogs tend to be archived and forgotten. One of my goals with Vagobond is to create content that won’t go stale. When I look back at some of my early stuff (when Vagobond was a blog) – it’s already stale. I am rigorously revising and deleting that stuff on a daily basis.
Q4. You make a clear point that while you do work with and support many travel bloggers, the writers you employ for Vagobond are professional journalists, not bloggers. What do you see as the distinction and why do you employ journalists rather than bloggers?
To me, and I realize lots of people will disagree with this, it’s a matter of self-respect. Anyone can be a blogger. Not so with being a journalist. You have to feel you deserve it to claim to be a journalist. I think that self respect is important.
Don’t get me wrong, some of our writers are bloggers too, but when you ask their profession, their job, their career – they tell you they are journalists. So, I do employ bloggers – but they are bloggers who have passed a test administered by themselves and their readers.
Linda Kissam for instance is the President of the International Food, Wine, and Travel Writers Association. Katherine Rodeghier is a 30-year veteran editor/travel writer , Dave Stamboulis is an award winning photographer and travel author.
These are the people you want for the backbone of a magazine. When I look at Dave’s photos, I’m in awe. Every article from Linda or Katherine has something in it that makes me go ah-ha!
But some of them have blogs too. Melissa Ruttanai has a great travel blog, but the stuff she writes for Vagobond is less about her and her husband’s experience in places than about the places and experiences themselves. That’s the big difference between a travel journalist and a travel blogger. Go read one of those old National Geographic mags and the destination takes center stage.
There are a lot of travel blog authors who are travel journalists. Some of them recognize it, but a lot of them are stuck thinking they are travel bloggers. I contend that they need to give themselves more credit.
Of course, there are also plenty of travel blogs that can quite happily get archived and go away, too. Lots and lots and lots of them…they tend to have phrases like “Oh my God!” or “Look at me!”
Q5. There’s a white rabbit walking or dancing on your magazine logo. Why a rabbit? What’s the meaning or significance?
Great travel is about jumping down the rabbit hole. The white rabbit leads you there.
Q6. In recent years, you’ve spent a lot of time in Turkey and Morocco. Why are you so drawn to that region of the world (besides your Moroccan wife) ?
I’m a spiritual guy and I like to be reminded of a creator five times a day when the faithful are called to prayer. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t go to pray, but I usually just think – ‘Huh, who made all this? Wow! Thanks.”
Plus the music, the art, the languages and the donkeys. The world is quickly becoming homogenized and for me, these regions of the world are interesting and unique because they have a self identity that is strong enough to not be swallowed by Western culture.
Turkey, I’ve always been drawn to. I met a Dervish in 1994 who came from Turkey and planted a desire to go there in me. Later in life, I was working as a stockbroker (and completely miserable – I might add) and one of my clients said “Man, you need to go to Turkey and manage one of those guest houses on the banks of the Bosporus.” Once I got to Turkey, I didn’t want to leave.
But, when my wife got pregnant, it was important that we come back to Morocco to be around her family.
Q7. You’re married to a Muslim Moroccan woman. I’m so curious about the cultural differences and acceptance issues surrounding that.
If I may ask, how did her family accept you as a western, non-Muslim man? Did they accept you readily or were they resistant? Did you have to convert to Islam? If not, is there pressure to do so?
If you want to marry a Muslim woman, you have to be Muslim. Luckily, that dervish I met in ’94 taught me that we are all Muslim and gave me the tools to convert to any religion without changing anything. So, I’ve been a Muslim a long time – but I’m still a Buddhist too. If you don’t get that, it’s okay, my wife gets it even less. To her, I’m a Muslim and that’s that.
Her family had a lot of time to get to know me. I insisted on a long engagement. Well before I was allowed to kiss my wife, I was calling my mother-in-law to be Ah-mih (Mom).
Q8. How about your own family? After all, a lot of Americans are inordinately fearful, cautious, or suspicious of the entire Muslim world. How did your family react to you falling in love with and marrying a Muslim woman?
I’m lucky in that my family understands that my love life isn’t any concern of theirs. They were supportive and happy I found someone who loves me and whom I love. My step-father even stopped saying that the US should turn the middle east into glass, which I was pretty happy about.
Q9. Between you and your wife, do your religious and/or cultural differences cause some issues? Or does that not have much impact on your marriage, family and lives?
Haha. I could write about this for hours. Yes, lots of issues. Mainly in terms of me having a western “If we want this done, we need to do it ourselves – right now” and her having a very Oriental “If it’s the will of God, it will happen. What’s the hurry?”
I frequently want to strangle her when we are ready to go somewhere but then it’s time for her to pray. And she frequently waves knives at me when I insist we leave before she is good and ready (because trains and planes don’t wait). So yes, there are issues. Our 1-year old daughter is a nice bridge though- she slows me down and forces my wife to leave the knives out of easy reach.
Q10. You’ve traveled all over the world. Besides Turkey and Morocco, what are your favorite 2-3 places on the planet? What’s the attraction?
I hate making these distinctions because every destination has something that is completely magical about it. The people of every country I’ve been to have made me love their country the best – it’s all about the people and for the most part Earthlings are incredibly awesome.
I know you want an answer though.
Hawaii is always home to me and it really is paradise. There is nowhere else like it. Perfection – but too far away from the rest of the world, which is perhaps what has saved it.
Cascadia is also home. I would trade my US Passport for either a Hawaiian or Cascadian Passport in a second. Oh, wait. I should tell you where Cascadia is. It is a two hundred mile strip stretching from San Francisco all the way up to Glacier Bay.It includes Seattle, Vancouver, Victoria, Portland, Bellingham, Juneau, the Redwoods, the San Juan Islands, the Queen Charlotte Islands, and much more.
And then there’s the rest of the world. Man. I love everywhere I go.
Q11. You mention that for the time being you’re happy living in Morocco with your young family and growing a great garden. Any idea when you’ll want to start more global travels again?
Well, next week I’m heading to Italy and Greece. I’m going to be doing a few weeks of sailing in the Aegean. Later this year, with any luck, my wife’s immigrant visa will be approved and I will be taking my little family back to Cascadia and Hawaii. We’ll see though – in the meantime, there’s still a lot of the world to cover and to be honest, the longest I’ve paused in the past few years was about a month.
Q12. You’ve written several books. (how many exactly?) Congratulations! That’s a LOT of work… Are there 1 or 2 books that you rather consider your ‘masterpieces’ or are especially proud of ? Why are they particularly great?
I’ve written three novels, three travel guides, and a whole bunch of less easily classifiable stuff. Personally, my favorite is my latest novel Douchebags, Fags, and Hags which is a spoof travel novel in which a very average guy looking for adventure ends up traveling to the most mysterious country in the world to find the girl of his dreams. It’s just fun and funny. Oddly, I’ve been told that it is also incredibly informative in terms of world travel.
My first book Rough Living: Tips and Tales of a Vagabond is still my most successful. It’s really a kind of manual for being happy and homeless with lots of adventures included. The stories are literary narrative fiction.
Not My Morocco is the story of how I ended up in Morocco and the misadventures and cultural misunderstandings that took place as my wife and I created our life together. I love the fact that a few Moroccans have started reading it, gotten totally pissed off and emailed me, then, when they finished reading it they wrote again and said “I just finished it, I get it now. Great stuff. Mabrook (Congratulations).” I love that.
They’re my books and as such, I both love and hate them. As time goes by, I become a better writer (I hope so anyway) and when I go back, I cringe at some of my editing, turns of phrase, or other stuff. The saving grace is I also sometimes find things where I go “Hey, that’s actually pretty good!”
Thanks so much, Vago, for explaining to us the differences between blogs and online magazines, bloggers and journalists; for sharing your personal family life with us; and for suggesting the best of your books. HOpe to meet you out in the world someday. cheers, Lash
Do you know any westerners who have married into Muslim families? What has been their experiences with family acceptance and cultural differences?
Have you visited Turkey or Morocco? If so, what were your impressions?
Follow Vago. Read Vagobond and Vago’s many published books:
Books on Amazon: Vago Chris Damitio
You might enjoy a few of the dozens of other travelers’ interviews here on LashWorldTour.