A Worldwide Vagabond Shares How Travel Helped Her Battle Depression

It’s an art to take interest in your fellow vagabond. We all have a travel story worth listening to, but do we all take the time to truly listen? Lee Litumbe does. In fact, it’s what she thrives on.

After working a job that didn’t fulfill her, Lee decided it was time to commit to something that did. She quit her job, started shooting analog photos, and dove headfirst into her passion project — traveling the world to learn about her fellow wanderers.

Lee’s goals are lofty. She wants to help the public better understand misrepresented nations (a tall task on its own), while also sharing the stories (in photo and text) of the fascinating characters she meets out on the road. She posts these stories at her website, Spirited Pursuit.

This week for #TheMadOnes, we spoke with Lee about adventure, storytelling, and how travel helped her navigate a personal crisis.

We’ve known each other for a little while now but I actually don’t know exactly where you’re from. What’s the bio on Lee?

My name is Lee Litumbe and I’m a 28-year-old Cameroonian American. Although I have spent majority of my life living in Atlanta, Ga., I was born and spent my childhood in Douala, Cameroon being a quintessential tomboy. Climbing mango trees in my compound (much to my mom’s dismay), embarrassing the boys by outrunning them in every relay race in primary school, and riding my bike around my neighborhood are just a few of my favorite memories from that time.

While I’ve come a long way from climbing mango trees in my spare time, I’d like to think that I have maintained the same keen curiosity, spirit of mischief, and sense of adventure for life and the world that surrounds me. Reading is probably my favorite hobby outside of traveling and I’m also still very much a tomboy – albeit one my Mom can finally get to wear dresses without coercion.

What exactly is Spirited Pursuit and how did it get started?

Spirited Pursuit is a digital platform that creates and produces travel inspiration and information from a community of spirited world travelers. We showcase dynamic travel stories, captivating photography, and curated city guides from culturally rich destinations and are geared towards curious and adventurous individuals seeking authentic travel experiences.

To be honest, Spirited Pursuit was founded as a result of my quarter life crisis. The idea for the website began to develop after I turned 25 and realized I had no idea where my life was going. During that time, I was working a job I despised, struggling to salvage a dysfunctional relationship, and battling a severe bout of depression which all left me with dangerously low self-esteem. After spending several months curled up in bed feeling sorry for myself, both of my older sisters encouraged me to get off my ass and get back to doing the things I love: taking photographs, traveling, and writing.

Those passions, combined with my desire to provide a platform for others to share their individual stories on the transformative nature of travel, are what ultimately drove me to create the site.

How do you find out about people to interview?

Social media – primarily Instagram! I do a lot of research and typically just reach out to people whose work stands out to me or that have a genuine curiosity for the destinations and cultures they explore. I now get a lot of submissions directly on the site, but social media has definitely been my primary source.

What has the outcome been for you, personally? Are you inspired to travel more?

The people I’m lucky enough to interview for Spirited Pursuit inspire me endlessly. Also, Spirited Pursuit started out as a passion project and creative outlet [two years ago], so the outcome for me has always been to stay curious, learn from other travelers, and remain inspired.

What have some of your favorite stories been thus far?

This is a tough question because I hate playing favorites! Every story I publish is one that I find interesting and informative. That said, the contributors that are able to paint vivid pictures with their words and choose to explore regions that are typically under or inaccurately represented tend to move me more. One such contributor was Jon Collins, a photographer and particularly gifted writer who spent several months backpacking through a few African nations. I thoroughly appreciated his ability to dignify each of his subjects and avoid reducing them to “exotic others” — something not commonly done by photographers that travel within Africa.

I’m also always looking to feature individuals with a genuine curiosity and desire to explore people, places and cultures from a perspective of cultural relativism. Jon’s story was one of that embodied that philosophy perfectly.

Where are you going next? How long will you be going for? What do you plan to do there?

One of my biggest goals has always been to challenge myself to explore more countries within Africa and to educate myself on the history of the people and cultures that exist within them. I’m passionate about showing others that Africa is not defined by the poverty, conflict, disease, and socio-political issues that are constantly projected by the media, and I am eager to help create resources to help take the anxiety out of traveling within the continent.

With that said, I’ll be moving to Africa to travel and explore the continent in a few weeks and will focus on documenting Africa in a way that I hope will attract more investment and tourism — not just charity. A few countries in particular that I’m keen to visit are Senegal, Zambia, Mozambique, and Morocco. Tunisia is also very high on the list.

Why travel? What’s out there?

In my day to day life, I rarely wake up with the intent of watching the sunrise, or rush to find the best spot in the city to see the glorious strokes of reds and oranges created in the sky while the sun sets. I hardly ever take the time to explore new routes and neighborhoods, hoping to meet eccentric locals that can share interesting tidbits about their life with me. Sometimes, I don’t even make eye-contact with the stranger that walks past me, because I’m in too much of a rush and fear they will want to stop and have small talk (I should note, small talk for any introvert is an overwhelmingly draining task).

Travel frees me of these habits and reminds me to appreciate both the mundane and exciting, while encouraging me to engage with those that surround me. The thrill of navigating new worlds, salivating over different culinary experiences, meeting local and foreign people, and trying new things is what excites me most about travel. I am inspired by the similarities and differences I encounter across geographical landscapes whenever I travel, and travel to seek understanding from cultures, races, and religions that differ from my own.

What do you hope people get from the interviews and stories? Your pieces tend to be very inspiring and uplifting but they’re real. They make travel seem attainable.

I hope readers will be inspired to go beyond what is obvious, learn a new positive perspective on a destination they may have once feared visiting, and simply experience the world outside of their comfort zone. Skip the resorts when possible and instead choose to explore the local communities.

Don’t be afraid to take life by the horns, seek meaningful experiences, and expose yourself to all of the richness that exists within the world.

The Mad Ones is a reference to a famous quote from Jack Kerouac’s On the Road: “…the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes ‘Awww!’”

Watch this series for interviews and profiles with people doing big, wild, bold, creative things with their lives. #TheMadOnes