Vagabonding: A Review

Posted By Brie Austin In Category: Reviews , Travel

According to Rolf Potts, “Vagabonding is about not merely re-allotting a portion of your life for travel but rediscovering the entire concept of time.”  More than a book of resources and travel tips, it is also an outlook on life: “… it’s about using the prosperity and possibilities of the information age to increase your personal options instead of your personal possessions.”

“The more we associate experience with cash value, the more we think that money is what we need to live. And the more we associate money with life, the more we convince ourselves that we’re too poor to buy our freedom.”

A page-turning and entertaining read, Potts writes a book with an easy style that is filled with profound and compelling thoughts from a journeyed sage. He provides recommendations of how to extract the best from long-term travel through tried methods, links to varied resources, and life perspectives (of his own, and others). In addition, it shines a light on spiritual discovery, the trappings of predetermined ideologies, and the shackles of “rehearsed responses” and “dull comforts.”

Potts tells us that “Any salty Vagabonder can tell you that true adventure is not an experience that can be captured on television or sold like a commodity,” because “… having an adventure is sometimes just a matter of going out and allowing things to happen in a strange and amazing new environment — not so much a physical challenge as a psychic one.”

We’re urged as readers to wander with a sense of humor with each new experience, but that “On the road a big  prerequisite for keeping your sense of humor is to first cultivate a sense of humility. After all, it can be hard to laugh at yourself if you swagger through the world like you own it.”

The underlying theme of ‘Vagabonding’ is to allow ourselves to bath in the richness of new experiences of spontaneity. This in turn provides adventures that are individually unique. Everything is then “authentic for its time and place.”

Quoting the historian Dagobert Runes “People travel to faraway places to watch, in fascination, the kind of people they ignore at home,” and Potts suggests that “To truly interact with people as you travel, then, you have to learn to see other cultures not as National Geographic  snapshots, but as neighbors.”

The Buddha said “We see as we are,” and Potts notes that rarely is this quite as evident as when we travel. “What is right or wrong in America doesn’t always apply in other countries  — and if you continually view other people through your own values, you’ll lose the opportunity to see the world through their eyes.” The point of travel “is not to evaluate the rightness or wrongness of other cultures (after all you can stay home and do that) but to better understand them.”

In the ongoing debate regarding the differences between tourists and travelers, Potts quotes many throughout the book, such as Paul Theroux, who noted 30 years ago that “Tourists don’t know where they’ve been; travelers don’t know where they are going,” and Pico Iyer who said “travelers are those that leave their assumptions at home, and tourists are those that don’t.”

Potts recounts stories that readers have shared with him. Some are exotic adventures, while others are simple and spontaneous moments:  “I was wandering around back alleys in Cairo with a demented Hungarian flautist, looking for some mythical coffee shop said to serve up strong ganja in their sheesha pipes.”

So the “secret of adventure is not to carefully seek it out, but to travel in such a way that it finds you. Good judgement can come from bad experiences; good experiences can come from bad judgement.”

“Seeing’ as you travel is somewhat of a spiritual exercise: a process not of seeking interesting surroundings, but of being continually interested in whatever surrounds you.”

Entertaining and insightful, Potts is equal storyteller, travel instructor, and life coach: “One of the initial impediments to open-mindedness is not ignorance but ideology.” He continues “… on the road, political convictions are a clumsy set of experiential blinders, compelling you to seek evidence for conclusions you’ve already drawn.”

Accordingly then, “travel is the opportunity to get out of your comfort zone, to leave all the rituals at home; travel compels you to discover your spiritual side by simple elimination: Without all the rituals, routines, and possessions that give your life meaning at home, you’re forced to look for meaning within yourself.” Later he continues “But spiritual process is not always free of care. Indeed, if travel is a process that helps you “find yourself,” it’s because it leaves you with nothing to hide behind — it yanks you out from the realm of rehearsed responses and dull comforts, and forces you into the present.”

Vagabonding; An uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel is an enriching and enlightening book that I highly recommend — not only to would-be travelers, but also to the most deeply entrenched suburbanites.  It is a fast page-turner that will continue to challenge your view of the world and of yourself.


Buy the print book here

Buy the e-Book here

Potts is perhaps best known for promoting the ethic of independent travel through this book (which has been through 13 printings to date), and has reported from more than sixty countries for the likes of National Geographic Traveler, The New Yorker,, Outside, the New York Times Magazine, The Believer,The Guardian (U.K.), National Public Radio, and the Travel Channel. A veteran travel columnist for the likes of and World Hum, his adventures have taken him across six continents, and include piloting a fishing boat 900 miles down the Laotian Mekong, hitchhiking across Eastern Europe, traversing Israel on foot, bicycling across Burma, driving a Land Rover across South America, and traveling around the world for six weeks with no luggage or bags of any kind.

Learn more about him on his website.
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“Keep living your life in such a way that allows your dream room to breathe.” Rolf Potts


About Brie Austin

Co-author of I'd Do It Again, he is a columnist/reporter for a variety of magazines in the areas of music, lifestyle, nightlife, travel and business. He also writes business documents and creates copy for websites.

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