"Long-term travel isn’t about being a college student; it’s about being a student of daily life. Long-term travel isn’t an act of rebellion against society; it’s an act of common sense within society. Long-term travel doesn’t require a massive “bundle of cash”; it requires only that we walk through the world in a more deliberate way."
This week I’m introducing Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel. I’m trying out a more conversational overview with fewer take aways. I’d love to hear your feedback!
Vagabonding is an ode to long-term travel. It advises how to physically and mentally prepare for an extended journey, but more importantly suggests an uncommon outlook to living life with a constant sense of curiosity and adventure.
Author Profile: Rolf Potts
Rolf Potts is a well-respected travel writer and evangelist for independent, long-term travel. He’s written pieces for National Geographic Traveler, The New Yorker, Slate.com, Outside, the New York Times Magazine, The Believer,The Guardian (U.K.), National Public Radio, and the Travel Channel. His blog is part of the BootsnAll travel network.
Who Should Read This
- Anyone preparing for or thinking about long-term travel.
- Anyone with the urge to travel for an extended period of time, but need help finding time and freedom to do it.
- Anyone who has traveled before, but felt something important was missing from the journey.
- Anyone currently on the road who needs a reminder as to why you’re traveling.
Who Shouldn’t Read This
- Anyone with zero interest in traveling.
- Anyone looking for a tourist guide book.
- Thrill seekers looking for a book on daredevil adventure travel.
- Rolf Potts. You wrote the book, you probably don’t need to read it.
How This Resonates with Me
I finished reading Vagabonding for the second time. The first time I read it was about four years ago, when I first started to experience serious wanderlust. It was inspiring and echoed the way I felt about traveling, but it wasn’t applicable yet. One Day, I mused, I will go on a long-term trip. One day, I will go “vagabonding.” It put the bug in my ear that long-term travel is possible.
But finishing it now, in the midst of an extended journey, is incredibly satisfying and comforting. It’s satisfying to know that I am actually DOING IT — realizing my ambition and living out a dream. And it’s comforting to read something that describes exactly what I’m experiencing physically, mentally, and emotionally. I feel welcomed among a league of travelers who have come before me, walk alongside me, and will follow in our footsteps.
Here are my favorite takeaways from the book.
1. Long-term travel is possible regardless of demographics, age, or income.
It really comes down to priorities. I believe if you have a burning desire to travel or do anything really, you can make it happen [See: Desire + Decision = Magic]. But this isn’t just a lesson I’ve learned from the book — I’m seeing it firsthand with the people I’ve met on the road:
– A young Texas couple traveling and working in Europe indefinitely;
– An Australian architect taking year career break to travel from Europe to Asia;
– A few German university students hitchhiking around Europe during a three month summer break;
– A Japanese woman dropping everything to travel the world for a year after living through Japan’s 2011 earthquake and tsunami;
– A 70-year-old Estonian man who escaped the Soviet rule at nineteen and vowed to travel around the world and return to Estonia only when it became a free nation (which finally happened in 1991).
The only common thread between these people is a strong desire to see the world and making the decision to do it. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. It just requires removing the reductive lens from which we view our lives and the world and expand our belief of what’s possible.
2. Vagabonding represents an uncommon outlook and attitude about life.
Although Vagabonding teaches the techniques to affordably travel for extended periods of time, it more importantly introduces a way to find adventure in everyday life.
"Vagabonding is an attitude — a friendly interest in people, places, and things that makes a person an explorer in the truest, most vivid sense of the word."
"[Vagabonding is] the ongoing practice of looking and learning, of facing fears and altering habits, of cultivating a new fascination with people and places."
This mentality isn’t reserved just for long-term journeys; it can be achieved by looking at the everyday world with new, curious eyes. It’s about seeing things for what they are, and not for what you think they should or want them to be. It’s about being intensely curious and observant about about the lives around you at the moment, whether that’s your neighbor from Ohio, your hostel roommate from Chile, or the local Latvian you meet at a bar.
3. Your freedom is earned, not given.
Potts introduces the concept of how work and pleasure fit into our lives, and how the first step of vagabonding is earning your freedom to take an extended journey. Yes, this speaks to financially preparing yourself to live on little or zero income. But it also advises how to handle your career, relationships, and attitude prior to taking a leap.
"Ultimately, then, the first step of vagabonding is simply a matter of making work serve your interests, instead of the other way around. Believe it or not, this is a radical departure from how most people view work and leisure."
It’s interesting how this represents the same belief of the entrepreneurs profiled in Chris Guillebeau’s $100 Startup, while echoing the lesson about the Deferred Life Plan in The Monk and the Riddle. I love when seemingly unrelated books communicate a similar message.
Like most things, long-term travel starts with taking ownership of your actions and fate. It won’t happen unless you make it a priority.
"Vagabonding is about refusing to exile travel to some other, seemingly more appropriate, time of your life. Vagabonding is about taking control of your circumstances instead of passively waiting for them to decide your fate."
4. For the most fulfilling travel experience, keep it simple, take it slow, and don’t set limits.
When I first fantasized about taking a long-term trip, my goal was simply to experience life in different places around the world and to learn about the culture firsthand. Vagabonding suggests the best way to achieve this is to travel simply, slowly, and without the confines of a specific agenda.
Traveling simply means freeing yourself from “stuff”, leaving you with only the bare necessities to live. By freeing yourself physically from the stuff that defines you, you’re stripped down to just yourself — a sometimes scary reality that forces to figure out who you actually are.
"Simplicity — both at home and on the road — affords you the time to seek renewed meaning in an oft-neglected commodity that can’t be bought at any price: life itself."
Traveling slowly represents engaging with your surroundings, absorbing a place rather than “ticking it off”, and seeing and listening rather than looking and hearing. It’s the difference between being a traveler and being a tourist: one is active, the other is passive.
"Vagabonding is about not merely reallotting a portion of your life for travel but rediscovering the entire concept of time."
Traveling without a strict agenda or bulleted to-do list, you’re led mostly by heart instead of brain. You do what feels right. And without a feeling like you need to be somewhere or get things done, you give people and places the love and attention they deserve.
"In leaving behind the routines and assumptions of home — in taking that resolute first step into the world — you’ll find yourself entering a much larger and less constrictive paradigm."
For me, vagabonding has led to incredible experiences, most of which revolve around conversations with people: spending hours at a cafe talking to an Estonian about growing up under Soviet rule; sharing a typical Icelandic Sunday dinner with locals and discussing elves; hitching with a car full of Lithuanians and learning about their love for the countryside and local beer. Contrast this with my attitude a few short months ago, while working under a strict hour-by-hour daily agenda. I would have rarely allowed myself the time to have such conversations.
I really could go on forever about this book, but in the spirit of actually enjoying my journey and practicing the vagabonding attitude, this should provide a good enough flavor for the book and help you determine if you’d like to read more.
What does vagabonding mean to you?
Maybe you’ve taken a long-term journey, are currently traveling, or perhaps you’ve done some backyard vagabonding. Share your experiences!
Hungry for more? Thinking about your first long-term trip? Vagabonding is available on Amazon: Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel.
Full Disclosure: Some of the links in the post above are affiliate links. I only recommend books or services I use personally and would genuinely suggest to my closest friends.