‘Vagabonding’ by Rolf Potts teaches us how to make the most of our trips and stay safe at the same time. This book has sold over 100,000 copies and inspired Tim Ferriss to write The 4 Hour Work Week. Here are a few of the things you can learn from this book.
LESSON 1: What is Vagabonding?
It’s taking an extended time out from your normal life to travel the world on your own terms. Beyond travel, vagabonding is an uncommon outlook on life. It’s a friendly interest in people, places and things. It focuses on increasing our personal options instead of possessions. It’s about gaining the courage to loosen our grip on the things we consider essential. Most importantly it’s about time. Time is our only real commodity and no matter how we choose to use it, the time never seems right to travel. We stay rooted to our home and career and use the future as a phony ritual that justifies the present as once Henry David Thoreau put it, ‘we spend the best part of one’s life earning money in order to enjoy a questionable liberty during the least valuable part of it.’ It’s time to take control of our circumstances instead of passively waiting for them to dictate our lives.
LESSON 2: Earn Your Freedom
Potts met waiters, web designers and other social workers who can fund months of travel on a few weeks of work. You could even teach English. It’s in high demand overseas. Potts did this for two years in South Korea. Not only did he finance his adventures but he learned about the Asian social customs as well. Now there’s plenty of opportunities to freelance online from anywhere in the world. Check out upwork.com. Also consider wwoofing. You work for four to six hours per day on a farm in exchange for a place to sleep, food and a life changing experience. Check out wwoofinternational.org. Even if your temporary work isn’t your dream job, approach it with a positive attitude and you’ll have a blast.
LESSON 3: Keep It Simple
The general notion is that material investment is somehow more important to life than personal investment. Investment is exactly what leads so many of us to believe we could never afford to go vagabonding. Vagabonding is not determined by income level. It’s found through simplicity. The conscious decision of how to use what income you have have, to change your habits, save what little money you possess to meet the basic survival requirements but spend your time lavishly on what you value. If you’re in the process of saving to fund your travels instead of eating at restaurants then cook at home and pack lunch, entertain with family and friends at home rather than going out to the pub or the movies and don’t pack more than you need.
LESSON 4: The Media Demonizes Foreign Lands
The discoveries that come with travel are the purest form of Education but unfortunately the media tends to make places seem more dangerous than they really are. They demand your attention more than giving you an accurate picture of the world, just as day to day American life is characterized by gun battles and car chases. Life overseas is not as dangerous as you’re led to think. Despite the media demoralizing Syria as a rogue state, Potts traveled to Syria in 2000 and experienced nice home-cooked dinners, spontaneous neighborhood tours and tea shot backgammon games.
LESSON 5: Be a Traveller Not a Tourist
Not many people stray from the usual travel routes. Tourist attractions are defined by the collective popularity and popularity tends to devalue the original experience of attractions. Remember that as a vagabonder you’re not constrained to the rules and routine set by society. If the lineup to see the Eiffel Tower is too long well then feel free to head off and take a random bus into the nearby mountains. Vagabonds tend to see their surroundings whereas tourists superficially look at attractions. Paul Theroux said that tourists don’t know where they’ve been and travelers don’t know where they’re going.
LESSON 6: Understand Cultural Differences
It’s important to understand that people from different cultures view you differently. Be friendly and don’t manipulate people. Staying with locals is the best way to learn about the local culture and traditions. Potts met a Canadian woman who just traveled to a remote Syrian Catholic monastery. She refused the monks offers to join the daily church service. This is considered rude by the monks.
Potts goes on to say interestingly one of the initial impediments to open-mindedness is not ignorant by ideology. This is especially true in America particularly in progressive circles. We have politicized open-mindedness to the point that it isn’t so open-minded anymore. Indeed regardless of whether your sympathies leaned to the left or the right, you aren’t going to learn anything new. If you continually use politics as a lens through which to view the world, you cling fiercely to your ideologies and you’ll miss the subtle realities that politics can’t address. You’ll also miss a chance to learn from people who don’t share your same world view.
LESSON 7: 7 Valuable Travel Tips
- Don’t obsess over your schedule.
- Prepare but don’t over prepare.
- Ask locals for the richest form of advice and education.
- Moderate the time spent on your phone.
- The most economical places to go are Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Central America and South America.
- The world is best experienced when you’re not in a mad rush. So slow down.
- Lastly you’re bound to make travel mistakes and make a fool of yourself. Embrace it.
LESSON 8: Let Your Spirit Grow
Embracing the spiritual side of travel doesn’t mean you need to put on a robe and lose your mind. It’s about personal discovery and growth. Without all the rituals, routines and possessions that give your life meaning back at home you are forced to look for meaning within yourself.
LESSON 9: Coming Home
When you come home from your journey you’ll be a changed person. As awesome as your life changing travel experiences were many of your friends back home will rarely be able to relate. A vagabonder named Jason told a story of how he got into a fight with a Japanese transvestite who swum with barracudas and ate a spicy hot-dog with rice but his friends just stared at him with the glazed look in their eyes and said “Mmm. Wow!” Then they went about saying how they went to the local pub and met up with Sally from college. Encounters like this will make you realize why travel should always be treated as a personal undertaking. Living to the story is more important than telling it. Potts isn’t telling us not to post that Instagram story of us climbing a banana tree in the Peruvian jungle but just don’t lose sight of the experience itself.
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Image credits- Google Images, scoopempire.com
Also published on Medium.