Book Review: Vagabonding by Rolf Potts

vagabonding by rolf potts

Living in Scotland means you get use to living through cold, dark winters and at this time of year you can almost feel the whole country going into hybernation mode.  So the idea of travelling to warmer climes just now is very tempting.  It was with this in mind and following a recommendation from Tim Ferris that I picked up the book ‘Vagabonding’ by Rolf Potts recently.  Firstly it is helpful to define what Vagabonding is:

  1. The act of leaving behind the orderly world to travel independently for an extended period of time.
  2. A privately meaningful manner of travel that emphasizes creativity, adventure, awareness, simplicity, discovery, independence, realism, self-reliance, and the growth of the spirit.
  3. A deliberate way of living that makes freedom to travel possible.

This book is a manifesto for those who love to travel and brings with it the tips, tricks and inspiration to take time off from your normal life, of six weeks to two years, in which to discover and experience the world on your own terms.  Vagabonding is not a book about travelling around the world at speed, staying in five star hotels and ticking off lists of ‘must-sees’ but rather a study in independent and extended overseas travel.

It’s author Rolf Potts writes about travel for National Geographic, Salon, Conde Naste Traveller and NPR and his writing style is a joy to read.  He breaks the book down into five sections; explaining Vagabonding, getting started, on the road, long term travel and coming home.

The first section deals with the philosophy of travel and why it doesn’t take a ‘bundle of cash’ to make long term travel a reality.  One of the lovely quotes from John Muir’s contemporary Edwin Way Teale who said of travelling ‘with its wealth of time, its unregimented days, its latitude of choice…such freedom seems more rare, more difficult to attain, more remote with each new generation.’

Next was the Getting Started chapter which covers the financial aspects of vagabonding both in terms of saving for the journey and also earning money while you travel.  Throughout the book it gives examples of individuals, couples and families who have made Vagabonding a reality.  One crucial part of this section deals with simplifying ones life and the three methods for doing so: stopping expansion, reining in your routine and reducing clutter.  One of my favourite quotes here was from the British philosopher and one time member of the Liberal party Betrand Russell who said:

‘Very many people spend money in ways quite different from those that their natural tastes would enjoin, merely because the respect of their neighbours depends upon their possessions of a good car and their ability to give good dinners.  As a matter of fact, any many who can obviously afford a car but genuinely prefers travel or a good library will in the end be much more respected than if he behaved exactly like everyone else.’

The chapter also gives a list of futher reading suggestions especially from authors who have travelled with children such as Marybeth Bond, Jane Wilson-Howarth and David Elliot Cohen.

On The Road deals with getting the most from your travels and goes into a great deal on cross-cultural interactions, safety, health and planning.  There is also a nice chapter on pioneering Vagabonding women such as Freya Stark, Frances Trollope and Isabelle Eberhardt.

The Coming Home section gives advice on how best to readjust once you return from your travels.  If you’ve ever returned from a two week holiday and ended up feeling glum for a couple of days afterwards then imagine how it feels returning home after spending six months trecking in the Amazon, helping in an orphanage in Africa or learning Mandarin in Shanghai.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough for those who love travel and adventure.  I guarantee you will be planning your Vagabonding experience by the end of the first chapter and look at your daily life in a completely different way.  You can buy the book or Kindle version at Amazon by clicking here.

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