on July 14, 2003
Rolf Potts' tome of vagabonding is an inspirational work rather than a practical guide. While the same practical information is contained in other books, this book shines in the area of travel philosophy. Travel is like a religion, where some people are incredibly fervent about it, while others just don't understand. This book makes you realize that long-term travel is not only possible, but desirable and worthwhile.
I particularly liked the section on working for travel. As a 9-to-5 worker planning a long-term trip, I needed the inspiration to keep going. I liked being told that working will actually make me appreciate travel more. After all, to afford travel, I have to be here anyway.
Throughout the book, there are great little excerpts from famous travellers, philosophers, and explorers, as well as anecdotes from ordinary travellers. Rolf has a particular liking for Walt Whitman, and I may just have to go pick up some Walt poetry now. The literary references in this book let you know that world travel and a simple life aren't new concepts.
The only problem I see with this book is that it may soon become dated with its references to specific websites.
The book is of a small and convenient size to take on the road.
on September 18, 2003
This book is essentially about the thought process behind taking time off from your regular life to discover and experience the world on your own terms. If you've been around the world a few times, you'll find it puts many of your fuzzy warm thoughts and ideals into words. If you haven't, it'll probably make you wonder why you haven't taken off already.
People who like to plan and be prepared should treat this as a companion to more nuts-and-bolts guides. Others may find this plenty since travel is all an adventure anyway. It depends on your personality and comfort with the unknown. The rarely expressed aspect of Potts' book, however, is the acknowledgement that both work and travel are admirable and that one complements the other. To travel, you must also be productive sometimes. But to be productive, you also have to continually learn and see other points of view. Traveling abroad on more than a one-week vacation makes this possible. An entertaining and inspiring read.
Tim Leffel, author of THE WORLD'S CHEAPEST DESTINATIONS
on April 16, 2003
As a former "vagabonder" who's now (quite unpleasantly) ensconced in the 9 to 5 world, I needed a book to inspire and redirect my thinking.
This is the first and only travel book that's done that for me.
Rolf is clearly one who understands the vagabonder mentality. That's proven by his cautions against excessive planning, reliance upon guidebooks (even Lonely Planet), and against depending upon your cataloged preconceptions of a travel destination. For the true vagabonder relies almost entirely on serendpity, not obsession. You unplug from the media, from email, from everything. And you rely on now, today.
I thought it both delightful and completely true that one should target a destination based solely upon the flimsiest of whims (e.g., learning to play ping-pong). Because once you arrive, all will be dashed and certainly enhanced simply be being there. This is both the truth and the "zen" of long-term, vagabond travel: once you get there everything will be different, and better, than you could have imagined.
Rolf buttresses his thinking with many quotes from those who have preceeded us in the "vagabonding" mentality. Thoreau, Whitman, etc. (But where is Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist. He who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness"). In any case Rolf addresses in full measure the social "oddity" of vagabonding, including the fulfillment it brings. People will not understand us. So what?
That this is the genuine article is exposed when Rolf catches Lonely Planet founder Tony Wheeeler asserting that some people "go to hotels that aren't listed in Lonely Planet," which is truly the vagabonder - the traveler - mentality.
There are only a few paths for the true vagabonder, and none of those include guidebooks, group tours, "vacations", or possibly even sabbaticals. Vagabonding is a way of thinking, of living, of traveling, of interacting with the world on a global basis.
And as Rolf mentions, it is very, very addictive for those who are so inclined.
on January 29, 2003
This is an earnest if somewhat dreamy primer on the subject of extended long term independent travel. It most closely resembles, in both spirit and content, Ed Buryn's classic sixties book Vagabonding in Europe and North Africa but without that author's now dated "groovy" countercultural musings. Potts indeed graciously acknowledges Buryn's contribution (unlike the shamefully disingenuous Rick Steves.)
The practical advice Potts offers is solid but also a bit sketchy. For the nitty-gritty of travel technique and practicalities I far prefer a book like Rob Sangster's The Traveler's Toolkit. Still, Potts does provide a very thorough listing of (mostly web-based) resources that will do much to fill in the gaps.
In the more contemplative sections on traveling "vagabond"-style, Potts writing is charming and mercifully free of the tendentious ideological dross that often characterizes writing about travels to what were once called "Third World" destinations. My special congrats to him for gently mocking the "traveler/tourist" dichotomy for the silly supercilious parlor games it often engenders.
Still, there is a somewhat moony, disembodied feeling to the book. Instead of all the gaseous quotations from the famous and unfamous (used as filler) I would have appreciated some more attention to hazards, dangers, and risks. These can be substantial: from wild auto-rickshaw drivers to leaky, overcrowded boats, from rabid animals to exotic diseases, and (last but not least) from rickety to downright pathological political regimes. The world can be a wild, wonderful place but it can also provide a cornucopia of nightmares for the ill-prepared and underinformed. Potts does his aspiring vagabonders a serious disservice by not leveling with them about the seamy and potentially hazardous underside of "shoestring" travel in exotic lands.
on November 6, 2003
Anyone who has ever thought about travelling, this book will make you go! Anyone who has ever been travelling, this book will make you want to go again and anyone who is travelling whilst reading this, this book will make you that bit more adventurous when ordering food in a cafe where a squat toilet is another eating area! It's definitely a case of, if he can do it then so can I!
Of course if your not a travelling type then the book will mean as much to you as a tin of baked beans to a kipper, but for those who yearn for life as one of the wandering nomads of this world, this book will seem like the travel bible in as much as it suggests a life less ordinary!
This book is about working to live and not living to work!
on January 31, 2003
Rolf Potts does a valuable service to would-be vagabonders who haven't quite made up their minds to take the big leap and head off into the great wide world. I can imagine such a person, sitting in a cubicle watching their life tick by, quietly pondering the what-ifs of international travel, yearning for the freedom of the open road but not quite convinced to head out, hesitating...until they read Vagabonding. One quick read of this book and they'll be on the next flight to Bangkok or Cairo or wherever. Vagabonding isn't as much a nuts and bolts guide to backpacking as it is a shot of inspiration for potential travelers. I wish this book would have been written when I first began my travels several years ago. Regardless, it's an interesting read for novices and experienced travelers alike.
One drawback of this book is that it is written like a script for a formal debate, packed with quotes from travel writers and dreary-eyed idealists to justify the author's arguments. Potts is a good writer and experienced traveler; he doesn't need to shroud his writing in clouds of quotes from the likes of Whitman and Thoreau.
I look forward to reading Potts' future travel writing, especially after he ventures off the beaten tracks in the more remote parts of Africa and Latin America.
on January 27, 2003
Not since reading the Jules Verne classic "Around the World in 80 Days" has my imagination been more fired up. I just completed a year of sabbatical of travel around the globe so I could easily act like this book is remedial, which is hardly the case.
This book is an intellectual toolkit for any traveler. It not only lays out a dense amount of valuable and practical advice for many travel topics but it will also work out your mind from the easy chair of your living room.
I have read Rolf's (the author) writings before and was excited to see he was writing a book. I love many travel writers but Rolf is the first to truly represent a younger and recent generation. To spite his youth he doesn't fall into the Gen-X trap of all cynicism and no substance instead his wit and style fall more into an updated Catcher in the Rye vibe.
I recommend if you love his book, become a daily reader of his website, where he posts daily musings and travel quotes. What I strongly recommend against is paying attention to the crackpot that listed the stay at home parenting book as a counter choice to Vagabonding. Clearly this person didn't bother to read Rolf's book, because its clear message isn't about making a life choice of travel over family responsibility, if anything its message is about living your life to its fullest potential so you can experience a life without regret. Something tells me there would be many more happy relationships and families if more people knew more about the big planet out there and followed their unrealized dreams.
Take the challenge and read this book.
on January 27, 2003
Rolf Potts' book is not only a practical guide to spending extended periods in foreign cultures, but a compendium of the best travel writing, recent and classic. It gives practical advice, profiles of travelers of note and a philosophical grounding for leaving home, not only physically but in your head.
This is not a book for those who plan to hang on to the familiar by bringing a discman with favorite CDs, looking for places to catch CNN and moving from internet cafe to American Express poste restante counter. It is for the traveler who is willing to cut loose from his moorings and dive headlong into a culture.
Rolf Potts has a sparkling sense of humor and a truly staggering familiarity with travel writing past and present. He presents wonderful excerpts from great writing and from the experiences of everyday vagabonders. I am truly impressed with his command of literary works dealing with travel. The book can be read in one sitting but should be savored at leisure over a modest Hungarian white or some South African water buffaly jerky.
on January 8, 2003
Zorba said it best, "Life is trouble, only death is not. To be alive you've got to undo your belt and look for trouble". When I've undone my belt and followed my heart without fear ... no, without letting my fear dictate and control my journey ... I've always found adventure worth remembering, friends worth keeping and returned with no regrets.
VAGABONDING is a small, practical and useful guide for the art of "looking for trouble" and living without regrets. Potts writes intelligently from his heart and experience. His book provides useful information, wonderful access to resources (especially internet resources) and reason to examine the choices we make, especially those we use to remain in our comfortable and often dull status quo.
My journey has been most fulfilling when I've undone my belt and stepped away from the perceived safety of my status quo. VAGABONDING (whether to distant corners of our sweet earth or the the neighborhood mall for convenient purchases) provides both advice on traveling well and reasons to travel adventurously.
This book is a keeper. It will fit lightly in my day pack wherever I choose to journey.
on January 5, 2003
If the idea of setting off and traveling around the world has been in the back of your mind for a while, or if your spirit of adventure has just been awoken, this book might just convince you to take the leap.
At less than 200 pages, it is concisely written and straight to the point. Rolf Potts gives you practical, down-to-earth advice while also delving into the philosophy of vagabonding, and giving you some travel anecdotes.
Potts covers pretty much all aspects of long-term travel: from earning the money, avoiding many travelers' misconceptions or wrong attitudes, interacting with locals, to details such as choosing a guidebook or riding taxis. But he makes it clear that the learning experience itself is invaluable He makes you realize (forgive the cliche) just how much you can learn and grow by being on the road, open to possibilities; very importantly, he makes you realize how financially feasible it all is. He also presents a contagious attitude towards travel: be sponaneous, don't plan everything, be open to new experiences, live light. His outlook, gained from vagabonding, extends to life at home as well, and makes you understand just how cluttered with things we don't need and don't make us happy our lives are. If you're interested in travel as a lifestyle and not just a vacation, then a lot of the advice in this book will make perfect sense, as if there was no other way to live. But it's so well put, and Potts covers all the "hows and whys" of travel, that a lifestlye on the road all of a sudden comes into perspective. Wanderlust is infectious.