why Vagabonding

is the best travel book

I just finished Rolf Potts’ book,Vagabonding, An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-term World Travel, and I’ve never been more excited to travel in my life. Want to know why? Mr. Potts speaks realistically, yet optimistically, about traveling slow and truly experiencing all the world has to offer. This book is infinitely quotable, but I have a few main take-aways I want to share with you. I’ve paired each thought with a quote from the book. Enjoy!

14 min read

It’s authentically endorsed

The book, Vagabonding, An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel, starts off with a foreword from Tim Ferriss. If you’re unfamiliar with who he is (how?!), Tim’s an author, entrepreneur, and life-hacker who penned the wildly popular Digital Nomad’s bible: The 4-Hour Work Week. He mentions how, in 2004, he traveled the world for 1 1/2 years. Many of the lessons he learned were digested, analyzed, and transferred into that book. According to Tim,

One incredible trip, especially a long-term one, can change the rest of your life. This book changed my life…changed my life completely and I wish the same for you.

It shows the lifestyle is deceptively attainable

As an American, I’ve always been under the impression that traveling is a luxury. All I needed was to save a bit more and I’ll be able to afford it. I thought travel was something that can only be experienced through rushed, week-long, frantic dashes through whatever country I chose. It was about packing as many must-see monuments, high-rated restaurants, and quirky bars as I could within the fleeting time off I had scraped together. All before I had to make my way back, bleary-eyed and jet-lagged, to sit at my desk and work to afford the next week-long dash towards the horizon. That’s not the case.

If there’s one thing that Potts wants to hammer home in Vagabonding, it’s that most people, Americans specifically, view travel in the wrong way. Travel, specifically long-term travel, has more to do with your outlook than your wallet. Disregard how social media icons that you see on Instagram appear, it’s not about posing on a white, sandy beach or staring thoughtfully at a waterfall (guilty). It’s about taking your time to truly observe and be present in your surroundings. To make friends with locals and fellow backpackers alike. Creating these connections and forging these memories takes presence of mind, not an abundance of cash. As Potts eloquently puts it,

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.

I’m currently struggling with that thought now. I’ve saved up a significant chunk of money in order to take this trip around the world. Even knowing what I have can potentially last me for an entire year, I have the fear that it’s not enough. In a sense, it’s a fear of failure. I fear that I won’t be able to make the trip last long enough due to reckless spending, naive mistakes, or having an accident. Reading Vagabonding not only got me incredibly excited for this trip, it also helped put those fears to rest.

It helps adjust your attitude

In the age of cultural reliance on mainstream media, it’s easy to buy in to the doom-and-gloom outlook of what you see on TV and the internet. The average person has some form of apprehension about people from another country. The countries of Thailand or Indonesia can sound alien and dangerous if you don’t know any better.

That’s where Vagabonding shines. Potts tells of the magical feeling of connecting with a complete stranger and making a lifelong friend. He effusively writes of the joys of being in full control of your day; one where you can simply sit in a park and observe people going about their day-to-day lives. Travel and adventure aren’t always doing as much as you can at all times. On the contrary, it’s about slowly realizing that you’ve had the most valuable currency all along: time. That’s vagabonding’s true gift.

Vagabonding is an attitude—a friendly interest in people, places, and things that make a person an explorer in the truest, most vivid sense of the word. Vagabonding is not a lifestyle, nor is it a trend. It’s just an uncommon way of looking at life—a value adjustment from which action naturally follows. And, as much as anything, vagabonding is about time—our only real commodity—and how we choose to use it.

It changes your approach to work

In the internet age, most of us have turned into easily-distracted workaholics. We tend to focus on the 9-5, trying to make enough money to buy the next new thing (guilty) and to enjoy our fleetingly short nights and weekends. One of the first lessons that appear in Vagabonding is that our most valuable currency isn’t money, it’s time.

Once we realize that time is the one thing we all have but can’t make more of, your priorities begin to shift. Buying another expensive coffee, going out for drinks, and collecting more superfluous items becomes less attractive. Once your priorities shift, your attitude towards your job shifts as well. It stops becoming a grind that you (might) dislike and starts becoming a means to an end. You’re working to accumulate money in order to be free and live your true life. Makes sitting at your desk sound more bearable, right?

Work is how you settle your financial and emotional debts—so that your travels are not an escape from your real life but a discovery of your real life.

Finally, it emphasizes not waiting

You hear the adage so frequently in books, stories, and day-to-day conversation, “There’s no time like the present.” That phrase is incredibly important when it comes to long-term travel. Most people put off the idea with a variety of excuses. From not having enough money to not being able to leave family, the excuses stem from an underlying emotion: fear.

Most people are afraid to give up their lives and leave. For good reason, it’s a terrifying prospect. For me, I’ve lived in South Florida my entire life. Hell, I haven’t lived further than 15 minutes away from my family. My entire life existed within a 30-mile radius, which is the primary reason why it’s taken me almost 5 years to get up the nerve to take this trip around the world. If there’s one thing that I can impress upon you with this article, it’s this: don’t wait. There will always be an excuse and, if you’re not proactive, it’ll be easy to keep putting it off. I’ll end with a quote that’s stuck with me from the first time I read Vagabonding:

Sadly, the traffic lights of life will never all be green at the same time. Conditions are never perfect. “Someday” (“someday I’ll do this, someday I’ll do that”) is a disease that will take your dreams to the grave with you.

that’s why vagabonding is the best travel book

I loved this book so much I have it on my Kindle as well as in my Audible library. From the friendly advice to the restrained optimism, Potts helps put a first-time Vagabonder at ease with the notion of long-term travel. Have you read the book? What’d you think? Comment below and let me know!