Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel. Rolf Potts. 2003. ISBN 0812992180
Vagabonding – n. (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.
For some reason, [Americans] see long-term travel to faraway lands as a recurring dream or an exotic temptation, but not something that applies to the here and now. Instead – out of our insane duty to fear, fashion, and monthly payments on things we don’t really need – we quarantine our travels to short, frenzied bursts. In this way, as we throw our wealth at an abstract notion called “lifestyle”, travel becomes just another accessory – a smooth-edged, encapsulated experience that we purchase the same way we buy clothing and furniture.
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.
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.
Vagabonding is about using the prosperity and possibility of the information age to increase your potential options instead of your personal possessions.
… the “time-poor” [John Muir] – people who were so obsessed with tending their material wealth and social standing that they couldn’t spare the time to truly experience the splendor of California’s Sierra wilderness.
Most of us … choose to live like monks anyway, rooting ourselves to a home or a career and using the future as a kind of phony ritual that justifies the present. In this way, we end up spending (as Thoreau put it) “the best part of one’s life earning money in order to enjoy a questionable liberty during the least valuable part of it.”
Vagabonding is about gaining the courage to loosen your grip on the so-called certainties of this world. 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.
Even if the practical reality of travel is still months or years away, vagabonding begins the moment you stop making excuses, start saving money, and begin to look at maps with the narcotic tingle of possibility.
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.
Other folks – teachers, doctors, bartenders, journalists – have opted to take their very careers on the road, alternating work and travel as they see fit.
A vacation, after all, merely rewards work. Vagabonding justifies it. Ultimately, then, the first step of vagabonding is simply a matter of making work serve your interests, instead of the other way around.
… quitting a job to go vagabonding should never be seen as the end of something grudging and unpleasant. Rather, it’s a vital step in beginning something new and wonderful.
This notion – that material investment is somehow more important to life than personal investment – is exactly what leads so many of us to believe we could never afford to go vagabonding.
In some ways, of course, coffee bars, convertibles, and marijuana are all part of what made travel appealing to Kerouac’s readers. That’s how marketing (intentional and otherwise) works. But these aren’t the things that made travel possible for Kerouac. What made travel possible was that he knew how neither self nor wealth can be measured in terms of what you consume or own. Even the downtrodden souls on the fringes of society, he observed, had something the rich didn’t: time.
Despite several millennia of such warnings, however, there is still an overwhelming social compulsion – an insanity of consensus, if you will – to get rich from life rather than live richly, to “do well” in the world instead of living well.
Being free from debt’s burdens simply gives you more vagabonding options. And, for that matter, more life options.
Vagabonding is, was, and always will be a private undertaking – and its goal is to improve your life not in relation to your neighbors but in relation to yourself.
In what ultimately amounted to over two years of travel in Asia, eastern Europe, and the Middle East, my lodging averaged out to just under five dollars a night, my meals cost well under a dollar a plate, and my total expenses rarely exceeded one thousand dollars a month.
And for a month’s rent in any major American city, you can spend a year in a beach hut in Indonesia.
… since most cultures treat elders with uncommon interest and respect, older travelers invariably wander into charming adventures and friendships on the road.
… you will never be able to truly appreciate the unexpected marvels of travel if you rely too heavily on your homework and ignore what is right before your eyes.
The gift of the information age, after all, is knowing your options – not your destiny – and those people who plan their travels with the idea of eliminating all uncertainty and unpredictability are missing out on the whole point of leaving home in the first place.
Since owners change and prices are in constant flux, hotel and restaurant recommendations will be the least dependable information in any guidebook you buy.
… the surest way to miss out on the genuine experience of a foreign place – the psychic equivalent of trapping yourself back home – is to obsessively check your e-mail as you travel from place to place.
Fortunately, you don’t ever need a really good reason to go anywhere; rather, go to a place for whatever happens when you get there.
… simple courage is worth far more than detailed logistics, and a confident, positive, ready-to-learn attitude will make up for any travel savvy you lack at the outset.
If there’s one key concept to remember amid the excitement of your first days on the road, it’s this: Slow down.
… the whole point of long-term travel is having the time to move deliberately through the world. Vagabonding is about not merely reallotting a portion of your life for travel but rediscovering the entire concept of time.
Rather, the secret to staying intrigued on the road – the secret to truly being different from the frustrated masses – is this: Don’t set limits. Don’t set limits on what you can or can’t do. Don’t set limits on what is or isn’t worthy of your time. Dare yourself to “play games” with your day: watch, wait, listen; allow things to happen.
… vagabonding is like a pilgrimage without a specific destination or goal – not a quest for answers so much as a celebration of the questions, an embrace of the ambiguous, and an openness to anything that comes your way.
Unlike a simple vacation (where you rarely have time to interact with your environment), vagabonding revolves around the people you meet on the road – and the attitude you take into these encounters can make or break your entire travel experience.
The secret of adventure, then, is not to carefully seek it out but to travel in such a way that it finds you. To do this, you first need to overcome the protective habits of home and open yourself up to unpredictability. As you begin to practice this openness, you’ll quickly discover adventure in the simple reality of a world that defies your expectations.
What better recipe for adventure than to put off deciding on your destination until you arrive at a bus station and scan the schedule for unfamiliar names? What better way to discover the unknown than to follow your instincts instead of your plans?
The thing is, few of us ever “are” where we are: Instead of experiencing the reality of a moment or a day, our minds and souls are elsewhere – obsessing on the past or the future, fretting and fantasizing about other situations. At home this is one way of dealing with day-to-day doldrums; on the road, it’s a sure way to miss out on the very experiences that stand to teach you something. This is why vagabonding is not to be confused with a mere vacation, where the only goal is escape … Indeed, vagabonding is – at its best – a rediscovery of reality itself.
… “seeing” as you travel is somewhat of a spiritual exercise: a process not of seeking interesting surroundings, but of being continually interested in whatever surrounds you.
Interestingly, one of the initial impediments to open-mindedness is not ignorance but ideology.
… vagabonding is less like a getaway caper than a patient kind of aimlessness – quite similar, in fact, to what the Australian Aborigines call “walkabout” … one merely leaves behind all possessions (except for survival essentials) and starts walking. What’s intriguing about walkabout is that there’s no physical goal: It simply continues until one becomes whole again.
… the modern travel scene in general has a notorious reputation for such half-baked spiritual foolery, as many wanderers tend to confuse simple exoticism with mystical revelation.
… heightened spiritual awareness is the natural result of your choice to put the material world in its place and hit the road for an extended time.
Travel, after all, is a form of asceticism …
Indeed, if travel is a process that helps you “find yourself”, it’s because it leaves you with nothing to hide behind – it yanks you out from the realm of rehearsed responses and dull comforts, and forces you into the present. Here, in the fleeting moment, you are left to improvise, to come to terms with your raw, true Self.
Jesus, after all, taught that it’s pointless to look to otherworldly realms for revelation, because “the kingdom of God is within you.” The Buddha expressed enlightenment not as a mystical firestorm, but as the disassembling of the conditioned personality.
At a certain level, then, spiritual expression requires the same kind of openness and realism that is required of vagabonding in general …
After all, a journey is a temporary diversion, and there would seem to be little reward in the “common miracles” it promises. That is, until you realize that life itself is a kind of journey.
We need the possibility of escape as surely as we need hope; without it the life of the cities would drive all men into crime or drugs or psychoanalysis.
People say you have to travel to see the world. Sometimes I think that if you just stay in one place and keep your eyes open, you’re going to see just about all that you can handle.
Suddenly you are five years old again. You can’t read anything, you have only the most rudimentary sense of how things work, you can’t even reliably cross a street without endangering your life. You whole existence becomes a series of interesting guesses.
Good people keep walking whatever happens. They do not speak vain words and are the same in good fortune and bad.
By switching to a new game, which in this case involves vagabonding, time becomes the only possession and everyone is equally rich in it by biological inheritance. Money, of course, is still needed to survive, but time is what you need to live. So, save what little money you possess to meet basic survival requirements, but spend your time lavishly in order to create the life values that make the fire worth the candle. Dig?
A lot of us first aspired to far-ranging travel and exotic adventure early in our teens; these ambitions are, in fact, adolescent in nature, which I find an inspiring idea … Thus, when we allow ourselves to imagine as we once did, we know, with a sudden jarring clarity, that if we don’t go right now, we’re never going to do it. And we’ll be haunted by our unrealized dreams and know that we have sinned against ourselves gravely.
Charles Caleb Colton
They see new meridians, but the same men; and with heads as empty as their pockets, return home with traveled bodies, but untraveled minds.
Often I feel I have to go to some distant region of the world to be reminded of who I really am … Stripped of your ordinary surroundings, your friends, your daily routines, your refrigerator full of your food, your closet full of your clothes, you are forced into direct experience. Such direct experience inevitably makes you aware of who it is that is having the experience. That’s not always comfortable, but it is always invigorating.
Excitement and depression, fortune and misfortune, pleasure and pain are storms in a tiny, private, shell-bound realm – which we take to be the whole of existence. Yet we can break out of this shell and enter a new world.
One of the essential skills for a traveler is the ability to make a rather extravagant fool of oneself.
We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate. We travel to bring what little we can, in our ignorance and knowledge, to those parts of the globe whose riches are differently dispersed. And we travel, in essence, to become young fools again – to slow time down and get taken in, and fall in love once more.
Everything that occurs out of necessity, everything expected, repeated day in and day out is mute. Only chance can speak to us.
Research your own experiences for the truth … Absorb what is useful … Add what is specifically your own … The creating individual is more than any style or system.
Life has no other discipline to impose, if we would but realize it, than to accept life unquestioningly. Everything … we deny, denigrate or despise, serves to defeat us in the end.
Only by going alone in silence, without baggage, can one truly get into the heart of the wilderness. All other travel is mere dust and hotels and baggage and chatter.
[Travel] is a way of surrendering to reduced circumstances in a manner that enhances the whole person. It is a radical way of knowing exactly who, what, and where you are, in defiance of those powerful forces in society that aim to make us forget.
There is no God but Reality.
The way I see it is that most folks simply choose their boxes. Any of us do what is fundamentally most important to us.
Don’t ever live vicariously. This is your life. Live.
Tourists don’t know where they’ve been; travelers don’t know where they’re going.
Henry David Thoreau
Explore your own higher latitudes. Be a Columbus to whole new continents within you, opening new channels, not of trade, but of thought.
It is not speech which we should want to know: we should want to know the speaker.
It is not things seen which we should want to know: we should know the seer.
It is not sounds which we should want to know: we should know the hearer.
It is not the mind which we should want to know: we should know the thinker.