Vagabonding - rolf potts
Notes & Quotes
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.
This book views long-term travel not as an escape but as an adventure and a passion – a way of overcoming your fears and living life to the fullest.
“I think if I can make a bundle of cash before I’m thirty and get out of this racket, I’ll be able to drive my motorcycle across China.” … anyone else could work for eight months as a toilet cleaner and have enough money to ride a motorcycle across China.
Purchasing a package vacation to find a simpler life is kind of like using a mirror to see what you look like when you aren’t looking into the mirror. No combination of one-week or ten-day vacations will truly take you away from the life you lead at home.
Long-term travel isn’t about being a college student, counter-culture dropout or the idle rich; it’s about being a student of daily life. 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 involves taking an extended time-out from your normal life – six weeks, four months, two years – travel the world on your own terms. Vagabonding is an attitude – a friendly interest in people, places, and things that makes a person an explorer in the truest, most vivid sense of the word.
“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” – Henry David Thoreau, Walden
Story of the Desert Fathers: The tale of Theodore and Lucius.
We choose to root ourselves to a home or career and use the future as a kind of phony ritual that justifies the present. “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.”
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 looking at maps with the narcotic tingle of possibility. Vagabonding is not merely a ritual of getting immunizations and packing suitcases. Rather, it’s the ongoing practice of looking and learning, of facing fears, and altering habits, of cultivating a new fascination with people and places.
“Vagabonding is not for the comfort-hounds, sophomoric misanthropes or poolside faint-hearts, whose thin convictions won’t stand up to the problems that come along.”
Earning your freedom, of course, involves work – and work is intrinsic to vagabonding for psychic reasons as much as financial ones.
“Trustafarians”(People who travel the world on family money) are some of the most visible and least happy wanderers in the travel milieu. Because they never worked for their freedom, their travel experiences have no personal reference – no connection to the rest of their lives.
“Which would have advanced the most at the end of a month, the boy who had made his own jack-knife from the ore which he had dug and smelted. Reading as much as would be necessary for this – or the boy who had received a Rodger’s penknife from his father?” – Thoreau, Walden
“I don’t like work, but I like what is in the work – the chance to find yourself.” – Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
Bankers, social workers, military personnel, teachers, truckers; there are countless ways to earn your travels. You can even earn your keep abroad. There are countless services and websites giving you information on working your way through your vagabonding experiences.
As citizens of a stable, prosperous democracy, any one of us has the power to create our own free time. We merely need to make strategic use (if only for a few weeks and months) of a time-honoured personal-freedom technique, popularly called “Quitting”.
Don’t worry that your travels might leave you with a ‘gap’ on your résumé. Rather, you should enthusiastically and unapologetically include your vagabonding experiences on your résumé when you return. List the job skills your travels have taught you.
The more our life options get paraded around as consumer options, the more we forget that there’s a difference between the two.
Indeed, the freedom to go vagabonding has never been determined by income level; it’s found through simplicity – the conscious decision of how to use what income you have.
At times, the biggest challenge in embracing simplicity will be the vague feeling of isolation that comes with it, since private sacrifice doesn’t garner much attention from the frenetic world of mass culture.
… the Buddha whimsically pointed out that seeking happiness in one’s material desires is as absurd as “suffering because a banana tree will not bear mangoes.”
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.
Simplifying your life for the sake of vagabonding is easier that it sounds because travel by its very nature demands simplicity.
Over time, as you reap the sublime rewards of simplicity, you’ll begin to wonder how you ever put up with such a cluttered life in the first place.
There are three methods to simplifying your life: Stopping expansion, reining in your routine, and reducing clutter.
Stopping expansion: Don’t add any new possessions to your life;
Reign in your routine: Live more humbly and invest the difference into your travel fund;
Reduce clutter: Downsize what you already own; Sell what is useless, keep what is priceless.
“It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after your own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance
People might take your growing freedom as a subtle criticism of their own way of life. Because your fresh worldview might appear to call their own values into question, they will tend to write you off as irresponsible and self-indulgent. Let them.
“In my eighteen months of travel, my day-to-day costs were significantly cheaper than they would have been back in the United States”
“When I was very young a big financier once asked me what I would like to do, and I said, “To travel.” “Ah,” he said, “it is very expensive; one must have a lot of money to do that.” He was wrong. For there are two kinds of travellers; the Comfortable Voyager, round whom a cloud of voracious expenses hums all the time, and the man who shifts for himself and enjoys the little discomforts as a change from life’s routine.” – Ralph Bagnold, Libyan Sands
Ultimately, you may well discover that vagabonding on the cheap becomes your favourite way to travel, even if given more expensive options. Simplicity makes you more adventuresome, forces you into sincere contact with locals, and allows you the independence to follow your passions.
“My greatest skill has been to want little” – Henry David Thoreau, Walden
Do your pre-trip homework – harness the power of those who examined the world before you -, which will lead you to fabulous new horizons. However, you will never be able to truly appreciate travel if you rely too heavily on your homework and ignore what is right in front of your eyes.
The discoveries that come with travel have long been considered the purest form of education a person can acquire.
You stand to grow much from your travels if you just skim your way through the world at random.
The naturalist John Muir used to say that the best way to prepare for a trip as to “throw some tea and bread into an old sack and jump over the back fence.” Not only does such bold spontaneity add a spark of adventure, long-time travellers argue, but it also lessens the kind of prejudices and preconceptions that might jade your experience.
For first-time vagabonders, of course, preparation is a downright necessity. The key to preparation is to strike a balance between knowing what’s out there and being optimistically ignorant.
“It is fatal to know too much at the outset: boredom comes as quickly to the traveller who knows his route as to the novelist who is overcertain of his plot.” – Paul Theroux, To the ends of the Earth.
“We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.”
Regardless of how much time you choose to spend in travel planning, odds are your true preparations began long ago, when you first learned there was a world out there to explore.
A lot of media information should be approached with a healthy amount of scepticism.
A good rule of thumb when watching the news coverage of other countries, it to think about how the average Hollywood movie exports visions of America to other countries.
Guidebooks should never be your only source of travel information but they deserve a special mention because they’re likely the only resource you’ll bring with you on the road. Far too often, travellers adhere too religiously to the advice and information that guidebooks dispense
“There is no need to treat a Lonely Planet book like a bible. Just because we don’t list certain restaurants and hotels doesn’t mean they aren’t any good”.
“A good traveller has no fixed plan, and is not intent on arriving.” – Lao-Tzu, The Way of Life
Since both new and used guidebooks are readily available along most overseas travel circuits, I’d recommend traveling with just one guidebook at a time, regardless of how many regions you plan to visit.
“Before the development of tourism, travel was conceived to be like study, and its fruits were considered to be the adornment of the mind and the formation of the judgement. The traveller was a student of what he sought.” – Paul Fussell, Abroad
In essence, choosing one region to explore means forsaking dozens of other fantastic parts of the world. 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.
Feel free to draw any inspiration, no matter how stolid or silly, when considering where to go. The fanciful idea of learning to tango, for example, might make you consider visiting Argentina. Maybe you’ll visit Djibouti simply because the mention of this country made you giggle in junior high geography class.
Vagabonding is not like bulk shopping: the value of your travels does not hinge on how many stamps you have in your passport when you get home.
Vagabonding is about setting your own pace and finding your own way, and you can rest assured that everything you see in a glossy brochure in Milwaukee will be just as available (and ten times cheaper) when you arrive independently at your destination.
Camping equipment should only be brought if you’re certain you will use it on a frequent basis.
As a rule, it’s best not to travel your way down to your last dime, even if you plan on getting road jobs from time to time.
“You can read everything there is in the world about a place, but there is no substitute to smelling it!”
Don’t ever live vicariously. This is your life. Live
“Traveller, there is no path; paths are made by walking.” – Antonia Machado, Cantores
Buddhists believe that we live our everyday lives as if inside an eggshell. Just as an unhatched chicken has few clues about what life is truly like, most of us are only vaguely aware of the greater world that surrounds us.
Vagabonding is not Nirvana, of course, but the egg analogy can still apply. In leaving behind the routines and assumptions of home – in taking that resolute first step into the world – you’ll find yourself entering a much larger and less constrictive paradigm.
All the details of daily life that you ignored back home will suddenly seem rich and exotic.
Life on the road, you’ll soon discover, is far less complicated than what you knew back home – yet intriguingly more complex.
If there’s one key concept to remember amid the excitement of your first days on the road, it’s this: Slow down. Remember that the whole point of long-term travel is having the time to move deliberately through the world.
Furthermore, make a point of easing into your travels.
“One of the essential skills for a traveller is the ability to make a rather extravagant fool of oneself.” – John Flinn
“But the traveller’s world is not the ordinary one, for travel itself, even the most commonplace, is an implicit quest for anomaly.” – Paul Fussell, Abroad
Indeed, one of the big clichés of modern travel is the fear of letdown at a place you’ve always dreamed of visiting.
If the line for Lenin’s tomb outside the Kremlin is too long, you have the right to buy a couple of bottles of beer, plant yourself at the edge of the Red Square, and happily watch the rest of Moscow swirl around you.
“What I find is that you can do almost anything or go almost anywhere, if you’re not in a hurry” – Paul Theroux, quoting Tony the Beachcomber, in The Happy Isles of Oceania
Don’t be intimidated by the seemingly intricate details of independent travel. Every major region in the world has independent-travel circuits full of normal travellers just like you.
If in doubt about what to do in a place, just start walking through your new environment. Walk until your day becomes interesting.
“I go to places within a country for the most ridiculous reasons; oftentimes something as simple as an interesting name.”
“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.” – John Muir
Muir believed that the worst mistake you can make in life is to consider yourself separate from your destinations, experiences and surroundings.
“We see as we are,” said the Buddha. Unlike a simple vacation, vagabonding revolves around the people you meet on the road.
“Those who visit foreign nations, but associate only with their own countrymen, change their climate, but not their customs. They see new meridians, but the same men; and with heads as empty as their pockets, return home with travelled bodies, but untraveled minds.” – Charles Caleb Colton, Lacon
Thus, the secret to interacting with people in foreign lands is not to fine-tune your sense of political correctness (which itself is a Western construct) but to fine-tune your sense of humour.
On the road, a big prerequisite for keeping your sense of humour is to first cultivate a sense of humility.
If there’s a danger in cultural openness and humility, it’s the ease with which you can get carried away with it. Sometimes, the simplicity, poverty, and purity of other cultures will seem so intriguing that you’ll be tempted to completely ditch your own culture in favour of exotic new ideals.
“They thought we were simple. We thought they were neon. They thought we were profound. We knew we were provincial. Everyone thought everybody else was ridiculously exotic and everybody got it wrong.” – Mehta in Karma Cola, on the influx of Western hippies in India in the late 1960s.
“People who propose to themselves a scheme for travelling generally do it with a view to rub off local prejudices… and to acquire that enlarged and impartial view of men and things which no single country can afford.” – Josiah Tucker, Instructions for Travellers
“People travel to faraway places to watch, in fascination, the kind of people they ignore at home.” – Dagobert Runes
To truly interact with people as you travel, then, you have to learn to see other cultures not as National Geographic snapshots but as neighbours.
“The people you meet on the road are your window to the world. You can learn as much about the culture of a non-American travel companion as you can about the culture you’re in. Think of your companions as a National Geographic special. You can never get tired of meeting people.” – Dean Bragonier, 29, Businessman, Massachusetts
“We need sometimes to escape into open solitudes, into aimlessness, into the moral holiday of running some pure hazard, in order to sharpen the edge of life, to taste hardship, and to be compelled to work desperately for a moment no matter what.” – George Santayana, The Philosophy of Travel.
Adventure is still considered a purely physical act – a ritual of putting rugged distance between oneself and one’s home. Modern adventure is associated with extreme sports, like ice climbing, street luge, or high-altitude endurance racing.
However, true adventure is not an experience that can be captured on television or sold like a commodity. Having an adventure is sometimes just a matter of going out and allowing things to happen in a strange and amazing new environment – not so much a physical as a psychic one.
Thus, when you begin your travels, the mere act of riding a third-class train or using a squat toilet might qualify as an adventure. As such novelties become familiar, you can continue to invite the unknown by weaning yourself from your guidebook, avoiding routines, and allowing yourself to get side-tracked.
“Only chance can speak to us. We read its message much as gypsies read the images made by coffee grounds at the bottom of the cup” – Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Dare yourself to do simple things you normally wouldn’t consider.
As with many great explorers from years past, a good portion of your travel adventures will come about by accident.
You should view each new travel frustration as just another curious facet in the vagabonding adventure.
“Adventurous men enjoy shipwrecks, mutinies, earthquakes, conflagrations, and all kinds of experiences. They say to themselves, for example, ‘So this is what an earthquake is like,’ and it gives them pleasure to have their knowledge of the world increased by this new item.” – Bertrand Russel.
“The pleasure in traveling consists of the obstacles, the fatigue, and even the danger.” – Théophile Gautier, Wandering in Spain
We tend to view our new surroundings through the petty prejudices of home rather than seeing things for what they are.
“It is difficult and painful for the ear to listen to anything new; we hear strange music badly.” – Friedrich Nietzche.
“The traveller sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see” – G. K. Chesterton
“Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travellers don’t know where they’re going.” – Paul Theroux
However, instead of seeking the challenges that true travel requires, we can simply point to a few stereotypical “tourists” and make some jokes at their expense, and consider ourselves “travellers” by default.
Putting on a cocksure and superior air may win you points at a nightclub in your hometown, but such pretence on the road will only cheapen your travel experience.
Instead of worrying about whether you’re a tourist or a traveller, the secret to “seeing” your surroundings on the road is simply to keep things real.
With escape in mind, vacationers tend to approach their holiday with a grim resolve, determined to make their experience live up to their expectations; on the vagabonding road, you prepare for the long haul knowing that the predictable and unpredictable, the pleasant and the unpleasant are not separate but part of the same ongoing reality.
In our travel daydreams, we transport ourselves to places that we believe will be prettier, purer, and simpler than what we encounter at home. When these idealised conditions prove less than real, however, we tend to cling to our daydreams instead of fully engaging reality.
One particularly potent strain of traveller pessimism is the notion that modern influences are destroying native societies, or that certain cultures were more “real” sometime in the not-too-distant past.
Mourning the perceived purity of yesterday will only cause us to miss the true dynamic of today.
Thus, the purest way to see a culture is simply to accept and experience it as it is now – even if you have to put up with satellite dishes in Kazakhstan, cyber cafés in Malawi, and fast food restaurants in Belize.
To be sure, your travels won’t be the same if you don’t occasionally take the time to put on a buzz, let your inhibitions down, and get to know new people. As you get past the first few weeks of your travel experience, however, you’ll discover that partying on the road is different from partying at home.
Chemical highs have a way of distracting you from the utterly stoning natural high of travel itself.
“Don’t travel to get away from any place.” – Eamonn, Gearon, 31, Writer, England
“The ‘danger’ of vagabonding resides in having your eyes opened – in discovering the world as it really is.” – Ed Buryn, Vagabonding in Europe and North America
“We all have stuck in us deep, somewhere a keenness for excitement, a savouring for the kooky, a leap-for-life outlook” – Ed Buryn
The person who strikes off for himself is no hero, nor necessarily even unconventional, but to a greater degree than most people, he or she thinks and acts independently.
The implication often is that a stack of money and a tropical hideaway provide the ideal ingredients for personal happiness, and nothing better could be asked from life than to sit around and drink rum cocktails until death finally claims you.
What most people consider paradise is defined in contrast to the stresses of home.
The point is that you can never dream up the perfect travel formula while you’re still sitting at home.
As new experiences and insights take you in surprising new directions, you’ll gradually come to understand why long-time travellers insist that the journey itself is far more important than any destination.
Conflict will often arise from the impossible desire to be at every place at once. Choosing one option reduces you to the parameters of that choice.
“Powerful men do not necessarily make the most eminent travellers; it is rather those who take the most interest in their work that succeed the best; as a huntsman says, “It is the nose that gives speed to the hound”” – Francis Galton, The Art of Travel
Once you feel yourself getting jaded to the long haul, it’s time to mix your travels up a bit.
Just because you’re traveling doesn’t mean you must always be on the move. Once you’ve found a special place to call your own for a few weeks or months, your options there are virtually endless – and you needn’t have a concise plan going in.
“If you really want to learn about a country, work there.” – Charles Kuralt, A Life On The Road
“And we travel, in essence, to become young fools again – to slow time down and get taken in, and fall in love once more.” – Pico Iyer, Why We Travel
“I think traveling really opens your eyes to the reality that anything from a very easy life (a sort of permanent island-vacation life), to a totally wild and wacky life, is completely attainable.” – Lavinia Spalding, 32, Teacher, Arizona
“He who stays at home beside his hearth and is content with the information which he may acquire concerning his own region, cannot be on the same level as one who divides his life span between different lands, and spends his days journeying in search of precious and original knowledge.” – al-Masudi, The Meadows of Gold
“People say that what we are all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think this is what we’re really seeking. I think what we’re seeing is an experience of being alive.” – Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth
Regardless of whether or not you consider your vagabonding journey to be spiritual, self-motivated travel has always been intertwined with the personal workings of the soul.
Travel, after all, is a form of asceticism, which (to quote Kathleen Norris) “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. “
“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.”
- From the Kaushitaki Upanishad
Those who travel the world hoping to get “blinded by the light” are often blind to the light that’s all around them.
“There is no God but Reality”
Ultimately, then, discovering the sacred as your travel is not an abstract quest so much as a manner of perceiving – an honest awareness that neither requires blind faith nor embraces blind doubt.
“Whoever you are! Motion and reflection are especially for you,
The divine ship sails the divine sea for you.
Whoever you are! You are he or she for whom the earth is solid or liquid,
You are he or she for whom the sun and moon hang in the sky.
For none more than you are the present and the past,
For none more than you is immortality.”
- Walt Whitman, A song of the rolling Earth
“If we spent half the money on travel that we do on material goods in America, I think the world would be a much different place.” – Mishelle Shepard, 33, Writer and Editor, Missouri
“Round the world! There is much in that sound to inspire proud feelings: but whereto does all that circumnavigation conduct? Only through numberless perils to the very point whence we started, where those that we left behind secure were all the time before us.” – Herman Melville, Moby Dick
Of all the adventures and challenges that await on the vagabonding road, the most difficult can be the act of coming home.
Every aspect of home will look more or less like it did when you left, but it will feel completely different.
Initially, you’ll enjoy rediscovering all the little aspects of home that you missed in faraway lands: long, hot showers; the latest movies in full Dolby sound; dinner and drinks at your favourite restaurants and hangouts. But after a few days of indulgence, you’ll begin to feel a strange sensation of homesickness… for the road.
As exciting and life-changing as your travel experiences were, your friends will rarely be able to relate, because they don’t share the values that took you out on the road in the first place.
In sharing your road experiences, then, remember to keep your stories short and save the best bits for yourself.
Moreover, telling the story is not nearly as important as living the story. If travel truly is in the journey and not the destination, if travel really is an attitude of awareness and openness to new things, then any moment can be considered travel.
As you continue to read, learn, and think about the places you once visited, you’ll realize that your travels never fully end.
Integrate the deliberate pace and fresh perspective that made your travel experience so vivid, and allow for unstructured time in your day-to-day home schedule.
But most of all, keep living your life in such a way that allows your dreams room to breathe.
Because you never know when you’ll feel the urge to hit the road again.