Vagabonding Book Club: Chapter 2: Earn your freedom

crossing into Guatemala through the iron gate

An excerpt from  Chapter Two: Earn Your Freedom: Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel, by Rolf Potts

“Vagabonding is about gaining the courage to loosen your grip on the so called certainties of the 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.

Thus, the questions of how and when to start vagabonding is not really a question at all. Vagabonding starts now. 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. From here, the reality of vagabonding comes into sharper focus as you adjust your worldview and begin to embrace the exhilarating uncertainty that true travel promises.

In this way, 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…”

If there was one lesson that I wish could be downloaded to the heart and mind of every newbie traveler, this would be it: That it’s the decision to vagabond that changes everything, not the geographical diversity.

For most people, their actual “trip” is measured in months, or perhaps a couple of years at most. It’s time bought back by periods of dedicated work and frugal living. But the changes that vagabonding works in a person’s outlook and underlying philosophy carry over into “daily life” upon their “return.” I was talking to my Dad about this recently. He turns 70 this year and if you look up “vagabond” in the dictionary, you’ll find his photo next to the definition. “Someone asked me recently about when I was taking my next trip,” he mused, “It took me a minute to answer… I was confused… there’s a ‘next trip?’… it’s all one big trip to me, and I’m still on it!”¬†

That’s the essence of it, really. You take off on your first trip at twenty four and forty-five years later you’re still on the road, in your heart and mind as much as in the physical sense.

I have a friend who is turning forty this year. When we were 15, she was the one reading Jack Kerouac in the lunch room and lamenting that she’d was born into the wrong decade. Travel, vagabonding, were in her soul, and yet, she has never traveled. She called me about a year and a half ago. I was bussing around Southeast Asia a the time. She asked me if I’d be up for walking the Camino de Santiago with her this summer. Of course, you know my answer. It took a lot of ramping up for her to make the decision to go, to ask me to be her companion for the walk, and to commit to doing the thing she’s been dreaming of since we were children. That’s not a small thing. You know what I’ve noticed? From that moment on the phone between continents, she’s a different person. She is a vagabond. She’s earned her freedom in every sense. Her victory will feel sweet when that plane lifts off in a few weeks, but that isn’t the moment that her trip begins. It began a year and a half ago, with her commitment, and it’s just the first step of a journey that will last for the rest of her life.

So, what do you think? What are your reflections on chapter two? How has the concept of vagabonding changed how you experience life at home and on the road? How have you earned your freedom?

Posted by | Comments (2)  | March 25, 2014
Category: Travel Writing


2 Responses to “Vagabonding Book Club: Chapter 2: Earn your freedom”

  1. Ken Says:

    Rolf,
    I haven’t visited your site for some time, but I loved this definition of vagabonding. It seems to perfectly reflect what I have experienced, although you may have de-emphasized the feeling of “freedom” one encounters when you take the leap to explore outside your “safe” world. You interviewed me 2 years ago for your blog and since then I’ve been somewhat “stuck” at a job in Indonesia. But I have still managed to explore Penang, Malaysia, and Bali and Jogjakarta in Indonesia. Those were more like tourist trips but I did my best to get off the beaten path to experience each area’s culture as much as possible. My experiences, as always, have been posted to my 2bagsandapack.com blog. Keep up the adventure, and if you ever happen to visit Singapore, hop a ferry and come see us in Batam.

  2. Rolf Potts Says:

    Will do, Ken — thanks! Best of luck to you in the journey.