Travel Tip Thursday is a writing prompt where we get to write about places we visit and give tips for others. Today, instead of writing about a place, I’m writing about a book, a guide to travel that I recently read in planning for next summer. There are a lot of tips in this book! And I also realized that the clock just stuck midnight and it's no longer Thursday!
Rolf Potts, Vagabonding: The Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel (New York: Villard, 2003), 203 pages, a few photos
When I came across this book, I was reluctant to buy it. I was afraid it was a how-to book on traveling. Thankfully, I was wrong. This was both an enjoyable book to read, with lots of tips, but it certainly isn’t a how-to book. Potts is well-read and is as much of a philosopher as a travel guru. This book is also more about philosophy than travel. Potts points out at the beginning of the book that if you feel the wanderlust to travel, one needs to have a different attitude on life and on money. He notes how people often think they need lots of money to travel, but points out that’s not the case with vagabonding. Instead of spending lots of money, the vagabond travels slowly, meeting and interacting with people and cultures along the way. Time is as important as money. Many vagabonds work while they travel (Potts started out teaching English in Korea). Others work a few years, living simply and saving, so they can have a period of time to travel. But, as Potts points out, such travel has rewards. If we can handle money differently and utilize what time we all have, we can learn what other people think and how they feel and get to see the world in a fresh way, not through the biases of the news media (who is more interested in getting our attention than accurately reporting the news according to Potts). To travel in such a manner is to gain an education.
Potts writing is sprinkled with quotes of vagabonds: John Muir, Mark Twain, Jack Kerouac, Lao Tzu, Aristotle, Jesus, Bernard Russell, among many others. He also features and quotes many modern day vagabonds, mostly unknown travelers. Although this is not a “how-to” book, there is much practical advice. When writing about what to carry, he begins by saying (seriously), “as little as possible.” He discusses the good and the bad of guide books (noting that in Vietnam, he’s found the places mentioned in various guides often give the poorest service because they are guaranteed clients just from having been recommended in the guidebooks. He writes about receiving and showing hospitality, about how our preconceived ideas about a place may be wrong or taint our experience, and how we need to take ourselves less seriously. Potts gives insights and tips on how to deal with unfamiliar cultures. He talks about a need for such travel not to be too structured and practical tips about packing (take old and discard along the way) and washing while on the journey. I recommend this book.
A few quotes:
“Travel by its various nature demands simplicity.” (32)
Only a few centuries ago, humility was not een an option for travelers; it was a survival necessity. (112)
“if you can find joy in insults—if you can learn to laugh at what would otherwise have made you angry—the world is indeed ‘all yours’ as a cross-cultural traveler.” (114)
“Cling too fiercely to your ideologies and you’ll miss the subtle realities that politics can’t address. You’ll also miss the chance to learn from people who don’t share your worldview.” (161-162)