11 May 2009


Through couchsurfing, I connected with a very cool Australian who introduced me to Rolf Potts' book, Vagabonding. For someone unhappy with their 9-to-5 life, it may be just the thing to help them break free. For people who have traveled a bit, it will make you want to travel more. For those who have traveled extensively and for long periods of time, it will validate your (often frowned upon) choices.

Will this book change your life? It depends on how stuck or free you feel. It has become a bible for some and is just pleasure reading for others. Did I agree with everything in the book? No. Potts offers vagabonding as a lifestyle, and while I know that world travel will always be something I appreciate and will incorporate as much as I can into my life, I grew up as a vagabond, and now having lived more places than years, I like the romantic notion of having a home to return to after traveling.

If you are curious about traveling, though, and haven't done much of it or want to go off into the world but feel unable to, then I'd highly recommend reading this book. Yes, traveling is a luxury in some ways, but it is very, very doable. For those who say money is the limiting factor, I lived in a dormitory in Thailand for $1.62 a night, ate street pad thai for $1 and bought pants for $2. I rented an oceanfront bachelor in Capetown for $300 a month and ate the best plates of burgers and fries for $1. Oh, but the flights, one might argue. My plane ticket to Thailand was $450 from Los Angeles, with a free overnight stop in Taipei. My ticket to Capetown was $600 from Geneva, where I was living at the time, with a free weeklong stop in Istanbul. You can make it work.

The way to make travel affordable is to jump on travel specials and then stay there for a while. Once the plane ticket is out of the way, many places will actually be much cheaper on a day-to-day basis. For those who say there isn't enough time, yes, there may be some sacrifices. You may make choices that others don't understand (which will be terrifying for some and liberating for others). Potts also lists resources for women traveling alone, for people with kids, and for the GLBTQ crowd. In other words, it may be harder for some than others, but you can make it happen if you want to. And when thinking about what you gain, it might not be tangible or quantifiable. But you would probably never forget spending two months in Senegal, whereas two months of 'regular life' could easily disappear without your even noticing.

And of course, reading this book doesn't mean you have to sell everything, quit your real life and take off to unknown lands forever. My partner and I plan to travel and do field work for a year, but we're also excited to plant roots and become an active part of a community when we return to California. We still want to work hard in our chosen fields to serve others and fulfill our potential as human beings, and we believe that travel will enrich our efforts.

Potts reminds us to live simply, so that we don't become hampered and imprisoned by accumulated stuff; to see the adventure in the everyday, even when (especially when) we're at home; and to be open and non-judgmental so as to really see and experience life fully, no matter where you are.

So, what do you think? How valuable is travel? Is travel just an escape from responsibility? Or has it made a difference in your life or how you see the world? Is there meaningful and meaningless travel? What's the difference, if any? How would you feel if you could never travel again?

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