Vagabonding Summary (Rolf Potts)

Do you dream of leaving your cubicle behind and hitting the road for a long-term adventure?

If so, the Vagabonding summary, based on a book by Rolf Potts is a good start and will give you a taste of the lifestyle.

Most of us get a few holidays a year, tightly constrained by time and geography, but vagabonding is a different travel artform entirely.

Having done a fair bit of extended travel myself over the years and heard this book mentioned numerous times, I was curious to see the take of the author.

So let’s dive in.


Are you cut out for vagabonding? Well the first question is to ask whether you’re independent.

In other words, are you independent enough to realise that long term travel is not the prerogative of the lucky few, but is available to all?

Most people say they’re working to earn enough money to travel in a few years. The truth is, many of us have the means to do it now.

This is partly due to the Western notion that travel must be obscenely expensive, a lifestyle accessory rather than a growth experience.

These expensive, prestige crafting holidays don’t liberate us from our quotidian daily lives or provide the rich experiences we seek.

Ultimately, this reality is rooted in our relationship with money.

Money controls our lives to such an extent that we believe we’re too poor to be free and travel is the reserve the the rich, students and hippies.

Start now

Vagabonding doesn’t begin when you set foot on a plan but rather with your attitude.

It starts when you ditch the excuses and get serious about planning your adventure.

Ultimately, the first step is to start saving and changing your habits

Having money in your pocket will reduces the friction of long term travel and the possibility that you’re running away from something.

In this way, you’re not just earning money, but investing in your freedom.

There are also those long-term travellers who are ‘trustafarians’, using family money to fund their adventures.

On the backpacker circuit, these people are often underwhelmed by their travel experiences, for the very reason that they haven’t worked for it or earned their freedom.

Their deeper reason for travel is often lacking. While they try to find meaning in their destinations, vagabonds find meaning in the journey.

While many people work to fund their lifestyle afford a short holiday on the side, vagabonds work solely to travel.


It’s not how much money you have, but how you use it that counts.

Simple living and embracing the minimalist lifestyle by reducing what we own is essential to prepare for our trip.

The first step is to alter our relationship to possessions. All religions warn against chasing material objects as a source of happiness.

A good litmus test for your current lifestyle is trying to fit all your possessions in a backpack. Reducing what you need is essential to living light on the road.

Need a lifestyle redesign? Here are three methods:

  • Stop expanding – don’t buy all the latest travel gear as this can be purchased when you’re on the road and need it. A pair of shoes and backpack will suffice for now.
  • Embrace frugality – Set up a travel fund and save wherever you can by reducing your general consumption.
  • Downsize – Sell as many of your current possessions as possible.

Although this might sound drastic, it normally becomes the preferred vagabonding mentality, encouraging us to challenge our habits, take risks and expand our comfort zone.


Two options:

  • Prepare your trip thoroughly
  • Strike boldly into the unknown

Many seasoned vagabonders find prefer the second.

Much of the joy of long term travel lies in discovery of the unexpected.

Overplanning can create a distorted or idealised view of a destination before we arrive, leaving disappointment as we encounter the reality.

If you’re a newbie, planning is fine, but curate your sources carefully:

  • News – can give the wrong impression of a place, by sensationalising headlines, focusing on the negatives or magnifying conflicts.
  • Guidebooks – approach with caution and ensure their not your sole source of information. The places referenced often overly-rely on their exposure and can easily let their standards slip.

A perfect alternative is the Internet and travel blogs in particular, offering a real time database of authentic sources and recommendations.

Slow it down

The idea of vagabonding is not to race your way through your days in a productivity-driven rage.

Often travellers are so caught up in seeing everything they possibly can that they end up even more overwhelmed and stressed.

Instead, it’s far more preferable to savour your time by doing away with to-do lists and schedules.

When you leave your routines behind, the potential for exciting and unexpected adventure really emerge.

This includes even the simple activities that we’d take for granted at home, like hailing a taxi or ordering food, allowing us to gain a different perspective.

Travel in this way, is much like a reversion to a child-like state, where even mundane activities become new and interesting as we make sense of our surroundings.


Travelling isn’t just about where you go, but who you meet.

The interactions you have will largely determine the quality of your trip and in some cases, it’s duration.

You might meet fellow travellers from around the globe, or locals.

In both cases, it presents an opportunity for self reflection and examination of your beliefs and values.

Whereas the Western world leans towards individualism, you might be surprised, for example, to observe the Asian preference for community values.

In this way, it’s important to approach your trip with an open-mind and spirit of generosity.

However, be careful not to fall into the common trap of romantic primitivism, where you renounce your ideals in favour of the locals idealised beliefs, much like may spiritual seekers travelling to India in the 1960’s.

Re-imagine adventure

Your might think that adventure is dead with nowhere new on Earth left to discover.

But adventure is how you frame it.

It can be discovered at any time or place, depending on how you approach it – as long as you’re willing to embrace the unfamiliar.

That could mean using a squat toilet, eating insects in a Chinese market or taking a train ride in India.

Adventure can be found in anything you wouldn’t normally do at home, allowing you to extend your comfort zone and conquer your fear.


When you’re vagabonding for extended periods, you may find the excitement of the adventure begins to wane.

After all, there’s only so much of nothing you can do and a limit on the number of beautiful beaches you can visit before the thrill diminishes.

Whereas you may have planned your trip in a stressful, grey city, soon even travelling can become monotonous.

This is where getting creative comes in to keep things fresh and exciting. Three ways:

  • Vary mode of transport – the author previously bought a boat to travel the Mekong river and a bike to cycle in Burma.
  • Working – While you likely won’t get rich working abroad, things like English teaching and farm work can cover your costs and keep things fresh, encouraging new experiences rather than passive tourism. Hostels may also offer work and free accommodation.

Vagabonding Summary

  • Most people do not believe in their independence enough to embrace long-term travel, delaying it until some unspecified future moment.
  • They think it’s only available to the select few
  • Much of this boils down to our misaligned relationship to money and the fact that believe ourselves too poor to be free
  • The first step towards vagabonding is simplifying our lives and save money through purging possessions and frugal living.
  • Most vagabonds choose to underprepare rather than overprepare, preserving the serendipity and the spirit of adventure.
  • It’s preferable to slow down and soak up your surroundings.
  • Becoming more childlike, we can take joy in seemingly mundane activities that when abroad, provide unique excitement.
  • Adventure can be found any time or place, as long as we’re willing to stretch our comfort zone.
  • Getting creative on the road is essential to maintain the excitement of extended travel.

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