Book Cover
  • 27th December 2017

Vagabonding by Rolf Potts{Book Review}

Vagabonding easily remains in my top-10 list for life-changing books. Why? Because one incredible trip, especially a long-term trip, can change your life forever. And Vagabonding teaches you how to travel (and think), not for one trip, but for the rest of your life. Tim Cahill, founding editor of Outside magazine and a brilliant travel writer himself, has said of Vagabonding, “I think this is the most sensible book of travel related advice ever written.” TIm Ferris

Book Cover

One of my favorite movies of all time is Oliver Stone’s Wall Street with Michael Douglas and Charlie Sheen. In this movie Charlie Sheen, a very promising talent in the stock market told his girlfriend about his dreams and why he is hustling on wallstreet so much.
“I think if I can make a bundle of cash before I’m thirty and I can get out of this racket, and I’ll be able to ride my motorcycle across China”.
This scene to me very much captures the essence of how the western world sees long-term traveling. We see travel as some kind ultra luxurious recurring dream that is only reserved for the ultra-privileged. Rolf Potts makes a brilliant calculation in his book Vagabonding. He shows that if Charlie Sheen would have cleaned toilets for 7 months he could have made his dream a reality and have enough money to start his adventure. And with 3 months more of cleaning toilets, he would have enough money to buy a new bike as well.
How is that possible?
We believe that long-term travel is something that we can only do after we have become super successful. Coming from a psychological background, I have a natural curiosity to find out what people really want to do and why their behavior differs so much from what they want. One of the questions I’m Asking people a lot is : “If you would be given 2500 $ every month of passive income, what would you do with your life”?
The answer that I got most often, is that they would quit their current job and travel the world. Growing up in Europe this mental fallacy is most manifested in our view of retirement. We kinda believe that we have to work our behinds off until we are 65 and then we can do whatever our heart desires. The idea that you invest and sacrifice the most valuable years of your life in order to do what you really want, in the least valuable years of your life is just a bad idea. If you are sick and tired of waiting for your life to start, then this article is for you.
As simple as this sounds, this really rattled my cage. The dreams of most people are accessible today! If you are resourceful enough and don’t mind eating some beans from time to time then traveling is constantly available for you. As a broke student, I managed to travel to travel to 50 plus countries so far, and I had a kick-ass adventure on every continent. And if I can do it, you can do it too. So who is the author of Vagabonding?

Who is Rolf Potts?

Rolf Potts is an American travel writer. He is best known for his Book Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel which was translated into several foreign languages, and Marco Polo Didn’t Go There ( Tavelers Tales, 2008). Potts rarely stay long in one place. He feels at home in Bangkok, Cairo, Pusan, New York or anywhere on the six continents. He is a true traveler and I highly recommend that you check him out. Click here to get to his blog

“The value of your travels does not hinge on how many stamps you have in your passport when you get home — and the slow nuanced experience of a single country is always better than the hurried, superficial experience of forty countries.” — Rolf Potts


Whats does Vagabonding mean? What is the book about?

Vagabonding is a term for taking time off from your normal life,even from yourself, this can be 4 weeks, or four months or four years. The goal is to discover the world on your own terms. A Vagabond is not a tourist but a traveler. It is a philosophy of life that you are a curious observer who explores whatever is desirable to you.
According to Rolf Potts Vagabonding consists of 3 things.

  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, good humor and the growth of the spirit.
  3. A deliberate way of living that makes the freedom of travel possible.


A tourist does not know where he has been. A traveler does not know where he is going” — Rolf Potts

Watch this video to get a short summary of the book.

In the book Vagabonding Potts writes about :

  • financing your travel time
  • determining your destination
  • adjusting to life on the road
  • handling travel adversity
  • coming home from travel and re-assimilation back into ordinary life.

3 Lessons I learned from reading Vagabonding

  • Become a stoic

Being a Vagabonder starts a long time before you reach the airport. It starts at home. Every trip starts at home. If you have declared to yourself that you want to travel long term it starts with changing some of your habits. In the video below Tim Ferris explains how to apply stoic philosophy to your life.       

From this hour I ordin myself loos’d of limits and imginry lines,
Going where I list, my own master total and absolute,
Listening to others, considering well what they say,
Pausing, searcing, receiving, contemplating,
Gently, but with undeniable will, divesting myself
of the holds that would hold me.
— Walt Whitman

  • Stop expanding.

There are only two ways to have more money. First is to earn more and the second is to spend less. If you radically reduce what you are spending, you will earn the required money for your trip much faster. I started, for example, to stop buying new clothes. I have 8 jackets, I don’t need a 9th one. It is ridiculous how much people are obsessed with making more money and how little they care about handling the money they already have. Click here to read my article about money management. 

  • Start saving.

Instead of going to the club every weekend, stay at home and have an amazing time playing games with your friends. Instead of being lazy ( and unhealthy) and ordering a pizza, cook for yourself. For example in Germany ordering a pizza costs about 15 euros. For that amount of money, you could live for 3 days if you cook yourself some minimalistic food. Make some sacrifices that enable you to live your dream. Find out what you spend your money on, and cut out some of the bullshit you don’t need. Sell everything you don’t need. Old video games, old clothes that second laptop you are never using.

  • It changed how I viewed work

As a student, I had a lot of shitty jobs. Working in construction, distributing pizza and so on. By far the most shitty job I ever had was a job for the biggest Bank in Hamburg as a mascot. I was dressed as a mouse and needed to dance for children in this costume. Being a 2-meter tall giant basically, every child was afraid of me. My coworker was an old Chinese hag that continuously gave me hell that I need to dance more and better. Looking back at it it was hilarious, but at that time it was the worst!
But what kept me going, and motivated me was that I had booked a flight earlier that month to Asia. So that humiliating job was the first part of my adventure, and viewing it as such made it not only bearable but also fun for me.
This is why I believe that everybody should have a Why. And if you why excites you enough you can do bear almost any how.
I believe that in order to grow, travel is a necessity. Humans are explorers, and I believe that the world would be a better place if we all would travel more and explore the world, and within that explore ourselves.
So start vagabonding!

Call to action

  1. Create a Bucketlist with 25 things you want to experience in the world
  2. Identify 3 areas in your life where you could save money.
  3. Write down 5 things that you could make money within a different county.
  4. Write down 3 things that you would do if there would be no money in the world?
  5. Write down 5 positive things that might happen to you if you start vagabonding.


What do you think about this article?
  • Great inspirational work on travelling long-term. The book is filled with links to lots of online resources that are probably out-of-date at this point, so it might not be a great idea to consider this book the Holy Grail of long term travel. However, it will inspire you to get started in the first place.

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