Derek Sivers
The Vagabond’s Way - by Rolf Potts

The Vagabond’s Way - by Rolf Potts

ISBN: 0593497457
Date read: 2023-11-15
How strongly I recommend it: 9/10
(See my list of 360+ books, for more.)

Go to the Amazon page for details and reviews.

Best travel book I’ve ever read! Shook my soul many times. Tiny “daily meditation” format, with lots of quotes from others, but wow what wonderful insights. They make me yearn to travel again. Love love love these ideas and perspectives so much.

my notes

Travel is marketed as places as consumer products - an interchangeable mix of landscapes against which we can shop, dine, and take photos.

Seek out the humbler qualities - patience, receptivity, introspection.

Homesickness opposite: a pain less well known: “Outsickness.”
Wanderlust - a strong desire to travel.
German fernweh, which combines fern, meaning “distant,” with weh, meaning “ache.”
Fernweh is the ache to widen one’s horizons, to be at home in the unfamiliar.
Farsickness: longing to escape the confinement of the familiar and give oneself over to unseen places and experiences.

Come back renewed and enlightened, better positioned to give back to the communities we left behind.

My purpose in making this wonderful journey is but to discover myself in the objects I see.

On the road, people have to take you at face value.
Come into contact with essential parts of yourself.
Meet life, and yourself, head-on.

Turn as often as possible from the familiar to the unfamiliar: it keeps the mind nimble, it kills prejudice, and it fosters humor.

Leaving our home habits allows us to see things with eyes undimmed by familiarity.
Our life becomes inseparable from possibility.

Travel is not about escape, but engagement.
Form new relationships, learn practical skills, and accrue life experiences.
A coming-of-age ritual.
Go make yourself useful.
Create separation from home, learn new concepts, test self-sufficiency, and ease transition into a new life phase.

Nomadism is the original, prehistoric condition of humankind.

Travel can bring you true news of the world.

An unusual event (a man biting a dog) was more newsworthy than a common one (a dog biting a man).
Though meant as a critique of journalism’s capacity to give an accurate depiction of the world.

Going to unfamiliar new places can enhance our cognitive flexibility.
It stimulates human creativity in ways unrelated to the act itself.

To do things just for fun smacks of levity, immorality almost, in our utilitarian world.

“I am already richer than Harriman. I have all the money I want, and he hasn’t.”

Three separate trips:
1. the trip of anticipation
2. the trip that plays out on the road
3. the trip that is remembered afterward.
Keep all three as separate as possible.
Be present wherever you are right now.
The happiness begins while you’re still at home, dreaming about the landscapes and cuisines and people that await you.

For as long as would-be travelers have yearned to journey to distant places, there have been people telling them that wandering in other lands is self-indulgent and dangerous.

The most common regret among people facing death was that they had lived too much of their lives based on others’ expectations.
How many dreams have gone unfulfilled.

Health brings a freedom very few realize, until they no longer have it.

Find a place you care about, and make a pilgrimage.

Treat any seemingly authoritative rundown of travel recommendations as flawed pretext for creating your own, more meaningful list of travel favorites.
Use a bucket list to get yourself out the front door, but allow yourself to see the list’s specifics as a mere starting point for a much richer journey.

Reading a diverse array of books by local novelists, you won’t just sharpen your sense for a culture - you’ll cultivate empathy for the people you’ll meet there.
Books written by people from the places you’re visiting.

Tourist low season has counterintuitive rewards.
I went during the sweltering summer monsoon. Local villagers invited me into their houses for tea, saffron-robed monks flagged me down to practice their English, and I wandered the ancient temple complex for hours without seeing other tourists.

Sleeping in locally owned guesthouses.
It’s far more likely to embed travelers in the daily life of their destination.

Each day on the road will make you a savvier traveler.

While you’re still home, seek the global.

I went to twelve countries on five continents over the course of six weeks - with no luggage or bags of any kind.
Stowing a single change of clothing and a few small utility items (toothbrush, deodorant, smartphone, passport, emergency cash) in pockets.
Most of what we pack for a journey (entertainment gadgets, spare toiletries, “just-in-case” clothing items) has little bearing on the travel experiences we remember best.

The snobbish dichotomy that separates travelers from tourists is meaningless.
The most reliable metric for becoming a better traveler is not the one you use to compare yourself with your fellow wanderers, but the quieter one you apply to yourself.

One of the gladdest moments in human life is the departure upon a distant journey into unknown lands.
Shaking off the fetters of habit, the leaden weight of routine, the cloak of many cares and the slavery of home, man feels once more happy.

The heightened vulnerability of being in a foreign place can bring out our worst childish instincts as travelers, such as the coddling we expect at luxury hotels.
We have to relearn how to ask for food, read simple instructions.
We speak more simply, unencumbered by the histories that we carry around at home.
We see the world with new eyes, undimmed by routines and familiarities.
Cut off from our usual media diversions, we pay fuller attention to our immediate environment.

The golden age of travel is always right now.

Culture shock is a good thing: It’s the growing-pains of a broadening perspective. You get to realize that we are not the norm.

The unspoken rules that govern how people interact with one another within a given society can be the source of frustration to newly arrived outsiders.

Your trouble is due to your own lack of understanding, rather than the hostility of an alien environment.
You can gain a more objective understanding of your own culture-driven instincts, and adapt accordingly.
You break out of the cocoon of your own societal comfort zone and begin to grow beyond preconceived notions of how things should be.

The simplest way to protect yourself against theft on the road is to not carry much worth stealing.
In faded clothes, with a twenty-dollar wristwatch and cheap sunglasses, carrying a small, plastic twenty-dollar cell phone, how could I be worth mugging?

Going solo is his preferred method of travel.
Traveling with a companion, you are too much of a self-contained world for the rest of the world to be able to penetrate.
Traveling alone is that you get so lonely you need to talk to other people.
Encountering a place without a companion has a way of deepening the experiences.

Hotel rooms evolved to become placeless - a pleasant, sterilized home bubble.
Guesthouses and home stays aren’t cut off from the cultures you’ve come to experience.

Beaches are giant blank spaces, washed clean every day.

Tourist destinations bend to tourist expectations.
They’ve come to accommodate what outsiders (like us) had hoped they might experience there.
Locals often stage themselves in response to perceived touristic demands for authenticity.
The traditional-looking Balinese frog dance was created specifically for tourists in the 1960s.

Food is one of the best windows into a local culture.
The tapas ritual underpins the unhurried, socially minded charm of life in Spain.
In Ethiopia, meals are shared from a single plate.
Meals are as group-oriented and openhearted as the people you meet there.
In China, ritually swilling the liquor baijiu at meals underscores the cultural importance of both camaraderie and formal respect.

Most scam artists are trying to wring a few bucks out of a tourist to feed his family.

Travel can be a life-altering endeavor for the very reason that it introduces you to places where nothing belongs to you.
When you’re at home, surrounded by your possessions, you’re weighed down.
Away from home, you come to understand how unimportant those possessions really are.

Walk until your day becomes interesting.
Move more slowly, settle in villages for longer, to trade, to make connections, to become known.
Seek meaningful connections in a single place before hurrying along to the next one.

What seems odd about other cultures can reveal your own.

He is a barbarian, and thinks that the customs of his tribe and island are the laws of nature.

The famous places get so tied up in their aura that what we experience there can get mixed up with what we had hoped to experience there.
The most memorable travel experiences lie in places that haven’t been transformed for your convenience.
Meaningful experiences don’t typically happen in tourist zones.
They’re found in barbershops, classrooms, markets, hospitals, playgrounds, remote villages, and hole-in-the-wall kitchens.
You’ll find them by taking risks and getting involved.

A play becomes more interesting when a stray cat wanders onstage, since the cat is not bound by the same dramatic rules as the actors.

Rewarding travel involves depending on the kindness of strangers - putting yourself into the hands of people you don’t know, and trusting them with your life.

Wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common.

I got a unique window into the meticulousness of Arab masculinity in an affluent corner of Cairo, at a back-alley barbershop.

The familiar can come to seem wondrously exotic.

While traveling, read the local news.

Travelers were an essential conduit for spreading news.

Repay local hospitality by sharing what you’ve seen and heard in other regions.

Tourist popularity transformed parts of Paris and Rome into places that belonged as much to visitors as to the people who lived there.

History is written by the winners? This actually isn’t true. History is written by the people most eager to write it.

I hit the streets every day with no real plan besides walking and seeing what happens.
People come up and ask, “My friend, what are you doing here?”
My icebreaker is, “I’m here to meet you.”
Disarmingly open to meeting the people who take a genuine interest in you.

Muslims chronicling the hajj to Mecca included poets and princesses, scholars and slaves, traders and fugitives.
Christian pilgrims walking the road to Rome or Jerusalem traded their workaday clothes for coarse russet tunics and broad-brimmed hats.
Muslims completing the hajj collectively changed into seamless white garments known as ihram clothing.
The goal in both traditions was to eliminate all social distinctions and travel not as representatives of a nation or a social class, but as human equals, united by their common journey.

Don’t restrict your company to fellow travelers.

Don’t ask a local person where to eat; ask where he or she eats.
Seeing a foreign-looking person, they assumed he wanted foreign food.

Travelers have always had a weakness for the familiar.

Simple generosity - the willingness to spend money locally - is more meaningful to the people we visit than the self-satisfied labels we apply to ourselves as wanderers.

The most rewarding aspect of experiencing another culture is the subtle variations in such universal human customs as clothing design, cooking, and composing music.

Look past what feels “exotic” and learn to savor subtle differences in the things we already have in common.

Xenophilia causes a person to fixate on quixotically romantic visions of foreign cultures.
Foreignness can be an intoxicant.

Travel through the lens of your obsessions.
Skateboarders can experience unfamiliar cities in unique ways - and make lots of local friends - by grinding curbs and popping ollies with local skaters.
Having a concrete mission in a place is a great pretext to learn languages, meet people, and veer away from standard sightseeing activities.

New and under-construction edifices might be as worthy of attention as the monuments.

A person can’t travel somewhere and then suddenly proclaim themselves an expert on that culture.
A traveler’s understanding of a place is partial at best.

Making you newly curious about what you don’t quite understand - heightened awareness.

Purchase items because they seek to initiate a relationship.
A good sell or buy is one that builds a bond between the two parties.

Travelers need not worry about ending up in the “wrong” place by mistake.
You’re already where you’re supposed to be, which is somewhere in this new place.
There’s no getting lost because you’re already there.

Travel is like study.
Its fruits are the adornment of the mind and the formation of judgment.

Hostels are no longer just for youth.
They’re an enjoyable, inexpensive lodging option for anyone willing to forgo a few comforts and embrace their communal energy.

No amount of money can pay for hospitality.
The guest serves a very real function.
To be a host is a meritorious act.
Therefore, to be a guest is also to give merit.
Respecting hospitality is a time-honored travel rite.

Preconceptions still taint our understanding of the world as travelers.
We can over-idealize the presumed kindnesses of places like Costa Rica or Zambia or Kiribati as readily as we can overemphasize their presumed dangers.
Be skeptical of received impressions about the places you visit, and embrace the challenges and surprises of experiencing those places in real time.

Mass tourism can make a place less like itself.
The world’s most iconic travel attractions have more in common with each other than with their host cultures.

Achieve a kind of introspective solitude among strangers - to focus your energies not on external goals, but on simple observation.
Move through in-between spaces, invigorated by the notion that, in not knowing what to expect, you enable yourself to commune with the unexpected.
Witnesses the utilitarian life of a city without feeling compelled to participate in it.

As Egyptians took to the streets of Cairo in 2011 to demand the overthrow of then-president Hosni Mubarak, protestors set up what they called the “Museum of the Revolution” in a tent near the Presidential Palace. Exhibits featured things like empty tear gas canisters and photographs commemorating a movement that was literally still happening. The makeshift museum’s purpose wasn’t just to honor the revolution, but to make it feel more official.

Visit museums - be they national galleries or local relics put on display.
Museums can be like sitting in on the conversation a place is having about itself.

Observe, and inquire into the trade, the manufactures, the government, and constitution of every place.
Everyday processes and interrelationships that make those places what they are.

Seeking to impose a cultural identity on a people is equivalent to denying them the most precious of liberties - that of choosing what, how, and who they want to be.
Bangladeshi death-metal music can be understood as a sincere expression of Dhaka youth culture.

There are train buffs; there are no bus buffs.
A bus is simply a way to get from one place to another cheaply.
Buses are popularly regarded as the least glamorous way to travel.
They move more people from place to place than any other form of transport in the world.
To travel by bus, you are invariably joining a self-enclosed local community, a practical-minded microcosm of the culture you’re visiting.
Taking a matatu minibus across Nairobi offers a purer experience of Kenya than getting shuttled around.

Social media features “like” buttons, but none indicating “let’s wait for more information and then make up our minds”.

Maps are dishonest:
By depicting the river as a squiggly line (with no indication of water depth)
By rendering the landscape in uniform kilometers (with no sense for the physical challenges within that landscape)

Put money directly into the community you’re visiting. (rather than corporate shareholders)

Eat what is put in front of you. They are not making fun of you. The rooster’s head floating in the soup really is given to the honored guest.

Seek out places that haven’t adapted themselves to global visitors. Comparatively anonymous hinterlands.

Any tourist-clogged attraction will likely have a quieter alternative nearby.
Walking a few miles in any direction from obvious tourist sites is the surest way to begin a diversion from the beaten path.

Going by bicycle is a great way to experience a place.
Shorter-term bike rentals are a dynamic way to cover ground.

What travelers call a “paradise” is fiction that mimics isolation from human society without requiring any of the discomforts and inconveniences that result from that isolation.

The discomforts and inconveniences of a journey are a reliable way to immerse us in the realities of another culture.

Experience other cultures as they experience themselves.
Immerse in the workaday rituals of places visited - seeking laundromats rather than landmarks, grocery stores instead.

The trip that goes exactly as planned is forgettable.

Foreign reporting seems as if there are only two possible subjects: people we should fear and people we should pity.

It is said that the camera cannot lie, but rarely do we allow it to do anything else, since the camera sees what you point it at.
The camera sees what you want it to see.

The Tanzanian government considered setting up a fake Maasai village for tourist buses.
Tourists want to see the most primitive people in their most primitive state.

Subjects who were forced to find their own way around cities in a travel simulation were found to have more dynamic hippocampal brain activity (thought to combat neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s disease) than travelers who navigated those cities using GPS.

Traveling alone makes you more vulnerable to the world.
Don’t travel with anybody of your own culture if you really want to understand another one.
People tend to gravitate to you if you’re alone.
You arouse their curiosity more.
They may think you’re lonely.
Without a companion along for the journey - without giving off the sense that I am socially self-contained - I am more likely to get invited into other people’s lives, and more open to such invitations when they happen.
As much as anything, traveling solo is more meditative, more aware, more open to new experiences, and more attuned to your own sensibilities as you take in the world around you.

How you get places affects how you experience them.
The journey is part of the experience - an expression of the seriousness of one’s intent.

Belgian surrealist René Magritte’s 1929 painting The Treachery of Images, which depicts a photorealistic pipe over a caption reading “This is not a pipe,” evokes a playful meta-message about the difference between images of objects and the actual items they depict. Magritte’s painting is not, after all, a device that enables one to smoke tobacco; it’s just a realistic-looking two-dimensional portrayal of one.
Travel photos we see on social media don’t depict journeys.

“Electronic umbilical cords.”
Reaching out to people back home is a comforting ritual on the road, but reflexively doing so whenever you get lonely or bored can cut you off from talking to strangers on the road.
Establish an effective sense of separation from the place you left behind.

Tourists remind us that we are essentially consumers of an experience that is constructed for us in advance.
Avoiding this consumer role begins when we wander away from what we’re expected to see.

The cure for loneliness is solitude.

Loneliness can be a way of seeing the world more clearly.

At home, our experience of solitude takes place in the context of the familiar.
Encountering aloneness in a new place offers an intensified perspective on who we are and how we respond to the world.

Loneliness makes things happen.

To truly experience a place, seek to live like locals do.
Kristin spends her time there with the friends and family of a former student from Moldova, which means she lives like a local person when she’s there.

The occasional bad night’s sleep can be a sign that you’re stretching your comfort zone into new directions.

Some of the most amazing time starts with a long wait.
For travelers from the industrialized world, finding pleasure in waiting is a faintly absurd notion.
In much of the rest of the world, patience is the natural response to life’s inevitable uncertainties and inefficiencies.
Whereas at home we create routines that can make life feel more predictable, travel makes us more beholden to the fact that we can’t optimize our own ideas of efficiency.

Spend at least one full day walking someplace new.

“Authentic” traditions we seek out as travelers are less related to how people actually live in distant places than to our own desire for obvious and colorful cultural differences.
‘Unspoiled,’ as fixed as a museum piece for our inspection.
No inhabitants will long for the same.

In distant lands, men have come before us and made where we are going just a little more like where we have just come from.

A journey leaves the traveler...
more generous and open-minded
less impatient and judgmental
more beholden to curiosity and vulnerability
less beholden to narcissism and stereotyping
more likely to confront fears and limitations
less likely to avoid them.

70 percent of the world’s population doesn’t use toilet paper.

Daydreaming and mindtraveling:
Move simultaneously through landscapes and mindscapes, in time travel and flights of the mind.
Travel is perhaps one part geography, nine parts imagination.

Indian people retain a sense of peace amid urban chaos.

People choose new ways because they are more relevant to their current needs, and offer new opportunities that the old ones did not.

I seek the excitement and challenge of being in a place where nobody knows me.
I go to some distant region of the world to be reminded of who I really am.
Stripped of ordinary surroundings, I am forced into direct experience.

Being on the road seeds life with a sense of possibility.

Luxury environments can serve as a respite from the rigors of independent travel - a travel-adjacent home setting, where one can put the trip on pause and indulge in a few self-contained comforts before returning to the joyful challenges of the real world.

Instead of being an explorer of unknown territories:
Be a seeker and student of territories that are well known to the people living there.
Then bring those people’s best innovations home.

Nationality is a kind of shorthand we all use as a starting point to make sense of human differences across the sprawl of the world’s geography.
Part of the point of travel is to look past the constraints of national identity.

Many places around the world (including Ubud in Bali, Lamu in Kenya, Ibiza in Spain, Panajachel in Guatemala, and Byron Bay in Australia) have, over the years, become so popular with travelers that they can feel like laid-back sister cities on the global vagabonding circuit.

“When in Rome, do as the Romans do” is okay advice, but don’t expect anyone to think that you’re Roman just because you’re trying to do whatever it is that Romans do. You’re a tourist, baby, and everything about you will announce it to the world.

“Going native”: a faintly derisive term that applies to people who embrace a half-understood devotion to the cultures they encounter on a journey.

Give yourself a few days to rest up, absorb the journey.
Enjoy those places because they allow you to take a rest.

Consider what lies beneath a place’s touristic surface.
Venture beyond the obvious.

Reducing what we own to what we can carry, helps us reconsider the notion of value itself.

Travelers weren’t looking for authenticity in specific places so much as they were seeking a feeling of authenticity in themselves.

One thing about tourists is that it is very easy to get away from them.
Like ants they follow a trail, and a few yards each side of that trail there are none.

Consider the perspective of residents in places where - as a traveler - you are literally out of place.
Sometimes the easiest way to do this is to slow down, rent a room for a while, create a simple routine, and learn what the place feels like when you aren’t just passing through.

He asked Fayan why he was making the pilgrimage. “I don’t know,” said Fayan, to which the master responded, “Good. Not knowing is most intimate.”

The urge to migrate, to quest, to go on a journey, is deep-seated - ancestral, essential and instinctive.
Living your whole life in the village, town or city of your birth is a relatively recent, anomalous development.
Taking one’s life on the road isn’t something that is done in defiance of conventional civilization.
It’s a modern expression of the way people have always lived.

Travel is at its most rewarding when it ceases to be about your reaching a destination and becomes indistinguishable from living your life.
You begin to feel somewhat at home everywhere.
You begin to enjoy a heightened sense of comfort and normalcy amid the ongoing unfamiliarity of travel.
The road becomes home.

You don’t properly experience a place until you pay it a return visit.
Returning allows you to seek subtleties and serendipities you may have missed before.

Amid his multiyear global journey, he began to feel weary of travel.
Burnout can seem like the ultimate in ingratitude.
Travel can settle into a routine just as easily as office life can.
Onion domes dazzle upon first arrival, but begin to fade once the traveler begins to live there.

Alienation can result from too many years of aimlessness.
Travel for travel’s sake yields diminishing returns when it becomes unmoored from any sense of community or continuity.

To maintain a lifelong relationship with travel is to take the journey back to familiar ground and renew your sense for what makes it special.
The satisfaction I need depends on my going away, so that when I’ve gone and come back, I’ll find it at home.
Bring the attitude of travel into the life you live at home.

One does not accumulate but eliminate.
It is not daily increase but daily decrease.
The height of cultivation always runs to simplicity.

Embrace a travel-won sense of simplicity at home.
Life on the road naturally lends itself to simplicity.
You tend to accumulate new experiences and friendships instead.

The English word saunter is related to the French phrase sans terre, which literally translates as “without land” but implies that one is equally at home everywhere.

Hospitality motivations:
Outsiders make life at home more interesting.
The traveler is a source of entertainment, of novelties, of comic relief.
Reciprocity: offering generosity to outsiders in the faith that the favor might be returned if you ever find yourself in a strange land.
Nomadic societies - cultures like the Bedouin of the Arabian Desert, the Maasai of Nilotic Africa, and the Mongolians of the Central Asian steppe - are famously hospitable.
A life of constant travel occasionally leaves a person in need of assistance.
Nomads see offering food, drink, and shelter to strangers as a core human virtue.

Make a broader perspective your favorite souvenir.

Back home, be evangelical about your newly expanded global viewpoint.

I can’t read global news without thinking about people I’ve met in places where those events are happening.