vagabonding book summary

Book Summary: Vagabonding by Rolf Potts

The Book in Three Sentences

In this summary of Vagabonding , you’ll learn how to take a break from your regular life to engage in long-term travel. In the book, Rolf Potts explains how anyone can achieve their dream of traveling overseas to explore the world. Among other lessons, the book explains how to choose a destination, how to pay for your trip, how to deal with problems, and how to come back home.

Vagabonding Summary

Editor’s note: Vagabonding is packed with resources such as websites, magazines, and books. Since the book was originally released in 2002, some of the aforementioned resources might be a little outdated and others don’t even exist anymore, so I decided not to include them.


Vagabonding is an unorthodox book. It’s about the author’s experience of leaving the world of comfort to travel the world for long periods of time, spending as little as possible. The word vagabonding is a made-up expression the author invented (or thought he invented since other writers had used the term before) to try to describe what he was doing.

Part I: Vagabonding

Chapter 1: Declare Your Independence

Anyone can get a part-time job and save enough money to travel to another country. Traveling to exotic locations is often seen as fantasy because we associate these kinds of experiences with money. Long-term travel is an attitude about life. It isn’t about money or being a certain age. It’s simply about taking some time off to travel the world.

Part II: Getting Started

Chapter 2: Earn Your Freedom

Most people spend the best part o their lives making money, but never exploring the world because the time never seems right. Vagabonding is about the opposite of that and according to Potts, the perfect time is now. Never travel because it’s fashionable or because you see it as an obligation, do it because you’re in need of a personal realignment. To vagabond, you need freedom and to earn that freedom, you need to work. Vagabonding starts when you work because you earn integrity and start planning. This is also the time when you confront your problems. Don’t stop working once you’re on the road, working should be part of traveling.

If you don’t have the time, quit or use “constructive quitting” which involves negotiating with your employer. The author doesn’t see quitting as an act of recklessness, but as common sense. Additionally, vagabonding will help you develop skills you can add to your resumé, such as independence, planning, self-sufficiency, negotiations, and confidence.

Although many travelers think that vagabonding isn’t safe, the truth is most cities (especially big cities in America) are more dangerous than traveling overseas. A way to mitigate potential dangers is by staying informed about current events, talking to the locals, and avoiding a flashy appearance.

Chapter 3:Keep It Simple

Vagabonding isn’t defined by income level, it’s defined by simplicity. By simplicity, the author refers to personal sacrifice. Wealth can’t be defined by the items you own or consume. Wealth is determined by the amount of time you have and how you use it.

By definition, Vagabonding requires minimalism, reduction, and simplification. Not only does this give you the mobility necessary to travel around the globe, but you’ll also save money. Additionally, minimalism will free you from your possessions and routines.

There are three methods to simplifying your life:

  • Stopping expansion: this means not adding new possessions, even if those possessions are travel-related.
  • Reining in your routine: this involves living more humbly and eliminating expensive habits.
  • Reducing clutter: this refers to downsizing what you already have.

The problem with these changes is that friends and family members will see your newfound freedom as a criticism of their lifestyles. Remember that vagabonding is about personal growth, so ignore other people’s opinions. Once you’re on the road and traveling for months, you’re going to have to give up on luxuries. This involves taking buses instead of planes, sleeping in basic hotels instead of luxury ones, eating in local cafeterias instead of going to expensive restaurants, and so on. Simplicity is the price you pay to have more time. We often neglect time, but we also forget that it’s an invaluable resource because no money in the world can give you back the time you lose.

Chapter 4: Learn, and Keep Learning

Doing homework before a trip pays off, but relying too much on your homework can make you miss the unexpected just because it wasn’t part of your itinerary. Preparation is a necessity, but find the right balance between knowing what’s out there and being open to surprise. Do research, but assume certain aspects of what you learn this way are stereotypes. To educate yourself, be willing to read alternative (yet relevant) sources of information, such as newspapers, journals, novels, dictionaries, magazines, maps, videos, TV shows, encyclopedias, guidebooks, and so on. Never rely on a single source, especially guidebooks. To collect information about a particular place, rely on word of mouth and the internet, but only use the latter on specific occasions. Travel preparation is important too and it involves immunization requirements, having a passport, a visa, insurance, and being in charge of food, lodgings, and transportation.

The biggest concern people have when traveling is where to go to. Choosing a place means not going to other equally amazing places. The advantage of vagabonding is that you never know what’s next and you might stay in certain places for longer than you had originally anticipated. So don’t try to do everything at once. A slow and thorough experience is better than a shallow expedition where you visit dozens of countries. The author suggests buying a one-way ticket and planning the rest of the transportation from there. This is a cheaper and more organic way to travel and move around. Also, you can travel on your own or with someone else. Traveling with companions is a way of sharing challenges and expenses.

Bring as little as possible. Buy a small travel bag and pack a guidebook, a pair of sandals, hygiene products, medicine and sunscreen, earplugs, gifts for hosts and friends, a simple change of clothes, a nice outfit for special occasions, a pocket knife, flashlight, sunglasses, boots or walking shoes, and a strong padlock. Anything else you need, you’ll find wherever you go. This includes clothes, toiletries, pens, notebooks, towels, water, snacks, umbrellas, mosquito nets, warm clothes, books, and maps. You can bring camping equipment as long as you’re sure you’re going to be using it frequently. Leave expensive items such as jewelry and electronics at home, the latter include laptops, and expensive DSLR cameras.

Regarding money, most countries have ATMs, so don’t take all your cash with you. Pay your bills and debts before leaving and set an emergency fund just in case.

Part III: On the Road

Chapter 5:Don’t Set Limits

Vagabonding is easier than you might think and it’ll release you of the constraints of the social conventions of where you live. Anything, no matter how mundane, will seem exotic when you do it in a foreign country. There will be a lot to do and explore, but you have to be deliberate. Stay organized and interested, but refuse to cross off things from a to-do list. Pay attention to small details, analyze, and practice patience. Living far from home lets you break old habits, face your fears, and become someone new.

Inevitably, you’ll make mistakes and be embarrassed by them, but laugh and learn. Spend your days living your dreams: visit museums, ruins, historical settings, monuments, and other places of interest. Be willing to go wherever you want to go and remember that every place is brimming with possibility.

Chapter 6: Meet Your Neighbors

The attitude you have when you travel affects your experience. Ultimately, vagabonding is about interacting with others, but refrain from watching the world through your own values and try to see it from the eyes of the locals too. Cultivate humility and then develop a sense of humor. See members of other cultures as your neighbors.

Sadly, women can be treated differently in certain parts of the world: men will make advances, or they might be forced to cover their faces, so take this into consideration as well. Travelers will seem exotic in certain parts of the world too but never lose your temper. Communicating in English shouldn’t be a problem in most places, just speak slowly, simply, and clearly. Be a patient listener and compliment people brave enough to try their English with you.

Chapter 7: Get Into Adventures

To travel, you have to be open to unpredictability. Daring to do new things can lead to joy. See frustrations (fear, sickness, boredom) as part of the adventure. On that note, welcome misadventure when it happens, but don’t look for it on purpose. Maintain a balanced and healthy diet, keep hydrated, and always keep a small first-aid kit with you for emergencies.

Part IV: The Long Run

Chapter 8: Keep It Real

Whenever you travel to a new place, try to see things for what they are. Don’t make the mistake of judging your new surroundings based on the prejudices of the place you come from. The author makes a distinction between a traveler and a tourist. Travelers see thoroughly while tourists look superficially. Travelers are often described as authentic and engaged and tourists are sometimes seen as plain and lacking in taste. Regardless of which group you belong to, really seeing your surroundings is about being there, not fantasizing about the past or obsessing about the future. The goal of a vacation is to escape. The goal of vagabonding is traveling long-term which might involve both pleasant and unpleasant experiences. Seeing is a spiritual exercise, a process of being constantly interested in your surroundings.

Be open-minded, so ignore your own ideologies in order to learn from those who don’t share your same point of view. Control your compulsion to judge others and you might learn a lot about them, their country, their history, and their culture. Don’t daydream about ideal destinations, once you’re in a place you’ve always wanted to visit, engage with that reality. Don’t travel and then overlook the subtleties of the places you visit. avoid taking part in the same diversions you do at home, this involves partying, drinking, and doing drugs.

Chapter 9: Be Creative

Despite what countless Hollywood movies openly suggest, you can’t achieve personal happiness by stealing a million dollars and retiring to a tropical paradise where you sip cocktails until the day you die. You can find your own tropical paradise by getting rid of the stresses of your day-to-day life. If you go to the places you’ve always dreamed of you’ll realize that routine will take over eventually. New experiences might take you in new directions which is why the journey is more important than the destination.

As in life, traveling offers endless options and this can be overwhelming. By knowing your possibilities, you’ll learn to understand your limitations. Don’t see a journey as a final chance to see something, see it as a way to enjoy something new. Eventually, exploring one place will give you the patience and confidence to see even more places. Soon, you’ll see vagabonding not as a getaway, but as an aimless endeavor. Australian natives call this a “walkabout”, a ritual where they leave work and go to the outback. There are no goals and you don’t return home until you become whole again. Be creative to avoid the kind of routine that makes most days forgettable. Learn new disciplines, dishes, religions, games, and so on. You can also work, teach your native language, and volunteer for a good cause.

Chapter 10: Let Your Spirit Grow

There’s a spiritual side to traveling that a lot of people describe as a pilgrimage, the quest for personal growth that doesn’t involve money or politics. Since traveling around the world requires you to leave behind your possessions, rituals, and routines, this forces you to find meaning not in something external, but within yourself. Once you leave everything behind, you have nowhere else to hide.

Part V: Coming Home

Chapter 11: Live the Story

Coming home can be the hardest part of vagabonding. To a certain extent, this marks the end of the freedom and joy of going anywhere you want. It can be uncomfortable because you might feel out of place and home might seem different somehow. Soon, you’ll rediscover many of the things you missed, but then the thing you’ll miss most is traveling. You won’t relate to most of your friends and you’ll realize that you won’t share the same values.

Regardless of how you feel though, try to adopt a vagabonding attitude even when you’re home. You’ll be interested in international news and you’ll have a new perspective on other cultures. Even when you’re your own, you’ll feel part of a community. Use everything you learned on the road, to rediscover the place you live, nurture your dreams, and be simple. Sooner or later, you’ll feel the need to go out again.

Further Reading

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