A Wishful Vagabond

“Research your own experiences for the truth…Absorb what is useful…Add what is specifically your own…The creating individual is more than any style or system.” – Bruce Lee.

I have long had the desire to travel abroad for an extended period of time, as indeed do many of us at LLB, and I have recently been contemplating the most rewarding ways in which I could do this. I would like to live abroad in one place for a while, or even many places for a while, doing something I truly enjoy – well who wouldn’t? Whilst I would like to tour round as many countries as possible, I’m also aiming to avoid the standard ‘gap-yah’ experience, where you travel multiple countries/continents at an alarming pace to ‘see the world’ in 6-12 months.I suppose my differentiating factor would be that after this ‘break from reality’, I would like to think that I would not then return to the 9-5 daily grind back home as my experiences fade from memory. I do not want a ‘break from reality’. I want reality to be interesting enough for me to not need an escape.

Easier said than done, of course. Currently, top of my list of places to go, like so many others I’m sure, is South America. I speak Spanish but am not fluent, and it has long been a personal goal to become so. In my research into ways in which long term travel can be made possible, I recently came across the book* Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel* – in fact, another excellent Tim Ferriss recommendation.

Vagabonding, in a nutshell, inspires you to go ahead and HAVE that adventure. The book’s philosophical structure, filled with quotes from seasoned ‘vagabonds’ – a term used to describe those travellers who go in search of true adventures as opposed to tourists who expect adventures to happen to them – gives a pleasant balance of both the idealistic desires voyagers have to follow their whimsical dreams and some extremely practical advice as to how to go about achieving these.I very much liked the structure of the book in that it was made up of interesting first-hand experiences of travellers from all over, mini ‘profiles’ of more famous and renowned so-called ‘vagabonds’ from Henry David Thoreau to Ed Buryn, general advice, motivation and personal experiences from the author Rolf Potts, and, crucially, regular ‘tip sheets’ recommending the best printed and online resources which might aid a wannabe vagabond.

The book covers many steps of the process of vagabonding such as getting started in the first place, alleviating financial worries, meeting people along the way and the pros and cons of taking the road less travelled.I think the most ‘useful’ element of the book is definitely the tip sheets at the end of every chapter – Potts provides an astonishing number of informative resources to refer to when planning your journey and lays out a helpful ‘FAQ’ type discussion which targets the common questions one might ask based on his suggestions.Throughout the book he incorporates a number of useful pointers and reassurances for those inexperienced travellers, giving very solid advice from what seems to be his own extensive range of vagabonding travel history.

Potts is able to cover a vast range of worries which might face a potential traveller, giving advice from ways in which women travelling alone can stay safe to how not to offend the locals by accidentally disrespecting their customs. One of the book’s great merits is that alongside all of Pott’s practical advice, the writing style and streams of quotes embedded in the text still capture that sense of ‘mystical’ excitement which accompanies travel.This is not a guide book, but rather a book to read to encourage you to scratch those itchy travel feet and give you an extremely solid floor on which to walk.

One interesting concept Potts also talks about is how vagabonding is “a process not of seeking interesting surroundings, but of being continually interested in whatever surrounds you”. I think it is important to employ this principle whilst travelling, but also equally so in everyday life.When I first moved to London and didn’t know many people, I spent a lot of time walking around exploring and have since come to know some of the most exciting, unusual and serene places in the city. Many people do not take in their immediate surroundings and believe that adventure can only be found abroad.I think it’s so important to realise that adventure begins at home, and can be found all around. Potts includes a great quote from Moby Dick where the character Peleg taunts: “What dost thou think then of seeing the world? Can’t ye see the world where you stand?” I do not know the context in which this is written, but to me this simply serves as a brilliant reminder – there is no point travelling to ‘see the world’ if you can’t experience and value what is right in front of you.

Despite this, there really is nothing like travelling, and as a definite ‘wishful vagabond’ I’m going to be extremely self-indulgent and include some of my favourite quotes which Potts references. I think they capture the ‘vagabonding’ spirit aptly and inspire that awesome (in the literal sense) feeling which can only be found in travelling:

“Rise free from care before the dawn, and seek adventures. Let the moon find thee by other lakes, and the night over-take thee everywhere at home. There are no larger fields than these, no worthier games than may here be played.” – Henry David Thoreau, Walden

“Adventurous men enjoy shipwrecks, mutinies, earthquakes, conflagrations, and all kinds of unpleasant experiences. They say to themselves, for example, ‘So this is what an earthquake is like,’ and it gives them pleasure to have their knowledge of the world increased by this new item.” – Bertrand Russell

“We have no reason to mistrust our world, for it is not against us […] How should we be able to forget those ancient myths about dragons that at the last moment turn into princesses; perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave.” – Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet