Michael Strickland's blog on all things travel: news, deals, destinations, dreams and more.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Vagabonding and other travel philosophies

I'm currently reading "Vagabonding," a book by world traveler Rolf Potts that calls itself "an uncommon guide to the art of long-term world travel."

I first heard about this book and its author when researching travel podcasts. One of the podcasts I listened to featured Potts, and his interview awoke my inner vagabond. I put his book on my Amazon wish list, but it stayed there for a lot less time than many of the other books that are still there.

The book's back cover defines "vagabonding" as "taking time off from your normal life—from six weeks to four months to two years—to discover and experience the world on your own terms." But what impresses me most about this book so far (I'm only two chapters into it) is that it's not a "how to" book. Instead, it discusses the philosophy of vagabonding, which seems so at-odds with the "normal" way of thinking in our contemporary society.

That "normal," very American philosophy has us all locked into a cycle of working hard to buy stuff, and then having to work harder to make the payments on that stuff, and working still harder to protect and insure our stuff, and then fitting in a week or two per year to go sit next to a pool somewhere. And along the way, we add on a few more hours to our work week to put money away for a far-off time when we "retire" from this cycle and live a life closer to what I'd call "normal."

Thoreau (quoted by Potts) questioned this wisdom of spending "the best part of one's life earning money in order to enjoy a questionable liberty during the least valuable part of it." I too have often thought such a lifestyle seemed at odds with true happiness, and even suggested in a former blog that we upend the cycle by retiring till we're 50 and then working till we die.

In the first chapter, Potts briefly mentions fear (as he puts it, "our insane duty to fear") as one of the factors that keep people from acting on their dreams of long-term travel. Though he goes on to discuss other factors, I think it's all about fear. Not so much a fear of the unknown—what we might encounter out there in the wide world if we go out and experience it—but a fear of the known, a fear of giving up that lifestyle that society tells us we must have, a fear of the uncertainty that "dropping out" (even if only temporarily) entails.

While I still have most of a book to go before I fully acquaint myself with Potts' philosophy, I already subscribe to a philosophy of a different type: that if I want to do something, I can find a way to make it happen. I've certainly done it before. And that philosophy goes a long way toward conquering any fear that society tries to instill in me.

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