Vagabonding (Rolf Potts) - Book Summary, Notes & Highlights

The book Vagabonding on top of a wooden table
Photo taken by me

By showing us that long-term travel is both extremely rewarding and more accessible than many think, Rolf Potts opens the door for you to travel the world.


(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, self-reliance, and the growth of the spirit.

(3) A deliberate way of living that makes freedom to travel possible

⏳The Book in 3 Sentences

  1. Long-term travel is accessible to almost everyone and if it is something you want to experience don't let anything stop you!
  2. Focus on being more deliberate in everyday life and when traveling, this will allow you to experience life more fully.
  3. Embrace a beginner's mindset when traveling, keeping an open mind and always embracing opportunities to learn both from others and your own experiences.


This book is about the topic of long-term travel and the benefits it can give you as a person. I first read this book before going on my first backpacking trip to Southeast Asia and it was transformative. It made me feel both prepared and excited to go on that adventure. Of course, I would end up making many of the mistakes Rolf tells you to avoid, but that is part of the journey.

Rolf does a great job telling stories from the road and the lessons to be learned from them. Throughout the book, both contemporary travelers and historical travel stories are woven in, which I find enjoyable. The book leaves me wanting to go on my next long trip and I have begun planning for that.

📖Who Should Read It?

I would highly recommend this book to everyone with an interest in traveling, adventures, and the human experience in our modern globalized world. The book is both informative and entertaining. Rolf Pott tells the reader about the joys of long-term travel. I believe you will enjoy it if:

  • You have a dream trip you keep postponing until the "time is right"
  • You enjoy traveling and reading about travel memories and philosophy
  • You have ever done or considered long-term travel
  • You want to be more mindful of the present and your surroundings whether that is at home or in a foreign country

👩‍🏫Lessons I Have Learned

How my life / behavior / thoughts / ideas have changed as a result of reading the book.

  • This book was a big inspiration for my first big backpacking trip to Southeast Asia 7 years ago
  • Another lesson for me has been to view my hometown with traveler's eyes and thus experience Gothenburg in a different light which has been rewarding.
  • I am planning another potential long-term trip in the next year as I want to go visit South America
  • Rolf Potts' thinking has inspired me to be more deliberate in my life and thus I try to avoid becoming distracted by things like phones and social media (important to note the "try" as I have varied results)

📝Summary + Notes

The book is a collection of stories, lessons, and excerpts on traveling. The book is a celebration of travel and the wonderful things that can come from it. You can feel through the pages how much Rolf loves to travel and it easily rubs off. After having read this book I instantly wanted to start looking for my next travel adventure. It is not only inspiring either, but it also contains a bunch of trips and tricks for travelers that I am sure you will enjoy. Below is five of my main takeaways.

1. Stay humble and embrace a beginner's mindset

I wrote about the beginner's mind in my article about Navigating Life, it is the practice of keeping an open mind and staying humble to the fact that we do not know all. This practice can be extremely helpful when traveling, as you will be able to learn from people you meet when traveling and experience different countries and cultures to a higher degree. However, it is not only useful for travel as a practice of humility will allow you to learn faster in all facets of life.

" 'One of the essential skills for a traveler,' noted journalist John Flinn, 'is the ability to make a rather extravagant fool of oneself.' Thus, allow yourself to laugh and growth through your mishaps"

2. Live the story!

Stay present during your travels, in fact, this is beneficial in everyday life too. Rolf Potts reminds us that it is more important to live a story than how you will retell it. I believe this is even more important today than when Vagabonding was published as the spread of smartphones and the growth of social media has influenced many of us to see the world through a small rectangular square. Life is so rich and it would be a shame to miss out on it because you constantly view it through your phone. I sometimes struggle with this as I want to share my experiences with the world and, more specifically, my loved ones through sharing photos or videos, but I try to find a balance. What Rolf is saying is that we should make sure to be in the present when we travel and that we truly live our experiences.

"Telling the story is not nearly as important as living the story"
"try to keep yourself in the moment instead of thinking about what kind of story it will make when you get home"

3. Instead of an end goal focus on the journey when traveling

Often times the most memorable moments of travel will happen at the most unexpected of moments. It is the small moments during everyday travel that tend to become core memories. Yes, seeing the huge tourist attractions in all their glory is powerful and neither I nor Rolf is trying to dissuade anyone from "seeing the sights" but the moments we think of and talk about years later are usually not from those places. For example, I went to Siem Reap to see Angkor Wat, and believe me it was a cool experience but there were more impactful events in Siem Reap for me personally. They were not all great experiences, I had a really bad case of food poisoning during New Year's Eve in Siem Reap and it sucked, but I got through it. On a positive note, I met Mike and Pepper from Canada whom I would eventually end up traveling with in Malaysia a few weeks later. So remember that the goal of traveling is often to stay present and experience it all because as Rolf said "the most vivid travel experiences usually find you by accident".

4. Time > Money

A core message of Rolf Potts' book is that we should all focus on "earning to live, rather than living to earn". What I believe he means by this is that we should not focus on making more money for the sake of making more money. Instead, what we should do is be more mindful of the money we have and don't waste it on mindless consumption, instead we should be more deliberate. After all, time is the only resource we cannot get more of. We are all wealthy in time, but we must choose how to spend it. Vagabonding can be a way to spend your time more wisely. If you have dreamed about traveling to faraway countries this can often be done cheaper than you think and none of us know how much time we have, unfortunately. The finiteness of life is something I talked about in my summary of Four Thousand Weeks it is inevitable and so we should ensure we do the things we want to when we can!

"Money, of course, is still needed to survive, but time is what you need to live"
"Long-term travel doesn't require a massive 'bundle of cash'; it requires only that we walk through the world in a more deliberate way."

5. Focus on what you can control

I often speak about what we can control on this blog and how it relates to the dichotomy of control from Stoicism. There are some things we can control and others we cannot, there is no point in putting energy into trying to change the latter so the former should be where we put our focus. Rolf Potts argues that Vagabonding is a way to take control of your circumstances and take agency. It is about avoiding life happening to you and instead making life happen. As noted by the quote from Tim Ferriss below, the timing will always suck. There will always be things that get in your way so often we might as well take action now!

"The man who is truly good and wise will bear with dignity whatever fortune sends, and will always make the best of his circumstances" - Aristotle, Ethics
"Vagabonding is about taking control of your circumstances instead of passively waiting for them to decide your fate"
"For all the most important things in life, the timing always sucks" - Tim Ferriss