Rolf Potts (@rolfpotts) is a travel writer and full-time vagabond. Rolf’s book Vagabonding has had a larger impact on my life than just about any book. I first picked it up in 2014 after I had just moved to Peru. At the time, I knew almost nothing about travel or living abroad. And this book taught me everything I needed to know. Reading Vagabonding sent my life on a trajectory from which it hasn’t returned, six years later.
Vagabonding, as defined by Rolf, is a sort of long term travel and a lifestyle choice that puts an emphasis on the value of time over money. If you’re making a million dollars a year, but have no free time to actually enjoy your wealth, then you may be rich but you’re time-poor.
Vagabonding contains a rich philosophy and how-to that are apt for both beginners and more advanced travelers. Many-time New York Times Bestselling author and podcaster Tim Ferriss has stated many times that when he traveled the world, it was one of the only books he carried with him. And he credits the ideas in Vagabonding with helping inspire The 4-Hour Work Week.
Rolf got his start writing when he was 7 years old and wrote a 70 page book about dinosaurs. As a teen he loved Stephen King books and tried to write horror stories. Later on, he and a friend took a van trip around the United States and Rolf started writing a Kerouac-esque adventure book about it.
After that, Rolf got his first taste of life abroad when he decided to move to South Korea and teach English. It was in the subsequent travels that he started formulating the ideas that would become part of Vagabonding. He began writing his stories for travel magazines as he vagabonded around the world.
Rolf is like a philosopher of traveling who takes a look at hard-worn travel wisdom and views it from different angles. And in his book Marco Polo Didn’t Go There, he gathers together some of the magazine pieces he’s written over the years and provides end notes for each piece that reveal a meta truth. He looks at his own writing and pulls back the curtain to tell things like why he wrote a certain piece in the present tense or how he was actually traveling with many more people but he had to omit them for the sake of the story.
In this podcast episode, Rolf talks about the authors who influenced him as a young writer. We talked about how he read a lot of Kurt Vonnegut and Joseph Heller, which influenced some of his social commentaries and humorous writing style. And later when he dove deeper into travel writing, he was inspired by legendary writers such as Pico Iyer and Paul Theroux.
Rolf is author The Geto Boys and Souvenir. And his podcast, Deviate with Rolf Potts, is one of my favorites. It was such a pleasure to finally get the chance to speak with him and I hope you enjoy this episode as much as I did!