Rolf Potts is a travel writer, essayist, adventurer and teacher. I discovered Rolf Potts from listening to Tim Ferriss. Rolf’s book, Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to The Art of Long-Term World Travel is attributed by Ferriss as the basis for his stick-it-to-the man 4-Hour Workweek.
I sat down with Rolf Potts over Skype from our Joy Bus to learn from him about learning to live curiously. Potts calls rural Salina, KS home after having his pick of equitable frugal options abroad. His Mid-West roots pulled him back to be near family and friends.
Key insights from Rolf
- Reframing your thinking enables you to power jettisons from real life to discover long-term world travel.
- If you wait until society tells you to go, you never will.
- We forget how easy it is to give ourselves permission.
- Insulating yourself from discomfort limits our travel adventures.
- How to build a Time-Wealth philosophy to create enough time to experience the travels you dream about.
- GO. GO. GO. Stop waiting.
About Rolf Potts (from his website)
Rolf Potts has reported from more than sixty countries for the likes of National Geographic Traveler, The New Yorker, Slate.com, Outside, the New York Times Magazine, The Believer, The Guardian (U.K.), Sports Illustrated, National Public Radio, and the Travel Channel. His adventures have taken him across six continents, and include piloting a fishing boat 900 miles down the Laotian Mekong, hitchhiking across Eastern Europe, traversing Israel on foot, bicycling across Burma, driving a Land Rover across South America, and traveling around the world for six weeks with no luggage or bags of any kind.
Great writing from Rolf
Friends welcome to work life play. I'm your host, Aaron McHugh. I'm here to help you find work. You love, learn to play live.
So this guy I've been talking with since last fall, sometime it looks like November 9th, 2016. I reached out to him and said, Hey, Rolf Potts, you're super rad. And Vagabonding the art of long-term travel makes me super stoked and I have it on repeat on my audible playlist for books. Would you come on, work-life play and tell the stories that you tell in your book and about your life and what it's like to be you and what you've learned along the way, share some of those lessons with us.
He did and we finally caught up and have a chance to chat. How I found Rolf was through Tim Ferris’ and Tim Ferris wrote a book called the four-hour workweek, which many of you may have read before or listened to if you have not, I strongly suggest it. I brought Rolf on and we talk about the art of long-term travel as it relates to his book Vagabonding and number of other books he has and books he's written stuff he's been featured in, but really at the core of it, I think are a set of beliefs that are really helpful and challenging ideas to embrace about how we live our life here at home.
And then how that translates to what our travels and adventures look like by removing a lot of the excuses and the stories we tell ourselves that prohibit us from actually experiencing the stuff we want to do. So real quick, shout out to Mike Shapiro from the Baha sea of Cortez sea kayaking trip. Back in February, I met Mike paddling South with my brother and a number of other folks that he was there with. And Mike and I were in, some others were chatting, pulling up our sea kayaks onto the shore. And I was telling them some of the reason I was on this trip was because of a story from this book called Vagabonding. And I just referenced this author and said, yeah, this quote, and here's what it was. And then this guy, Mike, who I was on the trip with, he's like, Hey, I know that guy. That's Rolf Potts. So shout out to Mike. Hey Mike, thanks.
So the question for you, which came first, being in love with travel and adventure or writing?
Oh, that's tough because both of them date back to a very early time in my life, probably traveling adventure. But only by a few years, I just like my earliest memories are just a sense of excitement for going to places that felt exotic at the time like Colorado or Chicago. Actually, when I went to Colorado in Chicago, I kept little journals.
I think travel came first, but travel sort of inspired me to record the journey. My parents are teachers and my mom had given me a journal and encouraged me to write about it. Travel was the first spark of inspiration, but almost since I began traveling, I have felt compelled to write about it as I go. And that has never really stopped.
That's beautiful. I was reading through your bio and if you don't mind, I'll just kind of name some highlights here, just so that listeners have contexts of my favorite work that I follow in, what you've done in 2003, you published a book called Vagabonding an uncommon guide to the art of long-term travel. You've written in everything from outside in the magazine to New York times to National Geographic Traveler. This is what you do for a living is write about travel and adventure and about the insights that you find along the way. Tell us a little bit more about what that means on a day to day basis.
Well, it's not your normal job and I'm a freelancer and I have several different income streams . And so my day to day life as a travel writer has changed a lot since I first started traveling. First started Vagabonding internationally after teaching English in Korea. I eventually got a column for salon.com, which no longer has a travel department. And this is before blogs. And I would just get into adventurous and write about them. And I didn't make very much money. I make more money, you know, working on an assignment for outside or national geographic traveler these days, but it was just really fun to be able to just get into an adventure, write about it, and then it would, it would find an audience days later.
And now that isn't that strange because blogging is fairly normal, but at the time that feedback loop between lived experience and people reading about it was pretty unique. I was one of the first generation of, of online travel writers and, you know, it's changed a bit over the years. I've I do a fair amount of teaching. I teach a class in Paris every, every summer. I've done some teaching at the university level. I've written several books now and that's a part of my income stream. And I do a lot of public speaking and things. So it's not just a travel writing that I do for a living. Although that's still the core of what I do. And it's mostly what I talk about it. I think despite the fact that I've, I've done different types of cultural criticism and more TV related work, people are just really intrigued by this idea of longterm travel. And so I ended up talking about it a lot and actually I love to talk about it.
I would say from my experience in the, your Vagabonding book is I think it's really more of a mindset as much as a how to, so one of the things that I just loved is I would just say like the reframing of the thinking about how you think about travel and a couple examples that I'll give and love to hear some more stories about them is that one of them you tell about, I think it was Charlie Sheen from a movie wall street, I think was the movie you referenced and said, you know, I can't wait until I can make a ton of money, get out of here and ride a motorcycle across China.
And then you have all these little kind of comments about anybody knows that they could wash dishes for two weeks and make enough money to buy a motorcycle and travel across China. So you just really did a great job of going through and having these big ideas or formerly prohibitive beliefs and excuses and delays and put offs and then reframe. That's true. If what you're looking to do is eat at five star restaurants and stay at the Westin every night, you might be limited to two weeks somewhere or three, but if you're willing to reconsider and think of it differently than you actually can have this, you know, what people feel like is a life that could only dream about. So it be curious just to hear more about how your stumbling’s began with that, of how did you begin to reframe for yourself, and then how did you begin to then just trickle these insights and that Ben became this collective work of Vagabonding?
Well, I think when you start traveling when you're young, and people do vagabond and venture as much younger than I had done. That's one of the principles that I introduced in the book, if you wait until society tells you that you can travel, if you work your whole life and then retire and travel, it's just, you're selling the experience short and there's no need apart from compulsion and fear to wait that long to travel.
But going back to the idea that Charlie sheen wall street idea, that we sort of glamorize the idea of travel so much, that we forget how easy it is to just give to ourselves. And one advantage of starting my travel career when I was young is that I didn't have very much money. I didn't have that five star Western option. I think one thing about the travel industry and not to knock the travel industry, but that five-star travel culture is about comfort and insulating yourself from unpredictability. And by traveling when I was poor and just sort of taking what happened along the way, I realized that not only did I save a ton of money, not only was I able to travel in Asia for less than I would live rent and food in any American city, it just allowed me to get past that comfort zone, you know, to realize that not only can I not afford that comfort, I don't need that comfort.
It's much more exciting. It's much more interesting. It's much more rewarding to travel hand to mouth and travel within that mom and pop economy, and really get to know the texture of the place where I am be that sleeping in my van in Colorado when I was 23 or a few years later, when I was on the road, staying in guest houses and eating street food in Thailand, I didn't need the comfort and insulation that the five star itinerary would provide me. And so I didn't see wall street until after I had done a little bit of Asian travel. And I, when I watched it, it just astonished me because obviously it was, it's an assumption that we can live our dreams, we'll make our fortune and then live our dreams. And it's like, I hadn't literally written my motorcycle across China, but I'd had some amazing experiences in similar parts of the world.
For what that Charlie sheen character was making on wall street, I could have traveled for a decade. That sort of fed into that and reading some of the philosophers that I also quote in the book helped me build this time wealth philosophy that you use what money you have to create a wealth of time, and that's all you need. You don't need that big bottle of cash that Charlie sheen talks about. You just need enough cash to create time in your life, to live those travel dreams that most people unfortunately never actually capitalize on.
Yeah, that's so true. Well, it really came for me in a really fun and interesting season in life. I had just jettisoned on a executive career and the lack of time poverty that I had, but all of the resources as well. And so when I started listening to your book, I think actually how I found it was through Tim Ferris and listened to a podcast of his and he, as he raved about it and went on to say that it was the inspiration for a lot of the work that he did behind the four hour workweek and some of his adventures, I started listening to it and thought, dear God, this guy's right. It is like, I've got this thing, whole thing backwards of this sharp Charlie Sheen mentality of, well, if I can just save enough, then I can do X, Y, and Z.
But now I had lived enough life to realize that that actually didn't become true. And again, that story of we'll do it next year. Well, no, maybe it's the next year. And then they put it off and then never do it. I found that that was very true. So what I love about your invitation is reframing well, what would it look like for you to follow your nose and just lean into these adventures and dreams, and then, but what if, what that means is you do have to redefine what star, you know, one through five are you looking for? And that comfort meter, I think that's really important is that I find very, very, very often that discomfort is so unattractive to people that it's not worth because they don't like to deal with what comes up when discomfort surfaces.
I think that it's a very interesting offer also that you bring, which is embrace discomfort as part of the journey that you're on. And part of the reason you get away from your home and go see new places is to learn new things. But if you're not willing to also learn new things about yourself, then you're going to be shortchanging yourself for this entire journey. So I'm just curious for you is like, again, did that all come in the beginning and it was always part of the mantra of how you approach the road or was that just lessons learned and aggregated over time?
It was there from the beginning again, just out of necessity. And I've always been, even before I traveled in the Vagabonding, since I was into back country backpacking and hiking and things like that. So I didn't mind sleeping rough or saving money. You know, I come from a frugal Midwestern family so saving money was, was sort of an ethic from the beginning, but it's just, it's been an ongoing thing and I've never really bought into the idea of full star luxury. And you said, there's, there's one star to five star. We're actually, there's an entire class below one star of places where you can stay from, you know, these, these comfortable guests houses all the way down to sleeping in the ditch. And as I say in vagabond, you don't need to sleep in the ditch. I mean, there's just, there's all sorts of options that can allow you to travel economically.
We’re sort of inculcated to seek comfort. And again, there's nothing wrong with that, but in the smartphone age, you can have all sorts of psychic comfort to, you know, you have maps on your phone to ensure that you're never lost and you have eBooks and texting to make sure that you're never lonely or bored. And so that's another level of psychic comfort. Then in a way, it gets in the way of that, of the fun of travel. Now, that you can be staying in a grotty youth hostel or, or guest house and you're still a little bit connected to certain kinds of, of comfort. It’s an ongoing challenge and I've been in five star hotels. The first time I did it, I wrote an article about it about after having traveled and really, I don't think I ever spent more than $15 a night. And then I went and stayed in the Oriental hotel in Bangkok.
It gives you a sense of appreciation for a space like that, that I wouldn't have had had I not traveled rough all that time. One thing I stress in Vagabonding that you just, you have to give yourself permission because in American society, in particular, there's no real mechanism.
It's just sort of a workaholic place. Unless you give yourself permission, when you're locked into that corporate world, nobody else is going to be telling you to do that. Because again, in that Charlie Sheen loop to go back to that you have enough money to travel, but there's this compulsion that you don't feel successful enough yet. You have to convince yourself that you're successful enough. You can go and live that dream. You mentioned Tim Ferris. When I was on a podcast interview with him, we were joking. He was joking that he had trouble getting billionaires together because billionaires have no free time. Like he was trying to get a conference with all these super rich guys. And they're so beholden to all of their businesses and houses and various interests that they can't even spare 72 hours, let alone a year to do something fun and off schedule and open to improvisation and spontaneity and serendipity. So that's actually a relief for those of us who are not billionaires.
23 year old Rolf was way, way poorer than 46 year old Rolf. There's different income levels and comfort levels at which you can go vagabonding. But the nice thing is that the bar is pretty low. You just have to decide to do it.
Yeah, absolutely. And I think that permission piece is really interesting. So I'll tell you another story, Rolf, it must've been right around the holidays and my wife and I got invited to a neighborhood get together, whatever it was and meet the neighbors. And I was kind of reluctant. I was like, man, I don't want to do this.
I love the reframe of the idea of if you don't live curiously at home, then you're never going to expand your horizons of the adventures that you envisioned having dream of having on the road. He had this section about being curious about your neighbors, the people you live with, like if you treated them, like, I think exotic creatures was maybe the phrase that you used, then you might actually begin to practice the things you hope you'll experience went out on these Vagabonding journeys.
So I reminded myself that I didn't tell my wife. That was what the change in heart was. I just said, okay. Yeah, let's do it. So I went and had this same thing, like, okay, I have some adventures planned, but I'm going to go ahead and begin exercising these muscles of curiosity and treat these like my neighbors, like exotic creatures. And it was really fun. I had a great evening. And so I went around the room and one of the guys owns like a trash receptacle dump basically and asked him all kinds of questions about like, well, how, how do you pay, how do you get paid for trash? And what, how do you haul it away? And we had this really great conversation and then three or four other folks there that, you know, some guy works in China and semiconductors and flies out on Mondays and comes homes on Thursday nights and really found that very interesting. And I find that what's helpful again on the reframe. And what I love about the book is just living your life at home. Living like no one else so that you can later live, like no one else, but practicing these disciplines so that you're seeding into your life habits, rituals, curiosities, different things that then end up serving you well. So there, isn't such a huge transition from the way you live at home to then the way you attempt to go live on the road. It actually becomes an integration of who you are.
Yeah, absolutely. I think it's treat your neighbors like their exotic tribes, people that, but I think I under do that sometimes. So that's, that's great that you took that to a dinner party. I was actually flying back home to Kansas from Idaho yesterday and I got to talking with the guy beside me and he works as, I don't even know how to describe it, but basically he goes to big meat packing plants and makes sure the assembly line is working
I think those kinds of people actually live really interesting and creative lives in their own way. And nobody ever asks them about that. I have an interesting sounding job. I'm a travel writer and so people get excited and in fact they sort of project certain fantasies onto what I do, but nobody projects fantasies onto the garbage guy or the, you know, the meat packing plant assembly line guy.
It was really fun to, to have a peek into his world just as I'm sure that you had a nice time getting a glimpse into a world, into the worlds of people at that dinner party. And so I think it's absolutely that ongoing curiosity about people, places and things. And I think that's a quoted in English philosopher from the early 20th century. He wrote a book about happiness. And if you can always have a friendly curiosity in people, places and things, then, I mean, I think that's an attitude that you fall into and travel because that's what you're supposed to do. But if you can carry that attitude home, or if you can, if you can cultivate that attitude while you're still at home, then suddenly you're traveling where you already are. And one thing that you were describing to me when you're explaining, talking to the garbage guy at the party is one thing I have very first Vagabonding trip when I was living in a van and traveling around the US, I had listened to this gangster rap group out of Houston, and I wanted to see this certain part of Houston that, that the rappers were singing about.
So I decided to do a police ride along and it was so great. I mean, at a certain level, it seems weird. It's like, Oh, well, you know, gangster rappers, don't like cops. But like the, the reality of the, of the police routine was really interesting and really interacting with the neighborhood. And I got to see this neighborhood, which in a sense, was a fantasy to me and that no tourist bus would ever go to, but it was such a great experience that I had just gone to the police station and said, Hey, I want to do a ride along. And they're like, sure, come on. And so I want to do that here in Kansas. I've never done that, but I should just because I have in a way, get into my certain routines.
I live near a town called Selena here in Kansas.I live in the country. But one of these days I'll have to do a ride along here just because there's no gangster rap coming out of Salina, Kansas, but I'm sure that the, the routines of a police officer takes those officers into parts of Selena that I'm not used to. And I think that that's another way of getting to know my backyard in a way that I might not normally have you know, the, the, the pretext to do. And in fact, when I was in Idaho the other day, I was talking to some people who had been working for a television show and just sort of working in a culture was different than just visiting as a tour, as a tourist, they had a job to do, they had to travel around and it was for a television show. They had to set things up and it was just interesting to hear how they had a different angle into a place. And, and so it's fun. I think if you can think of travel as a creative act, or even your life at home as a creative act, and you never have to be bored, you know, you can, and you always have this ongoing dynamic relationship with your life and where you, where you are at any given moment.
I love it. My wife and I just finished this weekend. We did our first ever live event for two days called rebooting your life. And we had 35 people come and spend two days with us. And the first day we had did some local adventures. And second day, we actually did then more like interactive workshop, like discussions and use the excursions, the adventures as big ideas, basically that we then draw upon that were all, all in this idea of, of what if you re, could reframe your life, reframe your future. Starting wherever you are to plot a new path, a new course, some alternative next steps, then maybe the rut that you've lived in. So a lot of, a lot of these principles that we're talking about living curiously and, you know, treating your neighbors like exotic creatures. And one of the things that I've used also in that is a book called micro adventures.
It's like at the, a micro adventure of hopping in a local squad car to do a ride along with cops and Salina, Kansas, that would be, you know, what he says is basically how to infuse your existing life without having to travel to Wales, you could hop in the, the local squad car and go on an adventure and find out things that you didn't, which is basically the reason we go on an adventure is to infuse our life with things that we maybe not have on a daily basis back at home, but he has a similar story and how you can actually begin to seed your life and integrate your life with these same elements of adventure, but make that actually part of your ongoing discovery of any given day.
I mean, you can do a police ride along, but you can do like a farmer ride along. It's funny, a friend of mine, this has been 10 years ago. She's she was from England. She visited me in Kansas and she was just, she was really outgoing. She had this English accent in the middle of the country. That's just like candy to people. People just like to hear you talk. I think she did it up in the Dakotas and just got to talking with some farmer. And they're like, well, come sit in the combine with me, we'll harvest some wheat. And so she did, you know, the world is full of people and people do things that seem foreign to us, but I think they enjoy what they do and they enjoy sharing their world with people.
So the cops that I was with in Houston years ago, they were, they were just sort of excited that I took an interest in the work that they do and, you know, and the challenges and the difficulties and of police work. But using that as an example, there's all sorts of, I guess, not every job is going to welcome someone to come and tag around, but it's interesting to know how many contexts in which, if you just start asking questions, there's all sorts of people who never get a chance to share their lives. And so meeting people is a great connector. We're where are you right now? I know you you're operating out of a van yourself. So when you, when you have this rebooting your life conference, where were you?
Yeah, home is Colorado Springs. We’ve been here a little over 20 years and part of our reboot a couple of years ago of reimagining our life forward was kind of opening the map and saying, where, where do we go? So we looked at California, we looked at kind of relocating and starting a new chapter, a new season in our life. And what we really realized in the end, our conclusions are we have three kids and youngest is still at home in high school. It was that what we really wanted to do was just live differently and that we didn't actually have to go to an entirely different geography as a permanent location, but that to begin to restructure our life architect our life in such a way where we could choose to live differently all the way down to my wife, when she would tell a story about going to Costco, and she would park in a different parking spot as a discipline to begin to repattern her kind of auto response to be parked on a different side of the building of, yeah, I still go to the same Costco, but I go to Costco differently than I used to.
And just even at that very, very habitual, everyday level kind of reprogramming what our life looks like. And now a couple of years later, it looks drastically different than it looked then.
That's great. You know, I teach a class in Paris every summer, you know, which is a great tourist city. I've been doing that since 2002. I've been running the program since 2005. And when I first went to Paris, you know, I'm from the Midwest, you have this roads or a Jeffersonian grid. When I was, when I ran track in high school, I knew that if I ran the square around my house, it would be four miles because each side of the square was one mile. And so I spent so much of my time when I first went to Paris and these other various cities in Asia lost because you couldn't walk in a square and come back to where he started. You know, there's no true. They don't have the Jeffersonian grid in these cities. And as I went back to Paris again and again, I realized that being lost in Paris, what had, had shown me Paris.
And in fact that they had a concept in Paris called the Flinor, which is a person who wanders, not in search of a goal, but in search of experience, you wander the city with the very purpose of getting lost and seeking out things that you might not have seen before. And I sort of became an accidental Flinor in the city that invented the Flinor concept. And then I came back and it's the same thing that your wife did. I think that's great that that's perfect, like a different parking spot at Costco. And I came back to Kansas and actually use that grid system to my advantage. I sort of became an automobile. Flinner it's like, well, I know the exact route. I can go, what if I need to get my groceries or whatever, but what if I just take a more rural route or, or do one, you know, go one mile East and, and take the rough road instead of the paved road, you know, I haven't mastered it, but it's amazing how much of my own backyard. And it's my adopted backyard. I'd been living here for about 11 years now. I have discovered just by that different parking space concept, you know, the, the idea that, well, why not go through just a very inefficient route to get to where I wanted to go and just sort of see what's there along the way. And it's amazing what you can find. It's amazing how many, just beautiful and interesting little vistas you can find by doing something.
Yeah, absolutely. So one of the things you mentioned earlier Rolf was that you said there's many misnomers that people might make about your life as a travel writer compared to the guy with the conveyor belt of dead beef. So I'm curious what some of those are, what are some of the most common, maybe misnomers of what it might, we might perceive as listeners to this, about what it must the glory and glamour of what it must mean to be a travel writer?
Yeah. Well, people projected this permanent vacation idea onto being a travel writer. When in fact I'm the one person out there who's actually working, I'm off collecting stories and taking notes and going back home and, and organizing notes and writing stories at a time where everybody else is just free to free to wander. In a way, it's, it's a little bit like projecting. The money thing is that you don't have to save a bundle of cash, get a half a million dollars in travel the world, you just do it. And so what I tell people who glamorize what I'm doing, I'm saying that basically people will say, Oh, I want to travel the world. I, to be a travel writer so I can travel the world. And it's like, come on, you know, save five grand, 10 grand, then travel the world and then you don't have to go out and that'd be working while you do it.
Now, one great thing about having been a travel writer for so long is that I sort of have a focus when I'm on the road. I, I think a lot of times people start traveling and then after the initial thrill of being on the road, whereas off, they sort of have to find a focus or else they get tired of lying on the beach or they get tired of climbing another mountain for another awesome sunrise. They need a sense of focus and most people find it. Mine just happens to be writing. And so I don't want to knock the work of travel writing because it's part of the joy of, of me being on the road. But most people aren't writers and wouldn't enjoy the task of being endorsed so much in these awesome parts of the world where being outside is, is the point of it. So I say that you don't need to be a travel writer to travel the world, just to save some money, sock it away, and you can go to the same parts of the world as me. And then you don't have to go back to your room at the end of the day and cold Lake notes. You can go out and, and have a cocktail and dance all night.
Interesting. That is a very different on, so be to be on assignment versus to just be there.
Yes. And, and being on assignment is even worse. Like when I first started writing, I had a column I could write about whatever I wanted, but I had to produce material for this online magazine later when I was getting, when I was on paid assignments for outside of national geographic traveler and other magazines, again, it seemed even more exciting because I was getting paid, you know, these magazines were footing the bill, but even then it was much more restricted because the magazines wanted me to write a certain story about a certain thing. It's not like I didn't enjoy getting paid to sail through Greece or getting paid to Island, hop through the Falkland Islands by these various magazines. But in a way I didn't have the joy of Vagabonding in those places because I was on assignment, like you say, and I really had to it's like I was a journalist.
I wasn't really even a vagabond in those situations. I think people have a fantasy version of, of travel writing. And certainly there's nothing I like better than what I do as a travel writer. But if travel is what you love, you don't have to be a travel writer to do that. And in fact, you can travel more, just being a person who's a park ranger, or a lawyer who can negotiate time off and take a sabbatical. Or even as I say, in my book, a, you know, a stripper or someone who could make a short, a lot of money in a short amount of time and then just do, do what you enjoy,
Right? Yeah. Live your life. Yeah. Which is really, I do think interestingly difficult in our culture here in the United States of just in, in some of my abroad travels and other countries and places, it is just really, really, really apparent of how much I personally and even still, I think prone to drink the Koolaid of work more play less. And when I get outside of here, even our trip down to the Baja, I just realized, I was like, man, there was just a joy that people experience to just living their life in a way that I find I need to go often to those places as reminders as additional recalibration. Because even though I'm intentional about how we're making choices about living locally and finding my neighbors as interesting creatures, trying different parking spots at Costco. But when I get outside of my own world, I'm reminded of, Oh right.
There's a whole other level of layer at a cultural level. That is just more of a norm like work for a part of my income comes from a company I worked for it's international, it's a based of the UK. And so the idea that come July and August boy, a lot of people are gone for, you know, four and six and eight weeks. And so it actually helps a little bit of the culture of the company because you can actually take a couple of weeks off because it's kind of more of the norm. But I noticed that there is still a little bit of a, the U S people max take a week to 10 days. Whereas the European people will still take, you know, three and four weeks. So it's a little bit of a Teeter totter, you know, between those two. But, all that said is I'm just reminded perpetually of how my default position is still to work versus to remind myself, to have these planned parts on the calendar that are those, what kind of describing the book as, instead of working all your life to then enjoy your life later, is that, that premise.
But instead to enjoy your life, you know, scheduled along the way and insert these moments and seasons of time off and time away, where you can just be in live. And while you have the health that you, that you have with whatever finances you do have versus always having it be some rainbow popsicles of golden unicorns that you're waiting for.
You know, as I say, at the end of the book, that basically once you figure it out, Vagabonding, then you can just implement it for the rest of your life. It can become a part of the season of your yearly or multi-year routine. I thought early on that I would scratch my itch and be done with long-term traveling. I wouldn't have to worry about it. What I learned is that it's just a lot easier to integrate. And then you learn so much from other people in other cultures, you know, you were talking about the there's this work more playlist attitude in the United States. It's also a very compartmentalized, you know, that you may go to Mexico or Thailand or Namibia or whatever, and you meet people with less money than you. And of course we don't want to over idealize other cultures, but there's an extent to which people just, instead of being compartmentalized, they live lives where they know their neighbors and they know where their food comes from and they, and they just, they just live in more natural rhythms.
And there is a happiness to this. I, you know, I don't think you want to fetishize poverty necessarily, but it's not about the poverty. I think it's about the connectedness and you don't at any income level allows you to be connected to your environment and into your neighbors. But we just choose not to. We have these very compartmentalized lives and, and we're texting with people far away, and I'm not gonna knock that. I mean, I do it all the time. I think what we identify through travel is, is people who are living in, in just more organic way, they haven't compartmentalize their lives and they live sort of in a slower way. And it's funny how people in the United States, especially people seem to have a problem with leisure and with fun as if it is a somewhat bad thing.
Like it's a dangerous thing. And I think it's almost like drinking in the United States. Like we see young people, we worry about young people drinking and it's like, well, that's cause they haven't been culturally taught how to drink. You know, it's like they they've been forbidden booze until 21. And then of course they'd be big companies, binge artists. Whereas in Spain, you know, they, it's a part of topless culture and you drink and eat responsibly over the course of the night. And there's just ways that we have put walls up between just sort of natural rhythms of life. Life in the States is great. I came back and I lived here, but it's weird. I read academic researchers sometimes, I read like anthropologists and sociologists have traveled as part of my writing. And even these academics who are questioning capitalist society and have these very theoretical ways of criticizing American culture still have a problem embracing leisure and fun as if it's this bad thing as if it's not a part of our human instinct, you know?
Maybe that's just in our DNA somehow, maybe it gets in the water or maybe it's passed person to person because I agree. This work-life play thing I do here on this podcast is I spent a lot of time bringing topics of play to the podcast and to my writings because of that very reason and is I believe that integration is key, that those are not compartmentalize containers of this is my work container. This is my life container. This is my play container, but that it's an ebb and a flow and an integration on a daily basis. And that it actually is a rhythm and that learning to play again, incorporating play, which means you're off the clock. You're not keeping score. You're just doing it just because you love to do it, whatever that may be. That, that actually then again, begins to weave in to the rhythm of how you approach your everything else you do in your life. So I love just hearing you riff on it for a minute. It's makes me laugh.
Yeah. I think another thing too is, is not performing your play too. You know, we're in a time where I don't want to knock Instagram. I just admitted that I watch Instagram, but there's so many of our aspects of our life. It's possible to perform now and even create envy through the performance of certain kinds of play. But when we're kids, we're not doing that, we're just doing it because it's because that, that's what brings us joy. It's interesting that we have so much more information about how to, how to be freer and let go of certain preconceived ideas about how to live. But at the same time, there's these other obstacles that come up, you know, where we can in performing our play, it becomes a little bit less play. So it is interesting to riff on his script
Scripted play. Yeah. And yeah, as motive is, would be, my question is like, it's really good when play is just play this weekend. We had this reboot conference, we invited folks and said, Hey, we really invite you to just turn your phones off as much as possible, you know, might have checked in with kids or whatever it is, but it was a Friday, Saturday. And so he said, listen, we're playing hooky today. So hooky means you don't like, here's your permission slip. And just cut yourself a break, like start with that today on Friday. And we actually started in a brewery, but that have been converted from an old school from the 1950s. And so it was cool. We were like, look, we're even starting in a school. Like we all go to like a middle school. So let's start with playing hooky, gave yourself a break and let's just start with all the social media stuff. Just turn it off, delete the app. Don't check in. Don't log in. We're not asking you to share any photos. We're just going to be present and do this together. And then afterwards we'll send you a bunch of photos and do with it, what you want, but while you're here, just be here and just give yourself a break and enjoy and play and just go along with whatever we're doing. And it was really cool to watch people respond. They were really open to it.
That's, that's fantastic. And, and it's strange that we've come to a point in society where that's a thing, you know, the idea that you would have a phone that you have to turn off to be able to enjoy a moment. And I mean, it's such a new idea, but it's so pervasive that that I think this is that's, that sounds really great. It sounds like a kind of an essential thing. There was a documentary was made about tourism in late 1980s, it's called cannibal tours. And it's about these tourists going up the Sepik river in Papa New Guinea. And it sort of makes the tourist look like idiots. You know, they just take pictures of everything and they're videoing people, videoing other people and it's like watching curb your enthusiasm or the office, but with tourism, you know, just cause it's just so awkward and the tourists are such, but that is, that's how people live.
People don't travel to do that anymore. We just take pictures of everything. Now we're not even on vacation, but we were, we're constantly documenting and performing things. And to the extent that that allows us to focus certain aspects of our life, I think that can be good. But when we're constantly performing sort of an artificial, you know aired version of our life, then I don't think that really lends itself to happiness. It sort of ups our status to a certain extent, but if there's not a core of actual authenticity to these moments, if you're not focusing real moments, instead of performing semi real ones, I don't think that there's a lot of long-term happiness in that. And so just the idea of going to this schoolhouse, I have a line of vagabond and it says as adults, we can set our own recess schedule, but we never do what a great symbolic place to have an exercise in that.
So tell me, I'm curious. So let's, we'll close out on this question is what are for you then? What are some of those job hazards? So if, if you're how you derive a living is through teaching, writing events, articles, assignments that are all related to travel, places that you see food, you eat interesting people that you meet, how do you actually segment that so that you can actually create those authentic places in your own life when you're not on stage and performing and snapping photos and saying, you know, this is great, and this is how killer this place was, or that place was how to use, I guess, kind of draw a safe boundary between this is what work is, and this is actually my life.
Oh, that's tough because writing is so unstructured. And because it is this ongoing process of like getting more information and research researching and following your curiosity, and you have to follow your curiosity in a way that's fact checkable in a way, you know, you learn about a new culture, but then you want to report on it accurately. I might spend four hours writing, but then I'm also reading and researching and making other plans and the line between work and not work can be difficult. And I think that's something that I still work on and struggle with. And I think one of the reasons I haven't done it, Salina, Kansas right along with the cops is that I'm always sort of preoccupied with the next writing thing or the next travel thing.
And part of it is, is the freedom of my work also creates problems. If I had to compartmentalize, if I was inspecting the conveyor belt at the meat factory, then I would know exactly when my job starts and doesn't start and I could really indulge the play part of my life in a more concise way. Whereas if I'm trying and I take a lot of deep pride in my writing and that creates a little anxiety, have I done enough research? Have I had enough experience? And so it's, it's a challenge for me to, to be able to know when to cut off the word self versus the play self. And I actually, Tim Ferris was I was hanging out with him in Paris last summer. He has the same problem. I mean, if you, if you, if you take a lot of pride in your, in your product then, and Tim Ferriss who wrote the four hour workweek, which is about creating time for playing has a lot of philosophical similarities with Vagabonding, then it can be tough.
I guess one blessing of the office cubicle life where the conveyor belt life is that, you know, when work ends. Everyday I have to flex my muscle of drawing that line between work and play. So that's an interesting question. I think that's something that I, that I have to continue to be cognizant of, or else I'll just get sucked into my work. And because I love my work. It's not a huge problem.
That's another piece is because you love what you do and it's has this ebb and flow to it and it's joy and it's fun and it's adventure and it's curiosity and it's income.
You mentioned play a couple of times and I'm just curious, what you, what do you do for play?
It looks a lot like travel I've. I was a competitive runner years ago and I run for fun now and living in the country is great. Cause I can just run off in any direction when I'm in Kansas. My family is close by. I spent a lot of time with my family. My nephew, one of my nephews is graduating from high school in six days. And so that that'll just be a really enjoyable thing.
I'm taking another nephew to Iceland this summer, you know, also reading, just sort of a dilettante scientists, sociologists. I just love intellectual ideas. I love narrative. One of my sidelights is screenwriting. And so actually my play life, is pretty closeto my work life, but just like being outdoors, be it running or exercising or whatever is, is, is something that I enjoy doing meeting friends and weird parts of the world. I feel lucky. I feel lucky that my work and my play is pretty close together.
They're close allies and friends. So where do we find you? Rolfpotts.com?
Yeah. That's the best place to start that connects to my social media. I have a neurotic relationship with technology, my social media is not always active, but rolfpotts.com has a has a ton of information. All old stories, travel advice, interviews with travel writers, random musings, and it's a great starting place.
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You can get more information about this and other firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for listening. Thanks for being part of this adventure for being part of braving, the pioneering work of discovering sustainable work life, play rhythms, love your work, live your life and play a whole lot more. I'm Aaron McHugh. Keep going.
*We’ve done our best for this transcription to accurately reflect the conversation. Errors are possible. Thank you for your patience and grace if you find errors that our team missed.
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