Whether learning to windsurf on the Sea of Galilee or analyzing how Che Guevara is depicted in Cuba (answer: he is "both Jesus Christ and Ronald McDonald"), the travel writer Rolf Potts has made his way around the world with an appetite for both adventure and observation. Or maybe it's more accurate to say he has "vagabonded" his way around the world, since Potts has spent years promoting the idea that being on the road for months or years on end can be both acceptable and desirable, a philosophy he outlines in his popular book Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel.
Last summer, Potts pursued a project that he called the No Baggage Challenge, in which he took a round-the-world trip to 12 countries without bringing any luggage. (He stashed a toothbrush, an iPod, a few items of clothing, and any other essentials in his pockets.) Here, Potts discusses how travel blogging has changed how we tell stories, the rise of "staged authenticity," and why travelers just can't make easy generalizations about the people they meet on the road anymore.
What do you say when asked, "What do you do?"
I'm a travel writer. This is a literal job description when I write about aboriginal Australians or the wildlife of the Falkland Islands—but it also applies in the metaphorical sense. I once wrote an article for The Believer about a man named Emanuel Haldeman-Julius, the "Henry Ford of Literature," who sold tens of millions of "Little Blue Books" from a small town in southeastern Kansas in the 1920s. At first blush that doesn't feel like a travel story, but I never would have known about it had I not applied the curious attitude of travel to my home state. So even when I'm not literally writing about travel, most everything I write is inseparable from the ongoing state of inquiry that drives my travel attitude.