Rolf Potts is one of my favorite writers, and his book Vagabonding was one of only four books I recommended as “fundamental” in The 4-Hour Workweek. It was also one of two books, the other being Walden; Or, Life in the Woods, that I took with me during my 15+-month mini-retirement that began in 2004.
The following is a guest post from Rolf on the art and lessons of travel, all of which you can apply at home.
1) Time = Wealth
By far the most important lesson travel teaches you is that your time is all you really own in life. And the more you travel, the more you realize that your most extravagant possessions can’t match the satisfaction you get from finding new experiences, meeting new people, and learning new things about yourself. “Value” is a word we often hear in day-to-day life, but travel has a way of teaching us that value is not pegged to a cash amount, that the best experiences in life can be had for the price of showing up (be it to a festival in Rajasthan, a village in the Italian countryside, or a sunrise ten minutes from your home).
Scientific studies have shown that new experiences (and the memories they produce) are more likely to produce long-term happiness than new things. Since new experiences aren’t exclusive to travel, consider ways to become time-rich at home. Spend less time working on things you don’t enjoy and buying things you don’t need; spend more time embracing the kinds of activities (learning new skills, meeting new people, spending time with friends and family) that make you feel alive and part of the world.
2) Be Where You Are
A great thing about travel is that it forces you into the moment. When you’re celebrating carnival in Rio, riding a horse on the Mongolian steppe, or exploring a souk in Damascus, there’s a giddy thrill in being exactly where you are and allowing things to happen. In an age when electronic communications enable us to be permanently connected to (and distracted by) the virtual world, there’s a narcotic thrill in throwing yourself into a single place, a single moment. Would you want to check your bank-account statement while exploring Machu Picchu in Peru? Are you going to interrupt an experience of the Russian White Nights in St. Petersburg to check your Facebook feed? Of course not — when you travel, you get to embrace the privilege of witnessing life as it happens before your eyes. This attitude need not be confined to travel.
At home, how often do you really need to check your email or your Twitter feed? When you get online, are you there for a reason, or are you simply killing time? For all the pleasures and entertainments of the virtual-electronic world, there is no substitute for real-life conversation and connection, for getting ideas and entertainment from the people and places around you. Even at home, there are sublime rewards to be had for unplugging from online distractions and embracing the world before your eyes.