I recently picked up Vagabonding (by Rolf Potts), a quick, enjoyable, and inspiring read. It is about the process of changing your mindset to allow yourself the freedom to be an explorer. Vagabonding involves generally longer trips than one might take for a regular vacation, permitting immersion and exploration and true learning about the world and yourself.

“Your travels are not an escape from your real life but a discovery of your real life.”

Many lament not having the opportunity or the money to travel, but this book points out that in fact we all have (or can create) both things, and that often what’s really needed is a mental shift in attitude, to embrace simple living and be flexible and open to unplanned experiences. When you make the decision to embark upon adventure, you “… begin to look at maps with the narcotic tingle of possibility.” Oh, I know that feeling!

Vagabonding recommends doing research and preparation for your trip—but not too much of it. Some joys arise purely from surprise and discovery, and some disappointments come from overly built-up expectations. The book also recommends not being too tied to your guidebook, instead encouraging you to approach locals and experience the place directly. It even advocates refraining from any travel plans beyond getting you to your first destination, reserving later plans for after you’ve arrived, to preserve maximum freedom (and often get better deals locally—again if you’re flexible). Here the difference between vacation and vagabonding manifests; they operate on different timescales. And they have different goals: the book emphasizes freedom as vagabonding’s ultimate aim (and not just during the experience, but in how it frees and changes you as an individual).

“A vacation merely rewards work. Vagabonding justifies it.”

This has been an excellent book to read on the plane right now, as I travel to Canada. This isn’t vagabonding by any means—I had to reply “for business” when the Customs agent asked my purpose for entering the country—and yet the same open, flexible mindset is useful no matter where you go or why. On my first solo vacation trip, to Hawaii, I planned out where I’d stay each night and pre-booked everything. On my second trip, to Japan, I pre-planned the first part and then deliberately did not book anything for the last few days. When that time came, I grabbed my rail pass, stepped on a train, and went wherever I felt like, finding places to stay each night as the need arose. And indeed, it was a fun adventure (even if a little scary at times), and everything worked out despite the language barrier, and now? I think my next trip will involve even more of that delicious feeling of freedom. Perhaps someday I’ll even take a true, longer-term, vagabonding trip.

As the Indigo Girls say:

“Get out the map!
Get out the map and lay your finger anywhere down —
Let’s leave the figuring for those we pass on the way out town.”