Tag Archives: Kerouac

Book Made for Wanderers

Vagabonding by Rolf Potts
Vagabonding by Rolf Potts

Destination: The World

Book: Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel by Rolf Potts

Every generation of wanderers has an author of travel literature that sounds the siren call.  Walt Whitman comes to mind and Lord Byron before him.  Then the famously wild days of Jack Kerouac and On the Road.

Authors today have a harder time breaking out of the morass of travel bloggers (OUCH!) and becoming the ONE voice to follow.  Rolf Potts has come close with  Vagabonding.  Ask any hardy young adventurer, or even a person just dreaming of adventures, and chances are, they have read Rolf Potts.

I picked up a copy at a used book store. (Sorry, Rolf) One of the things I love about a used book is finding pages marked up, notes in the margin, corners turned down. In other words–a book that is truly used.  This one turned out to be a treasure. In the first chapter, paragraphs defining vagabonding are bracketed and underlined.  A passage about the excuses that people make NOT to travel is bracketed AND starred.

A heavy line emphasizes “Rather, it has always been a private choice within a society that is constantly urging us to do otherwise.  This is a book about living that choice.

She (the rounded handwriting must be a female, I think) underlines “They are spending plenty of time and money on the road, but they never spent enough of themselves to begin with,” and she writes in the margin “is this us?”

Used copy of Vagabonding by Rolf Potts
Used copy of Vagabonding by Rolf Potts

Potts uses many quotations throughout. And under a quote from Whitman’s Song of the Open Road, my predecessor in these pages, writes, “Song of open road on our wedding program.”  Ah-ha! The plot thickens.

Potts says that travelers should keep it simple, and one should not wait to accumulate wealth, or win the lottery.  Quadruple underline of “we were all born with winning tickets…”  On the next page, she writes “do the garage sale and put $ in ‘travel fund.'”

But suddenly the underlining and bracketing and margin notes stop. Just like that. Not even half way through. I’ll never know if the engagement fell apart, or if she just got too busy ordering bridesmaid’s dresses to finish the book. Did her fiancee take a look and pooh-pooh the whole idea? Did the book go into the yard sale for travel funds?

Feeling a little lonely, without the bride-to-be for company, I read on through philosophy of travel, short bios of famous travelers, a tip sheet for each idea introduced, Potts’ personal anecdotes from his own vagabonding, quotes from famous and not famous travelers.

Despite the fact that he states that there is no age limit on vagabonding, I am beyond the age that can follow his suggestions. Particularly his repeated mentions of fleeting romances along the road. For everyone that age limit will vary, and is self imposed, or imposed by responsibilities or arthritis. But for anyone who is open to the call of the open road, read carefully. Pay attention. Rolf Potts knows whereof he speaks.

His newest book, released in 2008, Marco Polo Didn’t Go There, not only covers travel adventures, but in it, he steps outside the narrative and talks about how he wrote the essays within the book. From how-to-travel to how-to-be-a-travel-writer.

Can you end my suspense?  Are you the person who owned the book before me? Did you get married? Did you use Walt Whitman in your ceremony? Did you travel?

Top 5 American Road Trip Books and The List

“A genuine road book should open unknown realms in its words as it does in its miles. If you leave a journey exactly who you were before you departed, the trip has been much wasted, even if it’s just to the Quickee Mart.” William Least Heat Moon in Roads to Quoz: An American Mosey.

home 003While you could fill a library shelf with American Road Trip books, the 5 most outstanding American road trip books would fit on the nightstand.

Everyone lists:

  • Travels With Charley, by John Steinbeck
  • Blue Highways: A Journey into America , by William Least Heat Moon
  • On the Road  by Jack Kerouac

I would agree with those who also list:

  • Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance  by Robert M. Pirsig
  • Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

To follow Travels with Charley, San Jose State University Center for Steinbeck Studies suggests some more books

  • Sideways  by Rex Pickett (2004) (and the movie of the same name)
  • Loop Group, by Larry McMurtry (2004)
  • I Dream of Microwaves  by Imad Rahman (2004)
  • American Nomads: Travels with Lost Conquistadors, Mountain Men, Cowboys, Indians, Hoboes, Truckers, and Bullriders by Richard Grant (2004)
  • South of Haunted Dreams: A Memoir by Eddy L. Harris (1993)

And here are some miscellaneous others:

  • The Drifters by James Michener 1960’s young people traveling.
  • Through Painted Deserts:Light, God and Beauty on the Open Road by Donald Miller
  • Anywhere but Here by Mona Simpson (mother-daughter road trip)
  • Queen of the Road: The True Tale of 47 States, 22,000 Miles, 200 Shoes, 2 Cats, 1 Poodle, a Husband, and a Bus with a Will of Its Own by Doreen Orion. (with a title like that, you gotta read it.)
  • The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America by Bill Bryson
  • Roads by Larry McMurtry (reviewed here along with Steinbeck’s Travel’s With Charley–linked above)
  • Autumn Across America by Edwin Way Teale  (A Naturalist’s 20,000 mile trip)Teale also wrote North with the Spring, and Journey Into Summer and Wandering Through Winter.
  • Roads to Quoz by William Least Heat Moon (2008—seems to be sinking without much fuss)

Many other road trip books have been written about horseback journeys, bicycle journeys, walking journeys, and journeys in other countries. But for now, let’s stick with the U.S.  and motorized transportation.