In the spring of my junior year in college, I had the opportunity, with the support of my parents, to do a semester abroad in Paris, France. I enrolled in an American program with a small campus in Paris that hosted college students from the US. Some classes were on the American campus while others were at real French universities like the Sorbonne. The classes I took were fine as I recall, but I hardly remember them. The students on the American program were nice, but I did not hang out with them. They seemed happy to carry on as if Paris was an extension of their college campus experience. I purposely chose to live in an international student dorm with students from all over the world and to get to know the city and its people. I am glad that I made that choice.
The greatest lesson I learned on that trip was how happy I could be living away from family and friends, living very simply without the creature comforts of home, and wandering the city on my own. I experienced great joy and loneliness through my daily adventures. These emotions and experiences made me feel more alive than ever before. I loved the wandering so much, that when the spring semester ended, I decided to stay for the summer. I got a job for 6 weeks and saved some money so I could travel around Europe for another 6 weeks with just my backpack and a train pass.
I had such an amazing 8 months that I really did not want to come home to the States for my senior year in college. But I did the “right thing” and went back school in the fall to finish my degree. I did vow that I would go back to Paris and take other extended trips often, probably every year, to get back that feeling of aliveness. As it turns out, I have been back to my beloved Paris only a few times in the decades since that experience and have only traveled for a few days or weeks at a time. Life got busy, but I dreamed of one day having enough money and time to be able to travel and wander again like I did during that summer abroad. Maybe when I retired.
Some recent reading has reawakened my long repressed wanderlust. In his book,Vagabonding, An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel, Rolf Potts explains how anyone with an independent spirit can achieve the dream of extended overseas travel. He illustrates that extended travel is not a luxury. On the contrary, it can be a very affordable proposition if you are willing to travel simply. The cost of living on the road is often less expensive than living in a first world country with all the overhead that implies.
Potts also provides practical advice on how to fund your travel time, decide where to go, manage the challenges of travel, and readjust to regular life when you return. He provides all kinds of tips and links to extensive travel-related resources on safety, lodging, health, reading, services and much more. For the first time overseas traveler, there is also a wealth of reassurance and encouragement.
Finally, Potts also discusses the philosophical side of vagabonding at length. He states, “Not just a plan of action, vagabonding is an outlook on life that emphasizes creativity, discovery, and the growth of the spirit.” He also writes, “We are all born equally rich in time. If you can use your money to give you free time, you can become wealthy in experience.” His perspective is richly explained using his own travel stories as well as the profiles and voices of other “vagabonders”. Additionally, he sprinkles his writing with wonderful quotes from other writers and thinkers on the subject of travel and a philosophy of life including John Muir, Henry David Thoreau, and Ralph Waldo Emerson.
I am inspired by Potts’ stories. He brought back memories of the exhilaration of travel and drove home the concept of time wealth as a measure of a successful life. I was reminded that time is my most precious resource and that I am truly free to choose to use a portion of that time for extended travel. I felt that it was really possible for me to see the world as I have always dreamed without waiting for retirement or some undefined point in the future. I could live my travel dreams now by becoming a vagabond. I might not even have to quit my job.
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