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“The secret to staying intrigued on the road is this: Don’t set limits

Don’t set limits on what you can or can’t do.

Don’t set limits on what is or isn’t worthy of your time.

Dare yourself to play games with your day: watch, wait, listen; allow things to happen. 

Vagabonding is not a quest for answers so much as a celebration of the questions,

an embrace of the ambiguous, and an openness to anything that comes your way.

Indeed if you set off on down the road with specific agendas and goals,

you will at best discover the pleasure of actualizing them. 

But if you wander with open eyes and simple curiosity, you’ll discover a much richer pleasure –

the simple feeling of possibility that hums from every direction as you move from place to place.” 

– Rolf Potts, ‘Vagabonding’

Meeting travel writer Rolf Potts in Melbourne, 2013

Meeting travel writer Rolf Potts in Melbourne, 2013

In the recent months, I’ve been traveling quite a bit for work. I am deeply grateful for the fact that I can marry my twin loves of writing and traveling, and am attempting to make a living out of it as a full-time freelance writer.

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But reading a little bit of Rolf Potts’ book ‘Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel’ makes me realise that the sort of traveling he is talking about is a little different from the sort of traveling I’m doing now, but totally what I was doing back in 2011, when I dropped everything and took a year off to backpack around the world.

Rolf defines the concept of ‘Vagabonding‘ as this: 

(1) The act of leaving behind the orderly world to travel independently for an extended period of time, 

(2) A privately meaningful manner of travel that emphasises creativity, adventure, awareness, simplicity, discovery, independence, realism, self-reliance, and the growth of the spirit,

(3) A deliberate way of living that makes freedom to travel possible. 

Short vacations – even many back-to-back ones – isn’t akin to Vagabonding, in the strict sense of the word. But for most of us, it is as close to leading a vagabonding lifestyle as we can hope to have, while balancing our personal commitments back home.

What I am focusing on now is (3) because the freedom to travel – as a deliberate way of living – has to be earned. And it has to be earned through honest, hard work. And we must value the work that permits this freedom.

I need to mention this definition in order to put in context the first quote. When Rolf wrote about “the secret to staying intrigued on the road”, he was not referring to short vacations, but the art of long-term world travel.

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On all my short trips (lasting two weeks or less), I never ever felt travel fatigue. Maybe in Siem Reap, I did feel a little weary of visiting temples and ruins after a while… and in Bhutan too… but there was always a cosy cafe somewhere where I could kick off my shoes and enjoy a cuppa, lounge music and eat French fries.

But when I took a year off to backpack around the world, I did experience moments when travel lost its lustre.

I woke up one day in Vermont and actually thought to myself, “What the hell am I going to do today in this frickin’ town?” On the map, it seemed like a good idea to stay in a town equi-distant from three cities. But what I did not realise is that in an expansive state like Vermont, that’s like staying in the middle of nowhere.

You can’t quite “walk around” in Vermont. There was nothing around the neighbourhood where my B&B was, except houses, houses and more houses. Boredom set in, heavily.

tumblr_lj0wix2o981qdkde1o1_500I was getting sick of sandwiches and salads and bad American coffee. And it was getting wretchedly lonely on the road. I missed late night supper with my friends back home – having roti prata, rowdy conversations, and real kopi with thick, sweet condensed milk.

On hindsight, I don’t even remember the name of the Vermont town I was staying in. But I did vaguely recall that this town grew as a result of immigrants moving here to work on a quarry. How exciting is that? Seriously.

A quarry.

But then, in my utter boredom, this question tickled my grey matter: What sort of quarry? Granite? Limestone? What happened to these quarries? Do they still exist today?

And so I asked the B&B owner about this, and he said it was a marble quarry. And that there was a factory not too far from where I was staying that still manufactures marble slabs, for cemetery headstones and ornamental plaques.

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I could have dismissed this – easily. It’s not one of those things I would have considered “part of my travel plans” or even worthy of my time. But on that day, I reckoned I had nothing to lose.

Well, as luck would have it, it turned out that I could not even go into the factory to see how these marble monuments were made.

But when I was milling around the little gift shop, an elderly couple came in and started chatting with the cashier. I wasn’t eavesdropping on their conversation – not really – because the shop was just not that big. But they started talking about driving down to the quarry, and I thought: OOH.

“Wait a minute, I’ll get the truck around and you can hop on,” the cashier was saying, grabbing her keys.

“Can I come along?” I heard myself saying.

“Sure, sweetie!” smiled the kindly old cashier lady. “Just get your car around and drive behind me.”

We drove away from the marble factory and small gift shop, through some dusty roads, to a private enclosure somewhere – in the middle of nowhere – and then we stopped and walked, our shoes crunching on the gravel.

Then lo and behold, we saw this…

Marble quarry

My jaw dropped, literally.

It was a living, breathing marble quarry. I could hear the machinery at work, the call of workmen’s voices down below, and it was surreal. It didn’t look like anything I’d seen on Planet Earth.

The cashier lady started to explain to us the history of this place. How the discovery of this top-grade marble had led to immigrants from as far as Europe coming here to find work in the 1800s.

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And that was how this little town grew… from European immigrants settling here, and starting families. Most of the people living in the area were descendants of these Scottish and Irish immigrants.

It turns out that marble shaped the history of this town – and Vermont – in more ways than I ever imagined. Who would have thought Vermont even had marble? It’s something you find in Italy.

To this day, I do not remember the name of that little town in Vermont. But this was what Rolf Potts was talking about in his uncommon guide to the art of long-term world travel. You never know the possibilities that hum from every direction.

“The secret to staying intrigued on the road is this: Don’t set limits. 

Don’t set limits on what you can or can’t do.

Don’t set limits on what is or isn’t worthy of your time.”

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