Rolf Potts — The Vagabond’s Way, Tactics for Immersive Travel, Pilgrimages and Psychogeography, Empathy Machines, Full-Throated Love, The Slow Sense of Smell, Lessons from Thích Nhất Hạnh, Falling Upward, and More (#624)

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“Get a stack of postcards. And every time you want to send a text message, send them a two-week postcard instead.”

— Rolf Potts

Rolf Potts (@rolfpotts) is the author of the international bestseller Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel. His newest book is The Vagabond’s Way: 366 Meditations on Wanderlust, Discovery, and the Art of Travel. He has reported from more than 60 countries for National Geographic Traveler, The New Yorker, Outside, The New York Times Magazine, and Travel Channel. Many of his essays have been selected as “Notable Mentions” in The Best American Essays, The Best American Nonrequired Reading, and The Best American Travel Writing. He also hosts his own podcast, Deviate with Rolf Potts.

He is based in north-central Kansas, where he keeps a small farmhouse on 30 acres with his wife, Kansas-born actress Kristen Bush. My 2014 interview with Rolf can be found at

Please enjoy!

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Podcast Addict, Pocket Casts, Castbox, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, Amazon Musicor on your favorite podcast platform. You can watch the interview on YouTube here.

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The transcript of this episode can be found here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.

#624: Rolf Potts — The Vagabond’s Way, Tactics for Immersive Travel, Pilgrimages and Psychogeography, Empathy Machines, Full-Throated Love, The Slow Sense of Smell, Lessons from Thích Nhất Hạnh, Falling Upward, and More

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Want to hear the first time Rolf Potts was on the podcast? Listen back on our conversation in which we discussed fulfilling travel fantasies using the time-wealth principle, resources to fight the fears associated with world travel, conducting business on the road, the effect of vacations on creative output, appreciation versus achievement, writing process, success management, and much more.

#41: Rolf Potts on Travel Tactics, Creating Time Wealth, and Lateral Thinking
#42: Rolf Potts (Part 2) on Travel Tactics, Creating Time Wealth, and Lateral Thinking

What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.



  • Connect with Rolf Potts:

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram


  • [08:16] Ideal travel partners, living or dead.
  • [11:37] Breaking the ice among screen-glued strangers abroad.
  • [15:41] Finding safe homestays while traveling (and why you should).
  • [19:46] The Cal Fussman method of creating community on public transport.
  • [21:50] Finding the focus to make your travels purposeful.
  • [25:55] What Rolf learned by traveling with his senior parents.
  • [27:44] How Rolf found the girl next door on the other side of the world.
  • [32:53] Advice for anyone finding full-throated, open-hearted love elusive.
  • [36:50] What Rolf means by “full-throated.”
  • [37:20] Nothing makes you appreciate home like traveling the world.
  • [40:32] The most meaningful task for the traveler.
  • [45:45] Pilgrimage pointers.
  • [48:57] Getting lost is good for you. So is taking a break from mobile tech.
  • [52:43] Uncertainty as a gift of travel — and how to cultivate it by slowing down.
  • [1:00:21] Books, movies, and experiences that help slow the perception of time.
  • [1:04:27] “Novels are empathy machines.”
  • [1:11:06] How travel can give us context for the choices we make at home.
  • [1:20:10] Contemplating life’s next chapters.
  • [1:26:36] What compelled Rolf to write The Vagabond’s Way: 366 Meditations on Wanderlust, Discovery, and the Art of Travel?
  • [1:29:47] Billboards as the original attention economy device and parting thoughts.


“We all have curiosity in our toolkit as travelers.”
— Rolf Potts

“We just have to slap down our apps and their algorithmically programmed way of holding our attention, and give our attention to each other as humans, give our attention to the places where we are, the smells, the other five senses. Not just the sounds you hear on your phone, or the sites you see through your apps, but what you smell. Let smell guide you through a new place.”
— Rolf Potts

“Having [an] obsession, be it pastries or surfing, is really a great pretext to have adventures that you could never imagine before you left home.”
— Rolf Potts

“Expertise is less important than open-heartedness and curiosity.”
— Rolf Potts

“I hope I travel until the day I drop dead, because it really keeps you new and fresh and vulnerable to new experiences in a way that it’s hard to pull off at home.”
— Rolf Potts

“Being completely an island away from other people is not necessarily a desirable thing.”
— Rolf Potts

“Get a stack of postcards. And every time you want to send a text message, send them a two-week postcard instead.”
— Rolf Potts

“Human culture has been urbanizing since the Industrial Revolution, and maybe this new technology will allow us to have a counter-movement against that urbanization.”
— Rolf Potts

“The most meaningful task for the traveler may well be to look past what feels exotic and learn to savor subtle differences in the things we already have in common.”
— Rolf Potts

“It’s actually good against neurodegenerative diseases to be lost and to figure out your way. They say London cab drivers, before GPS, had the most developed hippocampuses in the world.”
— Rolf Potts

“Find ways to play games with your sense of place.”
— Rolf Potts

“In an information-drenched society that tempts us to choose unhappiness over uncertainty, it is helpful to remember that one of the key gifts of travel has always been uncertainty itself.”
— Rolf Potts

“Walk until your day becomes interesting.”
— Rolf Potts

“Novels are empathy machines.”
— Rolf Potts

“If you are in the second half of life and you’re still grinding to compete with the guy next door, well, maybe that has less happiness embedded in it than just appreciating the life that you’ve built for yourself.”
— Rolf Potts

“I don’t want to knock technology too much, but attention is such a gift, and the moment is what we have.”
— Rolf Potts


The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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3 Replies to “Rolf Potts — The Vagabond’s Way, Tactics for Immersive Travel, Pilgrimages and Psychogeography, Empathy Machines, Full-Throated Love, The Slow Sense of Smell, Lessons from Thích Nhất Hạnh, Falling Upward, and More (#624)”

  1. Hey Tim, I hope to one day do a pilgrimage in Spain, too. I recently completed the Jeju Olle Trails on the island of Jeju off South Korea. A 420km+ trail. Fantastic adventure, beautiful scenery, and plenty of time for introspection. I know you speak some Korean, so it may be something you’d like to do in the future.

    I read Rolf’s book Vagabonding a few years ago after you had shared it on your blog. My wife and I had planned to vagabond before travel was restricted, but we managed to do the above instead.

    If I may share some personal background. As a kid, I excelled in sports and athletics. Far less of my attention and enthusiam was directed towards school work. Then one day, a substitute teacher, whose brother was a professional football player, pulled me aside and told me that if I applied myself in class with the same focus and drive as I did with sports, I could do well academically. Because of him and my subsequent efforts, my grades improved, and I later received a university scholarship, then published academic papers, and so forth. I recently self-published a fiction book on amazon in which a teacher forever changes the life of his student. While one of my teachers had a big impact on my life, others “teachers” have as well, including your blog and videos. I will mention the name of the book in the off chance you might read it and understand that by doing so this comment should be removed: Jump Rope Johnny and the Inspiring Mr. P.

    Thank you Tim for being a “Mr. P”.

  2. Hi Tim,
    Thank you so much for your podcast and all the work you put into creating the content for so many to enjoy. I have a question for you:

    I’ve enjoyed so many of your episodes, but this one got me particularly excited. I’ll try and keep it short in respect of your time. What really got me excited was when you mentioned you would be doing the Kumano Kodo soon – and with a bunch of strangers! I did the Shikoku 88 pilgrimage in 2020 in the middle of Covid, the first four weeks accompanied by a German guy I had met only a week earlier. The final three weeks I walked alone. That experience completely changed my life. My heart keeps coming back to Japan, and with that the Kumano Kodo. So my question for you is – would you have space for another stranger?

    From one keen traveller to another, let me know if you’d be open to explore this further.

    Thanks again,

  3. @Tim,

    To walk the Kumano Kodo is to walk with the gods. You won’t be disappointed.

    I lived in Hongu, Wakayama from 2002-2005 as a JET teacher and hiked sections of the Kodo many times. A memorable solo hike I did was from the Kumano Hongu Taisha to Kumano Nachi Taisha in one day. It was epic!

    If you happen to be passing through Hongu on your upcoming pilgrimage, be sure to check out one or more of the incredible onsen. Like you, I’ve managed to stay connected to a number of people I knew during my time there (artists, farmers, Taiko-enthusiasts, and all-around interesting people), so if you are looking for an insider’s perspective on the Kodo and local culture, don’t hesitate to reach out.

    Let the Yatagarasu be your guide!