Rolf Potts took his first extended trip — an eight-month journey across North America — two decades ago, and he hasn’t stopped. “I’ve traveled independently on every continent except Antarctica for as long as two years at a time, often for less money than it would cost me to live a rooted life in a major American city,” says Potts, the author of Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel. He’s walked across Israel, bicycled across Burma, piloted a fishing boat down the Laotian Mekong, and driven a Land Rover across the Americas. In 2010, to prove a point about traveling light, he trekked around the world for six weeks with no luggage or bags of any kind. “I’m a big believer in making time in your life to travel long-term and in taking things slow,” he adds. “It’s easier and cheaper than one might think.”
What makes him the world’s smartest traveler? It isn’t just where Potts goes that makes him a role model for the rest of us aspiring smart travelers — it’s how he prepares. “My best advice to is to research your trip to your heart’s content before the journey begins,” he says. “Then, once your travels are underway, toss out your itinerary and let the destination itself guide you.” All too often, in this age of hyper-abundant information, it’s easy to micromanage every moment of your adventure, says Potts. It’s gotten to the point where it isn’t much of an adventure anymore. “All too often, travelers get stuck into rigid itineraries and reservations, and this stifles their ability to be spontaneous and discover new things as the journey unfolds,” he says. “You’ll be much smarter and savvier about your destination after a day or two of experiencing it in person.” The gift of the information age, adds Potts, is knowing your options — not your destiny — and those people who plan their travels with the idea of eliminating all uncertainty and unpredictability are missing out on the whole point of leaving home in the first place.
The World’s Smartest Traveler is a weekly series about the visionaries who inspire us to travel smarter. Its curator, Christopher Elliott, is the author of the upcoming book, How to Be The World’s Smartest Traveler (National Geographic Books). Want to nominate someone for this feature? Send Chris a note.