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June 15, 2019

Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel

I have since seen reference as early as 1871 (in Marc Twain, Roughing it) but I've never found it in any dictionary. In a way, it's a kind of nonsense word – playfully adapted to describe a travel phenomenon that was already out there when Walt Whitman wrote, "I or you pocketless of a dime may purchase the pick of the earth".

In this way, as we throw our wealth at an abstract notion called "lifestyle," travel becomes just another accessory – a smooth-edged, encapsulated experience that we purchase the same way we buy clothing and furniture.

Most of us, of course, have never taken such vows – but we choose to live like monks anyway, rooting ourselves to a home or a career and using the future as a kind of phony ritual that justifies the present. In this way, we end up spending (as Thoreau put it) "the best part of one's life earning money in order to enjoy a questionable libery during the least valuable part of it".

It's important to keep in mind that you should never go vagabonding out of a vague sense of fashion or obligation. Vagabonding is not a social gesture, nor is it a moral high ground. It's not a seamless twelve-step program of travel correctness or a political statement that depends the reinvention of society. Rather, it's a personal act that demands only the realignment of self.

And as they say in truth that a man is made of desire. As his desire is, so is his faith. As his faith is, so are his works. As his works are, so he becomes.

The supreme teaching of the upanishads

And so I stand among you as one that offers a small message of hope, that first, there are always people who dare to seek on the margin of society, who are not dependent on social acceptance, not dependent on social routine, and prefer a kind of free-floating existence.

Thomas Merton, The aisan Journal of Thomas Merton

The gift of the information age, after all, is knowing your options – not your destiny – and those 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.

Vagabonding is not like bulk shopping: The value of your travels does not hinge on how many stamps you have in your passport when you get home – and the slow nuanced experience of a single country is always better than the hurried, superficial experience of forty countries.

I don't want to hurry it. That itself is a poisonous twentieth-century attitude. When you want to hurry something, that means you no longer care about it and want to get on to other things.

Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance