Book Reviews: Marco Polo Didn’t Go There

Travel Books & Movies — By on September 18, 2008 at 4:21 pm

Vagabonding Rolf PottsAs travel writer Rolf Potts’ says in Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel, “If travel truly is in the journey and not the destination, if travel really is an attitude of awareness and openness to new things, then any moment can be considered travel.” He encourages us to be creative, seek out adventures, and “live your life in such a way that allows your dreams room to breathe.”

Where his first book delivered a practical and philosophical guide to travel (and, might we add, life in general), his second, Marco Polo Didn’t Go There: Stories and Revelations From One Decade as a Postmodern Travel Writer, offers a glimpse into the essence of travel writing itself.

Rather than being a straight up how-to manual, Potts’ tome is a veritable guide to fully embracing the highs and lows of life on the road, as well as the creative process. It features a collection of essays penned over Potts’ decade of voyages across five continents, complete with a “bonus track” following each that reveals insider information as to how these tales came about-and what things were left out for the sake of good storytelling.

Marco Polo Didn't Go ThereHere are a few cool insights we liked from Potts’ latest read:
• Seeking an “authentic” travel experience by attempting to break out of the “backpackers’ circuit” in Vietnam (after which he instead discovers “Sometimes, the Circuit is not a physical route, but a largely unavoidable state of mind that regulates your expectations”).
• Trying to put together the series of events that culminated with him drugged and robbed in Istanbul (to which he concludes, “You come out, in the end, with a sense of wonder at all those other, unseen moments when the threads of chance fluttered-nearly connecting, but not-just past the periphery of your life”).
• Attempting to crash the movie set of The Beach, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, on a Thai island (even if it wasn’t a mission accomplished, he’ll tell you in the end “…that I walked through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and that I feared no evil-for the Valley of the Shadow of Death will soon feature guided tours and a snack bar”).

Potts’ willingness to share the motivation behind his own wanderings-and provide nuts and bolts info on how he crafted his compelling narratives-will help readers make better sense of how to translate their own experiences onto the page. But you don’t have to read the commentary track at all to absorb the book’s real message: Travel, and life, is a delicate balance of creating your own adventures, yet being open to unplanned detours.

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