If Always Twirling were to have a godfather, it would be Rolf Potts. When I spent 4 months working and traveling in India with Susana, I took along a copy of Rolf’s [amazon_link id="0812992180" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel[/amazon_link]. In the book, Rolf explains the ethos of long term travel as he lives it; unstructured, honest and open to experience. It argues in favor of prioritizing life and the freedom of time over the needless gathering of excess money and shows it’s reader through simple tales and insights how joyful and free the life of the independent traveler can be. Little did I know how potent this literary cocktail would be.
Indeed, three years after reading it the first time, Always Twirling was born and Susana and I were traveling the world, fueled in great part by Rolf’s compelling words. If you have not yet read the book yet, I cannot recommend it enough. But be warned. Reading [amazon_link id="0812992180" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]Vagabonding[/amazon_link] may very well cause you to change your life plans for the better.
When I first started interviewing people for Always Twirling, I knew exactly who I wanted to reach out to. Lucky for me, Rolf was kind enough to answer a few questions. I hope you enjoy.
You’ve been a professional travel writer now for over a decade. How has your writing evolved over that time? How have you focused on improving your writing?
My best way to focus on improving my writing has been to write and read as much as possible — and that’s the same advice I would have given ten years ago. I read more than travel writing, too — fiction, criticism, poetry, journalism; it’s good to be versed in it all.
Your bio says that you’ve reported from over sixty countries. Having traveled so extensively and for so long, there is no denying that you’ve acquired an incredible skill at traveling. However, are there aspects of your traveling skill set that you still want to improve?
Your book, [amazon_link id="0812992180" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]Vagabonding[/amazon_link] is counter-cultural in many ways, the most striking being that it advocates for the value of time over money. North American society clearly favours the opposite and this is reflected in the small amount of vacation time that workers in North America take. As a writer whose work doesn’t particularly fit into the typical 14 day vacation or the “36 hours in Such and Such” mould, do you find it difficult to pitch your stories? Do you receive feedback from editors asking, for example, to modify your stories to fit in with the modern 14 day traveler?
And this is the reason why I’m doing less consumer-oriented travel writing these days, writing less for glossy destination magazines. You can only do that for so long before you’re faking it, so now I only do those assignments a couple times a year, focusing instead of the journalistic and essayistic kind of writing I was describing earlier. Eventually I’d like to get to the point where I’m only writing books. Though books are a shrinking market these days, so I guess I’ll play things day to day, year to year.
Again from [amazon_link id="0812992180" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]Vagabonding[/amazon_link], you talk about the challenges of “reentry”; of returning home after the adventure and how strange it can feel. You must have made a number of such “reentries” over the years. Do they become less disorienting over time? Do you remember any one “reentry” that was particularly challenging?
It’s not just a cross-cultural thing. On my very first vagabonding trip I spent most of my 8-month journey in the United States, but there was something jarring about ending that journey and returning to settled life. It wasn’t just the change of daily rhythm; it was the fact that none of my friends could relate to (or were really interested in) what I’d just done.
Beyond being a successful travel writer, you have been teaching creative writing at the Paris American Academy for a number of years now. As such, you must be exposed to a great wealth of work by aspiring travel writers. Do you have any common criticism of either the travel writers you work with or perhaps just works of travel writing that you read these days?
You’ve often mentioned that it’s critical to have a unique writing voice. Could you tell us more about your voice and how you came to find it. Was it particularly difficult finding and settling into your voice?