Rolf Potts

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Rolf Potts talks about his book Marco Polo Didn't Go There

Rolf Potts (born October 13, 1970) is an American travel writer, essayist, podcaster, and author. He has written four books, including Vagabonding (Random House, 2003), Marco Polo Didn't Go There (Travelers Tales, 2008), and Souvenir (Bloomsbury, 2018). The lifestyle philosophies he outlined in Vagabonding are considered to have been a key influence on the digital nomad movement.[1]

His travel writing has appeared in National Geographic Traveler, Outside,,, The Guardian, and World Hum. His non-travel essays and criticism have appeared in The New Yorker, The Believer, Sports Illustrated, and the digital versions of The Nation and The Atlantic.[2] Potts directs the summer creative writing workshop at the Paris American Academy,[3] and he was the 2011-2012 ArtsEdge Writer-in-Residence at the University of Pennsylvania.[4] He more recently taught nonfiction writing at Yale University.[5]

Early life[edit]

The son of schoolteachers, Potts grew up in Wichita, Kansas and graduated from Wichita North High School in 1989.[6] He began college at Friends University, spending his summers working for an Outward Bound-style wilderness camp in Colorado[7] and hopping freight trains across the Pacific Northwest.[8] He later transferred to George Fox University, where he graduated with a degree in writing and literature in 1993.[6]

After graduation Potts worked as a landscaper in Seattle for a year before embarking on an 8-month Volkswagen Vanagon journey around North America.[6] Potts later moved to Busan, South Korea, where he taught English at technical college for two years.[6] He started writing travel stories for in 1998, while still living in Korea.[6]


In 1999, while traveling in Thailand, Potts attempted to infiltrate the film-set of a Leonardo DiCaprio movie called The Beach.[9] His essay about the experience, "Storming 'The Beach'," was chosen by Bill Bryson for inclusion in The American Travel Writing 2000, and led to an ongoing biweekly travel column at[6] Poets & Writers later noted that, "the story, far from being an account of a simple-minded stunt, was actually a fantastic narrative mixed with meditations on the 'shadowlike ironies of travel culture,' Walker Percy's 'traveler's angst,' and 'the greater struggle for individuality in the information age.' It was, in other words, a compelling blend of storytelling and reflection, a profound look at where Potts found himself, both in place and time."[6]


After two years as the "Vagabonding" columnist at Salon, Potts began to contribute travel dispatches from Asia, South America, and Europe[6] to a variety of venues, including National Public Radio, Conde Nast Traveler, National Geographic Adventure, Islands, the San Francisco Chronicle Magazine, and The Smart Set. A number of these articles were later anthologized, including "Tantric Sex For Dilettantes," a Perceptive Travel story that was chosen for The Best American Travel Writing 2006, and "The Art of Writing a Story About Walking Across Andorra," a World Hum story that appeared in The Best Creative Nonfiction, Vol. 2.[2]

Potts has also written about U.S. military reading lists for The New Yorker,[10] Islamist Sayyid Qutb's travel memoirs for The Believer,[11] mockbuster B-movies for the New York Times Magazine,[12], Allen Ginsberg's poem "Wichita Vortex Sutra" for The Nation.[13], and the murder of small-college football player Brandon Brown for Sports Illustrated[14]. He has interviewed Paul Theroux and Pico Iyer for The Atlantic,[15] and his ongoing Q&A series at features profiles of more than 200 travel writers, novelists, and literary journalists, including David Grann, Peter Hessler, Gary Shteyngart, Camille Dungy, Tom Bissell, and Pam Houston.


Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel, Potts' first book, mixes practical advice with philosophical insights about the value of travel. Upon its release in 2003, the Boston Globe called it "a valuable contribution to our thinking, not only about travel, but about life and work."[16] USA Today dubbed the author "Jack Kerouac for the Internet Age"[17] (Potts has downplayed the comparison[18]). The book has been through more than 30 printings, and has been widely translated worldwide.[2]

Potts' second travel book, Marco Polo Didn't Go There: Stories and Revelations From One Decade as a Postmodern Travel Writer, debuted in 2008. A collection of previously published travel essays, each chapter contains endnote-commentary that explores its own creation. In an interview with World Hum, Potts said that the endnotes aim to "collect some of the elements that had been left out of my stories and use them to remind the reader of the gap between narrative and experience, traveler and writer, truth and presentation. I wanted to hint at how stories themselves—which by nature must be self-contained in order to be readable—emerge out of a much more complicated world of lived experience."[19] The book won a Lowell Thomas Award in the United States, and in 2009 became the first American-authored book to win Italy's Bruce Chatwin Prize for international travel writing.[20]

In 2016 Potts released a short book about the Geto Boys' eponymous, Rick Rubin-produced third album for the 33⅓ series of music criticism, and in 2018 he wrote Souvenir for Bloomsbury's Object Lessons series of books about "the hidden lives of ordinary things." The Boston Globe called Souvenir "a treasure trove of … fascinating deep dives into the history of travel keepsakes."[21]

TV, video, and podcasting[edit]

Potts was featured in several episodes of the 2007 National Geographic Adventure documentary Odyssey: Driving Around the World,[22] and has appeared as a commentator on the Travel Channel shows "25 Mind-Blowing Escapes"[23] and "21 Sexiest Beaches."[24] He also hosted the 2008 Travel Channel special "American Pilgrim."[25] Potts poked fun at his own TV appearances while analyzing 80 consecutive hours of Travel Channel programming in a 2011 gonzo-critique of travel-TV for[26] In 2010 he wrote, hosted and co-produced (with Justin Glow) a 22-episode web video series[27] that documented his successful attempt to travel around the world for six weeks with no luggage or bags of any kind.[28] Potts appeared as a commentator in the 2013 documentary film Gringo Trails, which explored the impact of tourism on travel destinations and host communities worldwide.[29]

In 2017 he debuted Deviate, a podcast featuring "experts, public figures, and interesting people exploring fascinating topics that meander off-topic."[30]. In an interview for This Week in Podcasts, Potts said: “Each episode tends to begin with an issue that has piqued my curiosity. What’s it like to be a black police officer? What happens in a dominatrix dungeon? Why is it so hard for Americans to talk about death and dying? From there I encourage guests to explore these issues in a digressive way that gives listeners a perspective that goes beyond sound bites and click-bait."[30]

Guest lecturing[edit]

Potts has directed the summer writing workshop at the Paris American Academy since 2005,[3] and he has given guest lectures at schools and festivals around the world, including the Margaret Mead Film Festival,[31] the White House Travel Bloggers Summit,[32] Talks at Google,[33], Lismore Festival of Travel Writing in Ireland,[34] the Go Viral Festival in Kazakhstan,[35] Iowa State University's Symposium on Wilderness and the Creative Imagination,[36] and Kelly Writers House at the University of Pennsylvania.[37]

Personal life[edit]

When not traveling, Potts lives in a small farmhouse on 30 acres of land in rural Saline County, Kansas.[3]


  1. ^ "Vagabonding author Rolf Potts and the digital nomad lifestyle". Creative Life.
  2. ^ a b c "Bio". Official site.
  3. ^ a b c "Paris Writing Workshop: Instructors". Paris American Academy.
  4. ^ "Rolf Potts and the Henry Ford of Literature". University of Pennsylvania.
  5. ^ "Yale English Faculty: Rolf Potts, Lecturer". Yale University Department of English. Archived from the original on 2014-10-26.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h Bures, Frank (November–December 2008). "The World Over: A Profile of Rolf Potts". Poets & Writers.
  7. ^ "Interview with Rolf Potts of Vagabonding".
  8. ^ "Rolf Potts on Long-Term Travel". Transitions Abroad.
  9. ^ Potts, Rolf (30 January 1999). "Storming "The Beach"".
  10. ^ Potts, Rolf (2 May 2011). "Canon Fodder". The New Yorker.
  11. ^ Potts, Rolf (October 2006). "The Tourist Who Influenced the Terrorists". The Believer.
  12. ^ Potts, Rolf (7 October 2007). "The New B Movie". The New York Times Magazine.
  13. ^ Potts, Rolf (14 November 2006). "The Last Anti-War Poem". The Nation.
  14. ^ Potts, Rolf (4 December 2012). "Murder of football player in Kansas shakes town, raises questions". Sports Illustrated.
  15. ^ "Article archive: Rolf Potts". The Atlantic.
  16. ^ Morgan, Stephen (2 February 2003). "Advice for the vagabond in all of us". Boston Globe.
  17. ^ "For Rolf Potts, every day is a winding road". USA Today. 10 January 2003.
  18. ^ Potts, Rolf (5 September 2007). "We Don't (Really) Know Jack". World Hum.
  19. ^ "Rolf Potts: Revelations From a Postmodern Travel Writer". World Hum.
  20. ^ "Marco Polo Didn't Go There Wins 2 Awards". Travelers Tales. Archived from the original on 2013-02-04.
  21. ^ Daniel, Diane (12 June 2018). "Spoons, magnets, rocks: New Book looks at the history of souvenirs". Boston Globe.
  22. ^ "Rolf Potts". Internet Movie Database.
  23. ^ "Angkor Wat - "25 Mind-Blowing Escapes"". Travel Channel.
  24. ^ "Ipanema - "21 Sexiest Beaches"". Travel Channel.
  25. ^ "American Pilgrim excerpt - "The Brewer"". Travel Channel.
  26. ^ Potts, Rolf (27 February 2011). "Around the World in 80 Hours (Of Travel TV)".
  27. ^ "Videos".
  28. ^ "My travels: Rolf Potts goes round the world with no luggage". The Guardian. London. 6 November 2010.
  29. ^ Cynthia, Fuchs (5 September 2014). "'Gringo Trails' Explores the Complicated Business of Tourism". PopMatters.
  30. ^ a b Yessis, Mike (11 May 2018). "Donald Glover's moment, hot Malcolm Gladwell takes and a new way to look at cereal (#13)". This Week in Podcasts.
  31. ^ "Gringo Trails". American Museum of Natural History.
  32. ^ "The White House Summit". Lillie Marshall.
  33. ^ "Talks at Google: Rolf Potts".
  34. ^ "Rolf Potts and Alex Von Tunzelmann Feature at Immrama Festival 2011". Lismore Festival of Travel Writing.
  35. ^ "Rolf Potts: The Art of Long-Term World Travel". GoViralkz.
  36. ^ "On Travel Writing - Anthony Doerr and Rolf Potts". Iowa State Daily.
  37. ^ "Department of English: Rolf Potts". University of Pennsylvania. Archived from the original on 2012-04-26.

External links[edit]