Rolf Potts (born October 13, 1970) is an American travel writer, essayist, and author. He has written two books, Vagabonding (Random House, 2003) and Marco Polo Didn't Go There (Travelers Tales, 2008), and his travel writing has appeared in National Geographic Traveler, Outside, Salon.com, Slate.com, The Guardian, and World Hum. His non-travel essays and criticism have appeared in The New Yorker, The Believer, the New York Times Magazine, and the digital versions of The Nation and The Atlantic.
Potts directs the summer creative writing workshop at the Paris American Academy, and he was the 2011-2012 ArtsEdge Writer-in-Residence at the University of Pennsylvania. He currently teaches nonfiction writing at Yale University.
The son of schoolteachers, Potts grew up in Wichita, Kansas and graduated from Wichita North High School in 1989. He began college at Friends University, spending his summers working for an Outward Bound-style wilderness camp in Colorado and hopping freight trains across the Pacific Northwest. He later transferred to George Fox University, where he graduated with a degree in writing and literature in 1993.
After graduation Potts worked as a landscaper in Seattle for a year before embarking on an 8-month Volkswagen Vanagon journey around North America. Potts later moved to Busan, South Korea, where he taught English at technical college for two years. He started writing travel stories for Salon.com in 1998, while still living in Korea.
In 1999, while traveling in Thailand, Potts attempted to infiltrate the film-set of a Leonardo DiCaprio movie called The Beach. 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 Salon.com. 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."
After two years as the "Vagabonding" columnist at Salon, Potts began to contribute travel dispatches from Asia, South America, and Europe 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.
Potts has also written about U.S. military reading lists for The New Yorker, Islamist Sayyid Qutb's travel memoirs for The Believer, mockbuster B-movies for the New York Times Magazine, and Allen Ginsberg's poem "Wichita Vortex Sutra" for The Nation. He has interviewed Paul Theroux and Pico Iyer for The Atlantic, and his ongoing Q&A series at RolfPotts.com features profiles of more than 100 travel writers, novelists, and literary journalists, including David Grann, Peter Hessler, Tom Bissell, Gary Shteyngart, Tim Cahill, and Tony Horwitz.
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." USA Today dubbed the author "Jack Kerouac for the Internet Age" (Potts has downplayed the comparison). The book has been through more than a dozen printings, and has been widely translated worldwide.
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." 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.
TV and video
Potts was featured in several episodes of the 2007 National Geographic Adventure documentary Odyssey, and has appeared as a commentator on the Travel Channel shows "25 Mind-Blowing Escapes" and "21 Sexiest Beaches." He also hosted the 2008 Travel Channel special "American Pilgrim." 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 Gadling.com.
In 2010 Potts wrote, hosted and co-produced (with Justin Glow) a 22-episode web video series that documented his successful attempt to travel around the world for six weeks with no luggage or bags of any kind.
When not traveling, Potts lives in a small farmhouse on 30 acres of land in rural Saline County, Kansas. He has directed the summer writing workshop at the Paris American Academy since 2005, and he has given guest lectures at schools and festivals around the world, including Authors@Google in New York, the Summer Literary Seminars in Russia, the DO Lectures in Wales, Lismore Festival of Travel Writing in Ireland, and Iowa State University's Symposium on Wilderness and the Creative Imagination. In the spring of 2012 he taught an undergraduate-level travel-writing class at the University of Pennsylvania.
- "Bio". Official site.
- "Paris Writing Workshop: Instructors". Paris American Academy.
- "Rolf Potts and the Henry Ford of Literature". University of Pennsylvania.
- "Yale English Faculty: Rolf Potts, Lecturer". Yale University Department of English.
- Bures, Frank (November–December 2008). "The World Over: A Profile of Rolf Potts". Poets & Writers.
- "Interview with Rolf Potts of Vagabonding". GoSeeWrite.com.
- "Rolf Potts on Long-Term Travel". Transitions Abroad.
- Potts, Rolf (30 January 1999). "Storming "The Beach"". Salon.com.
- Potts, Rolf (2 May 2011). "Canon Fodder". The New Yorker.
- Potts, Rolf (October 2006). "The Tourist Who Influenced the Terrorists". The Believer.
- Potts, Rolf (7 October 2007). "The New B Movie". The New York Times Magazine.
- Potts, Rolf (14 November 2006). "The Last Anti-War Poem". The Nation.
- "Article archive: Rolf Potts". The Atlantic.
- Morgan, Stephen (2 February 2003). "Advice for the vagabond in all of us". Boston Globe.
- "For Rolf Potts, every day is a winding road". USA Today. 10 January 2003.
- Potts, Rolf (5 September 2007). "We Don't (Really) Know Jack". World Hum.
- "Rolf Potts: Revelations From a Postmodern Travel Writer". World Hum.
- "Marco Polo Didn't Go There Wins 2 Awards". Travelers Tales.
- "Rolf Potts". Internet Movie Database.
- "Angkor Wat - "25 Mind-Blowing Escapes"". Travel Channel.
- "Ipanema - "21 Sexiest Beaches"". Travel Channel.
- "American Pilgrim excerpt - "The Brewer"". Travel Channel.
- Potts, Rolf (27 February 2011). "Around the World in 80 Hours (Of Travel TV)". Gadling.com.
- "Videos". RTWBlog.com.
- "My travels: Rolf Potts goes round the world with no luggage". London: The Guardian. 6 November 2010.
- "Authors@Google: Rolf Potts". Google.com.
- "Past Faculty". Summer Literary Seminars.
- "Rolf Potts: Time = Wealth". The Do Lectures.
- "Rolf Potts and Alex Von Tunzelmann Feature at Immrama Festival 2011". Lismore Festival of Travel Writing.
- "On Travel Writing - Anthony Doerr and Rolf Potts". Iowa State Daily.
- "Department of English: Rolf Potts". University of Pennsylvania.
- Rolf Potts, official website
- A Conversation With Rolf Potts, Travel Writer, The Atlantic (2011)
- DO Lecture: Rolf Potts (2009)
- The World Over: A Profile of Rolf Potts, Poets & Writers (2008)
- Rolf Potts: Revelations from a Postmodern Travel Writer, World Hum (2008)
- Rolf Potts: One-hour lecture Authors@Google (2007)
- Rolf Potts interview Eight Diagrams (2006)