Regular readers of this column will know I am a big fan of travel and, better yet if you can swing it, extended stays abroad. Living in a handful of different countries has been transformative for me. I've learned sometimes empowering, sometimes brutal lessons about my own capabilities and limitations, massively expanded my knowledge of the world, increased my tolerance for discomfort and uncertainty, and also (and this isn't a minor point) just had a ton of fun.
I also know through my work that there's no shortage of studies suggesting I am not a weirdo. Research confirms the mind-expanding, career-boosting power of travel.
Which is a good reason to consider a stint as a digital nomad or just plain old nomad. And also a good reason why you might want to read a book on the subject like Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel by Rolf Potts.
According to entrepreneur and author Tim Ferriss, this is a book absolutely everyone should read, even if the thought of being an expat makes you break out in hives. Even if you never set foot abroad, he says, thinking about the trade-offs of travel are an ideal way to hone in on your own definition of success. And you'll never be successful if you don't know what you mean by the term.
Introducing Ferriss's "Fundamental Four"
In a 2019 episode of his podcast, Ferriss outlined his "Fundamental Four," or the four books he recommended to aspiring lifestyle designers and entrepreneurs in his breakout book, The 4-Hour Workweek. "That was a long time ago," he says (joking "back when I had hair") but "they are still very well worth reading."
Three of the books on the list are business standards dealing with topics like successful business models, dreaming big, and entrepreneurial pitfalls to avoid. All sound sensible and worthy, but the final selection Ferriss mentions caught my eye because it isn't at all like the others. It is -- you guessed it -- Potts's book.
"This is, in fact, the book that got me to stop making excuses and pack for an extended hiatus trip overseas," Ferriss says, adding that he's since read the book at least 10 times. But what makes Ferriss's recommendation so interesting is how he pitches the book to those who don't daydream about traveling the world.
"Don't discount it because the subtitle has 'long-term world travel' in it. Maybe that's not what you want to do, but it covers a lot," he continues. "It's helpful for determining your destination -- or destinations, if you're thinking about travel.... But it also includes great excerpts from famous vagabonds, philosophers, and explorers, as well as anecdotes from ordinary travelers. And this is really a philosophical reset."
Ferriss promises the book will help you figure out where you want to go -- whether that means a particular country or a particular kind of lifestyle.
"This book helps you to better value time-wealth, while recognizing the limitations of money as currency, in the end, which most people want to trade for an experience which gives them an emotion," he explains. "So it really helps to deconstruct your own thinking about materialism, success as quantified by money, and the trappings that we all fall into, the trappings that we all succumb to at various points."
Before you can achieve success, you have to define it.
Success, as I have pointed out before, is very much not self-defining. An essential early step to becoming successful is figuring out what exactly success means for you. Is it financial independence? Time to spend with your family? Having a wide range of experiences? Making a positive impact on others? Bringing beauty into the world? Minimizing regret? Having people say you were a good person at your funeral? Or, most likely, some tricky balance of many of these goals? (Side note: Ferriss has spoken thoughtfully about his own shifting definition of success.)
Building an ambitious, well-engineered business (and avoiding bombs that could blow up your efforts), which the other books in the "Fundamental Four" apparently help you do, is all well and good. But before you get too far down the road of doing anything like that, you should know why you're doing it. And that's what Ferriss promises Potts's book will help you figure out. That makes it relevant to, well, just about everybody.
I am intrigued by the idea that a book on a seemingly niche subject could be such a powerful aid to thinking through such fundamental questions. Travel has helped me understand who I am and what I want to achieve. Maybe Vagabonding could help clarify these questions without all the airports.