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Sunday, 25 February 2007

An Interview with Rolf Potts - Page 3

Written by Karen Elowitt
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If you’ve never heard of Rolf Potts, then you’re one of the disadvantaged few. A seasoned traveler and writer, he has been to over fifty countries and has written about his adventures for dozens of magazines and newspapers, from the high-profile to the humble. Rolf always tells his tales in a witty and wise way that has earned him worldwide praise.

Did anyone inspire you as a writer? Who are your influences?

Walt Whitman is one – there is a lot of him in Vagabonding. Kurt Vonnegut was an important part of my development. When I first got into travel writing I was amazed by Pico Iyer. One tends to draw on these people. Pico has this great precision of language and this great ability to write idea-driven stories, and that’s something I’ve tried to emulate. Also, George Orwell is a great non-fiction essayist. Graham Greene is great with language. Tim Cahill and Bill Bryson remind me to keep it light, and that you can convey a lot of cultural and travel information in a story that’s very entertaining.

Do you travel and write simultaneously? Or do you wait until you leave a country to write about it? What process and flow works best for you, and why?

80% of the time I do the writing after. During my first big writing gig I was doing a column for salon.com. I traveled around Asia. I would travel, stop write, travel, stop, write. It wasn’t immediate, but I was writing pretty close to the experience. In general though, I tend to write better when I can process it first. Partly because I am a slow writer, but also because it takes me away from the experience a little, and lets me shed the unnecessary details.

How do you choose your destinations? Is it serendipity, or do you get commissioned?

I get commissioned sometimes, but sometimes I decide. My next trip is independent, not tied to a magazine. I get assigned once or twice a year. Sometimes I pitch an idea and then I go to that place. Sometimes magazines approach me, and sometimes I approach them. Other times I’ll travel for an occasion, like this past summer I went to Sweden for a friend’s wedding. It keeps me plenty busy.

Do you generally travel alone vs. with a companion or group? Which do you prefer?

These days I usually travel alone, which need not be exclusive. I usually end up meeting people on the road in different combinations. On my first trip around the US in 1994, I went with a friend from college, and met various other people on the road at certain points. I don’t know that I was really ready psychically to travel solo at that point. It was important to have the moral support of a friend. But I learned that I had it in me to travel solo. I’m a fairly solitary person, so that is my “square one” of travel, but some of my favorite trips have been with other people.

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