So, here I am cruising around the country doing author events for my latest book. The way these events go, you talk about the book, you read from the book, you talk about the process of making the book, you talk about the process of getting yourself to the point of being the name on the book, and then you talk more about yourself. Most of the time the audience asks questions, and if I did I good job, everyone is laughing.

And they did laugh. They laughed so much that the main question I got asked at nearly every store was, “What’s the next book going to be called?” These sillies just love the underwear themes. This was good news to report back to Travelers’ Tales, and somehow I wasn’t that surprised.

What surprised me was the second most asked question.
“What’s Rolf Potts like?”

And it happened so much, and in so many different places, that I can’t even remember them all. But I remember at least three, maybe four.

Santa Cruz, California
I was hanging out with some friends, one of which is a travel writer and editor and has many years, books, and bylines than I can keep track of. We were chit chatting about the life of a writer and I mentioned something about a friend who was working on a book. I don’t remember the context of why this came up, and don’t worry, I wasn’t revealing the topic of the book, but before I could finish my thought, she interjected, “Rolf?” And I thought, “Rolf? Where did that come from. I haven’t spoken to this woman in years. Possibly longer than I’ve actually known Rolf (four years). No, I said. Not Rolf. But picking up on her interest in the subject, I told her all about and how she could use it in her upcoming newspaper column for travel websites.

Portland, Oregon
The event at 23rd Avenue Books was mainly for Sean Keener’s friends and family. There were others, 20 some in all. And so many men that I really had to avert my eyes when talking about getting felt up by a Turkish/German masseur. Two of the guys in the crowd were somewhat new BootsnAll members and tagged along with Sean and posse as we went out for drinks after. And they kept tagging along until we were back at Sean’s house in the Bootbus drinking Pinot. “So, how’d you hear about BootsnAll?” I asked. Vagabonding, they both replied, though they were not together. One of them, the younger one, then said he found Written Road from the book. “So, is this travel writing community all a front or do you really know Rolf Potts and Don George?” I started laughing. Yes, I really know them.

And then he proceeded to unearth his admiration for Rolf and went into all sorts of Rolf philosophies and a small spiel about the book that I swear Rolf could have written himself. This young man has rarely traveled, but oh has he traveled through Rolf’s words. And not just the book, no, he’s read a ton of stuff online as well. Sean and I sat back, stunned. Whoa. He nailed it. Yep, that’s Rolf. But I was too into the Pinot to recall his statements other than that I was impressed that a 22-year-old had this kind of insight into someone just from reading their work.

“Where did you meet him?” Mini-Rolf asked.
“I met him at the Bangkok Oriental in Thailand four years ago,” I said.
“Oh! He was there doing a story for National Geographic Traveler!”
“Yes, that’s when I met him.”

And the beat went on…

Olympia, Washington
I can’t figure out if the youngster wanted to spend more time with me because we shared an interest in craps, or because I knew Rolf. But it didn’t matter. I met him on one of his last nights before heading down to Mexico for a few months. And of course, he wanted to talk more about you know who.

He didn’t want me to tell Rolf about him in any other way than that he’s read Vagabonding three times, and on the last pass he knew what was going to come next before he turned the page. I felt like torturing the young man and whipped out my cell phone. “Oooh, lets call him. Right now. Look, I’ve got his number right here.” The poor man was mortifed. Petrified. And begged me not to. So, I didn’t.

Toronto, CANADA
I had attended WordStock, a one day conference for Canadian Journalists. Afterwards I went out with two contributors to Sand in My Bra and Whose Panties Are These. One woman had invited a bunch of other writers she knew so there were seven of us women in all. We ordered our beer and wine, got the apps coming, and sat down to talk about, what I thought was going to be, writing. The ringleader indulged me in a little shop talk until she could hold it no longer, “Ok, Ok, lets get down to what’s really important. What’s Rolf Potts like? Is he as good looking in person as he is on his site?”

After a quick second of being shocked at this recurring theme, I laughed. And then I switched from writer mode, to girl mode. So, Rolf, you will have to excuse me. “Oh yeah,” I said. Then I couldn’t help but follow up with, “and he got even better looking this summer! He was living down in San Diego and had some friends take him shopping. This one shirt, oh my gosh.” They loved it. So, I kept going, “Well, he had to you know, now that he’s hanging out with politicos.”

Guelph, CANADA (a small uni town an hour west of Toronto)
The real reason I was headed over to Canada was to have some R&R. Sure, I’d flown into Toronto and did the book thing for the first few hours, but I assumed that my shadow of All-Things-Rolf would cease as soon as I left the ladies.

No way…

I got a brief break, but the minute I walked into this small town’s independent bookstore, there he was. Or Vagabonding rather. Top shelf, face out, with a shelf talker! I was so mad I didn’t have a camera. It’s always a nice feeling to have your book be a “Staff Pick”, but it’s even better if they write a personal comment. Thanks to the efforts of my friend in Guelph who went to the Bookshelf to copy it down, I was able to get this back for Rolf.

Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel


Vagabonding confirms travel is a lifestyle – it volleys strings of data meant to facilitate the planning and execution of trips with duration of
at least months and months. Set up like a self-help manual, it has chapter titles like ” Earn your freedom”, ” Learn and keep learning”, and “Meet your neighbours”. Potts research is impressive. The book is engaging enough because of his writing style, but with the addition of his factoids, traveler biographies, hints, and resources (, for example), it’s also capable of engaging those long-held dreams of long-term travel that have lingered solely in fantasy-land for too long. Potts delivers the goods and a reader needs to arrange a life that makes time for travel. Vagabonding is the type of travel book that is kept in a reference collection instead of being tossed through a train window once its destination is met.

So, the answer is Yes, to all the Written Road fans, lookieloos, and the like. Yes, I know Rolf Potts. He’s real. Our friendship is legitimate. I’ve met several of his friends, had bison burgers with his dad, and slept over at his best friend’s house. He is probably even the person that I’ve been in the most cities with. We’ve met in Bangkok, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, and San Diego. I thought there were more than that, but maybe not. We have fun together and I don’t make up events or connections with other writers on this site. And even though Rolf’s level of work and pay is taking him into higher brackets than I’m in, I still think it’d be fun to do a humor book with him and even better for us to do a college campus tour. We would definitely have them laughing.

And maybe, just maybe, if he’s not too busy celebrating his birthday this morning, he’ll write back and tell us the ONE time he was out amid strangers and they asked him about knowing me.

Have a great party tonight, Rolf! Sorry I can’t be there. Maybe some of your fans on WR will say Happy Birthday right here or over at


  1. By the way, there IS a time when I met strangers who knew of you, Jen. When I first arrived in San Diego this spring, I met two women in a bar in La Jolla. When I told them I was a travel writer, one of them got all excited and told me about this *great travel book* she’d been reading while tending to a sick relative in the hospital that very day. The book was Sand in My Bra, by a certain Jennifer L. Leo, and she commented that she’d been embarassed for laughing out loud so much in a hospital.

    I just smiled and said, “You know the part in Jen’s Thailand story where a guy named Rolf takes her on a tour of Patpong? That’s me.”

    I must say she was very impressed that I knew the mighty Ms. Leo.

  2. I had heard of Jen first, since I’m a big Travelers’ Tales fan. I don’t know how I found her blog–probably thru BootsnAll. I was lucky enough to meet her when she and Rolf passed thru town. I had heard his name–probably thru Jen’s blog, or from some other random source. We saw Pico Iyer speak in Santa Barbara, and the next day Rolf and Jen let me pick their brains about travel writing, offered advice up the wazoo (for free), and autographed their books for me. Ahh, the kindness of strangers.

    Two days later, I learned that one of my all-time fave travel stories (Storming The Beach) was by this guy I just had lunch with. Wish I made that connection while I was talking to him. It would’ve been nice to tell him how much I enjoyed it.

    Then his name popped up everywhere., Travelers’ Tales, you name it. Vagabonding seemed to be touted everywhere I go. I was afraid it was over-hyped, but I read it and felt relieved that it’s as good as the reviews say. And I have an autographed copy.

    Of course, I also found out everything Jen has done and is doing (in the middle of a book tour, she’s still been posting more material on her blog than I can keep up with!). On the one hand, it made me feel like a slouch, having done so little writing compared to these two. On the other hand, it was a great way to get me motivated. Partially because of their influence and suggestions, I finally finished a story I was working on for a year.

    Since then, I’ve met more people in the biz, made a lot of great contacts, and, if nothing else, met a lot of really wonderful people.

    Happy Birthday, Rolf. Loved “Storming…”

    Thanks, Rolf and Jen. Hope to make you proud.

    Back to work for me. I have a story about Spain and an article about Hungarian to work on…

  3. Well Jen, that is indeed a yummy photo of him. I may be married, but I’m not blind.

    Rolf – don’t worry. I swear I’m not a stalker. Hope to run into you at some point. I’m already a fan of your writing.

    Ok, enough of all the sugar!

  4. Okay, this does it. I don’t know if I can fight it any more. Am I really going to have to start a Rolf Potts fan page on my website, just to have a place to corral all my giddiness? (Check back, I just really may do this!)

    I feel so “high school.” I feel like all those people Jen noted, and more. All worried that my gushing will reveal what a geek I really am. And I really am. But as such, I really have embarked on a whole new direction since reading Rolf’s book. Well, I should say a whole OLD direction that I’d lost sight of. All the encouragement, all the new resources, all the affirmation, validation. Not the least of which have been your blog, Jen, and BootsnAll, too.

    Jen, I love your energy and enthusiasm. I hope to warrant your efforts someday (soon?).

    Rolf, I love your writing and the way you live, and would love to pick your brain over beers sometime. Like Jill said previously, “I swear I’m not a stalker,” but, I couldn’t resist the sugar. Layers and layers of sugar.

  5. Thanks, everybody! And Annette…a first time comment on WR? Yay! I went to your site and was amused that your links page has Rolf on the upper left, and me on the upper right.

    Did you put that up today in the spirit of our post? Just too funny. I love it. Thanks!

  6. Actually, they’ve both been there ever since I first found out about you guys. The hero worship hasn’t even begun. Lots o’ sugar to come. I do what I can to spread the love.


  7. Jen and Rolf,

    You two crack me up! About a month ago, I was eating lunch with a group of fellow English teachers down here in the South Bay, and the Alpha Drama Queen Teacher began GUSHING over a book called Sand in my Bra by a woman named Jen Leo. She turned to me with her flailing Drama Queen arms and instructed me to read that book As Soon As Possbile–it would change my life and view of traveling.

    Careful not to anger the Drama Queen in her own territory with any quick movements or attempts to one-up, I meekly mentioned that I knew you, as a friend of my travel-writing cousin, Rolf. I nearly whispered, “…the guy from the Thailand story–they stayed with me last year on their way to San Diego.” This was received with squeals and questions from a few of the younger teachers (men and women) in the room who knew your books and Rolf’s.

    A few moments passed as the Drama Queen Alpha Teacher contemplated ripping me, the insolent younger (pregnant) teacher, to shreds or to accept me into the pack. Luckily the Queen’s talons had been freshly waxed and painted, so she replied with “Oh, then you must already undertsand traveling.” and turned to enlighten someone else. Whew, acceptance. I just knew she wouldn’t attack a pregnant chick. Maybe.

    So, Jen, knowing you helped me gain entrance into the pack of leathery old English teachers in my department. Only much later did I dare mention that the guy from the story, Cousin Rolf, had been into my classes last semester to speak to my students when he was passing through town. I too, get the “Is he really that cute?” question–from my students and colleagues. Come on, he’s my COUSIN…

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