Stories and Reportage
An archive of Rolf's on-line feature stories and travel memoirs, arranged by country. For Rolf's general-interest essays and media criticism, try the Essays page. For a look at Rolf's favorite tales from his first ten years as a travel writer (including expanded versions of some stories listed below), check out his latest book, Marco Polo Didn't Go There.
The Art of Writing a Story About Walking Across Andorra He traversed an entire nation in a long weekend. Now, Rolf shows how you can impress members of the opposite sex and write a textbook-perfect travel article in eight easy steps.
[Appeared in World Hum on 12/30/05]
The Pitjantjatjara Word for Tourists and Ants Is One and the Same In the first of several dispatches from central Australia, Rolf discovers that the best thing about Aboriginal tour guides is that they don't really give a crap about tourists.
[Appeared in Slate.com on 03/05/07]
The Dark Side of Travel Romance What could possibly be bad about an on-the-road romance? Try rekindling it when you get home.
[Appeared in Yahoo! News on 04/10/06]
Where no Travel Writer has Gone Before In a five-part series, Rolf Potts joins Trekkies aboard a "Star Trek" theme cruise to Bermuda.
[Appeared in World Hum on November 16-20, 2009]
Where no Travel Writer has Gone Before (Video) A video teaser for Rolf's "Star Trek" fan-cruise series. Original music by Rolfe Kent and Meredith Meyer; edited by Mike Marlett.
[Appeared in World Hum on November 13, 2009]
Native eye for the tourist guy When Rolf picks up a traditional, skirt-like lungi in Myanmar, he has no idea the fashion faux pas that will ensue. A meditation on "going native."
[Appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on 03/14/04]
Lost in Transaction What's money worth? In Myanmar, Rolf discovers that travel has a way of putting "cash value" into a new perspective.
[Appeared in Yahoo! News on 03/27/06]
Up Cambodia without a phrasebook On the pleasures and paranoia of being a mostly clueless white guy in the company of Third World hosts.
[Appeared in Salon.com on 06/01/99]
Song of the broken road For adventurers headed overland to Angkor Wat, Cambodia's Route 6 is Disneyland gone bad.
[Appeared in Salon.com on 05/18/99]
Nova Scotia, Cuban-Celtic-style (Audio slideshow) When Rolf meets his Havana bagpiper friends at a music festival in Nova Scotia, he learns the joys of seeing Canada through Cuban eyes.
[Appeared at Gadling.com on 08/31/11]
The Other Patagonia During his stint as writer-in-residence for a global Land Rover expedition, Rolf explores the recently completed Carretera Austral (Southern Highway) through Chile's Aisen province.
[Appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle Magazine on 10/03/04]
Around the world on shoestring In an essay about the merits of global budget travel, Rolf uses his experiences with a group of Cuban bagpipers to illustrate how wandering on the cheap can lead to the kind of unexpected encounters that make a journey memorable.
[Appeared in The Guardian (U.K.) on 02/07/09]
Skepticism and salvation in Cyprus An unorthodox tour of the second and final tomb of Lazarus puts a strange twist into Rolf's Larnaca layover.
[Appeared in Salon.com on 02/22/00]
Begging the Question As a traveler, what's the best response when people ask you for money?
[Appeared in Yahoo! News on 08/14/06]
Johnny Wadie Red Tabel "Whatever Johnny Wadie Red Tabel was, it wasn’t whisky; its flavor was a medicinal blend of anise, vanilla, and laundry detergent, and its buzz arrived in tandem with its hangover."
[Appeared in Roads & Kingdoms on 03/31/15]
Embracing my inner tourist at Giza Near Giza, Rolf discovers that the vendor culture that surrounds the Pyramids is nearly as interesting (and historically rooted) as the Pyramids themselves.
[Originally published on 09/08/10]
An Egyptian straight-razor shave (in 21 easy steps) Looking to trim his beard amidst a luggage-free journey, Rolf stumbles into the most detail-intensive barbershop-shave of his life.
[Originally published on 09/10/10]
Backpackers' ball at the Sultan Hotel With Flaubert's 1850 letters as a guide, Rolf explores the enduring allure of opera, orgasm, belly-dancing and other Cairo clichés.
[Appeared in Salon.com on 03/14/00]
Live from the trans-global Beach Nation Leo's new movie may be fiction, but its portrayal of a crowded travel world is based in fact. Rolf reports from the unlikeliest of places on just what is happening.
[Appeared in Salon.com on 02/11/00]
The baksheesh diaries In Egypt, Rolf discovers that even the simplest experiences sometimes carry a price tag.
[Appeared in Salon.com on 04/11/00]
Baksheesh (radio version) Rolf sends an audio postcard from Egypt on the Eastern practice of "baksheesh" a hard-to-define courtesy system that rewards small services with token amounts of money.
[Broadcast on NPR's "Savvy Traveler" on 01/04/02]
19 London clichés in less than four hours In transit between New York and Paris, Rolf tries to make the most of a three-and-a-half hour London layover.
[Originally published on 08/23/10]
Market Town, Tribal Bar, Country Liquor "Araki was the only drink on offer, and the owner sloshed it into a plastic bottle from an unwieldy jerrycan before moving around the room to refill clients’ glasses for ten cents a shot."
[Appeared in Roads & Kingdoms on 04/09/15]
Mister Universe What makes someone want to be the world's most traveled man? Rolf reports from from the back-roads of East Africa.
[Appeared in The New York Times Magazine on 11/16/08]
My Own Private Falklands With few crowds or restrictions, the remote Falkland Islands provide an intimate wildlife experience that offers an alternative to that of the Galapagos.
[Appeared in the July/August 2008 issue of National Geographic Traveler]
Rolling retro-style in Paris Three days into his round-the-world no-baggage journey, Rolf explores Paris from the back of vintage Citroën 2CV.
[Originally published on 08/25/10]
Jurassic Tennis Jeu de Paume once dominated every level of French society. Today, only about 200 players remain. From the 16th arrondissement of Paris, Rolf reports on the lingering vestiges of the game that gave birth to modern tennis.
[Appeared in The Smart Set on 11/30/07]
Le Musée du Fumeur Smoking will soon be banned from indoor public spaces in Paris. Is a museum dedicated to the classic French habit a celebration or eulogy?
[Appeared in The Smart Set on 08/06/07]
In the hall of the Baby Jesuses Museums honor achievement, but finding original travel experiences amid their exhibits can sometimes be a challenge.
[Appeared in Yahoo! News on 11/06/06]
A Greek romance At Corfu's Pink Palace, the ouzo flows, the crockery flies and the libidos run wild.
[Appeared in Salon.com on 01/04/00]
India's isle of ghosts On a journey through western India, Rolf explores the former Portuguese outpost of Diu, which brims with history's phantoms.
[Appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on 03/19/06]
You Have Now Entered the Tourist Zone Why do places grow vaguely annoying once they become travel destinations?
[Appeared in Yahoo! News on 05/22/06]
Windsurfing Where Jesus Walked Whenever Rolf tells people how he learned to windsurf on Israel's Sea of Galilee, he's usually met with a bemused pause, as if a Bible-themed punch line should come next.
[Appeared in Forbes on 06/19/08]
Dancing at the blood festival Armed only with curiosity and a stained pair of pants, Rolf tries to make sense of the Islamic Feast of the Sacrifice in Aqaba, Jordan.
[Appeared in Salon.com on 05/09/00]
Intrigue under the big screen At a 1-dinar cinema in Amman, Jordan, the real story has little to do with the movie itself.
[Appeared in Salon.com on 05/25/00]
Expats in Asia Korean-born U.S. filmmaker Wonsuk Chin is making a movie that is partially inspired by Rolf's 1990's expatriate writings about Busan. With the movie in pre-production, Rolf travels to Korea to meet Chin and reflect on the expat experience.
[Appeared in Slate.com, 24-27 October, 2006]
Letter from Pusan: The party's over Rolf describes the heady rise and wistful fall of expat life in South Korea.
[Appeared in Salon.com on 09/24/98]
Korea's no-man's land Rolf describes a visit to Korea's DMZ, one of the planet's oddest tourist attractions, where visitors can pick up everything from propaganda to perfume.
[Appeared in Salon.com on 02/03/99]
Man bites dog Koreans and Americans both love dogs they just have a different way of showing it.
[Appeared in Salon.com on 10/28/98]
Ignorants abroad An American expatriate weathers the slings and arrows of learning another language.
[Appeared in Salon.com on 06/22/98]
Guns, muskmelon breasts and the Laotian Gandhi An American takes a Mark Twain-like journey by riverboat down the Mekong.
[Appeared in Salon.com on 07/06/99]
Lotus-eating in Luang Prabang Buddhist temples, watermelon shakes and crazed speedboat racers meet in the ancient Lao capital.
[Appeared in Salon.com on 07/07/99]
A lucky break in Paklay In which Rolf gets drunk on rice whiskey one night and finds himself invited onto a boat the morning after.
[Appeared in Salon.com on 07/08/99]
In Vientiane, a lull before the storm Rolf enjoys a drowsy detour in the Lao capital before preparing to take over as second mate on the Mik Sip.
[Appeared in Salon.com on 07/09/99]
Rapids, ruins and the end of the river In which Rolf wanders the tranquil streets of Thakaek and weathers a dangerous descent.
[Appeared in Salon.com on 07/10/99]
Retch-22: Laos in the time of cholera The official analysis was "diarrhea, with vomiting." Right.
[Appeared in Salon.com on 08/24/99]
Fear and loathing in Latvia Between the fistfights and the Finnish girls, it's hard to get any writing done.
[Appeared in Salon.com on 11/23/99]
My Beirut hostage crisis Taken under the wing of a Lebanese detergent tycoon, Rolf learns that there's a fine line between hospitality and kidnapping.
[Appeared in Salon.com on 06/06/00]
Scenes from a train: Thailand to Malaysia On a 24-hour train transit from Bangkok to Penang, Rolf learns the social limitations of Thai whiskey, and meets a fellow traveler who embodies the antithesis of "traveling light."
[Originally published on 09/28/10]
Horse races, open spaces and the fate of Genghis Khan's balls In his first dispatch from an epic Beijing-St. Petersburg train trip, Rolf explores the mysteries of Mongolia.
[Appeared in Salon.com on 11/09/99]
Raising My Parents in Mongolia When Rolf's parents accompany him on a trip to Mongolia, he suddenly finds the whole parent-child dynamic reversed. But who's teaching whom a lesson?
[Broadcast on NPR's "Savvy Traveler" on 06/21/02]
In Fes: Walk until the day becomes interesting In the twisting alleyways of a Moroccan medina, Rolf does away with pre-planning and follows his instincts.
[Originally published on 09/03/10]
The wrong town in Morocco Not long after mispronouncing the town of "Chefchaouen" to his Moroccan taxi driver, Rolf goes on to discover the accidental charms of a town called "Tetouan."
[Originally published on 09/01/10]
Exploring the laws of physics in New Zealand Rolf leaps off of cliffs, soars through the trees, and jets up rivers near Queenstown, on New Zealand's South Island.
[Originally published on 10/01/10]
A Desert By Any Other Name The desert coast of Peru is as gorgeous as it is baffling.
[Appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle Magazine on 03/28/04]
Helen of Troy is in my taxi Rolf discovers the ambiguity of language and love in the Philippines.
[Appeared in Salon.com on 03/19/99]
Road roulette Demoralized by goals and guidebooks, Rolf tackles Poland on a thumb and a prayer.
[Appeared in Salon.com on 12/14/99]
Stranded in Siberia At an obscure border town, Rolf discovers the biggest obstacle in negotiating the next 4,000 miles: The train has left without him.
[Appeared in Salon.com on 11/10/99]
The Trans-Siberian Toilet War Left behind for a surmised breach of lavatory protocol, Rolf and his two companions lead a desperate, paranoid, all-out car chase in an attempt to cut off the train at Ulan Ude.
[Appeared in Salon.com on 11/11/99]
The great railway bizarre Taiga forests, first class follies and a Slavic Lolita in short-shorts enliven the train journey that has no end.
[Appeared in Salon.com on 11/12/99]
A sexy librarian named Natasha and other surprises of the New Russia I journeyed 5,000 miles to learn that God is in the weiners and William S. Burroughs is a cult star.
[Appeared in Salon.com on 11/13/99]
Justin's elephant-poop cold remedy Stuck with a cold in an isolated corner of South Africa's Welgevonden Game Preserve, Rolf's cameraman Justin comes face to face with an unusual bush cure.
[Originally published on 09/21/10]
Hanging with the animal paparazzi in South Africa Near Kruger National Park, Rolf discovers that the "Big Five" safari animals aren't nearly so exciting as the creatures one finds by happenstance.
[Originally published on 09/16/10]
Tapas for ignoramuses Rolf explores the streets of central Madrid through seven drinks and nine dishes.
[Originally published on 08/29/10]
Anthem Soul Sometimes you have to travel halfway around the world to find out how American you are.
[Appeared in World Hum on 07/05/01]
Anthem Soul (radio version) An audio postcard from Syria.
[Broadcast on NPR's "Savvy Traveler" on 03/15/02]
The Same River Twice: Bangkok in Three Acts Back in Thailand after a seven-year absence, Rolf revisits the Khao San Road backpacker scene, eats insects in Chinatown, and tests his no-baggage wardrobe in an upscale nightclub.
[Originally published on 09/24/10]
Storming 'The Beach' When he tries to infiltrate a movie set on a heavily guarded Thai island, Rolf embarks on a rollicking post-modern travel adventure, somewhat starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
[Appeared in Salon.com on 01/30/99]
The Scrooge from Planet Lonely In the first installment of "Vagabonding," Rolf pays through the nose for his penny-pinching ways.
[Appeared in Salon.com on 04/06/99]
Getting stoned with Mr. X Rolf wanders in search of an Indiana Jones adventure in Thailand's gem country.
[Appeared in Salon.com on 04/20/99]
Goodbye, Khao San Road As he leaves Southeast Asia, Rolf reflects on the evolution of the middle-class travel revolution.
[Appeared in Salon.com on 10/12/99]
Super Bowl Exile Rolf reports from Thailand on the difficulty of taking part in a time-honored American custom watching the Super Bowl while traveling in Asia.
[Broadcast on NPR's "Savvy Traveler" on 02/01/02]
Jolly Good Excuse for a Party Imagine a Grand Prix auto race with school buses, a sport that lets players practice in a pub. That's elephant polo for you. Rolf checks out the action in Thailand and can't help wondering if pachyderms are about to give golf a (lumbering) run for its money.
[Appeared in the January 2004 issue of Conde Nast Traveler]
Around the World in 80 Hours (of Travel TV)Locked in a hotel room in Las Vegas, Rolf subjects himself to five straight days of Travel Channel programming.
[Appeared in AOL's Gadling.com, February 21-25, 2011]
Why Rolf is Traveling Around the World With No Luggage From his home in rural Kansas, Rolf lays out the reasons why he wanted to circumnavigate the globe without so much as a fanny pack or a man-purse.
[Originally published on 08/19/10]
The Mystical High Church of Luck Rolf goes to Las Vegas with $5 in his pocket, discovers the Mystical High Church of Luck and ends up losing $100.
[Appeared in Salon.com on 04/28/98]
In New Orleans: The Allure of Disaster Tourism Is it weird to want to visit the flood-ravaged Lower Ninth Ward during Mardi Gras season?
[Appeared in Yahoo! News on 03/13/06]
The New B Movie Why your video store stocks "mockbusters" alongside the blockbusters: A look at how one Hollywood B-movie studio stays in business.
[Appeared in The New York Times Magazine on 10/07/07]
A Vagabond Finds a Home Rolf finally found a place to call his own a bunkhouse overlooking the Kansas prairie. It's infused with the lessons he'd learned from 13 years living out of a backpack.
[Appeared in World Hum on 11/18/07]
The Barbecue Jesus and other epiphanies Wandering off the Vietnamese budget travel trail in search of authenticity, Rolf finds that authenticity isn't all it's cracked up to be.
[Appeared in Salon.com on 07/27/99]
Searching for Binh Hoa Hoping to find an obscure Vietnam War killing field, Rolf discovers that some lessons of history teach themselves.
[Appeared in Salon.com on 08/10/99]