Also, a quick disclaimer: review copies are typically provided or downloaded for free, and links may be affiliate links. These reviews cover the version of the book I read, not necessarily the version that’s currently available. If it’s been awhile since this review, a newer or updated version may be available – check for yourself using the links below.
OVERLAND: Welcome to Africa – Pete Mandra
As the book mentions in the introduction, Africa is not the easiest place to be a tourist. Going overland, or seeing the sights while getting from A to B in a large truck, is the way to go. The six-week tour described in the book winds its way from Cape Town, South Africa to Nairobi, Kenya, complete with the titular ‘total strangers’. Oh, and a precious painting — a “large, cheery oil painting emblazoned with oranges, reds and blues”, bought in South Africa before the journey even started.
After a less-than-inspiring orientation, everyone piles into ‘Ella’, their custom-built BMW truck with luggage storage and floor safes. The focus turns briefly to the other travelers, who complain about a meager lunch, but quickly return to camping on the African plains (“the blackest nights I had ever witnessed,” writes the author). The first night exposes some of the realities of camping in Africa, such as having to pee when suspicious noises makes you suspect there’s a leopard around…
From the Namibian ‘Grand Canyon’ to ‘Dune 45’ to the tour with Bushman to a well-known watering hole (a great place to observe the local wildlife), Africa teems with adventure. I’ll let you read the rest of the adventures for yourself, but look for the part about a military escort. There’s also a great reminder about how traveling (even on a guided tour like this one) requires taking ownership and responsibility of your situation.
If you’re looking for an honest look at overlanding through Africa, this is as good as you’re going to get. It ain’t pretty or the most comfortable-sounding (one person needed to be air-lifted for medical issues), but the rewards of still-natural nature are there. It definitely doesn’t read like a commercial for the company named several times in the book, and it’s longer than average (meaning reading on your own trip will help pass the time for longer) On a side note, it’s inspired a game idea — I’ll have to flesh it out quite a bit, but I haven’t seen anything like it before….
Life in Motion: The Xenias on the Road to Ushuaia – Xenia Gamulin
How many road trips have you read about that take you from Denver to Ushuaia? (That’s the southernmost tip of Argentina, by the way — their journey crossed 40,000 kilometers, 294 days, and 14 countries.) If you’ve dreamed of taking the Great American Road Trip (even as a non-American), the two Xénias making this trip offer plenty of tips on how to do it for yourself.
This is not your typical chronological journey of getting from point A to point B, however, and it’s a breeze to read through at less than 100 pages. Perhaps spending ten months sharing nine square meters worth of space causes people to choose economy and substance over luxury and length. Brief sections on bathrooms, cooking while on the road, language barriers, technology, roads, and more offer plenty of insights on the journey. The ‘Mondays’ section is a highlight, if only to remind folks why Chile is worth visiting.
Beyond being an excellent recounting of an epic journey, it may also serve as a reminder that travel is for everyone, regardless of your age, gender, background, etc. Get this if planning a pan-American trip (especially if planning to cross from Panama to Colombia — it’s a bureaucratic nightmare by the sounds of it), or to be inspired by the photography.
Learn more on Amazon.
Travel As Transformation – Conquer the Limits of Culture to Discover Your Own Identity (3rd edition) – Gregory Diehl
I should start this review with a warning: it’s not every book whose prologue includes “What would it take to destroy you?”. This iconoclastic author is also behind the Uncomfortable Conversation podcast and has plenty of dangerous opinions, and it’s for that reason you should listen up.
Billed as a “holistic approach to global travel that will fundamentally change you as a person”, living as a global citizen and regarding the entire world as their home is something the book helps you approach. This is not a path to take lightly, but the reward is “a life driven by passion, in service to the development of who you truly are – whatever that ends up being.”
Growing up in San Diego as part of the upper-middle-class, Gregory lived in a van for awhile before taking a flight to Costa Rica. He spent nine months appreciating the arts, culture, and music without worrying about what the local culture dictated. Parts of this story sound almost an ascetic, cutting themselves off from the world to work on inner peace or personal development. It’s been a decade since Costa Rica, and he’s traveled across Latin America, Asia, Western Europe, and the Middle East.
Travel is a powerful tool for transformation, and a way to find your true identity. My main critiques have to do with how much of the book is dedicated to the ‘why’ (a lot) and the ‘how’ (not really enough). Gregory’s style might come off as highbrow to some, but I read it as an informed, experienced person writing from authority. He’s well traveled, and knows what it takes to make the mental shift from Joe Q. Public to someone living life on their terms.
Terning: Around the world by bike – Sam Gambier
From 2009 to 2011, Sam Gambier went around the world by bike. The book, published in January 2018, tells the story of the Englishman starting from France. It’s told chronologically, focusing on each country as a single bite in the meal, but starts without the usual preparatory chapters creating intrigue and background for the adventure. It’s only because of the Amazon description that I know the tale starts a few days after his 23rd birthday. As for ‘why?’, he mentions multiple reasons early on, but never settles on a specific one.
Entries are short, and each reads like a piece from a diary, offering some details on who he’s chatted with or how he’s found places to stay on a bare-bones budget. There’s plenty of kindness (especially as talks around the Ukraine and Eastern Europe), but he also notes a fair bit of misery (especially in Russia). Being a rather exotic Englishman seems cause for the locals to invite him into their houses, offer him drinks (and in several cases, a prostitute), and so on.
As a journey, it’s an audacious, ambitious task, and I applaud him for taking it on. As a book, however, I don’t get it. Travel books often slot themselves into a few categories — humorous retellings of the Bill Bryson type, guidebooks and how-tos, and the personal, epic journey. This book will serve as inspiration that such a journey is possible as part of that third category, and the dichotomy of loneliness and socializing over food and drink between rides is obvious enough.
The book redeems itself with the general theme that people are awesome. It’s just… the guy sounds miserable most of the time, camping in the wild, sleeping in run-down hotels, and otherwise dealing with a 10-pound-per-day budget. There are beautiful moments amidst the grotesque realities, but I closed the book feeling uninspired to make a similar journey.
Recommended, with reservations.
Learn more at Amazon.
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