Once a month, I put together the books I’ve read into a single review post. Alternatively, see plenty of previous book reviews over here, or see how I rate books.

Want to get your travel book reviewed? Send it for review over at oneweirdglobe.com/review-book.

Presenting the travel books for March!

Life, Love, and a Hijacking – My Pan Am Memoir – Wendy Sue Knecht

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Pan Am was the pinnacle of style for airlines – rewind the time machine for the late 70’s to 80’s and get a first-hand look at the life of a flight attendant. From worries over weight (three overweight weigh-ins during your six-month probationary period and you’re out) to the realities of being the least-senior person in the company, Wendy navigates the corporate indoctrination (“You are Pan Am. Represent us well,” was the motto) and pages of expectations, whether on-duty or off.

Punctuating some chapters are pictures from some of the staff guidebooks, including the dress code (for first class, “Men MUST wear dress suit or coordinated slacks and sport coat with a shirt and TIE”). I loved reading about some of the behind-the-scenes lingo, including ‘SUBLO’, or ‘Subject to Load’ status (your family’s opportunity to travel as a perk of your job if there was room).

It’s a intriguing look at the highs (“Caviar was a staple on most of our flights”) and lows (“Imagine going to work at 10:30pm for a sixteen-hour plus shift”) of an airline that’s but a memory today. Whether you’re about to board a flight or are dreaming of your next vacation, it’s a worthy, laugh-out-loud read from someone who’s seen it all at 30,000 feet.

Recommended.

Purchase on Amazon:

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The Wealthy English Teacher – Jackie Bolen

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Becoming an English teacher is a common way of getting started as an expat (it certainly was for us!), though getting wealthy from teaching isn’t typically part of the plan. It certainly can be, according to this author, with the classic strategy of increasing income and decreasing expenses. Her own example is mainly based in Korea, one of the ‘good’ countries for teaching ESL while mentioning some of the ‘okay’ and ‘bad’ options.

While Jackie has plenty of experience at teaching, much of the advice related to finance and stocks is quite general. I was really hoping to see more anecdotes from her personal story, but few of those are present. The advice of saving $10,000 USD on top of a $2,000 USD emergency fund is wise, but borders on unrealistic – you’d have to have saved nearly half your paycheck for a year under best-case / ideal circumstances in Korea, and that’s assuming your job is stable enough to last you a year. There’s some more specifics on her portfolio in chapter 6, including for Americans and other nationalities.

There’s plenty of resources to get you started down this journey. She correctly emphasizes caution and being well-informed, but you’ll really need to dig into the linked resources to get much out of the book. That most of the book hinges on that rather unrealistic expectation is a little disappointing as well.

Recommended, with reservations.

Purchase on Amazon:

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The Seoul Restaurant Expat Guide 2015 – compiled and edited by Joe McPherson

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[UPDATE 22 March 2015: I rarely change a review once it’s written, save for a mistake I made or a major change to the book. In this case, the content is the same, but the formatting has been made pretty much perfect in a new version now available. This new version looks to have gone live shortly after this post was published, and the review below reflects the current version you can purchase as of March 22nd.]

If the case ‘ZenKimchi’ is unfamiliar, you’re looking at perhaps the best known food blogger in Korea. Joe’s well-regarded website by the same name offers up plenty of talk about food and restaurants reviews from readers. It’s clearly been a labor of love to bring all of this information together into a single book that’s easy to use.

Each of the hundreds of Seoul restaurants gets an entry along with their Korean name, keyword, an overall rating (1 to 4), a relative scale on price (from $ to $$$), and the local address, which links to maps if an internet connection is available.  Below that is one or two crowd-sourced reviews on the place from ZenKimchi’s own website. The places that make a ‘best of’ list are prominently mentioned at the beginning of the book and in their respective entry – start with these if you’re new to town.

The reviews are knowledgable, well-curated, and honest – something that’s hard to come by in a country where landing a TV appearance means you paid someone off (and definitely not a guarantee of good food). The focus is on the expat restaurants and bars, as the name makes clear, and is a fine offline version of the website.

Recommended.

Purchase on Amazon:

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The Guide to Lapland and Northern Norway in Winter – Kristin Repcher

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Described as a primer to traveling Lapland between October and April (the winter season), this is perhaps one of the most beautiful books I’ve had the privilege to review. The pictures make the book – I had to force myself to focus on the text.

Start from basic information about the area, from language guides to the three most common languages to a guide on the natives, the Sami. Learn about seeing the aurora borealis, or the Northern Lights, for yourself – along with some help on how to photograph them. Unless you’re familiar with the extreme cold the area offers, read the chapter on ‘Clothing’ carefully. The chapter on transportation breaks some of the beliefs you might have about getting around such a snowy, icy area.

From riding on an icebreaking ship to hovercrafting to snorkeling (you wear a thick suit to keep you warm), there’s plenty to see and do in this still-exotic area. It’s informative without trying to push anything on you, and is a pleasure to read even if you have no plans to visit. For other travel writers, I just found you a gold standard to shoot for.

Highly recommended.

Purchase the PDF or get it on iBooks

Baby Can Travel – Barcelona – A guide to taking your infant to Barcelona – Celine and Dan Brewer

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And the award for the most specific travel book I’ve ever reviewed goes to…? Part of their ongoing series about traveling with a baby, this nearly 200 page guide is well-designed for parents of kids at most any young age, but is obviously focused on infants and the very young. Complete with lots of information on local culture and their own experiences traveling, the comprehensive guide offers plenty of general wisdom useful anywhere you travel with a baby.

For everyone else, it’s an excellent guide to the city (simply pass by the parts about places to breastfeed and stroller accessibility if you like). It’s rather light on the historical details, but it’s not really aimed at that crowd. Where it shines are the maps, which clearly took some time to create and get right – this feature is worth the price of the book alone.

While it certainly won’t appeal to everyone, anyone traveling with a baby can learn a lot from this one. [Edit 21 March 2015: the author has informed me that the PDF version of the book has more pictures than the Amazon version. If you like more pictures for the same price, get the PDF version instead.]

Highly recommended, if relevant.

Purchase on Amazon:

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Also available on iTunes and as a PDF.

The Ultimate Guide to Become Location Independent – Norbert Figueroa

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Norbert’s well-designed book starts off with the sort of excuse-busting you need to hear (not necessarily what you want to hear, but what you need to hear if you’re to make this work). What do you want? Are you willing to change the status quo? What is stopping you? Together with case studies and interviews with other travel bloggers, Norbert’s book builds the case from choosing to go to making it work in a logical, clear-cut way.

Like many other books of this kind, it’s quick to ask thoughtful questions and propose possible answers – but the real work is up to you. The author shares some of his personal stories and figures, but avoids encouraging the reader to follow his path. With the money and business side worked out, the book shifts to traveling cheaper, travel hacking, and otherwise keeping costs down. This section could stand on its own as a book – as a whole, it’s well put together and well worth the $27 purchase. Lest that sound expensive for a book, following just one travel tip will save you the cost of the book and then some.

Highly recommended.

Purchase the PDF

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