Friday, October 24, 2008

Read all about it

Thanks again to wiki for this photo

When I was about 7, my dad bought me two books that had lots of words and no pictures. Real grown up books called The Coral Island and King Soloman's Mines. And I still have the books. It took me forever to read these adventure stories. But they're probably the reason I have such a travel bug. Every description I read exposed me to exotic places, people and animals I wanted to see for myself. And I was lucky that although my parents weren't world travellers they sent me on every school trip they could so I could feed the bug.

Fast forward about 25 years when Adrian and I were planning our trip to Peru. Thanks to the wonders of google and the recommend of fellow ThornTree posters I discovered two blogs: Conor's Mildly Thrilling Tales and The Global Trip. Both followed the adventures of two guys travelling solo around the world. From the first entries, I was immediately hooked and gave up more than a few hours sleep to catch up and follow along with their entries as they made their way around the planet.

Although both of their blogs made me feel like I was there with them, I wasn't. So the next step was finding a way to visit all these places myself. Thankfully, Adrian was fully onboard. And 3 years later it's getting close to being a reality.

As we've been planning, we've read alot of other blogs and books. So I thought other's might appreciate some of the inspiring reads we've found.

Of course, I'm a huge fan of <Lonely Planet guidebooks - even when they've led me astray as they did in Vancouver. I've got the complete Shoestring guides set and have been using them to plot our adventure. They are already horribly out of date in terms of pricing and contact info but a little google magic fixes that. 

Rough Guides has a great book called First Time Around the World. A must have and read and study for anyone thinking of taking off. It's rather straight but that's what you want in a guide book. 

I suggest reading it in tandem with Vagabonding. If the Rough Guide is all about getting the your physical world in order, Vagabonding is all about the mental. It's rather philosophical but in a good way - and I don't know how many times i'd stumble across a passage and think "that's exactly what I was thinking but I never had the words to describe it. It's like he's in my head". 
Admittedly sometimes the philosophical can be too much. Thankfully there are some great websites inspired by this book where a bunch of author's contributing a wide variety of articles to help you in your quest to become a Vagabond. 

Here's an annotated list of of other resources in a loose chronological order of when I came across them.

Michael Palin's stuff: Seeing Michael Palin on TVO was always a little treasure when I was a teenager as he followed the footsteps Hemmingway and Jules Vernes.  I have a couple of his coffee table books (always picked up for pennies from the clearance section over the decades) and while I can now recognize that many of his journeys are unattainable to the average backpacker, they were one of my first inspirations. Plus, he was in Monty Python and A Fish Called Wanda - what's not to love?

Lonely Planet/Globe Trekker/Pilot Guides TV: Ian Wright is my hero. While Michael Palin was always the observer, Ian is the participant. The way he interacts with people he encounters reminds me that travelling is about getting involved and not watching stuff from the sidelines. Interaction over observation. And he certainly makes it look fun. Adrian and I saw him speak at Convocation Hall a few years back and I he was so... so... normal. Just a kinda geeky and awkward guy who happens to travel to some pretty awesome places. He knows he's lucky and doesn't forget it. No wonder I've been a fan for 20 years. 

Chasing Che: Retracing Che's motorcycle journey across South America for your dissertation - why didn't I think of something fun this when I was writing mine? Regardless, it's a great travelogue as the author shares the trials and tribulations of travelling solo through many different cultures and countries adding in a thin Che political filter (Latin American politics light). It began Adrian and I's own accidental retracing of Che's steps. Hopefully we won't end up dead in Bolivia too. 

The Beach: when I read this in the mid nineties I was blown away by the idea of an individual taking off to far away Thailand. It seemed so seedy yet so decadent - exactly what 20-something I was attracted to. I read it again this year and was struck by how immature and annoying the characters were. Interesting how time and experience can completely change one's perspective. Oh yeah and the movie sucked. 

Bill Bryson: any of his books. His humour is so spot on. My first introduction to him was in 1999 during a raucous Hogmanny (New Year's Eve) in Edinburgh crashing on the floor of a friend's flat with 8 Brits. Caught in the crossfire of competing regional accents, I ducked and picked up the copy of Notes from A Small Island that was lying around and quickly devoured it. I don't know if it was my outsider status at the time  but everyone of Bryson's North American observations about Britain was dead on and hilarious and timeless. A girl. Travelling solo. Through really odd countries. I'll take Obscuri-Stan for 200,  Alex. Megan's site is a great travelogue from a unique perspective. She shows that no country is off limits (within reason) if you want to go there. It's also a great reference. She shares all her financials - something few people are willing to do for some strange reason. Oh and she responds to emails promptly and thoroughly. She's pretty awesome.

Holidays in Hell: 80s memoir of travelling to some whacky places courtesy of P.J. O'Rourke. I loved the spirit of this book. In a weird way it's the travelogue I related to the most. Although a little warning some of the terms he uses later in the book are a little irking for my PC addled brain. Amazing how appropriate the politics are 20 some years later. 

Adventures of a Continental Drifter: series of short travelogues by one guy. Interesting for the perspective of a former American flight attendant travelling after 9-11 but also because he's black. The outsider in many cultures and just another face in the crowd in others. A great read because he doesn't try to make sense of anything that happens he just experiences it and shares it with us.

Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?: A Swashbuckling Tale of High Adventures, Questionable Ethics, and Professional Hedonism: This one isn't an inspiration but I feel the need to include it because I take it as a cautionary tale. The author's attitude and adventures are exactly what I want to avoid while travelling. All selfish and self important "what's in it for me" mentality. The guy has an ego the size of Greenland and like to think he's living on the edge and writing like Hunter S. Thompson. But his actual adventures and experiences are pretty tame, and lame. Perfect contrast to P.J. O'Rourke who downplays the real craziness happening all around him.

I have another hundred books and movies set in certain countries that I could add to my list of inspiration. Don't worry I won't. Every time Adrian and I come back from a trip, the one constant on our customs declaration has been books. (yes it means we have a lot of books waiting to be packed up before we go, don't remind me). Reading them is a great way to revisit the places for free. And on one occasion buying a book was an adventure itself. 

In the Cusco, Peru airport as we were waiting for our flight to the Amazon, Adrian was at a newspaper stand looking for NFL news (I know, don't get me started). Out of luck he was flipping through the rack of books on Macchu Picchu when another customer started talking to him about Macchu Picchu. This gentleman happened to be an author and the book Adrian happened to be leafing through was his. Adrian had a great conversation with the quirky man in the panama hat and when Adrian bought his book, he signed it for him. 

Reading can't replace the real thing but sometimes it can be an adventure in itself.


Ayngelina said...

I tried reading The Global Trip but how do you start at the beginning of his trip and just read chronologically. Am I missing a very obvious link?

Ayngelina said...

Oops I meant Conor's blog

liz and adrian said...

go to
and click the links above and to the right of each entry.

that should work.

Ayngelina said...

This post made my Christmas list, Santa gave me the Rough Guides, Chasing Che, Vagabonding and Do All Travel Writers Go to Hell. Let the planning begin!

liz and adrian said...

I hope you enjoy them - although I would have given you my copy of Do All Travel Writers Go to Hell - 'cuz I don't really encourage filing the author's ego I mean wallet.

I'll try to post mini reviews of any other books that I come across but more than likely it'll appear in my amazon banner on the right (a girl's gotta try and earn bus fare after all).

Ayngelina said...

Okay just finished reading the Full Montezuma, it was only ok and I wouldn't recommend it. It was like reading a travel blog without the pictures and I almost considered dropping it but then I got into a groove where you were travelling on the same route so you brought things to life.

It would be a good on the road book though if you were taking his path.

liz and adrian said...

Yup, that´s why I read it Ayngelina. I figured it would be good to know what we were getting ourselves into before we took off. Have you visited his website? He´s got all his pictures there - including shots of the GND.