Travel Book Reviews: 2018

Queenstown, New Zealand

Post written by Laura

As a shameless travel addict it is probably not surprising that almost every book I read is travel related. This is the first in a set of 3 posts where I review the travel books I’ve read during each of the last 3 years. Each review is accompanied by a (mildly) related photo!

Chris beach cleaning on Bastimentos Island, Bocas del Toro, Panama

Book read: Step by Step: The Life in my Journeys by Simon Reeve

An awesome book from TV presenter Simon Reeve and possibly my favourite travel book! Simon gives an honest account of his incredibly interesting life and he opened my eyes to important global issues.

Simon comes from a modest ‘normal’ background where he grew up in West London with his teacher father, mother and his younger brother. He describes his difficult teenage years where he left school with few qualifications, battled with depression and basically didn’t feel he had much hope in his life.

He got into journalism with a job in the post room and became involved in research. He wrote a book on terrorism before the terrorist attacks of 9-11 after which he became well known as an author, leading to TV appearances and a TV career.

Simon’s first TV travel adventure was called ‘Meet the Stans’ and at the beginning of Chapter 13 he describes the anticlimax felt when he arrived back in London after filming the first half of the series. For me, coming back from any trip and back to the routine of life is always an anticlimax although, as Simon points out, travelling around the world is an “abnormal privilege” and something unthinkable for the vast majority of the world’s population.

Simon describes the issue of migrant workers in Chapter 18, whereby countries such as the UK save money by recruiting Ghanaian health workers which is more than the money they give to Ghana in health aid! This is an issue I’ve never previously considered… how much of this goes on? ‘Rich’ countries making themselves look good with foreign aid donations while simultaneously saving millions with cheap migrant labour!

I resonated with a paragraph at the end of Chapter 19 where Simon suggests we should add meaning and adventure to our trips; for example, by going to strange places, taking chances and embracing risk, rather than “lying horizontal by the pool”. So delving into the culture of a place and not sticking within the confines of the hotel.

Furthermore, Chapter 21 was also close to my heart and values and offers Simon’s take on the environmental consequences of travel. He advises we seek out authentic travel experiences and understand that when we pay our national park entrance fees, we are helping to preserve  “the greatest wildlife on the planet”.

All in all, a brilliant and highly recommended book!

Photo: the photo above is of Chris picking up litter during a beach clean we did… one of the very few altruistic activities we did during our 2016 global travels.

Chris and I circumnavigating Moorea, French Polynesia on a moped (not quite the world…)

Book read: Lone Rider by Elspeth Beard

Elspeth was the first female to circumnavigate the world by motorbike and documents this fantastic journey in the form of her book. She is incredibly inspiring as she shares every detail including accounts of her being treated badly, being ill and having to deal with nightmare bureaucratic border crossings.

She did this between 1982 and 1984 so long before the days of smart phones and sat navs… and while in her early 20’s…

I read of Elspeth’s immense courage and the hardships she overcame on her own while on my solo trip to Montenegro in 2018. That really put my trip into perspective… the short flight, comfy hotel, things to do, people being super friendly so not even a little toe dipped out of my comfort zone… Elspeth inspired me to do something more adventurous for future times…

Elspeth noticed that people in developing countries seemed far happier as she reflected on her journey towards the end of the book:

“It was clear to me how easy it is to take things for granted and forget to be grateful for the basics in life: family, food and shelter.”

This is something I also noticed while travelling around the world in 2016… travelling in developing countries is a humbling experience…

La Paz, Bolivia

Book read: The Bolivian Diary by Ernesto Che Guevara

This book was compiled from the notes Che Guevara made during his final mission before he was captured and executed by the Bolivian army. It is a first hand account of the progress Che and his team of revolutionaries made through the Bolivian jungle as he attempted to ‘find recruits’ i.e. enlist the help of peasants in an attempt to overthrow the Bolivian government.

Che provides an incredible insight into the tough daily life they led. From his own perspective Che notes the health issues including dealing with his own asthma and lack of medical supplies, the hunger and thirst and tactics to avoid capture.

The book ends abruptly on 7th October 1967 with Che’s final diary entry… it leaves a chill as you know this was the moment just before he was captured…

From a personal perspective I found this another inspiring and slightly life shaping book. Us westerners moan and complain about the slightest little discomfort: “It’s 11:30 and I’m starving… is it nearly lunchtime?” or “I got soaked to the skin” when walking in the rain back to their warm comfy home and hot bath; or “I could never sleep in a tent”… a small waterproof tent with a few beers and a sleeping bag for a weekend is a luxury compared with sleeping under trees in a jungle in the rain for months on end with little food; insects biting you; foreign armies trying to shoot you and having to spend the next day tired and exhausted as you continue your trek with soaking kit and damp clothes…

Che Guevara iron mural, Revolution Square, Havana

Book read: Remembering Che: My Life With Che Guevara by Aleida March

I picked up this book in Varadero airport at the end of my trip to Cuba where, throughout a week of seeing his iconic image at almost every turn, I was intrigued to learn more about Che Guevara and the Cuban Revolution.

Learning about history has interested me much more as I’ve got older; having seen places around the world I can now relate to them in a way that they seem much more real than ever being taught from a text book at school. To be honest, I was never keen on history lessons back then.

This book was written by Aleida March who was Che’s wife and the mother of 4 of his 5 children. Argentinian Che met Cuban born Aleida when they were both guerrillas in the Cuban Revolutionary army. The book describes her early life and her life with Che until the point he was assassinated in Bolivia in 1967.

This is an incredible story of her militant life back in the day when many women were housewives. The book was difficult to follow at times but gave a fascinating account of  Cuban history and a side of Che Guevara that would previously have been unknown.

Another fascinating book!

Sydney Opera House

Book read: It’s on the Meter: One taxi, Three Mates and 43,000 Miles of Misadventure Around the World by Paul Archer and Johno Ellison

This was another inspiring travel and adventure book! This is about 3 lads who, after a drunken evening, agreed to buy a London taxi and embark on ‘the longest taxi journey in the world…’

A short while later they were en-route from London to Sydney… the beginning, the Europe section was ‘laddish’ with tales of getting drunk almost every evening with their couch surfing hosts. I had no problem with this given they were all in their 20’s and it was fun to read of their antics.

The book got more interesting as they ventured towards Central Asia and described the issues they faced with their journey across borders into countries such as Iran and Pakistan. And their drive across the highest point in the world, Everest Basecamp!

Their adventure was event featured in the Daily Mail!

Another exciting ‘hard to put down’ book!

Road trippin’ Europe: Prague

Book read: Grand Adventures by Alastair Humphreys

A short but HUGELY inspiring book which has given me loads of ideas for my own adventures! Alastair is enthusiastic and he explains how, with an example of a £1000 budget, you can set about planning all kinds of exciting trips! As I was reading this book I started to jot down some ideas (OK… most of them might exceed £1000)…:

  • Drive across Australia
  • Drive across Canada
  • Drive around Europe (several routes in mind)
  • Travel by land and sea from London to Sydney
  • Travel across Madagascar independently by train
  • Climb Kilimanjaro
  • Cycle Eurovelo routes
  • Cycle and wild camp around Iceland
  • Drive the Wild Atlantic Way (Ireland)
  • Walk to Rome (re-booked to do the last 100 miles of the Via Francigena in Sep 2021… hopefully…)
  • South West Coast path
  • UK Coast to Coast
  • Pembrokeshire Coast path
  • Routeburn track (New Zealand)
  • Dolomites trek in Italy…
Driving just past Tyndrum a town along the West Highland Way (May 2017)

Book read: Walk Sleep Repeat by Stephen Reynolds

This book was an enjoyable read. Once I got into it… I started to become a bit irritated by “Dear Reader” references on almost every page but I got used to this as being the author’s writing style. Although when he started waffling on about which flavour Weetabix drink to have in the morning I did start to question why I was reading the book…

Whereas the likes of Alastair Humphreys and Chris Pountney (reviews further down) fill a book with a 12 month plus cycling adventure, this was an entire book about a one week trek along the 100 mile West Highland Way.

However as I continued to read I found I really liked the way Stephen Reynolds writes. He has a lovely descriptive manner that makes you feel you are walking the West Highland Way right next to him. Which is nice.

And on a positive note, if he can string out a book from a week of walking, a popular walk that many thousands have done in the past, I’m sure there would be a market for our 2016 adventures!

  • Walk the West Highland Way (just adding another adventure…)
Vancouver from Stanley Park

Book read: Cycling the World Part 2: Into the Sunrise, Sydney to Mori by Chris Pountney

Another amazing adventure! I previously read Chris’s first book, part 1, Paris to Sydney and this was one of my favourite books of the year (review further down). While I enjoyed ‘part 2’ immensely it didn’t quite have the same style of writing as the first and I found myself skim reading over small sections of it. Maybe I’ve just been reading too many cycle touring books this year?

Chris and I in the Tierra del Fuego National Park, Ushuaia, Argentina

Book read: Thunder and Sunshine: Around the World by bike Part 2 by Alastair Humphreys

Wow… another superb book which I read quickly as I found it difficult to put down! Having travelled pretty much the length of South America in 2016 I could closely relate to many of the places Alastair visited on his epic adventure from the tip of South America or ‘El Fin Del Mundo’ (the end of the World) to the top of Alaska.

OK… so Alastair cycled and we took the soft luxury option travelling by plane, bus and cruise liner however I was able to visualise many South American places as well as LA, Seattle and Alaska.

The book continued with Alastair’s incredible cycle journey through Siberia… in the winter and then through Asia and back into Europe inspiring me to do something more adventurous and push a few more boundaries…

Alastair had some awesome quotes in his book too, particularly towards the end as he reflected on his fantastic journey:

Page 341: “How mad we are to neglect our body, the very machine that carries all our thoughts, emotions, ambitions, dreams, fears and our life itself. And yet we still expect to live smoothly, healthily and happily to a ripe old age.” So very true and something I am very conscious of… especially now that I am in my 50’s…

Page 339: “I decided to see some of the world and to escape from England and the conveyor belt of my life” most people probably do live on a conveyor belt of a life and conform to a similar pattern without even questioning they could be doing something different…

Botswana

Book read: Moods of Future Joys: Around the World by bike Part 1 by Alastair Humphreys

Another book about cycling around the world… and I loved it! Another incredible adventure which was well written and so interesting to read. Alastair was only 24 when he decided to leave his home and family in England and cycle through Europe and the Middle East and all the way down the length of Africa to Cape Town. Brilliant!

These are a couple of quotes which really demonstrate Alastair’s ability not only to write beautifully but to fully capture his humble sense of engagement and absorption from his surroundings:

Alastair supports ‘Hope and Homes for Children‘ an organisation set up by a British couple who find homes for children who have been abandoned or orphaned. When Alastair met some of these children in Sudan he said “as I shook their small hands and looked into their shy eyes it was with a feeling of ‘you are amazing’… A beginning with no schooling, home or parents is out of my comprehension and I drew so much strength and resolve from them.”

A few pages later… “Despite their poverty, the Sudanese people I met were happy. They had dignity and self-respect and were content with what little they had. And they had an abundance of friends, family and faith. They were the kindest, most cheerful, hospitable and welcoming people that I had ever met. I pedalled through the village towards Ethiopia with a smile on my face.

Paragraphs such as these are so inspiring and heart warming that I was excited to read about the next leg of Alastair’s journey which stretches the full length of the Americas (review above). I love the sense of adventure mixed with dose of motivation each time I read a section.

Following this first book Alastair became an adventurer who writes about his travels, gives lectures and pioneered the concept of microadventures. Alastair’s idea of microadventures are about fitting in a little inexpensive adventure at the weekend to escape your life perhaps by camping under the stars or wild swimming in rivers.

My version of a microadventure has been many mini trips to Europe where, when I’ve been short of time and money, I’ve still travelled and seen the highlights of Paris, Amsterdam, Florence, Berlin and several more cities in a day or short weekend. In fact, where possible I try to fill my life with micro-adventures… a beautiful 5 mile walk which ends in a country pub during a warm sunny evening after work; a weekend of camping with lovely friends; an afternoon bike ride across bumpy tracks and fields to see my parents… or end in another pub… a trip to the coast or Peak District to do a long walk…

Hiking to the top of Ben More, Mull, Scotland

Book read: High and Low: How I hiked away from depression by Keith Foskett

I really like the way Keith writes… descriptive enough to make the book interesting and conjure up a suitable image in your mind but without being too over the top…

This is the second of Keith’s books that I’ve read and I was interested to learn more about the links between hiking and depression… when I’m really into exercising I become on a permanent high… However I can see that even if you do a lot of exercise, this can surely help to lift your mood but it isn’t a cure for depression. Reading the book through the eyes of someone suffering helped me to understand the condition.

Istanbul and the Bosphoros (Oct 2006)

Book read: Neither Here Nor There by Bill Bryson

This book documents Bryson’s trip from the very top of Europe starting in Hammerfest in Norway as he travels across the continent and right through to Istanbul where the east of Europe meets Asia.

This was Bryson’s first travel book which was written in 1991 and I must say that I did read the original paperback version when it was published then, so over 25 years ago.

It felt weird reading this book again as it is nothing like I remembered it! This shows how time can distort the way you remember things… I have since been to many of the places he visited which is great as I can now relate to them. Maybe this is another reason I remembered the book so differently?

This wasn’t the best book of the year by any means… Bryson does complain a great deal and does paint himself as a stereotypical moany tourist… I found the book funny in places but after a while the jokes become a bit tedious…

Me in Petra, Jordan

Book read: The Long and Whining Road by Simeon Courtie

An interesting and realistic account of a family of 5 who travelled around the world in an old VW camper van. The author (the dad, Simeon) gives you a good insight of what would be involved if you ever wanted to take on such a trip, setting out a number of issues for example with border controls and with shipping their van between continents.

This book did take me a while to get into so progress was slow at the beginning. However the book got better and better as the family continued to drive through Europe and into Turkey, Syria and Jordan and onto India, Australia and the US.

Incredibly Simeon drove his family through Syria although thankfully for them this was shortly before the tragic events of Syria took hold. Even so, he described the tensions the family felt in a country on the brink of civil war.

This book definitely inspired me even more to take on something similar… maybe not driving around the world in one go but I would certainly love to drive around the UK, Europe, Australia and the US in camper vans!

Mount Ranier National Park – other side of the US from the Appalacian trail!

Book read: Balancing on Blue by Keith Foskett

A fantastic account of the authors incredible 2,200 mile journey as he made his way on foot the entire length of the Appalachian Trail. This makes the 632 mile South West Coast Path book (as reviewed below) look somewhat tame although both are amazing achievements…

Both books, and also the Kamikaze Kangaroo book (also below) which had a section where the author trekked Australia’s 623 mile Bibbulmun Track are really starting to inspire me to do a long distance walk. My feet are getting itchier by the day…

At the moment the UK’s South West Coast Path is probably the most realistic to aspire to (no bears or rattlesnakes to contend with) although I don’t think I would get another career break from work any time soon… 

This was another of those books I got through fairly quickly as it was hard to put down… I loved the way Fozzie effortlessly weaved his feelings, experiences and connections with the harsh facts of what it’s like to experience life as a thru-hiker on the trail.

Again, much of this book resonated with my constant desire to travel and explore… “the desire to roam is all I dream of” says Keith. This is me. I am always dreaming of exploring but the difference is, Keith is out there doing it while I’m spending far too much time dreaming…

I found many more inspiring quotes in Fozzie’s book and another was from one of his trail buddies, who, upon his return back into civilization said:

Page: 261

“I had no desire to own anything other than the crappiest car in existence. It also acted as a people-filter. I had little time for anyone who judged me on the basis of my car, and you would be surprised how few people that left.”

I can definitely identify with that too!

Paris (Jun 2010)

Book read: No Wrong Turns: Cycling the World, Part One: Paris to Sydney by Chris Pountney

Wow! An awesome book! What a guy! I enjoyed every sentence of this book and was gripped right from the beginning… How could anyone even consider cycling from Paris to Sydney? This seemed such an impossible task and is only the first leg of his World cycle tour! And he didn’t even take the most direct route! Chris set himself a number of conditions one of which was to cycle through 100 countries.

Having begun in Paris, he headed off up through Germany to Scandinavia before dropping back down via Estonia and Poland and back through Germany towards Ukraine.

Not only was the adventure side incredible to read, the author has a brilliant style of writing which, together with his descriptions and humour make this one amazing package. I was quite sorry when the book finished in Sydney but thankfully there was a part 2 (as reviewed further up)!

I love Chris’s approach and way of thinking… How to travel for next to nothing… Get a bike of course!

Awesome quote:

“But I also hoped that if I could circumnavigate the entire planet without ever once getting in a motor vehicle, it might just inspire one or two people that they could perhaps do their shopping without one.” Page 132

Another favourite book of 2018.

And note to self: I have huge admiration for Chris and while I have been inspired to lead a more adventurous life, I don’t think (extraordinarily) long distance cycling is for me…

Ollantaytambo, Peru

Book: Travels with Rachel: In search of South America by George Mahood

A book documenting the author and his wife’s 6 week adventure through Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia.

I enjoyed this book as I was able to closely relate to their travel style which was similar to the way Chris and I travelled in 2016. Yes, we are middle aged and did manage to spend a day doing the short version of the Inca trail to Machu Picchu and climb up and down the steep paths of the Sacred Valley without just about making it to the gift shops (as George seemed to imply this was the case for anyone over 30…)

I loved reading about the places we didn’t get to such as Ecuador and the Amazon rainforest trip (both of which I would love to do in the future) as well as those places we did visit. This book resulted in plenty of reminiscing and an even stronger desire to travel to South America again!

Mossman Gorge, Queensland, Australia

Book read: Kamikazi Kangaroo’s! 20,000 Miles Around Australia. One Van, Two Girls… And An Idiot by Tony James Slater

Even though the author is nearly half my age and (by his own admission) a weird bumbling idiot I really enjoyed reading this book. The book follows Tony’s adventures and escapades of driving around Australia in a battered old camper van, together with his sister and her friend.

They have an enviable carefree lifestyle which lacks any real responsibility or any sense of direction. They have no money and no plans but somehow seem to get by with odd jobs along the way.

The book is somewhat crude and even a bit cringy in places but still hilarious all the way through… It gave a great insight into this kind of lifestyle and a real sense of escapism as I sat reading it as I commuted in and out of London (as I did back then… pre-Covid).

I enjoyed learning more about Australia and loved Tony’s account of the Bibbulmun Track which inspired me to consider a long distance trail in the future… and a road trip around Australia…

South West Coast Path Sidmouth to Seaton (Aug 2020)

Book read: Just Off For A Walk by Stephen Reynolds

Review: This book is an account of the authors incredible adventures as he walks the entire 630 mile South West Coast Path in one go! He is an average 37 year old office worker who discovered a passion for walking.

While well written it’s not as hilariously funny as the Kamikazee Kangaroos book as mentioned above but Stephen does have a good sense of humour. He has no ego and seems a really decent chap.

I can’t believe his diet… all he seemed to eat was chips, mars bars, some kind of spicy sausage/pepperoni and Weetabix every day… I mean, every single day…. he was doing wonders for his physical fitness levels yet he filled his body with junk…

Anyway, Stephen also inspired me to do this awesome long distance trail at some point! Actually I first thought about doing the South West coast path about 14 years ago when I first heard about it… this book only but fuelled another ambition…

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