Travel Book Reviews: 2021

Iona, Scotland

Post written by Laura

As 2021 draws to a close this is a summary of all of the books I read during 2021. I have a limited and somewhat narrow-mindset when it comes to books as in a whole year, none of them were about anything other than travel. Each of the authors took me on a virtual journey as I followed their adventures around the world; fondly reminiscing destinations I had visited and hugely inspired by places yet to see.

I read most days and each time I open my book (or rather the Kindle app on my iPad) I am immediately transported and immersed to a different and thrilling location.

I had another cycle touring craze and read a batch of such books. Mid-way through 2021 and the prospect of long adventures in distant lands still not very likely they had quite an impact on me. I had become an armchair traveller… living these adventures alongside the brilliant authors, those who had actually done the travelling.

While this gave me a temporary travel fix I became even more obsessed with planning exciting future adventures. The draw of giving up the rat race and living a simple life of travel is getting ever stronger. Anyway for now here goes with the book reviews…

Wellington, New Zealand – Jan 2016

They are mostly in reverse order, that is, the most recent of the 21 books or series of books I read appear first, but that does’t matter. First up is a series of 3 books by Anna McNuff each one following Anna’s amazing adventures.

Trek to the Rob Roy Glacier, New Zealand – Feb 2016

Book read: The Pants of Perspective by Anna McNuff

An inspiring story from Anna McNuff who ran the Te Araroa trail, which covers the 3000 km distance between the tip of New Zealand’s north island and finishes at the tip of its south island. In fact, this is massively inspiring! Anna is far more hard core than me (and also a bit younger and a lot fitter) but she ran the entire distance on her own, unsupported and complete with a heavy backpack and tent! And incidentally she completed the route from south to north!

However, absorbing myself in Anna’s book generated a new motivation for me… not to take up running but to start researching more New Zealand adventures! Whether this is completing a short trail or another road trip, I definitely plan to return to NZ one day. Chris and I were fortunate to visit in the early part of 2016 where we had a fantastic time travelling by bus through the north island and in a rented car through the south island but there is still much to see!

Anna (page 138) pondering as she sat on a rock gazing around at the landscapes of New Zealand realised that beauty is nature and this is something that man had no part in its creation. How true.

Skagway, Alaska – Jun 2018

Book read: 50 Shades of the USA by Anna McNuff

For this adventure Anna cycled through all 50 states of America! She began in Alaska and armed with her 6 month visa the clock began to tick as she proceeded to cycle through each state until she ended her journey in Hawaii.

Anna explains she comes from a middle class family where her parents are both former Olympic athletes however Anna is also down-to-earth, humble and likeable. She spent a year planning and worked two jobs to save for her trip and throughout her journey she visited many schools to inspire and encourage school children to have adventures. She is now a well-known ‘adventurer’ having since completed many more amazing feats.

Towards the end of her trip, this sticks in my mind… Just after crossing the Mississippi River in a tiny ferry boat, and having just been called a ‘crazy brit’ by the ferry driver Anna reflects on this and then decides that being crazy is awesome! To her, normal or average is very ‘vanilla ice-cream’… yep – she has a point… my life is far too vanilla ice cream at the moment…

I loved reading this and – you’ve guessed – I want to go back to America! Maybe not cycling but a big road trip visiting several national parks is high up on the agenda…

Llamas in Bolivia – October 2016

Book read: Lama Drama by Anna McNuff

This time Anna had company as she shared her 5,500 mile South American cycle adventure with her friend Faye. This book is written with plenty of humour, some self exploration and gives the reader an honest account of some of the problems faced as a long distance cycle tourist.

From where they began in La Paz as they cycled and wild camped through the deserts and barren landscapes of Bolivia I was able to picture in my mind. They were there at the same time as Chris and I were in Bolivia in the latter part of 2016! We may have even passed at some point.

They didn’t always take the most direct route either, with a mission to scale over 100,000 meters in height during their trip. Another book where I was disappointed when it finished!

The CN Tower and me in Toronto – Jun 2009

Book read: The Adventures of an Introvert: Ten Countries, Four Continents; Minimal Eye Contact by David Chapman

This is a slightly different travel book in the sense that the author does nothing out of the ordinary. No incredible feats of cycling vast distances or running across countries or around coastlines. Instead, each chapter covers one of his previous trips abroad as he becomes less socially awkward and develops his desire to travel. For example, there is a chapter on a trip to Las Vegas with his father, a chapter on a trip to Germany with his then girlfriend and a chapter on a trip to Toronto with his mother and so forth.

I skipped through this book really quickly, skimming over whole pages at a time and chunks of mundane detail such as “We headed down for breakfast and ate our cereal”. I get it, this was all part of the story of an introvert who in his early days of travel was wary of trying local dishes, preferring to stick with the familiar.

However I didn’t give up on the book and I did make it through to the end. Despite my rapid reading the book reminded me of the way a friend or relative returns from a trip and excitedly recites their adventures. It doesn’t matter where they’ve been, and as long as they don’t launch into a 30 minute story of what they had for breakfast I love to listen to peoples’ travel stories.

I was interested to learn what David the author got up to during each of his trips. One that sticks in my mind was an excursion he and his father took from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon. My brother and I were fortunate to be taken to both by our Dad during an awesome California-Nevada-Arizona road trip back in 1983 and I would love to visit again. (Maybe as part of the future US national park expedition I have in mind…)

Mostar – Sep 2018

Book read Nala’s World: One Man, His Rescue Cat and a Bike Ride Around the Globe by Dean Nicholson

This is the story of Dean who set off from Scotland to cycle around the world. However having got as far as Bosnia, a few months into the trip, he picked up and rescued a tiny and abandoned kitten. They have been inseparable ever since!

Dean and Nala have received a huge amount of media attention and I had followed Dean’s FaceBook page for a year or more which inspired me to download his book. Dean is passionate about animals and uses his social media influence in a positive way. Rather than being driven by financial incentives he is more interested in promoting animal welfare and environmental issues.

I found it hard to put down, totally gripped by Dean and Nala’s adventures while at the same time following the photogenic Nala pictures on Instagram.

The photo above is the Bosnian city of Mostar which Dean had visited just before he found Nala. The picture features the Stari Most bridge, which Dean had jumped from and smashed his leg! We were in Mostar in at the end of September 2018 which was just a few weeks before Nala was found by Dean!

Seven Sisters – cliffs along the south coast of England (Sep 2018)

Book read Coasting: Running Around the Coast of Britain – Life, Love and (Very) Loose Plans by Elise Downing

While browsing Amazon in search of another Kindle book to download, I read with interest one reviewer who referred to this one as “Bridget Jones… the running edition…” a neat little summary! In the manner of Bridget, Elise takes us along on her journey which begins with a complete lack of belief in herself, an honest account of every embarrassing moment (*the crying crayon) yet mixed with determination to prove she can do it.

The result was the unprepared and inexperienced Elise became the youngest person and first woman to run for 5000 miles around the coast of England, Wales and Scotland! And she is a pretty good storyteller too as she weaves the ups and downs of her trip effortlessly with the ups and downs of her life.

With her ‘normal’ background, job she hated and totally crappy relationship 23 year old Elise almost convinced herself that the whole thing was a stupid idea. Early on in the trip she seemed to feel that she was a bit of a fraud rather than a real adventurer until she worked out that there is no right or wrong way to run the coast of Britain… you just have to get on with it!

I got through this book fairly quickly as it was fun and easy to read and interesting to find out what actually goes through the mind of someone taking on such a challenge. I also enjoyed reading about the places she visited etc

*The crying crayon was really cringey example where Elise explains that before starting her amazing Britain coast run, she had attempted to complete the Milton Keynes marathon while dressed as a giant purple crayon. However she was so distressed with the whole experience she spent much of it sobbing and a small child shouted ‘crying crayon’ at her! Yep… very Bridget Jones!

Standing under the Marina Bay Sands hotel in Singapore in November 2013

Book read: Overland by Ewen Levick

This was an enjoyable read as the author made his way overland from Australia to Switzerland. To begin with, while it was interesting, he wasn’t doing anything spectacular having begun with a cruise with stops in Bali and Singapore and such places. This is fair enough as it is a little difficult to get across to mainland Asia without doing this by plane or boat! He then took a number of buses as he made his way towards China, in typical backpacker fashion. However, things got more exciting and his adventure became more dramatic when Ewen brought a motorbike in Mongolia and drove this for most of the the rest of the way!

Angkor Wat, Cambodia May 2016

Book read: Through Sand and Snow: a man, a bicycle and a 43,000 mile journey to adulthood via the ends of the Earth by Charlie Walker

An amazing adventure and brilliantly written book! I was completely gripped as I followed Charlie from leaving home at the age of 22 and setting off on his own through Europe and north the length of Sweden and to the northern-most tip of Norway. From Norway he cycled south through Finland, Eastern Europe and down to Turkey and into Iran. He took a flight across Afghanistan and Pakistan to New Delhi from where he cycled to Kathmandu in Nepal before flying north to Kashgar in China and cycling south where he ventured illegally into Tibet. After losing his way and nearly freezing to death thankfully he was discovered by the authorities and put on a train back to China.

Charlie continued to cycle south through South East Asia and finally reached Singapore! But he didn’t stop there… he cycled back north this time via Cambodia and Vietnam and finished up in Beijing!

Not only did this book provide a fascinating insight into each of the countries and places visited it was brought to life with the authors amazing writing skills as he described his moods and thoughts and feelings throughout.

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe – August 2017
Dug out canoe in Okavango Delta, Botswana – August 2017

Book read: On Roads that Echo: a bicycle journey through Asia and Africa by Charlie Walker

This is the second part of Charlie’s amazing 43,000 mile global bike ride! I was so keen to continue following Charlie’s adventures that I downloaded this within less than 5 minutes of finishing part one as above!

Picking up the journey in Beijing this was another fascinating read with Charlie adding in other forms of transport during this mega part of his journey as he crossed Mongolia by horse, crossed the Gobi desert on foot and paddled for 350 miles in a dug-out canoe through the Democratic Republic of Congo (the DRC)!

From Mongolia Charlie cycled west through the ‘Stans of Central Asia and this time he crossed into Afghanistan describing his fears of being shot, kidnapped or tortured and questioning such a decision. As many cycle touring authors have found, the vast majority of people around the world are welcoming and hospitable despite the fear generated by the media. While Afghanistan might not feature in any ‘Top Ten Destinations’ Charlie found incredible kindness and friendliness from many Afghan people who just want to live quiet simple lives in peace.

Back through Iran and into the north of Iraq, the very south of Turkey and after catching a ferry to Egypt, he cycled south all the way through the east side of Africa to Cape Town! Ethiopia seemed his least favourite place due to the hostility he faced from less friendly or welcoming locals.

From Cape Town he cycled north via Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, into the DRC and eventually up to Senegal, Mauritania, Morocco and finally Spain, France and after 4 years on the road he made it back to England!

An excellent and highly recommended couple of books!

Rio de Janeiro – December 2016

Book read Cycling Spirits: Global tales from the Saddle by Daren Drew

This adventure begins in England where Daren and his Danish partner Tatjana (Tati) head off on an eight thousand mile bicycle trip. After a few mishaps and getting a complete soaking in England they took a ferry to Santander and cycled through Spain and Portugal, then back into Spain before crossing over to Morocco.

This was a great book to read and what I enjoyed the most was the more unusual and unfamiliar (to me) places as they cycled through the small towns and villages of Morocco, Western Sahara, Mauritania and Senegal. From there they had a short flight to Cape Verde where they spent Christmas with family before flying to Rio for their South American adventure.

From Rio they cycled south through the steamy sub tropics of Brazil to Uruguay and into Argentina. From Buenos Aires they headed west through the Pampas region to Mendoza then across the Andes and into Chile. At this point, Daren then had a solo adventure in Easter Island while Tati headed back to Denmark for family reasons. The book ended as Daren arrived in New Zealand…

I’m looking forward to reading part 2 of their adventures although I don’t think Daren has finished writing it yet!

Our tent during a camping trip to the Brecon Beacons in June 2021

Book read The Man in the Tent: My Life under Canvas – the first four years by Tony Beardsall

An intriguing and interesting book about Tony and the transition he made from a secure and conventional life within the confines of a house, job and marriage to a life of freedom spent living in a tent! OK, an unfortunate set of circumstances led him to this dramatic lifestyle change but Tony soon came to prefer his new simple and non-materialistic life. I enjoyed this short book immensely – at only 178 pages it doesn’t take long to read but ends with Tony heading off to Spain where his adventures continue in his next book.

Malaga – Spain in 2005

Book read The Man in the Tent: My Life under Canvas – getting started in Spain by Tony Beardsall

I wasn’t as keen on this book and found myself skimming over chunks of it. There wasn’t the same sense of adventure even though he had relocated to Spain, just to the north of Malaga. This time much of the book was just a narrative of Tony spending time with his daughter and the family of her friend as he basically house-sat for them. Things got more interesting again right at the end when he headed off to northern Spain but then the book suddenly ended! Maybe this was a ploy to entice the reader to purchase the next one… having regained my interest in Tony’s story I’m now looking forward to book 3 which are all about Tony’s adventures in France and Albania… And I was pleased things picked up at the end of book 2 because I had already purchased book 3…

Eiffel Tower, Paris – June 2010

Book read The Man in the Tent: My Life under Canvas – Part Three: France and Albania

This book began with Tony spending time in France with a French lady although he hardly spent any time in his tent. He met an Albanian and the story continues as he drove his new Albanian friend in his van across Italy, taking the ferry across the Adriatic to Albania.

Again, I enjoyed most of the book but similar to the above Spanish adventure I did find myself skipping through chunks of it. While his lifestyle and the sense of freedom he has are really exciting (which is what drew me to the books) he went on in detail describing all of the chats he had with his Albanian friend that it was getting a little boring.

I did however find it interesting to read about Albania which is a country of mystery to many of us. One of our good friends is Albanian and with its mountains and beaches we’re hoping she will one day show us some of her beautiful country.

Despite skipping through some of it I would still read another instalment if Tony should write one; or a if he had blog… if only just to find out what he’s up to now!

Ushuaia – the start of Trevor Lund’s cycle trip north to Alaska

Book read: North to Alaska: The true story of an epic 16,000 mile cycle journey the length of the Americas by Trevor Lund

This book is well written and with an honest and detailed account gave me an excellent understanding of what it would really be like to take such a trip. It sounded much tougher for Trevor than it seemed for other authors of similar mega distance cycle touring books. Hardships such as countless times he was chased by vicious dogs and the times he was ill while in the middle of nowhere and various encounters with bears left me even more in awe of incredible long distance cycle tourists and things they have to deal with! A brilliant book and one of my favourites of the year.

Salar de Uyuni, the Bolivian Salt Flats – October 2016

Book read Reading to Reading: A Bicycle Journey Around the World by Tim Millikin

Another awesome cycle touring round the world book!

Throughout the book I remained gripped by the author as I followed his epic 3 year round-the-world cycle tour. He began in his home town of Reading in England and set off through Europe, and across the Caspian Sea to continue cycling through central Asia. Having crossed China he headed south through Vietnam and down to Singapore. Following a short flight he cycled through the barren outback of Australia from Darwin to Sydney, did a short stint of work in New Zealand before flying to Ushuaia to cycle north all the way up South America. He took a boat via the San Blas islands from Colombia to Panama then continuing through Central America across the border to the USA and finishing Reading, Pennsylvania. WOW!

Several times he brought back happy memories for me as he cycled through some of the places we’ve seen. He described the crunch of the salt flat under his tyres reminding me of the tour Chris and I did in the Bolivian Salt Flats, except we did it by jeep rather than bike!

I enjoyed this book immensely.

Beach at El Cuco, El Salvador as featured in Chris Pountney’s book

Book read Different Parts of Everywhere: Cycling the World, Part Three: Mori to Paris by Chris Pountney

As the title says, this is the third book by Chris Pountney. I had really enjoyed his first two books so was keen to read the next one. I wasn’t disappointed, this is a brilliant book! Massively inspiring for me… even if I never do any kind of long distance cycling I am keen to do much more travelling and it was interesting to read about the places Chris and his partner Dea visited along the way. The great thing about cycle touring is the tiny off-the-beaten-track places you get to see which I enjoyed reading about.

One place that really resonated was Ecuador as Chris described his adventures through the Amazon. I’ve not been to Ecuador and am keen to do another trip to this part of South America exploring some of the places in Peru and Colombia we didn’t get to and also of course Ecuador and the Amazon.

As their adventure was due to come to an end in early 2020 things took a bit of a shift when the pandemic hit. Thankfully for them, they had completed most of it by then!

En-route they had a break at El Cuco beach in El Salvador, somewhere (my) Chris and I spent a memorable couple of nights staying in an eco hostel with a turtle sanctuary in 2016.

Borobudur near Yogyakarta, Java, Indonesia

Book read Unchained: One Woman, One Bike, One Dream… One World by Rubina M Soorty

The only time I’ve ever left an Amazon review, I was massively energised by this book. Rubina is incredible! This was my review:

“This is a brilliant book that I found difficult to put down until I finished it. I loved reading about every stage of Ruby’s amazing adventure and courage as she cycled around the world and dealt with a number of incidents. The book was well written and at a good pace with just the right level of detail to keep me wanting to turn the pages and read more. The structure with short chapters and a recap and photo at the end of each one was good too. I’ve always loved travel and adventure and this inspired me even more.”

While cycling across Java, Rubina stayed in Yogyakarta which reminded me of our stay there in 2016 and our visit to the incredible Borobudur temple.

Langtang Valley, Nepal (Oct 2019) and one of the most remote places I have trekked in

Book read Inspire by Ben Fogle

I really enjoyed Ben’s latest book which is largely about the inspiration Ben has obtained from staying with and meeting people around the world who have chosen to live simple lives in the wild.

Some of Ben’s little nuggets of wisdom closely resonated with my own values. For example, like me, Ben is largely vegetarian although doesn’t like to define himself with such labelling. On page 91 he explains there are times when it can be socially difficult being a vegetarian and it can appear rude to say no. He said that while this may seem hypocritical, life is full of compromises and sometimes this is the best option. I get what he is saying!

On page 161 he shared his views on commercialism and ‘the system’ of uni debt, house debt, car debt, being enslaved by work and then you die. People put themselves through this to have the latest phone or designer item but how wonderful would it be to escape the money system and live the simple life… this is very appealing… He goes on to express: “We are never freer when we have severed our ties to the pound”… spot on!

On page 167 Ben mulls over the gap between effort and reward. In other words, the harder you work for something, the more you appreciate it and as a result, wild simple living is harder but often far more rewarding.

Finally on page 242 Ben states: “I have always hated the judgement of society”… me too!

Book read Last Man Off by Matt Lewis

A terrifying true story of Matt’s first hand experience of disaster in the South Atlantic. At 23 years old, and keen for an adventure Matt was offered a job as a marine biologist on a fishing vessel and set off to Cape Town. As he boarded he was disappointed to find the boat to be old and pretty decrepit and after a number of weeks at sea and a catalogue of issues things went horribly wrong.

Matt did a brilliant job of producing this book and I found it hard to put down until I had finished it.

Pembrokeshire Coast Wales

Book read One Man and His Bike by Mike Carter

This is the story of Mike’s cycle around the coastline of England, Scotland and Wales. For me this got off to a slow start but I’m glad I stuck with it as the more I read the more I enjoyed it especially when he got to the north of Scotland before heading south and back into England and then into Wales. I’m inspired to explore more of the coast of the UK either by foot or by bike!

Iona, Scottish Inner Hebrides

Book read Island on the Edge by Anne Cholawo

While I was keen at the start and enjoyed the first couple of chapters I never got to finish this book. It went into far too much detail and I found it difficult to keep myself motivated to read it. I’m not a ‘detail’ kind of person and eventually about one third of the way through I got bored as it became quite a chore to read.

But the concept is great! Back in 1989 the author sold her house, gave up her job and set off in her little car to start a new life in the Scottish Hebrides. Wow – sounds amazing!

Summary

That sums up the latest additions to my Kindle collection. I hope you have found this to be an inspiring list?

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