Thursday, December 31, 2009

Book Review: Planet Backpacker

Do you ever dream of taking a big chunk of time, say six to twelve months, and seeing a bit of the world? Does it seem like an impossible dream? Well, a guy named Robert Downes from Traverse City, Michigan had that dream all his life, and in 2007, he made it a reality. As he traveled through Ireland, England, Western and Eastern Europe, Egypt, India, Thailand, Vietnam, and Malaysia, he posted blog accounts of his trip from about 100 internet cafes. His trip took over four months, and he had many adventures along the way. He traveled by bike, plane, train, boat, camel, and elephant. He camped out some, but mostly stayed at hostels and hotels. He also did some of the rougher parts of the journey with a tour group, but not the swanky groups that most people think of when they travel. After his journey, he used all his internet postings to write a book: “Planet Backpacker.”

This is not backpacking in the sense of hiking the Appalachian Trail, but in the sense that he had to carry everything with him in a pack, including his guitar. My friend Bev gave me this book for my birthday last July, and I finally got to read it a couple of months ago. I really enjoyed his story, and it made me think of the wanderlust in most of us. Unlike most of us however, Mr. Downes did something about it, sacrificing income, comfort, and family ties for nearly half a year to have a grand adventure.

He saw some of the sadder and seamier sides of our species along the way: young girls in Asia living as sexual slaves, people existing in poverty that few of us can even imagine, scam artists, and people living with the after effects of terrible past wars. But for the most part, he met many interesting and friendly people from many different cultures and religious beliefs. Most of them were amazed to meet an American, because it turns out that despite being from the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave, Americans (and also Canadians) are not prone to travel to foreign lands unless there is a resort or tour involved. Apparently, this is not true of Europeans, Australians, Kiwis, or Israelis.

I enjoyed reading this book. This man made his dream happen, paid the price in some discomfort and loneliness, and had an adventure that he will always remember. At the end of the book, he tells the rest of us how to do it and gives lots of advice, hints, and specific do’s and don’ts. If you like to travel, whether or not you ever think of doing a trip like this, I think you will want to read this book.

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