Reads For The Road: "The Road To Little Dribbling" by Bill Bryson

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,

Despite all the time that I spend in the Travel section of the bookstore, I have never actually read anything by Bill Bryson.

Crazy, right?! 

What made me pick up one of his books now?

Well, I came across an excerpt from his most recent bookThe Road To Little Dribbling — and found myself wanting more. His style of writing is conversational, matter-of-fact and unapologetic, and I love the random thoughts and tangents that he goes off on. It is truly like being inside his brain, with all its slightly inappropriate (yet highly entertaining) observations. 

An American who has spent a huge chunk of his life living in the UK, Bryson has written countless books and short stories chronicling his adventures including his best-selling Notes from a Small Island, which chronicled a trip he took around Britain 20 years ago. The Road To Little Dribbling sees Bryson returning to some of the spots he visited, and a bunch of new ones, to see what has changed. (No, you don't have to read the first book to read the second.)  

Of the total surface area of Earth, Britain occupies just 0.0174069 per cent. (I should note that I can’t absolutely vouch for that number. It was calculated for me by my son some years ago for a newspaper article I was writing. He was only about thirteen years old at the time, but he had a calculator with over 200 buttons on it and he seemed to know what he was doing.)
— from page 39 of "The Road To Little Dribbling"

The result is a hilariously, eccentric story that I'm finding myself completely immersed in. He takes you to small towns, weird attractions, and over-priced tea shops, all the while educating readers on some of the most unique and interesting parts of British history. For example, did you know that there was a plan to build a city called Mytopia near a town called Wraysbury where the roads would be raised up and cars would be completely banished from city streets? A rough structure of the city still exists today, and you can bet that Bryson paid it a visit! 

This is also a great book if you, like me, who ends up reading multiple things at a time. Each chapter is like a mini-story within the whole, so you don't have to worry about forgetting something if you don't pick it up for a week or two. 

Reads For The Road: "Turn Right At Machu Picchu" by Mark Adams

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,

Mark Adams' Turn Right At Machu Picchu is everything that I love in a book. It is a non-fiction, well-researched travel tale that contains entertaining characters (that are real people!), vivid descriptions and inspires me to be a better writer and go on more adventures! As you can imagine, I haven't found many books that fit that criterion. 

People used to be travelers Mark... Now they’re tourists. People want hotels, cafes, the Internet. They won’t even camp!
— excerpt from page 2 of "Turn Right At Machu Picchu"

Adams takes readers through his research and real-life experience on Machu Picchu and other Inca ruins, their rediscovery (and the controversy around who really "rediscovered" it), and what it really was (temple, summer home, tomb). He also recounts some fascinating stories that he is told by locals, and guides who have been exploring the region for years. 

It's funny, interesting, and just a really fantastic read. 

Reads For The Road: A House In The Sky by Amanda Lindhout & Sara Corbett

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,

I had heard that Amanda Lindhout's story A House In The Sky was a must-read (it has been hailed in Vogue, The Globe and Mail, Outside, The New York Times, and was a part of Oprah's Winter Reading List), but I was not prepared for the incredibly well written, shocking, heart-wrenching test of humanity that I would find within the book's pages. 

I don't know if it is because she is from a town only a few hours away from where I grew up, but the way that Amanda writes about travelling (especially travelling solo as a female) feels like she has put into words every unarticulated thought that I have had about my own journeys.

That is until she describes being kidnapped. 

People would say to me all the time, “It must be so hard to travel by yourself as a woman.” But I was finding that it was easier. I was sure about it. If you smiled, if you showed people that you were happy to be there, you were met most often with warmth. The swindlers backed off easily. The tuk-tuk drivers and beggars eased up and became more human, maybe even a bit protective.
— p 55 from "A House In The Sky" by Amanda Lindhout & Sara Corbett

Yup, I said kidnapped.

While working as a struggling freelance journalist, Amanda and her friend Nigel made their way into Somalia. On a trip outside of the capital city to take photos at a refugee camp, they were both kidnapped by a rouge group of men who immediately demanded ransom from their parents and from their countries, neither of whom who had any money to pay. 

Kept hostage for OVER A YEAR, this is the story of what she went through, how she stayed alive through horrific abuse, how she managed to retain her humanity, and how she was saved.

A warning though, once you get started, you won't want to put it down.

Reads For The Road: Crossing The Heart of Africa by Julian Smith

by Lindsay Shapka in , , ,

In 1898, British explorer Ewart Grogan was in love. The problem? He was in love with an aristocrat's daughter who didn't think that he was good enough for her. Before he could marry, Grogan had to prove his worth, and so set out on an epic quest to be the very first (English) man to cross the length of Africa from Cape Town to Cairo.

No, this is not the scene from a movie, or from an epic romance novel. This is a real life (rarely told) story that author Julian Smith discovered by chance, and that inspired him to embark on his own adventure — in Grogan's footsteps. Nearly a century after the original adventurer set out to conquer Africa, Smith found himself madly in love, yet terrified by the prospect of marriage (aren't we all).  

Traveling can be the ultimate alone time, which is probably why I ended up doing it for a living. Away from home and surrounded by strangers, you can be anyone or no one, anonymous or camouflaged.
— Julian Smith from Crossing The Heart of Africa

Deciding drastic measures were needed in order for him to face his marriage fears, he decided to trace the 4,500-mile journey that Grogan took. A strange choice right before a wedding, but one that he committed to regardless.   

In the spellbinding Crossing The Heart of Africa, Smith weaves the most fascinating elements of Grogan's original adventure into his own honest, introspective journey through one of the toughest continents in the world. It is a FANTASTIC read. 

Reads For The Road: "Walking The Amazon" by Ed Stafford

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,

After retiring from the British army as a captain in 2002, Ed Stafford started running worldwide adventure expeditions. It was during one of these expeditions that Ed met Luke, and during one drunken night, they agreed on a plan to be the first (documented) people on earth to WALK from one end of the Amazon river to the other — ocean to ocean.

It would have been fairly excusable to blame the bravado on alcohol but, as we scratched our stubble and our balls waiting for the shower, we were both even more animated about the idea than we had been the previous evening.
— Chapter One, Conception to Birth, Walking The Amazon

This would mean crossing the Andes Mountains, trekking through the dangerous drug trafficking zones in Colombia, trying to appease suspicious indigenous-people living deep in the jungle (including those that were convinced he was going to steal their faces), and dealing with ALL of the challenges that come with living in a jungle — weather, bugs, injuries, bugs, and did I mention BUGS.

In Walking The Amazon — 860 Days. One Step At A Time, Stafford gives an incredibly honest account (fears, doubts, frustrations...) of his grueling 4,000-plus-mile journey (check out his Expedition Diary here).

If you are looking to be inspired by a real-life adventure, this is definitely the book for you! 

Reads For The Road: "Do Travel Writers Go To Hell?" by Thomas Kohnstamm

by Lindsay Shapka in , , , ,

Have you have ever toyed with the idea of being a travel writer? Are you currently a travel writer? Have you ever treated a guidebook like it was the Bible?

If you can answer ‘yes’ to any of these questions, this book was written for you.

The waitress suggests that I come back after she closes down the restaurant, around midnight. We end up having sex in a chair and then on one of the tables in the back corner. I pen a note in my Moleskine that I will later recount in the guidebook review, saying that the restaurant ‘is a pleasant surprise…and the table service is friendly.’
— Thomas Kohnstamm, from his book Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?

In the hilarious Do Travel Writers Go to Hell? Thomas Kohnstamm, a professional travel writer and author of numerous Lonely Planet guidebooks, gives an honest, no holds barred account of what life as a writing traveler really looks like.

After leaving behind a stable, well-paying (but unadventurous) job, and his girlfriend, Kohnstamm jumps on a plane headed to Brazil where in less than two months, he is expected to experience all that the country has to offer and document it for future visitors. 

With a budget that works out to be less than minimum wage and an impossible deadline, Kohnstamm must research all forms of transportation, restaurants, hotels, culture, customs, and language while trying to fit in sleep and scandalous nightlife involving excessive amounts of alcohol.

With time against him, he makes no effort to hide the fact that he will be forced to write reviews for places that he will never actually visit.

By the end of the book, Kohnstamm’s misadventures make it clear that it takes a special breed of person to endure all that comes with being a travel writer.