“Watching it all, I had a panic attack.
Holy shit! Most of the Third World sees America through the actions of backpackers. They’re our diplomats in places like this. Our grungy kissingers. These folks must think we’re all drawstring pant-wearing, Hacky-Sacking, white Rasta freaks. We’re doomed.”
Franz Wisner has it all. He has a great job at one of the richest companies in America, a house in one of the most expensive parts of Southern California and a fiance who is finally ready to marry him and fulfill his dreams. Then, just days before his wedding, his fiance calls it off. His wedding crashes and burns, becoming a gathering of friends getting drunk and hugging him when he cries rather than a grand celebration of commitment. He heads home and soon after, is demoted. At this point Wisner is sad, frustrated and just wants to get away. So with his $75,000 bonus check (which to those of us in normal jobs who don’t earn that much in two years, is amazing despite his demotion) he invites his brother to go on his honeymoon with him and enjoy the trip. The honeymoon turns into a couple years of traveling all over the world and rekindling his friendship with his brother.
I love to travel, any opportunity I’ve gotten in my life I have jumped at. But I’m a journalist and I earn very little money, so I can admit freely that the sensation I enjoyed in the beginning of this book wasn’t so much pity as it was pure burning jealousy. The fact that not only did Wisner want to travel the world, but had the means to do so at the drop of a hat, made me quite envious. Sure he got dumped at the altar by a woman who was never really 100% into the relationship with him, but he had the ability to travel the world with no worries about a job or money! To me, that’s a fair trade off. But hey, that could just be me.
I liked this book enough to finish it, but wouldn’t recommend it to people who love to read about traveling. I went into this book thinking it would be filled with humor and wonderful Bill Bryson-esque in-depth traveling knowledge like the hundreds of deadly jellyfish in Australia or the sight of the sun filtering through the grand trees on the Appalachian trail.
Wisner spent very little time actually talking about where he went in any depth. He’d often write general observations of a place, but not go deeper into the people or their background. I wanted to learn more about the culture and history of the places he went. I wanted the smells, the sounds, the tastes! Not just glimpses of what they looked like. Instead I was treated to descriptions of the women he seduced/avoided and how much he missed his fiance. He is decent at description, he loves his adjectives (incense-drenched, brightly colored, lazy, manicured, jaw-drop beauty, delicious, cheap, etc) but I still felt like he wasn’t looking deep enough. He wasn’t able to really make us see the places beyond the surface. At no point in the book did I think “I MUST go there!” which is what I, as a reader and travel enthusiast, was really looking for.
Don’t get me wrong, certain parts were very enjoyable. Anecdotes about daily life for locals in different cities livened up the book and made me glad he traveled on scooters, buses and taxi’s rather than tours. We hear about crazy taxi drivers who don’t know where they are going, and buses so full of people they have to sit in the aisles and on each other. These small stories give the book life and personality through genuine glimpses of the places he visited.
In the end, this is not really a book about traveling and will not inspire you to visit any country in particular or challenge your ideas about the world. It is a book about Wisner becoming close with his brother, getting over his fiance and trying to figure out his life. And in that at least, he succeeds.