About Me

My photo
Welcome to the online blog for traveler/writer/photographer Steven Barber. Come in. Relax. Take off your shoes and socks -- or any other article of clothing, this is the internet. Have a look around. I hope to intrigue, amuse, entertain, and maybe provoke you just a little. I love to find adventure. All I need is a change of clothes, my Nikon, an open mind and a strong cup of coffee.

Monday, December 5, 2016


"I've always been blessed, or cursed, some might say, with an insatiable curiosity, a desire to find something out about a people and a place. That's where it all begins."
                                                                                              - Michael Palin

Travelers tend to be readers. It's an aspect of the logistics of most trips that at some point you're going to have some time to curl up with a good book, whether it's aboard an A380 at 35,000 feet, inside a pup tent at 5000 feet, at sea level next to an ocean, or trapped in a transportation terminal with a delayed departure. Chances are at some point you're going to read.

And that's a good thing.

For my part I alternate between fiction and non-fiction with regularity, and between new volumes and the classics. But a particular reading passion of mine, and a rather predictable one at that, are books that deal with travel exploits from people who spend much of their own time on the road. Travelers with a capital T.

And since we're in the middle of gift-giving season, here are a few of my favorites both of recent discovery and of a more long-term appreciation. All are available in your local bookstore and on Amazon. I recommend the local bookstore, who can order it or you if they don't have it in stock. I'd use Amazon if the Kindle is your current library-of-choice. I'm including links to the Amazon site for more information on each of the five selections below.


Best known for his participation in the British comedy group Monty Python, Palin has been on the road for literally decades, developing a second career of sorts as a modern-day explorer and adventurer very much in the classic 18th century British tradition. He's circled the globe multiple times and is a member in good standing with the Royal Geographic Society, having served as its President from 2009 through 2012.

My favorite of his books is FULL CIRCLE. In it he details a voyage circumnavigating the Pacific Ocean, along with a film crew and a variety of locals he meets along the way. The adventure was filmed for television, but the book goes into a lot of the backstory and behind the scenes misadventures which didn't necessarily make the series.

Starting in Alaska, heading down the coast of Asia, crossing the Pacific to transit the coasts of the Americas he travels through a variety of places ranging from the highly urbanized through some truly hair-raising experiences a little further off the beaten path.

Fascinating read and well worth the time as you work on your Saint Barthelemy tan.

Palin's travel website, a font of information and insanity, can be found here.


Although well-known as a science fiction writer, Heinlein was also of a more adventurous nature. His book, Tramp Royale, gives us a glimpse into "how it used to be" to plan and execute travel before the advent of the internet.

Heinlein and his wife embark on a travel around the world, braving much less predictable situations as they explored a world much different from our interconnected and wired one. It's not necessarily an easy read and Heinlein's politics play into some of the commentary -- positions which the intervening decades will shed a less approving eye upon. (At one point he is startled not everyone in the world approved of Senator Joseph McCarthy. Whoudda' thunk?)

But it does provide a fascinating overview and exploration of the world of the 1950s entirely separate and somehow new from what we've all seen from videos of that era.


Continuing our journey backwards through time to previous travel eras, I have to admit this book really intrigued and motivated me as a young boy. It's still a pleasure to read Twain at the peak of his literary powers.

In Twain's time there were no globe-girdling chains of American food or culture, and Twain's observations of the differences in people and cultures is amusing, allowing us to turn a jaundiced eye towards ourselves and our relationship to the rest of the world.

It's an amusing read even now, and certainly gives us a glimpse back to a more adventurous and less complicated time.


Bourdain is an irascible no-conformist and so is this book. Unlike the rest on this list Around the World... is as much a visual feast as it is a literary one. Bourdain can write. I've enjoyed each of his books from the very first, Kitchen Confidential. But his stories of travel and food are well served by the photographs in this book, where we can see those things otherwise probably best left to the imagination but nonetheless fun to see. Bourdain uses the photography to pull us further into his adventures, adding an additional perspective to his narrative.

Bourdain is perhaps the most popular and readily identifiable host of a travel/adventure show on the air these days, and part of it is his brand of being a sarcastic and at-time cynical explorer, pausing every now and again to experience he true and natural around a destination. Openly disdaining popular culture, he strongly advocates getting our hands dirty and our feet wet in our travels, preferring to eat at an open street market in Vietnam over, perhaps, the finest restaurant in London. And I cannot blame him. I've railed for years regarding getting yourself immersed in the local culture. My favorite target, The Olive Garden in Times Square, is only one of tens of thousands of examples Bourdain has noted over the years. In this book he accentuates the positive and provides the visuals to back him up.

Bourdain's CNN series Parts Unknown website can be found here.

and not so lastly, a new discovery....


Yeah. I encountered Josh Gates a little later than many people have. This last Summer I was back in Annapolis. My sister asked me if I liked a tv show called Destination Truth. Now, obviously, I had heard of it. It runs on the SyFy Channel, and undoubtedly I had seen hundred of ads for DT and its ilk for years. Personally I had lumped all of the "Ghost Hunter" shows into a single basket, and considered them good for a Saturday afternoon viewing when nothing else was available on TV. As long as it was October and our Halloween decorations were up.

(I love Halloween and ghost stories. But having watched a handful of these shows I had grown weary of the "investigators" entering the same building ten other shows had done, and being scared by any little noise or breeze that crossed their senses. I would love to believe in the supernatural, and have in fact had a few weird experiences, but the shows all began to run together.. which is unfortunate, because Destination Truth and in particular its follow-up Expedition Unknown are relatively different.)

Gates' book is a crisp and easy read, with lots of personal comments and anecdotes detailing behind the scenes adventures which don't necessarily make it on the show. My favorite chapter, however is, Chapter 14, THE TOURIST EMPIRE is an essay I could easily have penned -- and in fact have done several similar columns here on the blog. He discusses the difference between being a Tourist and being a Traveler:

"Being a traveler means being an enthusiast, a vessel eager to be filled with the exotic. Being a tourist means checking off a prescribed itinerary, behaving like a sheep, and generally resisting the influences of the unknown in favor of familiar comforts. Citizens, this is a plea for sanity—nay, a call to arms! It’s time for a revolution against the imperial forces of tacky travel. I submit to you that there is a better way."

The rest of the book is fun and informative, but for the remainder of Chapter 14 I was nodding enthusiastically in agreement with his comments.  Being a Traveler versus being a Tourist -- and we all have done both, not matter who we are or credentials we trot out -- is a key differentiator in the reason we travel. Gates' website is here.

On the road...

People with a passion for travel often voice the same things,and it pretty much comes down to the drive forward and the adventure to be found there.

It's message that resonates through all five of the above books. Each of them come at the topic from a different angle and yet all coincide with each other when promoting the idea that for us to truly travel and be Travelers, we need to put aside our biases and simply experience the unknown with an open eye and an open heart. (The quote on the photo below is mine. It sums up my desire to explore nicely, I think.)

A five of these books is a worthy and good read. If you elect to buy one of these as a present, you might consider two and hold one for your own consumption. They won't let you down.


No comments:

Post a Comment