from internet cafes to nepal

darrell wadeYou can imagine that Intrepid’s CEO and co-founder doesn’t have much time to sit down and enjoy a good book, but holidays are the exception and Darrell Wade felt compelled to review his latest travel read…

“Earlier this year I was trekking in Nepal with my family. We had three weeks and quickly got into the routine of early rises, wonderful walking all day and finishing mid afternoon at our new campsite. Some afternoons we’d play volleyball with our porters and guides, other days it was badminton – and we even played cricket a couple of times.

The afternoons were also a time for reading. Here I am at over 4000 metres in the Annapurna region, reading my favourite book of the year – Planet Backpacker, by Robert Downes. It’s the story of a newspaper editor from mid-west America who, in a fit of mid-life crisis, headed off travelling the world as a backpacker.

Now this story isn’t just a “On Tuesday I went to Rome and saw the Coliseum…”, far from it. Bob decided to buy a mountain bike and head off to Europe with little more than a map, a GPS and an incurable sense of naive optimism.

One of the reasons I enjoyed the book was the author’s candour and honesty. He had great days and shocking days – and we live them all through his daily search for an internet cafe to record his travels and emotions in his blog. He wears his heart on his sleeve and allows us to meet the people he meets and live the detail of a traveller’s life.

After several weeks of cycling Bob leaves his trusty old bike and heads to India – where as luck would have it he joins an Intrepid trip. (We didn’t know about Bob or his book until after it was published.) In India he has a series of events that open our eyes to the sheer diversity and intrigue of the world we live in, and how it is so very different from our homes. To be honest, these events are nothing really that extraordinary for the seasoned traveller, but because Bob isn’t that experienced, his recollections have great freshness and excitement in their telling. (When I am with a group of Intrepid travellers in some distant land I always love the way a dozen stories come out over dinner about the day’s explorations – that is the sense that Bob captures in his book.)

Bob continues on through Thailand, Vietnam and other countries – and can’t quite work out why he very rarely comes across any Americans. There are Danes and Kiwis, English and Germans, Canadians and Australians – but rarely any Americans. And this is the other reason why I like this book. The author gains a real sense of self-awareness from his travelling experience, and yet at the end of the day is a regular guy from Michigan.

At the risk of being a little controversial, I can’t help but think if we had more Americans travelling the way Bob does, there would be a greater level of understanding in the world. Too often Americans are misunderstood by people around the world – and Americans themselves also misunderstand the world at times. Travel builds knowledge, awareness and cultural bridges – this in turn breaks down the barriers of self interest and therefore reduces conflict. Bob’s tale highlights this well.”

If a book has inspired you to travel or simply makes for great reading while on the road, please email – let us know a little of what it’s about plus an indication of the size, as we would love to hear your recommendation for a great backpack book!

You can check out other recommendations from Intrepid Express readers by clicking on the ‘books for your backpack’ travel theme in this blog or seeing the latest book reviews on the Intrepid travel website.

About the author

Sue Elliot - Like many of us, Sue contracted a serious travel bug at an early age. She's visited over 90 countries in search of a cure, but her wanderlust just seems to get worse. Thankfully at Intrepid Travel she's amongst people who understand the affliction and since 1998 Sue has enjoyed being our blog and newsletter editor. Here you'll find helpful travel advice and inspiring tales from Sue and other Intrepid travellers.

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I think it’s wonderful that these are stories about other fellow Americans who truly appreciate the rest of the world and travel with such respect and appreciation. It is refreshing for too many times Americans do not leave good impressions, but these stories are great.

Geoff Manchester / Reply

Hi Barbara,
I’m sorry to hear about the osteo-arthritis. Hopefully you will be able to travel again soon. I have not managed to return to Sarawak since your trip. There is always somewhere new to visit! We still do not take terribly many people to Sarawak, which is sad as I have many unforgetable memories of that trip. The walk up the Pinnacles was challenging, but Mulu National Park was stunning and staying with the Iban people in their longhouses was a very special experience. I love hearing stories of people going to Sarawak and experiencing the longhouse hospitality!
Keep well.

Hi Faye – maybe we should have a 1991 Bali-Java reunion?? I was talking to Gabriella the other day who was also on that trip! That means 6 of the 10 of us are still in loose contact – pretty amazing 19 years later! Of course I think you’ve done about 25 trips with us since then – so your Intrepid circles is probably even broader than mine!!

Barbara Reilly – Geoff’s office is next to mine (though he’s just ducked out to get lunch!) – so I’ll let him know you’re still “in the loop” Sorry to hear about the Osteo – hope it all works out OK and maybe we’ll see you back somewhere exotic and exciting again 🙂 Cheers,

Hi Darrell,
Enjoyed reading your comments regarding the book, and that’s not all??Further reading and thought I recognised Martins name and being a retired dentist. My husband Robert and self were also on that Bali Java trip in 1991. Intrepid families do get around. May see you at your winery in Hobart Martin.
After 19 years I am still hooked on Intrepid Travel.'
Barbara Reilly - New Zealand / Reply

Hi Darrell
I did five Intrepid trips in the 1990’s: the first to Sarawak in September 1991, which was led by your co-founder, Geoff. I didn’t even know what a “day pack” was in those days and Geoff manfully carried my stuff for me on the hike up to the Pinnacles.
I enjoyed all my Intrepid trips and still enjoy reading the newsletters. I developed, what I only discovered recently was osteo arthritis, and had a hip replacement just seven weeks ago. Who knows….I may get back to travelling with Intrepid again! I have still been going to out-of-the-way places e.g. Burma, Bangladesh, Oman and in 2005/6 I spent six months teaching English in a non tourist part of China. I shall look out for “Planet Backpacker”.

Hi Martin – great to see you on the blog. Gee that Bali – Java trip we did together (with Patricia of course) was a very long time ago wasn’t!! Great to see that you asre still travelling – and yes – I’ll look you up when I next get to Hobart…. Cheers,

Dear Darrell,
I am an American, an octogenarian who has done several Intrepid (and Gap) tours plus lots of other off-the-beaten-path travel independently. True, Americans are always a minority on Intrepid tours. The Americans I observe on my travels are usually on classy tours where they stick together and see the country through the tour van windows, not up close with interaction with native people. My own book, “At Home in the World: Memoirs of a Traveling Woman” relates a sampling of my many adventures, from Bolivia to Bhutan, Namibia to Nicaragua–and more. You might check it out on'

Oh my! I’ve been reading your online newsletters for a few years and have a friend who is a seat of your pants traveler who loves Intrepid trips. I plan to “invest” Intrepid trips in the not too distant future. I just had to share that Bob Downes lives one block from me in our little in town neighborhood in Northern Michigan. His book is on my Chirstmas list and your review cemented my interest in reading it. It truly is a very small world. Glad you found it.'

Hi Darrel
Great to larn you’re still traveling and enjoying life. You may remember Patricia and I from Hobart and your lecture to Asian Studies about twenty years ago. We have done a few trips with you, last one to Sabah that was fantastic. But with a daughter, also an Intrepid traveller, Megan, married and baby in Edinburgh, we tend to go that way. I ma retired from dentistry and work a small vineyard and our wine Yellow Point Vineyard won the top gold at last weeks International Royal Hobart Wine Show for the pinot 2008 and that’s a really nice thing to happen to an old man! Will get out and buy that book you recommend for Christmas. If you’re in Hobart get in touch
Martin and Patricia Bastick.'

Hi Darrell

Your picture and comments inspired me to write as I too travelled to the Annapurnas when I was 43 – that was 16 years ago. I have never been back even though I always said I would. The trip was my first major trip overseas and even though I have travelled quite a lot since, the trekking up to the Annapurna Base Camp is still the highlight of my travels. I think it is the harships you endure (oh those calf muscles on the second morning) and the tough rocky tracks, but also what inspired me was the Nepalese people who often walk in bare feet with very heavy loads. I am sure it is still the same.

Books written by people who really rough it inspire me also. Now I am 59 (actually my birthday today) I still wish to travel and really meet the people. Not for me staying in 5 star hotels, the roughness of the accommodation – the better. If you are tired enough you will sleep! Being a New Zealander (my ancestors came out in ships 160 years ago – in horrendous conditions) I am sure keeps me wanting to see the world as the amazing place it really is.

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