Travel guides are generally top-tier pleasure reading for me. I even enjoy reading outdated travelogues, like those by Paul Theroux in the ’70s and ’80s as he trained through countless cities, and even some locales that no longer exist. There’s just something about such essays that give a snapshot about hidden locations and their real-life residents that history books and even photo-journals never could. Generally when I come across a travelogue at a used book store, I grab it for the “just in case” portion of my bookshelf. Michael Wigge’s title How to Travel the World for Free sounded appealing, so I gave it a whirl. In my own humble opinion, however, if you can get past the vulgarity and the stupidity of this author, and if you don’t care the title is severely misleading, then you’re still left with a book that’s not worth the paper its published on.
Let’s start with the title. Is it really traveling the world “for free” when the author stops in every city to make money so he can hop on the next bus or flight to arrive at his next destination? Sure, his methods of making money are unique—“pillow fighting, the human sofa, and the hill helper” (Kindle Location 760)—but street performance has another name, “work,” and the money he makes (and spends) could also be called “payment.” I just think there’s something wrong with lying to one’s readers with a catchy title, even before they pick up the book!
Some of the most entertaining travel books I’ve ever read come from Peter Jenkins and his famous Walk Across America and Walk West books of the ’70s and ’80s. Now there was a man who strapped a heavy pack to his back, whistled for his dog, and literally walked across America! Michael Wigge couldn’t make it seven miles: “After walking for about six miles with my unrelenting backpack, I finally start to physically break down.” (K.L. 333) Granted, not all travel writers need to hoof it, but when considering a “free” trip around the world, shouldn’t he have expected to take a few steps along the way? Isn’t that what most readers anticipate when they first pick up the book?
Another thing that got me early on was Wigge’s pessimism about the people and places he didn’t like. Granted, Wigge’s dislike of a particular person or location is not nearly as vitriolic as Troy Parfitt’s disdain for the Chinese in Why China Will Never Rule the World, but Parfitt raised the bar of bigotry pretty high in that book. He might remain the victor there for quite a while. Nevertheless, Wigge’s arrogance became too annoying for me to bear. Yes, we readers desire a travel writer’s honest opinion about a place, but most of us also desire that it be done with class!
If a writer’s goal is to provide a lasting armchair adventure instead of a self-centered collection of blog posts, he needs to temper his opinions with some consideration of others. Instead, Wigge and Parfitt both shout to the world in these publications: “I’m a poor traveler, and I refuse to adequately prepare myself to meet folks from different cultures.” If such “travel writing” is your cup of tea, you might enjoy these angry men and their worthless books. For me, however: thank you, but no.