Rarely do I read a book that takes the top of my head off (in the best way), but Tales of the Modern Nomad-a candid travelogue and first book by Saskatoon backpacker John Early-did just that. Well-written, entertaining, illuminating, original, cheeky, and real-in that it features both positive and negative experiences-I read chapters of this book aloud to two visiting backpackers in their twenties and thirties, and they were relating and laughing right along. To quote the author’s father: “You couldn’t make this shit up if you tried.”
Early’s young, and many of the experiences described in this hefty, full-colour hardcover-with maps, photographs, anecdotes, trivia, poems, art, doodles, and quotes ranging from Eckhart Tolle to Charles Bukowski-may have special appeal for those who possess the desire to surf in Sayulita; zip-line between Laos’ tropical rain forest treehouses; or, as Early recounts in the section titled “Down The Rabbit Hole,” eat “Mystery Mushrooms from an Indonesian Road Stand,” but as one who’s backpacked and been to many of the locales he writes about (ie: Bali, Zürich, Bangkok, Čzesky Krumlov)-and I’ve blown out decades more candles than Early-I can vouch for the veracity and sentiment of the author’s accounts (ie: nefarious taxi drivers in foreign countries; being astounded in Paris by those who approach Notre Dame just long enough to get a selfie, then carry on to the next Facebook-able landmark; or defaulting to Spanish whenever someone speaks to me in another language), and appreciated both reliving some of my own travels and vicariously experiencing ones I may never dare to take. Boating down the Amazon to participate in an ayahuasca ceremony deep in the jungle? Hitchhiking with a gypsy caravan in Central America? “The caravan crew consists of Goat, from Northern Oregon; his girlfriend Dancing Water, from Montreal; Blas, a dreadlocked backpacker from Argentina; Max, a Californian non-conformist Goat met at a Rainbow Gathering in Panama; and Chico, Goat’s loyal dog he picked up in Mexico.” (Oh, all right. Sure!)
As with all great travel writing, Early’s tales-gleaned directly from his travel journals-feature the people he randomly meets along the way in hostels, jungles, on beaches, and, uncharacteristically for a backpacker, on a cruise ship (Early worked on one for six months).
The book’s format, with its delightful mix of information-including both the extremely personal (receiving a questionable massage from a Thai monk) and hilarious trivia (“10 Ways to Say Poop in Japanese”)-is one of its major charms. And this title contains far more than just backpacking smarts; it’s saturated with life wisdom, ie: “traveling is in your head/as much as it’s under your feet/Never stop being a traveler./And always lifv a life worth journaling.”
I agree with Early that travelling is a great educator. We learn so much about others when we immerse ourselves in another culture-and perhaps put that camera or margarita down for a bit, and really get to know the locals-but moreover, we also learn invaluable lessons about ourselves. What a read, John Early. What a life!
THIS BOOK IS AVAILABLE AT YOUR LOCAL BOOKSTORE OR FROM WWW.SKBOOKS.COM