I really love a good travel book. I also love to actually travel, but armchair travel is much more cost effective! We Came, We Saw, We Left is a travel book, but it’s also a family book, which had both pros and cons.
The Wheelans, or “Team Wheelan,” as Charles often dubs them, are an upper-middle-class family from Hanover, NH. The father is a professor at Dartmouth, the mother is a school teacher/administrator, and the three children range in age from 13 – 18. I have to admit, the idea of travelling for nine months (!) with one’s whole family is…ambitious. The author is very frank about the amount of privilege an undertaking like this requires, which I appreciated. The family rented their home (to another branch of the family, but still), re-homed their pets, and set a very strict budget. We aren’t given the actual number of that budget, but I think it was 65% of their pre-sabbatical income. Each member of the family travelled with one bag. The itinerary had several fixed points (flights to New Zealand, a stay with friends in India, etc.), but the rest was completely open. I have to say, I found the combination of intense planning and total loosey-goosey-ness deeply anxiety inducing!
As the family moves through their journey, we get a lot of logistical talk about busses, trains, and planes, and a fair amount of family dynamics/drama. Descriptions of the places Team Wheelan visits are actually pretty sparse. There’s a lot of everybody doing their own thing, just…in Colombia. There’s also a lot of bickering between children (and sometimes between children and parents) of the kind you get when five people spend everysingleday together for months at a time. Once again, I applaud the author for not glossing over the fact that a family of mixed introverts and extroverts is going to have to come up with some strategies for keeping everyone if not happy, at least functional.
In tone, this book bears a huge debt to early Bill Bryson. There are wisecracks and jokes. What I was hoping for a bit more of was Team Wheelan coming to greater understanding of the places and cultures in which they were immersed. But hey – people travel for different reasons and with different priorities. It’s light, it’s breezy, in parts it’s quite funny. My one caveat – the audio book narrator was awful. I really recommend skipping the audio on this one and going for the print version.