Book Review: Wide-Eyed Wanderers by Richard and Amanda Ligato

wideeyedbookA couple of weeks ago I wrote about the non-traditional retirement story of Richard and Amanda Ligato, which was highlighted in a Nationwide Insurance commercial. Usually TV commercials are too busy convincing you to buy buy buy, so the idea that people who saved half their incomes were shown was amusing.

I ended up buying a copy of their book Wide-Eyed Wanderers: A Befuddling Journey from the Rat Race to the Roads of Latin America & Africa* which covers their journey through Mexico, South America, and Africa. For simplicity and frugality, they bought a 1978 Volkswagen camper-van and basically lived in it the entire trip, driving to all of their destinations (besides being shipped from Panama to Ecuador, and then Chile to South Africa). They cooked their own meals and slept nearly every night in the van.

The Ligato’s are one feisty couple. There are multiple stories about them being shaken down by police officers, customs officials, and other government workers for bribes and how they refused to pay any of them. (I think it helped that Amanda is a native speaker of Spanish.) In another incident, they actually tackled a woman who was trying to pickpocket them and ended up arrested in an Argentinian police station (they were eventually released). They weren’t as lucky when they reached the bottom of South American and tried to talk their way into a cheap ticket to Antarctica, as they ultimately had to give up as the price was too high.

Me being me, I wanted to learn more about the economics of how they saved, planned, and budgeted for their journey. Unfortunately, they really don’t cover this in the book. The topic is only mentioned briefly when they have to hang out with what you might call the “average American traveler”. For example, on the Inca Trail in Peru, they wrote about how a fellow hiker realized that the Ligatos had spent as much on their last 15 weeks coming through Mexico and into South America as she alone had spent on her 2-week packaged tour.

For the most part, the book consists of journal entries, each from a different town or city. The stories were nice, although as a whole I wouldn’t say the book was exceptionally funny (although there are light moments) or enthralling (although there are some exciting moments). What I’m trying to say is that they aren’t professional writers and you shouldn’t expect the humor of Bill Bryson or the romanticism of Peter Mayle. This is just a true journal of real people who had a life-changing journey that most people can only dream about.

I highlighted this quote from Rich Ligato, expressed while watching a ceremony to remember the dead in Patzcuaro, Mexico:

If I were to die now would I go without regret? Have I really lived? Unlike many of those who created these ancient traditions, I’ve been given the free will to choose my path. Have I?

If are reading this, it is likely that you have more freedom in your life than most. Books like this remind me to ask myself: Are you consciously living or just passively getting by?

* I bought a physical copy, but this title should also be included for free if you are part of the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library or Kindle Unlimited. It is self-published which is probably why I couldn’t find it at my library, but you could still check.

Comments

  1. I took time out from my professional life and circled the globe twice. I can confirm that traveling slowly is infinitely cheaper when you must travel quickly and get back to work. For example, my first One World Alliance (BA & Qantas) round the world ticket (LA-Sydney-Bankok-HongKong-Bombai-Dehli-London-LA) was around 1,500$ which lasted one year. I then only spent around 5,000 for the entire year. This included many adventures such as trekking in Thailand, Nepal, Australian Outback, seeing the DaiLai Lama, etc. My nice, clean, good sized with bathroom hotel room in Kathmandu Nepal (and amazing city, very safe for kids) cost 3$ a night. My room / food / full scuba diving combo in Sulawesi cost 40$ a day. I never paid for a hotel room in my month in Japan, I joined an organization of Japanese host families and stayed with them for free. This type of traveling is much easier and can be more comfortable than most people think until they start to do it.

    If you really want to see an excellent example of how to do all this, look up the story of the originators of the Lonely Planet Travel guides. They are the gods of international budget traveling.

  2. I also wanted to add …. it was easier to return back to professional life after this two year break than one would think.

    The world brainwashes us to live in fear of the dreaded, horrible “Gaps in your resume”.

    It keeps us chained down nicely.

    While I was traveling I met many fellow travelers who lawyers, corporate types, etc who contorted themselves to make up stuff to fill in the gap on their resume such as “I was studying, researching, writing this study I published”, etc … while in reality they were walking next to me on the great wall of China.

    I just came back, listed my employment dates honestly. Most never noticed. Some asked and I said “I did the dream of my lifetime, I traveled to (the listed off) X countries”. Most said things like “wow”, “cool”, “you are adventurous”.

    Only once did one headhunter go quiet and ask me to clarify. I then said I wanted to do my adventure, I could have done it much longer but I did quite a bit and felt very complete. I wanted to come back and invest in my life at home and building something new for the long term. So I am now more committed now to my anchored life than many people who have a far off unrealized dream of traveling.

    So I came back, hit the ground running and it’s never made a difference to my ability to get hired.

    I never liked the idea that a “gap in your resume” is something to fear. This idea feels like the tail wagging the dog. Who’s running your life anyway? Is this concept in charge? When I am on my deathbed I will say “I walked the great wall of China”, not “I didn’t irritate any HR executives because I had a perfectly consecutively ordered resume”.

    If you apply yourself to do a good job and are very committed to delivering just what they need, why should they care? Usually if you find someone who likes you or needs you for some reason, then these hollow concepts quickly evaporate.

  3. Jennifer says:

    When I was younger (c. 2002), I spent less than $1000 on 11 weeks in Europe. That includes everything (trains, accommodation, food, etc.) These days, I spend far more on a 10-day vacation. It’s possible to live VERY cheaply if you’re willing to rough it, so it’s not really necessary to save that much. It’s more important to live cheaply when you get where you’re going.

  4. I am only maybe halfway through the book. It’s actually quite well written. The stories are interesting and it’s described well enough that you can really feel the mood. However, I was reading it also more for the economical analysis of such a trip and haven’t come across that yet. But so far I am really enjoying it.

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