Monday, June 6, 2011

Book Nook - 360 Degrees Longitude

360 Degrees Longitude: One Family's Journey Around the World by John Higham.  Recently, I re-read one of my favorite travel books, One Year Off, written by David Elliot Cohen (see Book Nook posting here).  I discovered 360 Degrees Longitude when I was puttering around on amazon looking up the One Year Off book.  They are indeed very similar: a family with young children embarks on a journey around the world.  I loved One Year Off, so I thought I might enjoy 360 Degrees, too....and I did!

John Higham is a rocket scientist (for real!).  He and his wife, September, had always been hoping to take an around-the-world trip with their kids, once they had some!  They started saving & planning for the trip and once their kids were big enough (their daughter was 11 at the time and their son was 8), they took off from California to their 1st stop, Iceland, and headed East from there.

The family visited 28 countries all together (there is a nice tally at the end of the book - # of countries visited, average length of stay in one place, total cost of the trip, etc.).  For those 28 countries, we are along for the ride with the Highams.

Initially, they started their adventure cycling on tandem bikes.  They biked through England & France, but when they were in Switzerland, their daughter broke her leg while rock climbing and their plans (and budget) suddenly changed: they couldn't cycle and camp in tents to Istanbul as originally planned, so they had to start staying at hostels and taking public transportation.  This must have been a very trying time on the trip, but the family rolled with the punches and managed to have fun and remain on the go.

Katrina breaking her leg was not the only bad situation they encountered.  There were creepy close interactions with some of the locals in Turkey.  The Highams found themselves without access to cash, a place to stay or food to eat in Tanzania.  Their son Jordan got extreme altitude sickness on the Inca trail.  But among all these bad situations was a lot of learning and respect for other cultures.

I must admit, while reading the book, there were a lot of situations the family found themselves in that were not my idea of fun travel.  Not showering for several days at a time, not knowing where you would be sleeping that night, only eating ham and cheese sandwiches in France.  I mean, I love travel for the adventure of it, but I also love my creature comforts!  And if I go to France, I want to do as the French do, and enjoy some authentic French cuisine now and then.  Or if I go on a safari in Africa, I would want to have enough money to pay for a reputable and safe tour - not scratch one up when I got there and hope for the best.  I guess when your family's safety is at stake, you're going to want to spend the money to ensure their safety.  And on a lesser degree, to see the sights that you came so far to see.  If you get to England but can't afford to take the Tower of London tour or pay the admission fee to Westminster Abbey (like the Highams), then you are shortchanging your experiences in that area (by this I mean to say it would be nice to at least have enough money to have the option to see these sites if you wanted to).  Just my $0.02!

I realize all this is easier said than done, especially when you're not in the midst of a 52 week whirlwind tour of the planet!  Some plans must remain open so that you can be flexible.  I suppose that's part of the adventure!

It's funny, after reading Higham's book and Cohen's book just how similar the stories are.  They visited some of the same places: Paris, Venice, Turkey, Istanbul, African safari (in different countries though), Tokyo, Hong King, Cambodia, Thailand & Costa Rica.  In both books, family joins them along the way during different parts of the trip.  In both books, the oldest gets hurt and needs medical attention.  In both books, there is a previous connection to Japan.  I wonder if these families have ever met (they both live in California) and shared stories?

One thing to mention about the book: the author has linked up their trip with Google Earth, so you can log on and get more pictures and stories.  On their website, you can see tons of family pictures through smugmug and learn how to plan your own around-the-world trip, if you're so inclined.  Another thing to mention that I loved about this book is that the author goes into a lot of detail on how the family shipped and read books (and homeschooled the kids on math) during the trip.  As a book-lover, I loved hearing about the logistics of getting books where and when you need them, because that is exactly what I'd be doing on a trip like this.  The family also made sure to read books about the areas they were visiting, and the author gives some great recommendations.

360 Degrees Longitude is a fun read on a subject that many of us just dream about doing.  The Higham family actually does it, and shares their story with us in a humorous & entertaining way.


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