Review: One Awesome Roadtrip by Johnny English

My favourite travel book is ‘In Xanadu’ by William Dalrymple. The story of his travels across Jerusalem and Mongolia is arresting because of the context – he’s actually retracing the route taken by Marco Polo, better known as The Silk Route – and the added drama of his evolving relationship with his travel partner, not to mention the fact that many of the areas on his route are dangerous and inaccessible. These three elements make it much more than just the recounting of an itinerary. They make it better than fiction. Johnny English’s story does not have a historical context but it does have his personal history with the places and the titbits about his wife and travel companion thrown in. If you have never been to the United States of America, this book will serve as an interesting introduction to some of its cities. And if you have been on a road trip from New York City to Houston like English, you can compare notes.

Review: One Awesome Roadtrip by Johnny English

Published by Notion Press, the book is divided into six chapters spanning 117 pages and a different segment for each day. Overall, it’s a 31 day road trip that English and his South African (as he often reminds us) wife Rosetta. The story could easily have extended over more pages by slowing down the narrative and adding more life to it. Instead, the book reads like a hurried journey through English’s travels. However, that might be a good thing for readers who don’t enjoy an excess of description and are using the book more as a guide than introspective reading material. I am still uncertain which one to slot the book in – at times, it reads like a guide, full of practical information regarding routes, prices, booking resources and timings. On other occasions, the author does ruminate upon long drives and friends met along the way. Matters might be made simpler if the story and the information were separated, rather like the Lonely Planet magazine articles where you first have an inspiring and descriptive write-up, followed by a practical guide with all the information you’d need to plan your own trip. That way, you first entice the reader and then you inform them. Nevertheless, one does get used to English’s style after a few pages. Over the course of his travels across cities and towns like Chicago, Florida, Chattanooga and New Orleans, English and his wife stay in a variety of Airbnbs with mixed experiences. He concludes that motels might be a safer alternative in America unless you go for more expensive Airbnbs.

America has a whopping 5000 breweries as of November 2016 (and counting)
America has a whopping 5000 breweries as of November 2016 (and counting)

English definitely likes his beer and one of the biggest discoveries he makes during the trip is America’s penchant for craft beer. The book is a veritable treasure trove of the best bars in America. English comes across as a traveller who is finicky about the details and about getting a good run for his money. If your travel style is something like that, you’ll have a lot to glean from the book. He goes into detail about which attractions are worth visiting and which aren’t. The weather often plays havoc in his plans in the form of unexpected downpours termed as ‘flash floods’. That’s something we don’t see often in India where monsoon has a designated slot in the calendar. But unseasonal rains are common in several parts of the world. The back of the book says that English developed a passion for travelling early on in his life as his parents separated when he was young and he spent a lot of time in Australia as a teenager to spend time with his father. It would’ve been nice if English had elaborated upon these experiences in the book.

Chicago's skyline
Chicago’s skyline

The journey doesn’t take place entirely on the road. For the initial part of the journey, English relies on public transport. In his opinion, long distance trains in America are not very convenient due to their strange timings that can have you arriving at your destination late at night or departing in the wee hours. In that huge country, one often has to take flights to travel between cities and these tend to have long layovers. Thus, your itinerary is then slave to the flight routes. If you are particular about where you want to go, the road is your best friend. English advises against travelling by United Airlines as they charge extra for baggage.

There is no ‘contents’ page in the book with a listing of chapters and corresponding destinations, which might’ve been useful. But I’ll do that for you:

Chapter 1

Day 1-3: New York City
Day 4: Niagara Falls

Chapter 2

Day 5-7: Chicago

Chapter 3

Day 8-11: New Orleans

Chapter 4

Day 12: The Florida Panhandle
Day 13: Tampa
Day 14-15: Miami
Day 16: Key West
Day 17: Jacksonville

Chapter 5

Day 18-19: Charleston
Day 20-21: Chattanooga
Day 22-23: Memphis
Day 24: El Dorado

Chapter 6

Day 25-26: Galveston
Day 27: San Antonio
Day 28-30: Austin
Day 31: Houston

Bourbon Street, New Orleans
Bourbon Street, New Orleans

That’s 18 cities in 31 days – quite a tiring itinerary, I’d have to say. I was extremely interested in reading about English’s experience in New Orleans since I’ve seen much of the city in a show called Vampire Diaries. In the show, it seems to be a vibrant city full of French and African cultural influences, streets that come alive with live Jazz in the night and an intriguing history of witchcraft. So, I was quite disappointed to note that English wasn’t in the least impressed with the city. He does however spend four days in New Orleans, which is the maximum duration that he spends in any city during the road trip.

The Horseshoe Falls, Niagara Falls
The Horseshoe Falls, Niagara Falls

Did you know that the Niagara Falls is shared by America and Canada? There is an interesting episode in the book where English and his wife attempt to drive over to the Canadian side but are stopped by officials as they don’t have a Canadian visa. A few times, the author gets a room upgrade as well which leaves him and his wife positively ecstatic. He’s also particularly taken by The Science and Industry Museum in Chicago which has four levels of simulated reality and life-sized exhibits. Chicago is one of his favourite cities on this road trip and one discovers several interesting facts about the city. For instance, it has the largest post office in the world, dating back to the 1920s. English highly recommends the La Quinta Hotel in Chicago, then called the Chicago Lakeshore.

Broad Street, Charleston
Broad Street, Charleston

The realisation that the United States is a truly enormous country dawns upon English when he loses an entire hour while crossing from Navarre Beach to Panama City. In Miami, he enjoys an Indian village tour and alligator wrestling show for $10. The city of Charleston turns out to be a particularly enjoyable stop on his road trip, with its beautiful harbour and interesting markets. English also encounters several quirky laws such as the one in Washington that says you may not bite off another person’s leg. And then in Arizona, if you steal soap, your punishment is to wash yourself until the bar is completely used up!

One Awesome Roadtrip by Johnny English

In conclusion, One Awesome Roadtrip is definitely worth a quick read. But I’d love to see English attempt a slow travel account next time. Then again, maybe I’ll beat him to it!

One Awesome Roadtrip

Author: Johnny English
ISBN 9789352062492
Type : Paperback
Pages: 135
Price: Rs 299 / Rs 199 (Kindle edition)
Publisher: Notion Press

Purchase it here.

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