Perceptive Travel Book Reviews March 2017
by Tim Leffel

In this issue: Good advice on slow travel with meaning, maps that tell you what the locals really think of their city, and a living abroad memoir in a French region of magic and memorable food.

Going Local: Experiences and Encounters on the Road
By Nicholas Kontis

We often hear of people wanting to “travel like a local” (which is already an oxymoron) or to “go where the locals hang out,” but that’s often a romantic notion easier in theory than in practice. While I expected this book to be all about the inspiration, it’s actually a useful guide to going deeper into a destination and making more local connections.

Kontis was born on a Greek island, raised in San Francisco, and once ran an agency booking round-the-world plane tickets. He now spends much of his time living in Mexico. This life of travel and the tri-cultural experience have given him plenty of insights on how to travel deeply and with meaning. He also approached this book like a real journalist instead of a self-obsessed first-time author, packing it with valuable resources.

He doesn’t just talk about “eating like a local,” but shows how to discover the great finds and how to get advice from the right people who live in a place. He doesn’t just discuss the benefits of staying in a real neighborhood and shopping there, but provides a long list of services that will get you there. Other sections cover volunteering, living abroad, and taking a sabbatical. The last section provides advice on slow travel and making local connections, but from a variety of travel industry icons. You’ll probably recognize some familiar names there, from Richard Bangs and Tony Wheeler to your humble editor at this online magazine.

If you want to do more than zip from one site to another to check things off your list, Going Local will show you how to travel in a way that builds deep memories through real encounters.

Judgmental Maps
By Trent Gillaspie


Written by a self-professed “snarktographer,” this collection of city maps from around the USA offers a micro breakdown of cities by neighborhood. It contains the kinds of descriptions, however, that you would only hear from someone who lives there and knows what kind of stereotypes and oddities inhabit the areas around them. It all started out as a Tumblr blog just about Denver, then Gillaspie expanded to include ones from his comedian friends. Eventually random strangers started submitting breakdowns for their own city.

There’s nothing politically correct about the maps in this book, but they are sometimes laugh-out-loud funny. This Miami—a city that is “more Cuban than Cuba itself” —also has “The part of Hialeah where you won’t get shot,” “Botox Harbor,” “Don’t raise your kids here,” and “Rich South Americans.” Hampton Roads, Virginia is peppered with references to 7-11, “Shitload of trees (soon to be McMansions)” and “Oh shit, it’s a deer!” They you get “Soccer moms who can’t drive,” “Assholes with money,” “The GOOD Wal-Mart,” and “Navy dudes.”

In Tulsa, Oklahoma the map indicates areas such as “Car lots targeted by hail storms,” “pretentious golfers,” “land of self-entitlement,” and “hotels with prostitutes” near “Little Detroit.” Head way north to Fargo, ND and the whole page says “Just Kidding.”

Lots of cities are missing, but perhaps they will make the second edition. The ones that are here are sure to amuse you and offend you both if you live there. But as the author says in the intro, “To whom should you complain if you are offended by the contents of this book? Go f&#@ yourself. Life is too short. Relax, laugh a little, and just enjoy it.”

Cafe Oc: A Nomad's Tales of Magic, Mystery, and Finding Home in the Dordogne of Southwestern France
By Beebe Bahrami

Long-time readers of Perceptive Travel will recognize the name behind this book as she has penned multiple stories her from her travels. Café Oc is her latest book and this story from our archives gave a taste of the town in France she called home on several occasions.

Much of the story of her time in the town of Sarlat revolves around fate, luck, and an unseen driving force. She chooses the destination based on a comment in an academic journal, without reading travel stories about it or looking at photos. Her affordable apartment ends up being full of character and right in the center of town. Her landlord takes her on exploration trips and teaches her badminton. Other chance encounters in the market develop into friendships as she works on her French.

The title refers to a gathering dedicated to a different language, however. The Occitane language pre-dates French and a group of the locals gather to speak it and keep it alive. Bahrami takes every invitation she gets after arrival in order to try to integrate and one of the first ones places her in this welcoming club.

The Dordogne region of France is a place of stories and unexplained forces already, praised by poets and foodies, covered by authors Henry Miller and Robert Louis Stephenson. The region is also home to some of the oldest cave paintings on the planet, a region where Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons may have shared the same hills. Beebe Bahrami takes a place of legend and applies its character to her own memoir. She writes beautifully and openly about finding a place that feels right and finding people just as enthusiastic about it—and their life there—and delight in sharing it all. There’s a bit of magic realism threaded in and yes there’s a bit of new age woo-woo too (for lack of a better term). But it’s grounded by great descriptions of place and encounters with interesting characters in an area with plenty of stories to tell. The locals would probably agree that there is indeed a lot of magic in this ancient region now best known for truffles and foie gras. So it’s only natural that this creeps into an in-depth personal story of a storied land.

Editor Tim Leffel splits his time between Guanajuato, Mexico and Tampa, Florida. He is the author of five travel books, including The World's Cheapest Destinations, and has run the Cheapest Destinations Blog since 2003.

See the last round of book reviews

Also in this issue:

Going Local

Buy Going Local: Experiences and Encounters on the Road at your local bookstore, or get it online here:
Amazon US
Amazon Canada
Amazon UK

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Judgmental Maps

Buy Judgmental Maps at your local bookstore, or get it online here:
Amazon US
Amazon Canada
Amazon UK

Cafe Oc

Buy Cafe Oc: A Nomad's Tales of Magic, Mystery, and Finding Home in the Dordogne of Southwestern France at your local bookstore, or get it online here:
Amazon US
Amazon Canada
Amazon UK