There are travelers. And there are travelers. And then there’s Bob Payne, the guy who took an around-the-world trip over a long weekend just so he could hear the stories of fellow travelers. (Who does that?! Everybody knows you can’t begin talking to your fellow passengers until half an hour before landing.) When asked, at check-in at JFK, what was his final destination, he was able to answer in all honesty: JFK.
He tells this story and many more in his 142-country travel memoir Escape Clauses — Getting Away With a Travel Writing Life. Now, if you are green with envy reading the trip reviews on our website, you will hate this book. Because many of you will be extremely jealous of his adventures. Me included. But wait—there is more to be envious of: He got other people to pay for them! Well, other publications, actually.
What made Bob so valuable to the travel magazines of pre-Internet time were his senses of humor, adventure, and humanity. (He actually requests middle seats so he can chat with fellow passengers! Again, who does that?!) Each of those attributes were unusual in the world of glossy travel magazines, and they made him a bit of a wild card when assignment editors were looking to cover something adventurous. Instead of another opening of another 5-star resort. But it’s those attributes—that humor, humanity, and sense of adventure—that make Escape Clauses such a pleasure to read. And because he was a journalist on assignment, Bob has his original notes from all his trips. So names are named and places specified (unlike with many travelers: Usually, when people are asked where in Italy they took this or that picture, they have to reply, “Somewhere between Bari and Como.”) Those facts add flavor and help set the scenes of his many adventures.
But the book isn’t all fun and games. While generally humorous and entertaining, he has made serious sacrifices in his life to be able to drop everything and head off on last-minute assignments. And some of those assignments had life-threatening implications. Which give just enough of an edge to remind you that Bob’s style of travel can be hard. And that he has rarely, if ever, sat around a resort pool with an umbrella drink. And we, the readers of Escape Clauses, benefit.
Full disclosure: Wendy and I consider Bob a good friend, and we get a quick mention on page 211. Hiking up Mt. Sinai in the dark with him, I fell down a dry well on top of the mountain. Classic photographer move: I backed up that one last step, for the perfect shot, and I was gone. I mean, who puts a well (cistern may be more accurate) on top of a mountain?! I’ll never forget lying there, 10 feet down, with broken cameras but mercifully no broken bones, and looking up and seeing Bob’s outline above me, asking, in the calmest voice imaginable, “You okay?” I got the feeling he had seen this before. In his travels, he probably had!
We got our copy from Amazon for $14.95. Shameless plug for a friend: This book would make a wonderful stocking stuffer for the travelers in your life for the upcoming holidays. You can travel vicariously through it or let it inspire you to take your own adventures.
–Tim Baker, AKA Mr. Wendy Perrin
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