18 January 2018

Book Review: Mut für Zwei by Julia Malchow

Reading this travel narrative makes me realise that there are many different ways of travel. And that there is no "correct" way to travel. Not that I thought there was, but somehow most people think that their way of travel is the correct way of travel. Somehow I think that authors of travel narratives think that way.

Anyway, this book is about one woman's journey through the Trans-Siberian, taking the train from Saint Petersburg to Beijing via Ulan Bator. Oh, I almost forgot to mention, she did it with a ten-month-old baby.

I am not sure how I feel about the idea of traveling with a child. In the book, she made it sound like she wanted to prove that traveling with a baby is indeed doable, but was it wise? There were a few moments when she had issues on the road which would not have arisen if not for the baby. Little medical emergencies, travel delays, and other issues that would have been easy to deal with if one were at home. So there's a part of me that thinks that as much as you can travel with a baby, it's probably not the wisest idea.

See, travel to some extent is venturing into the unknown. Travel to some extent is accepting the fact that a drive through the middle of nowhere in Mongolia can take 7 hours even though it is advertised to be just 3 hours. Travel is dealing with the fact that some cultures don't have the same understanding as you when it comes to time. And when you factor in a baby, who can be fussy because the road is too bumpy, then it doesn't create the most cosy situation. So I scratch my head and wonder sometimes what exactly is the point?

I also don't understand the author's way of travel. She is absolutely not interested in sight-seeing. She is more interested in just doing nothing, hanging out with her baby, in random places. The author seems to romanticise the idea of randomness a lot, even letting fate decide whether they would catch their flight back to Munich or not. This attitude just conflicts with my personality type, after all, I am one who can totally understand the concept of "planned spontaneity".

The thing is, there is a reason why top-sights are top-sights. There is a reason why the Forbidden City is a major tourist attraction. Just because plenty of people visit it does not mean one has to look down upon it and be all elitist. Somehow, if all you want is a park, or a wilderness, then you don't have to go far from home for that.

See, one other reason why I find myself scratching my head after reading this book is that the author somehow promotes the idea that travel will change your life. She is not saying that explicitly; what she says is that she travels with a mission, to find new ideas. Maybe that is indeed the case, but plenty of people also travel thinking that it would be a life-changing experience, only to come back downtrodden and deflated. I suppose I am just managing expectations here, but I would rather travel in a way where I am prepared for what I will see, so that I can deal with them accordingly.

Speaking of planning, this is also something I don't get with the author. She is ultra-spontaneous. I mean, just look at how she started planning the trip. She planned it almost last minute. And she says in the book that her preferred travel style is one where she just randomly strolls around neighborhoods, see what is around, and stay if she likes it, or move on if she does not. She found it irritating that one has to plan where one wants to stop in the Trans-Siberian. Given this, I find it contradictory that she even uses guidebooks. Then again, some planning is necessary, to learn about local customs, to figure out which neighborhoods are safe or not, and so forth.

In any case, this book allowed me to see how people with other personality types travel. The author is definitely not an INTJ. She finds more romance in travel, and travel for her addresses complex life questions, questions that I would rather answer over a cup of coffee in a quiet cafe. Travel for me is something else, a break from routine. For the author, travel is a philosophical bubble.

I give this book 3 out of 5 stars.

See my other book reviews here.

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