Get Lit: Journeys of a Lifetime: 500 of the World’s Greatest Trips, by National Geographic

Journeys of a Lifetime: 500 of the World’s Greatest Trips, by National Geographic, is a husky 400-page to-do list that includes 400-color photographs and sells for $40.

The first word that comes to mind when opening the spine of this baby is stately. All Geographic books are that.

For the wanderers amongst us, this title is drool-inducing, but for those accustomed to Geographic’s stunning visuals, Journeys is a disappointment.

Standard disclaimer: I was once a wanderer (currently stuck on 25 countries and 35 states) and I am a photographer. This book will appeal to both types of people and maybe this is just the kick some of us need to get back out there. When looking at a book like this, I think it’s only natural to check off places you’ve been and things you’ve done or prioritize those places and things that you haven’t.

This coffee-table book opens with a chapter on journeying Across Water, which has to be one of the best ways to travel. As I peruse the pages some places are familiar: Vancouver, San Francisco, Istanbul, Venice, Milford Sound and Kerala. And some places are way up there on my must-see list: Thailand, the Amazon, Yangtze River, the Nile, the Zambezi.

But I must express disappointment that my two most recent water traveling experiences aren’t listed. Canoeing down the Houston Ship Channel and kayaking down the Salmon River, a.k.a. the River of No Return, through the uninhabited Wilderness Area in Idaho.

The second chapter is By Road and opens with a nice shot of Route 66. By road has to be one of the best ways to travel and the opening trip is one I planned on taking next fall: Vermont. All of these journeys are about a half-page of text accompanied by a half-page photograph. The text template includes When to Go (in this case, early to mid-October), How Long, Planning, Inside Information, and Websites.

This book should be viewed as an interest-primer, not a be-all, end-all information source like a Lonely Planet guide book.

The next journey entails driving around Lake Michigan. I’m from Green Bay and I’ve never thought of this trip. Isn’t that always the way it is?

After outlining about ten trips in the U.S. the editors choose 22 international drives, including such beauts as Banff to Jasper in Canada; the Pan American Highway through Chile and Argentina; the world’s highest road from Bolivia to Chile; and from Cairo to the Cape (allow about six weeks for this one and be sure you have your Yellow Fever vaccination).

Chapter 3 is travel By Rail, which also has to be one of the best ways to travel -- especially in India. I would never journey on a train where the windows must remain closed – a la Amtrack. You have to be able to smell the countryside and feel the wind on your face. Unless of course it was the Shinkansen 320 mph bullet train in Japan.

Top 10 Steam Train Trips include: #1 Austin & Texas Central Railroad.

I was glad to see the Darjiling Toy Train included. I traveled on the Toy in 1996. At the top of my rail to-do list would have to be the Orient Express from London to Venice - although it’s listed as only two days and one night... I’d like something a little longer... how ‘bout the Trans-Siberian Railroad from Moscow to Beijing? At least six days... mmmm.

Let’s just skip Chapter 4 - On Foot. That’ll never happen. Except maybe to climb Mt. Fuji (pg, 156) or to trudge along the Great Wall of China (pg. 157). Do you think they offer bicycle cabs on the Great Wall? Segways?

Chapter 5 is Culture, Chapter 6 is Gourmet, Chapter 7 is Into the Action. I’m feeling overwhelmed. So many trips, so few vacation days. Damn Europeans with their four months of ‘holiday.’

Chapter 7 revives my interest: Polar Bear watching in Canada, Rafting Through the Grand Canyon, Surfing in Hawaii. Following Che Through South America, sounds awesome. “Allow at least one month for the full trip.” Trip begins at Buenos Aires, travels southwest to the Chilean coast, which you then follow straight north along the Pacific Coast to Machu Picchu in Peru. “You can rent all-terrain motorcycles...” Serious adventure.

There’s more. Much, much more. Five hundred trips is a lot. I wondered how they came to that figure?

“Why not?” replied Chandra Teitscheid, publicity manager for the Books and Communications Division of National Geographic Society. “We thought 500 trips would be a number that would appeal to readers and demonstrate the exceptional breadth and worldwide coverage that the book offers. And, with so many great corners of the world to explore, it could easily have been 1,000... but we kept the number to 500 to give the readers as much helpful information and as many full-color pictures as possible within 400 pages.”

Teitscheid calls this a labor of love and I do think it’s a good book, just not a great one. The visuals remind me of an encyclopedia. National Geographic has such a warehouse of magnificent imagery from all corners and Journeys ends up using stock photography from Lonely Planet Images. That’s disappointing.

The Geographic Books Division is publishing 90 to 95 books this year, “not including the books we publish for kids,” Teitscheid informs me.

That’s a lot of labors of love. – Daniel Kramer