Europe on 5 Wrong Turns a Day by Doug Mack sounded right up my alley. Inspired by a trip his mother took in her 20s, Mack travels through Europe using only Arthur Frommer’s 1963 edition of Europe on Five Dollars a Day as his guidebook. He does his best to stay only in Frommer-mentioned hotels and eat only at Frommer-mentioned restaurants. Hunting down these places is dubbed “Frommering” by his travel companion, Lee. Unsurprisingly, many of them are closed or completely changed. A fair amount of Mack’s book is spent reflecting on what it means to be a tourist and how tourism itself changes the places that tourists come to see. I learned a lot about the history of travel and how Frommer’s guidebook blazed a trail for the middle class tourist. Europe was no longer just for the rich and famous.
Mack visits eleven cities in two different trips – Florence, Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels, Berlin, Munich, Zurich, Vienna, Venice, Rome, and Madrid. He’s shy and hasn’t traveled much alone, so much of the book is spent on eye-opening experiences as a foreigner in a strange land. And honestly, this was the part I found the most tiring. Round about Zurich, his friend Lee goes home and Doug is left to finish his trip alone. And he is lonely. And whiny. So lonely and whiny, in fact, that it spoils a portion of his trip (and my enjoyment of the last section of the book). He claims to be “over” Venice in six hours and forty-three minutes, and challenges anyone to stay interested in the city longer than that. Well, Mr. Doug Mack, I have spent six days in Venice and would gladly go back. Every traveler has been lonely at some point in their trip, even if they are traveling with friends or family. It’s hard being in a different country without all of the familiar things around us. But don’t let that seep into your travel writing. Surely some editor down the line should have said, “Cut the whining and tell me what you saw!”
His optimism recovers by the last chapter in Madrid. The book ends positively, and hopefully inspires at least someone to travel to Europe (though a more recent guidebook is recommended). Mack’s adventures are amusing and enjoyable, for the most part. And if – when – he travels again, I hope he leaves the whining at home and learns to live in the moment. After all, that’s what travel is really about.