Travel Book Reviews: ‘States of Confusion’ and ‘Shereen Travels Cheap’

States of Confusion Paul JuryBook: States of Confusion: My 19,000-Mile Detour to Find Direction
Author: Paul Jury

4 stars

When I embarked on my 17,000 mile road trip over four months and 46 states in 2009, a lot of people suggested I turn the experience into a book. While I considered the idea, in the end I just didn’t see how my trip would be book-worthy.

So I was curious to read how Paul Jury did it. He went on a similar trip a few years earlier, and his goal was to visit 48 states in 48 days and to find himself at the same time.

Both Paul and myself came out of our trips realizing that we wanted to be writers. But aside from that, very little about our journeys was the same. For one thing, Paul made the mistake of not taking along a portable electrical outlet, so he had to sneak around at night looking for outlets outside convenience stores and in motel lobbies. It’s also bizarre that Jury walked into his local AAA office and asked for maps for all 48 states, when a simple GPS would have been a lifesaver.

Paul was on a journey of self-discovery. He was dating a girl who he wasn’t sure was “the one,” and he wanted to use the trip to do some soul-searching. The ending, in terms of the relationship, was not what I expected, but the details of their phone conversations and how they dealt with being apart are fascinating to read.

Jury had a goal of doing something interesting in every state, but he skipped most of the big cities, instead opting for small towns and back roads. He had to make his own fun, which often resulted in taking unnecessary chances, like hopping a fence at night to wander through a corn maze in Kansas after hours, then getting lost and having to nearly destroy the place to get back out. Or getting stopped several times by local police for sleeping overnight in his car. (He should’ve followed my sleeping in your vehicle tips!)

I found States of Confusion to be an easy and engaging read. Jury did a much better job than I did when it came to engaging the locals, which resulted in a lot of interesting tales. Those who have ever taken a great road trip – or wanted to – will enjoy this book.

Shereen Travels CheapBook: Shereen Travels Cheap
Author: Shereen Rayle

2.5 stars

Shereen Rayle aims to give travelers tips and resources for taking affordable vacations. Most people will find some useful information in the book – a chapter on packing effectively, for instance, is full of tips on how to pack light and maximize your suitcase space.

The book includes tons of website recommendations, which is a helpful idea, but any publication whose content relies so heavily on website URLs comes with a built-in expiration date. Because of the nature of the Internet, five years from now – probably even two years from now – many of these recommended sites will no longer exist.

Rayle’s writing style is awkward at times, and many of her suggestions are slapped with qualifying statements. Consider this excerpt: “I find if you stay in a locally-owned hotel, you are more in touch with the culture…” Then, one paragraph later, “That’s not to say that you shouldn’t stay in a big-name hotel if you want to and can afford it… If that is what you want, then go ahead and make your reservations there.”

It’s strange that you’d give the reader a piece of advice, then turn around and say, “But if you don’t want to do that, you can do the exact opposite!” It’s an exasperating technique that appears more than once, as Rayle tries to be all things to all people, instead of catering strictly to those on a budget.

The most surprising thing about Shereen Travels Cheap is that she completely ignores the budget traveler’s three best friends: Couchsurfing, hostels, and Megabus. It’s stunning that in 2011, someone could write a “budget travel” book and not even mention these lodging and transportation options.

If you’re the kind of person who stays in hotels everywhere you go, you’ll probably get a lot of mileage out of the information in the book. The true budget traveler, though, will probably prefer other resources.

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About Scott Shetler

Scott is a Seattle-based journalist and blogger who puts a quirky spin on travel adventures around the world. He has been featured in Travel + Leisure, Connect Magazine, Matador Travel, and the Washington Post.

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