Most people you meet say they want to travel more. London, Paris, perhaps even the Great Wall are on their bucket lists, but few actually end up going. Instead they’ll find an excuse as to why they couldn’t go abroad.
Albert Podell could have made excuses too:
“That country is in the middle of a civil war.”
“This island is literally in the middle of the ocean.”
“I’m in my 70’s! I’m too old to travel.”
But he never did make excuses. In fact, he traveled to every single country on Earth.
The Journey Begins
Around the World in 50 years: My Adventure to Every Country on Earth begins by borrowing the highlights of Podell’s 1965 trans-world road trip, which he encapsulated in Who Needs a Road? Albert and a few travel companions start in Western Europe and traverse by land and sea across some of the most harrowing lands on Earth.
Though there were a number of riveting tales such as driving into, and spending the night in the middle of a mine field. But perhaps the most shocking, and laugh out loud funny, story in the book comes from East Pakistan. Podell finds himself in Dacca with poor timing; a war has just broken out between Pakistan and India. Although East Pakistan has been spared India’s full aggression, the area is still on high alert.
They are suspect of any foreigners, and any outsiders are seen as potential enemies. Podell is caught photographing the streets near an important government building and is immediately accused of being a spy:
“Kill the Indian spy,” another worker shouted.
“Death to the enemy,” screamed another.
“Hang him! Hang him! Hang him!” The angry crowd chanted
A porter came in with a thick rope, threw it over a rafter, and started fashioning a noose.
“With nothing to lose, I wrestled free, pulled down my pants with one swift motion, and explosively shat a greasy bright-yellow barrage all over the floor, making it graphically clear, even to the most vehement of the lynch mob, that I was not faking a stomach disorder.”
Thankfully, he is spared (But not because of him defecating) because if he wasn’t this book would never have been written.
The Stories Don’t Stop
Contrasting this style of travel writing with a favorite author of mine Paul Theroux, the differences are clear. Theroux spends more time on a single area, doing deep introspection about the people, land and culture, whereas Podell focuses pretty much entirely on story telling; but he really has no choice.
He literally visited every country on Earth, and even in this near 350 page book, he has to omit dozens of stories that didn’t make the cut.
Though there are a few stores on the dull side, about missed flights and travel troubleshooting, the majority of this book is outright packed with action.
Some of my favorite stories are the ones where he visits war-torn countries such as Chad and Somalia. I avoid reading travel books about lands that are easily accessible because then it feels like I’m living vicariously through that person, but if it’s a place I may never visit then it makes for a very enjoyable and informative tale.
How Much Does Age Matter?
In the back of the book there is a nifty chart of all the countries he visited in chronological order. I noticed that he did not leave the country until he was 25, and didn’t really start to travel until he was 28.
As a young man in my early 20’s, I feel like the world is passing me by at times, but I’ve already been fortunate enough to travel to some fascinating locales. Podell’s journey shows you that it is never too late.
But his travels in his late 20’s are nothing. It’s not until his mid-70’s that he visits some of the most dangerous and impoverished countries on Earth. Although he eventually comes to grips with the fact that he can no longer (successfully) hit on 20 year old girls and travel like he used to, he still leads an amazing life.
And to really make his age his bitch, he marries a pretty Russian journalist; 49 years his junior!
Game recognized Albert.
Around the World in 50 Years stands alone among the travel books I’ve read. Never have I read such a travel book that covers such a vast amount of land, people, and adventures.
If you’re a fan of travel writing, this is a must have for your bookshelf.
Click here to buy Around the World in 50 Years: My Adventure to Every Country on Earth on Amazon.