Reviewed by Sara Hodon
Good Globe: Time for a Change of Hemisphere
by Shelby Simpson
Paperback, September 2015, ISBN-13: 978-0996856607
Almost everyone has had a touch of wanderlust from time to time. The difference is, some of us do something about it, while others continue to fantasize about places they’d like to visit. And then there are those who follow their traveling dreams in a big way, like globetrotter and author Shelby Simpson, who chronicles her adventures in her travel memoir Good Globe: Time for a Change of Hemisphere.
Simpson, a native Oklahoman, has visited 39 countries and lived in 7, traveling solo numerous times. The book focuses on some of her more memorable trips, both short- and long-term. The theme of the book could be how important it is to step out of your comfort zone from time to time. Maybe it’s not traveling around the world, but perhaps you’ve had a longing to try a new hobby, sport, or pastime. Her message is simple: Try it. Simpson says that it is a big world with so much to see and do, and the unfamiliar often makes people uncomfortable. But those who travel even somewhat regularly find that, more often than not, people are friendly and helpful. The number of good souls around the world far outweighs the bad.
But, she cautions, that doesn’t mean you should go looking for trouble or get yourself in a sticky situation in the name of “adventure.” Or, as she writes, “Proceed with caution, as you would back home, and amazing things can happen, like, for instance, meeting good strangers” (286). Traveling, especially on the scale that Simpson has done, calls for an equal measure of open-mindedness and common sense. If a person or situation doesn’t seem right, don’t pursue it. She explains: “I needed to be able to sniff out a meanie. They always wear an acid cloud that reeks of lies. I hoped my keen sniffer traveled with me…I had to teach myself to read people and to listen to that little voice in my stomach that told me if a situation was naughty or nice. And beyond that, I told myself that it was time to be more independent than ever. If I didn’t trust blondie to watch my bag while I used the bathroom…then I would have to carry it down the bustling train station hall, my back muscles screaming…” (276-77).
Simpson’s writing style is informal and conversational—the entire book reads like a girlfriend recounting tales of her latest travel adventures over a few cocktails on a night out. The way Simpson tells it, hopping on a plane to an exotic locale is No Big Deal—if you do it right. She stresses that traveling takes some advance budgeting and planning, but when you reach your destination, there’s a lot to be said for taking each day as it comes. I enjoyed her writing style for much of the book, but after the first 200 or so pages, it became much less refreshing than it was at the beginning.
Simpson grabs the reader’s attention right away. The first few chapters are dedicated to her trip to Bolivia and an odd tour she and her friends take through La Paz’s San Pedro prison. Touring a prison is unusual enough, but this particular site is billed in a tour guide as “the world’s most bizarre tourist attraction” (22)—her first clue that this might be more than she and her friends have bargained for. She gives lengthy descriptions of what the places is like—not a typical grey, colorless, industrial building with mean-looking guards, barbed-wire fences, and shapeless uniforms, but rather something more like a ramshackle village where the prisoners have established their own form of leadership. This fact alone—the lack of protection against murderers, drug dealers, and other hardened criminals—is more than a little unsettling, and it gets worse when she and her friends are split into two tour groups. She writes “We moved from bizarre space to freaky room and every inconceivable possibility. All were matched with some whacked out story. I was neither relaxed nor scared. I was something else, something I hadn’t felt before. I was caught somewhere between mental block and morbid fascination” (42). As this story was so early in the book, I found myself fearing for her safety right away. Luckily the tour ended without incident, but I’m not sure I would have handled myself so calmly in a similar situation (to her credit she sounded suitably uneasy, to say the least. One positive was that she had gone on this tour with friends).
She also talks about some of her interesting work experiences abroad, saying that while money is necessary for traveling, of course, you don’t need a lot of money. You can save up before leaving home, but if you’re staying in a location for more than a few weeks, you can apply for a work visa before you leave and look for work when you arrive. Simpson was an English teacher in Taiwan, a sex education consultant for grade schoolers in England, and a barista in New Zealand, among many other things. But she’s had some incredible down time, as well. She lived in Fiji as essentially a beach bum for three months, completely unplugged from technology and relying on only the barest essentials, and says it was one of the best times of her life. She also spent a weekend in a tree house deep in the Laotian jungle for “Le Gibbon Experience”, something that has to be read to be believed. She writes that the experience of working at these various jobs has been invaluable: “Through those positions, I gained courage and wisdom about work life. I learned to function successfully in highly diverse environments and became super resourceful, resilient, unembarrassed to ask questions, and well-versed in a variety of topics” (122).
In between the chapters about her exploits, Simpson speaks to the travel-related questions she’s asked most often—concerns about going so far from home (especially alone) for long stretches; paying for her travels, and why traveling to places that are so different from home is important. Traveling exposes us to different cultures, people, and food, but more importantly, it gives us a new outlook on so many things: ourselves, our surroundings, and our homeland. Simpson writes that traveling gave her a new appreciation for her status as a white, middle-class, college-educated woman living in a country that gives people options. “I further understood why I wasn’t able to picture myself living in these places I’d traveled to/lived in for awhile…no matter how much I loved them…Options mean freedom. Freedom is nice. The United States offered me a few more options. So to me, America has always had just a little bit more glitz on it, and trading that in to live somewhere else was going to take a lot of persuading” (321).
While Good Globe recalls wanderlust at its most extreme, Simpson gives big examples to make a small point: get out there and experience something new. We don’t need to travel halfway around the world or search the deepest rainforests to find an adventure—there can be something interesting in the next town, city, or state. She is encouraging readers to see as much as possible, because life only comes around once. Perhaps jet-setting to remote regions of the globe doesn’t sound that appealing, but I think she would agree—start small, but start. Many of us are afraid of the risks that lie beyond the front door, but Simpson counters: “…my condolences go out to those who have lost their lives in the midst of their world travels. But, I’m guessing they were happy to take those risks, because the reward would’ve been worth it…Maybe they regret nothing. They died living, and there’s nothing nobler than that” (195).
About the reviewer: Sara Hodon is a Pennsylvania-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in over two dozen print and online publications.