This documentary should’ve really been called, An Introduction to Backpacking. For anyone who has ever been curious about a Round the World (RTW) trip, you owe it yourself to watch this film. Watch it more than once, even. It’s like an introductory class for backpacking, and it just might answer at least some of your questions. Hell, even if you have done this kind of travel before, I’d still highly recommend it. Cliché or not, it’s a film for everyone.
Free and easy down the road I go
To try and squeeze it into a nutshell: Brook Silva Braga gives up a career as a TV producer with HBO to see the world. And learns a lot about the backpacking culture on the way. First off: can you imagine the reaction you’d get if you told people you were heading off into the distance, on your own…for a year? In the beginning of A Map for Saturday, as Brook’s putting his plan together and eventually unveiling his plans to his colleagues, there’s definitely a mixed reaction. Some are supportive, but others are slightly more puzzled by his decision. Fortunately for us, Brook doesn’t give us boring details of visas and vaccinations, what influenced his choice of backpack or what made it onto his packing list. (Tip: whatever you’ve packed, especially when it comes to clothes, half it!) It’s bye-bye at the airport over a few tears, and his mother’s ominous departing words: “Be careful.”
The mythic solo traveller
Brook is what you would call a solo traveller, ‘on his ones’, or as we Brits like to put it, ‘on his tod.’ Feel free to add that to your vocab books, if you’re taking notes. Back at home, you’re likely to feel a bit uneasy about asking for a table for one. However, while traveling it’s a different story. Sometimes it is necessary and it doesn’t have the same stigma. I think Richard from The Beach explains it best: ‘And as for traveling alone… fuck it, if that’s the way it has to be, then that’s the way it is.’
‘Solo traveller’ is just a phrase that doesn’t mean very much in reality. There’s always a person going for a meal, to see a waterfall, temple, or simply going in the same direction as you are. You’re unlikely to be on your own for long, and more often than not you’ll find yourself actually looking for some alone time.
As a side note, I have no doubt it’s different for women when it comes to travelling solo.
The type of trip that Brook embarks on isn’t just for the twenty-something ‘westerner’ single male or female. It’s not a package holiday beach resort boozeup. On Brook’s kind of trip, you’re likely to meet people of all demographics, background, ages and nationalities, including couples and families. It’s a refreshing kind of travel to be able to get away from any preconceived ideas and really get out in the world, meet locals and fellow spirits, and it really changes the kind of trip you end up having.
One of the main reasons that holds people back from leaving the comfort of their own home is fear of the unknown. I’ll admit, I count myself among those people from time to time. No matter where you are around the world, things happen – things like civil unrest, war, natural disasters, outbreaks, riots, political turmoil, car accidents, crime. It doesn’t matter where in the world you are, life happens. And as a tourist, you realise that you have to tread carefully: wherever you go, there’s an unspoken history there, a history its people lived through and – if you’re respectful enough – you might just learn something from. This notion of “being careful” to the point of paranoia isn’t healthy, and it’s easy to see why it puts people off travelling anywhere except down to the local or just within their own borders (especially when such events are blown up by sensationalist media). Brook travels to the island of Koh Phi Phi, Thailand following the devastating tsunami of 2004 where it was great to see the tourists helping the locals rebuild their communities. Even when there was next to no assistance from the government.
“There is the rest of the world – then there is India.”
Part way through the film we join Brook in India, and I couldn’t resist giving this fascinating place a mention. If India doesn’t kill you it makes you stronger (I’m not sure if I made that up myself or read it somewhere). Either way, it’s true! Watching Brook in India is like looking at the world through a child’s eyes and brings back so many memories. It makes me think how many things that appeared strange at the time are so normal now.
A lot in this world boils down to cash. In Laos, Brook gives us a small insight into how far your Pound, Dollar, or Euro stretches in South East Asia. You learn to distinguish between your wants and needs, and start sacrificing luxuries to travel a little longer. There’s tons of other resources for budgeting out there, and you can stretch out any travel itinerary on a shoestring within reason.
A Map For Saturday lets us live vicariously through Brook Silva Braga’s amazing travel experience. Ultimately though, although the film does a good job of capturing the essence of travelling around the world, it’s too short. I appreciate the difficulty in condensing a full year of travel into a feature-length film. Perhaps someone should do a RTW trip and put out a weekly hour-long episode. Maybe someone already has! (If any TV execs are reading this, I’m available *wink wink*)