Sunday 15 April 2012

TRAVEL MONTH REVIEW - 'I Left My Tent in San Francisco', Emma Kennedy (Random House UK, 2011)

It's 1989, and Emma and her best friend Dee head to the USA to make their fortune. But completely inept and virtually unemployable, they discover that they can't even get a job in McDonald's.

Forced to travel from California to New York with only pennies in their pockets, they bounce from scrape to scrape, surviving on their wits and the kindness of strangers. Bad luck and misfortune throw everything their way -- snakes, earthquakes, black magic and incontinent dogs. They even get kidnapped by a sex-crazed midget in a Ferrari. This never happened to Jack Kerouac. (Synopsis from Goodreads)

I Left My Tent in San FranciscoWhen I first decided to undertake a travel month for my blog, this book moved from the back to the forefront of my mind. I have fond memories of various 90s comedy sketch shows starring one Emma Kennedy and have been following her amusing twiter feed for a while now (I highly recommend checking out her website for some very funny anecdotes). I discovered this book whilst reading a pant-wettingly hilarious column in the Guardian about her childhood camping experiences. And I love a good comedy biography. Travel, comedy, it was a bit of a no-brainer to include this one, really.

A was expecting laughs and I got them. I don't really want to go into too many specific incidents for fear of ruining the experience for the potential reader, but there were I couple of times when I did that thing of chuckling away to myself in silent hysterics for quite a long time after putting the book down. Apparently, my husband finds this REALLY annoying, but I just couldn't stop. I had to pay several trips to the bathroom to pull myself together.

One of the other great things was the pace - whenever I pick up an autobiography, I live in dread that, no matter how much I hero-worship the author, it will be sluggish and self indulgent and will be the literary equivalent of sorting paperclips. But thankfully, the pace here was great - we move very swiftly through the university years and from then on it's set piece after set piece and all the better for it. I particularly enjoyed the little sub plot of her parents parallel event-filled jaunt across Europe. (Three words - HAUNTED NAZI MANSION.)

I've never been to the US, but this book is a great nostaligic trip for anyone who'e ever taken a gap year and chooses to remember it through those ever-reliable rose-tinted specs. Whilst reading this, I remembered all those long forgotten days of anguish and boredom and frustration and the fact that the streets of foreign climbs aren't always paved with gold, more likely dog shit and flecks of vomit (I had my own little adventure with BUNAC in Australia). But this makes it all funnier when recalling these experiences. With the benefit of a few years, mind.

So, a brilliant read, highly recommended, and you can't say better than that really.


Um, yeah, if you're prepared for your trip and remember to bring your tent, you're probably less likely to run into trouble with midget porn barons, BUT, your travel biography would make very dull reading. So, swings and roundabouts, I guess.


  1. I don't think I've even heard of Emma Kennedy but this book sounds hilarious, Anna! I think it would definitely speak to a lot of people, haven't we all had crazy mishaps occur while overseas? ;)

    1. Oh, yes - the crazy mishaps are so much more amusing with the benefit of a few years to forget all the horrible stuff! I LOVED this book. It was hilarious.

  2. Okay, this looks amazing. I'm wary of autobiographies too because I don't think people can write about themselves with proper perspective. That cover picture though is hilarious and so 80s!