Reading List: “Off The Road: Explorers, Vans, and Life Off the Beaten Track”

The modern western nomad is not a new creature. Indeed The New Yorker April issue featured an extensive article about the so-called #vanlife movement in its print magazine (worth reading despite its rather onerous 4,700-plus word count).

You have likely noticed the renewed popularity of Airstream trailers, VW vans, and even traditional RVs, largely being enjoyed by young, educated people often of decent means. In other words, people are taking to life on the road — in some cases fully relinquishing a permanent address, in fact — not because they have to, but because they want to. Why? Well, it varies from person to person. But reading Off the Road: Explorers, Vans, and Life Off the Beaten Track will give you some insight into the minds of these wanderers and might just engender a bit of jealousy, too. For a select few, this book might even be the motivation that’s finally needed to trade the fixed address and four-walled rooms for life on the move atop four wheels, instead.

Off the Road

Off the Road is yet another title from German publishing house Gestalten that bridges the gap between several types of project. It is partially a coffee table book suitable for idle page turning; you can enjoy the pictures without worrying too much about the context. It also contains multiple travelogue-style essays documenting the adventures of plucky couples, daring individuals, and a few free-spirited families. But what I personally found the most interesting aspect of this book were the pages devoted to the history of some of the iconic vehicles often featured herein.

A select few vans, SUVs, and trucks are given a few paragraphs throughout the book. These glorified blurbs — the Toyota Land Cruiser gets seven sentences — come packed with illustrative details that help shed light on just why a given vehicle has stood the test of time. According to manufacture estimates, 75% of all Land Rover Defenders ever manufactured are still being driven today, for example. Why is that of particular note? Well, this particular off-road rogue was first sold back in 1948. And speaking of the vaunted Land Cruiser, did you know the original J40 Series launched in 1960 was designed based off of a reverse-engineered MKII Jeep the Japanese army captured during WWII? Neither did I. But now we both do.

As with most Gestalten books, there is a bit left to be desired in terms of the organization of this book. Even using the index at the back of the volume, it’s hard to find where a given section can be found unless you know the name of its author or the exact title of the vehicle or geographic location about which you want to read. But that’s not really the point of these books. The best way to enjoy Off the Road is to flip around until something catches your eye; chances are the accompanying prose will hold your interest. And if you do that enough, you will have read enough of the book that, eventually, you’ll have to start at the start and page through to make sure you didn’t miss anything.

Reading this and similar books can be a tease. There is a bit of that whole “Look where I am” sensation you get when seeing a friend’s vacation photos online. But there is also the potential for genuine motivation here. If you really think your life belongs on the road, then hit the road. But remember, you don’t have to trade in your home and 99% of your worldly possessions to hit the road for a while. You’ll allowed to take an extended road trip vacation and still end up at home.