Imagine: A Vagabond Story – Book Review

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Man, does Grant Lingel know how to party.

The description on the back cover of Imagine: A Vagabond Story calls it “a memoir of sex, drugs, and Salsa dancing”. And let’s just say I don’t remember very much Salsa dancing.

But read a little deeper, and you’ll see the author making a journey that is more intangible and metaphysical than it is geographical (in only the way that travels can be for those who are open-minded and explorative).

After college (well, sort of; it’s a long story – read the book!), Grant buys a one-way ticket to Mexico, stuffs his pockets with a couple of hundred dollars, and takes off to live in and travel through Central America.

He works under the table at a few resorts before hopping in a van with some backpackers and driving down through Central America (final destination: Guatemala). In wending his own way back to Mexico, he volunteers in trade for accommodation at hostels, and meets a colourful cast of characters along the entire way.

Initially, I must say the book was not my cup of tea. As a more mature traveler myself (at the time of writing this I was of 33 years old, but that makes me older than most backpackers), I don’t identify with the young party-hardy crowd as much as, well, younger people would, I guess. I haven’t done cocaine (which is a common theme in Imagine), and I don’t really drink unless I want to kill the entire following day cradling an inhumane and totally unfair hangover.

So although it was fun to live vicariously through Grant’s illustrious adventures, all my old decrepit paranoid mind could think about were STDs, foreign jails, and drug overdoses – despite the fact that none of these things actually came to pass in the book. So, Imagine made me feel pretty freakin’ old. (Or maybe just not part of the “hip” crowd – I’m not sure.)

Then again, what safer way to see the wild side than from the comfort of your living room and with your nose buried in a book?! Which is just what I did; for a brief moment, I threw all caution to the wind, got a one-way ticket to Mexico, and partied right there with the author, without worrying about all the stuff I tend to worry about. Armchair travelers and partiers will appreciate this tale.

Beyond the initial shock value of the party lifestyle, Imagine is a story of personal growth. Through his travels, Grant learns more about himself, defines his personality, and develops a foundation of self that no doubt has helped him to become a published author. He writes very honestly and without ego (a unique quality in an author), which allows the reader to follow along his journey and to learn his lessons too.

The book ends well, with one adventure closing and another opening, making you (or at least me) want to email the author and say “so then what happened?!” Which for me, is the sign of a fulfilling read. Imagine: A Vagabond Story hooked me in, and has me wondering what the author’s next adventure will be.

Imagine: A Vagabond Story book cover

There is just one question that nagged at me most of the time I was reading the book: What on earth did his mother think the first time she read it??? (see? I must be old. Bah – humbug)!

This article was originally published in 2009, and has since been updated for accuracy of links and content.

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9 thoughts on “Imagine: A Vagabond Story – Book Review”

  1. You OLD fogy, 33 is soooo bloody old!

    Hey, sun must be finally be shining in your neck of the state —- not too hot for you yet??

    btw, great review and it gave me a good excuse to read about your crazy Muay Thai boxing and whiskey drinking night again…..

  2. I definitely relate Nora. I am going to be 40 soon so full-moon parties and drinking binges don’t particularly interest me. Actually, they never really did.

    I think there is a big difference between the 23 year-old traveler taking a year off to party and those choosing to make it a longer term way of life.

  3. Cool! Sounds like a ripping good read.
    I think I’d be wondering about his mother as well…

    If you’re looking for similar books, ‘Down and Out in Pnom Penh’ is a good one.
    Actually, I take that back. I just went looking for a link to amazon, and that book doesn’t seem to exist. Which is odd, since I know I read it in a backpackers in Margaret River 5 years ago…

  4. hahahaha.. I love your conclusion..

    ‘There is just one question that nagged at me most of the time I was reading the book: What on earth did his mother think the first time she read it???’

  5. @Rachel – I love vicarious experiences!

    @Frank – Trust me: I don’t generally figure that early-thirties equates to “old”! But this book indeed made me wonder what I did with my 20s…I was entirely too “healthy”!

    @John – Interestingly, Grant sent me an email about the review, and said that his partying days are way behind him now. He too is getting old….at 27 he’s rounding the bend now! (Smiles)

    @Dick – (tee hee!) What can I say….

    @Kazari – I’ll keep an eye out for the book anyway…..I’m sure it wasn’t a figment of your imagination!

    @frugalexpat – Grant said that lots of people have asked what his mother thought….so we’re not the only ones! (Answer: his mother is a very cool cat with hippie roots)

  6. Nora! I’m reading Imagine now, and my sentiments exact. I unknowingly get sucked into Grant’s life even thou I feel slightly too old for all the partying. I’m gonna continue reading!


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