Professor’s book explores travel, effects of information overload
David Bockino, an assistant professor in the School of Communications, penned his first book, “The Guidebook Experiment: Discovering Exploration in a Hyper-Connected World,” examining how the proliferation of guidebook material has fundamentally altered the nature of travel.
With his face and spirit both bruised three years ago, David Bockino recalled that he nearly abandoned his three-week South American trip that served as the backdrop of his first book, “The Guidebook Experiment: Discovering Exploration in a Hyper-Connected World,” which was published in early September.
“I start the book broke with a black eye in Georgetown, Guyana,” said the assistant professor in the School of Communications, remembering the evening he was assaulted and robbed after wandering into the wrong neighborhood. Less than a week into his “guidebook-less experiment,” Bockino was nearly penniless and “dispirited,” with only his wife’s supportive phone call keeping him afloat.
“I called my wife and she told me I had to stay,” he said. “She said I was already knee deep in this thing, so I just had to stick it out and that I would regret it if I left. It was definitely tough love, and thank goodness I stayed because the trip got better and a lot of good things happened.”
Published by Travelers’ Tales, “The Guidebook Experiment” is Bockino’s attempt to determine how the proliferation of guidebook-related material – including travel blogs, restaurant reviews, backpacking message boards, digital mapping applications as well as innumerable print-related guides – have changed the way travelers see the world. Here is an excerpt of “The Guidebook Experiment.”
To promote his new book, Bockino will speak on Wednesday, Sept. 23, at The Regulator Bookshop in Durham. Bockino’s book talk will begin at 7 p.m.
Inspired by some of the world’s greatest explorers, including Lewis and Clark, Bockino set out in 2012 for Guyana – a destination he knew nothing about – to launch an experiment to determine just how the guidebook and its digital descendants have transformed travel.
An avid traveler, having visited more than 50 countries, Bockino purposely avoided informational resources in advance of his South American trip, and carried only a map, sleeping bag and appropriate clothing when he landed at Georgetown’s airport.
Without knowing the language, the currency and the countries themselves, Bockino planned to travel through Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana. His one objective was to reach Cayenne, French Guiana’s capital. (Alas, the robbery and other unexpected expenses cut his travels short, and he never made it to his destination.)
“This trip was my attempt to explore an unfamiliar country and discover the joy of traveling on our own,” he said. “I was all alone. I didn’t know where I was going. I didn’t know what the cities were like. I didn’t have hotels planned. I purposely stayed away from finding out anything about the countries, except that I knew I didn’t need a visa to travel.”
Traveling “blind” was certainly out of character for Bockino, who considers himself a meticulous planner, researching his trips in detail. Case in point, in preparation for a seven-month backpacking trip in 2008 – which he planned and saved for over the course of two years – he traveled with an elaborate spreadsheet, detailing transportation, currency, lodging and other pertinent facts. Bockino admitted he often consumed as many reviews, videos and photos as he could of his destinations, long before he actually departed for his trips.
“I started to develop these preconceptions, these preconceived notions of what trips would look like before I actually went,” said Bockino. While he didn’t believe the information was detrimental to his excursions, he felt compelled to investigate how this knowledge was affecting travelers’ experiences.
The book draws heavily on Bockino’s travel in South America, as well as his other extensive trips abroad, and he overlaid those experiences with the expedition of Lewis and Clark, who he called the “two most famous guidebook-less explorers in U.S. history.” Bockino highlights how Lewis and Clark prepared for their journey and the resources they used before traveling to parts unknown.
“Their journey is kind of planted throughout the book as sort of a parallel narrative along with my journey,” Bockino said.
With “The Guidebook Experiment” now available on Amazon, Kindle and at bookstores, Bockino noted that the final product doesn’t read as he initially expected.
“I’m surprised by how much this book is about myself,” he said. “It’s supposed to be an experiment about society and information, and I thought I would be writing about the media industry and guidebooks. But the book really told me more about myself than I really expected. In many ways, it’s a personal book. And I don’t think that was my intent when I first wrote it. But I think books these days, the ones that are most compelling, are the ones that are most personal.”
While “The Guidebook Experiment” highlights the effects of information overload on travel, Bockino stops short of saying this tendency for extensive planning is wrong. “I’m not telling people they are traveling incorrectly, because I don’t think they are,” he said. “This is not an anti-information, anti-data book. Rather, I wanted to explore what it would be like to travel another way – without relying on guidebooks and other information to shape my journey.”