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Backpacked: A Reluctant Trip Across Central America [Kindle Edition]

Catherine Ryan Howard

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Product Description

Product Description

The laugh-out-loud new travel memoir from the bestselling author of Mousetrapped: A Year and A Bit in Orlando, Florida
Catherine Ryan Howard prefers bath robes to bed bugs, lattes to lizards and mini-bars to malaria. So why is she going backpacking
She doesn't know either...   
Catherine isn't the backpacking type. Working for one of the world's biggest hotel chains, she and her employee discount have become accustomed to complimentary bath robes, 24-hour room service and Egyptian cotton sheets. As for holidays, Catherine likes places that encourage lying - lying on the beach, by the pool, in bed...
She's been on what feels like one long holiday in Florida when her fearless best friend, Sheelagh, announces plans to backpack across Central America. With Catherine's US visa about to expire, her having no desire to return home to Ireland just yet and her common sense, evidently, on a day off, she agrees to go along.
After all, how bad can this backpacking thing be?
Um... very bad, actually. Catherine soon finds herself showering with the threat of electrocution, living with mutant cockroaches, sleeping on wooden planks, suffering from all but one of the side-effects listed on her bottle of anti-malarial tablets (liver failure, in case you were wondering) and riding a horse up the side of a smoking, lava-filled volcano.
And that's just the first week.
Backpacked is the wry tale of what happened when one very reluctant backpacker hit the backpacker trail and discovered that beyond the mosquitoes, bad coffee and flea-infested hostels lie even bigger mosquitoes, even worse coffee and flea-infested hostels whose bathrooms have no doors...
Praise for Mousetrapped by Catherine Ryan Howard:
"[Catherine] writes with wit and humor about her time in Orlando. Thoroughly enjoyable and a great read!" --Talli Roland, bestselling author of The Hating Game

About the Author

CATHERINE RYAN HOWARD is a twenty-something writer, blogger and enthusiastic coffee-drinker from Cork, Ireland. Before writing full-time she pushed paper in various offices, cleaned tents on a French campsite and was a front desk agent in a Walt Disney World hotel. She is currently dividing her time between her desk and the sofa. She blogs at and will never go backpacking again. Ever.

Product Details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 584 KB
  • Print Length: 278 pages
  • Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B005JU5FG0
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #118,915 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.1 out of 5 stars  171 reviews
22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Goodness, this book is the definition of negative. Nov. 25 2012
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Hummm!!!! I wonder if the author reread her story from the perspective of her readers??? I can't imagine she really meant to come off as needy and whiny throughout the course of this book as she did...but she really does. I understand she was reluctant to go on the trip in the first place, but it was a choice she made and, as such, she should have had the moxie to buck up and enjoy herself. After all, she and her travel partner really didn't rough it at all throughout the trip. They visited some really nice places, ate in restaurants and never cooked a meal, stayed in private accommodations and took buses or taxis everywhere--yet all the author could do was complain, complain, and complain some more, about almost everything. It certainly killed the joy in reading this book for me. I got it free from the top 100 list and, I can assure you, if I would have paid the outrageous price they are asking for it in printed form...I would be really p.o.'d. I think some serious liberties were taken with embellishment in this book. For example: the author states that she was in the crater of an active volcano with lava flowing right under her feet as she stood on a little "bridge" which spanned the flow. Now really, are we supposed to believe that (1) she could actually get that close to flowing lava without special gear and (2) she would be dumb enough to do so??? Look, I think the author had a chance to make something really special out of this book, but page after page of complaints ain't it. I gave it three stars because it was fairly well written and contained some interesting information, but it simply got old before it was half over. What a shame.
18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Backpacking is the best way to travel! March 29 2013
By Calamity Jane - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition
I am disappointed at the author's attitude towards 'backpacking' as a form of travel. The entire point of traveling is to immerse yourself in the local culture as much as possible; to really experience local culture, not visit "mini-America" by sticking close to expensive tourist hot-spots. If that's the case, why bother traveling at all?

While the author does have a sense of humor describing her adventures, she does come across as needy and is certainly not a travel companion I would want tagging along with me.

As an avid traveler myself, attitude is everything and I think she really cheated herself out of what should have been one of the best enjoyable and cultural learning experiences of a lifetime.

Her novel could have been so much more had she taken the opportunity to really appreciate the value that this type of travel offers.

So while her writing is mildly humorous and well-written, if not fantastical at times, I just could not get past her poor attitude to really enjoy this novel. It's a shame; her experiences could have offered her readers so much more. Stick to your expensive sheets and room service I suppose...
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Stick it in your backpack.... Or your handbag... Or any bag! Sept. 6 2011
By Leah Graham - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition
Earlier this year I won a copy of Catherine Ryan Howard's non-fiction book Mousetrapped on Catherine's blog. It was just before I got my Kindle and if I hadn't won a copy (thank you, Catherine) I was going to purchase it for my Kindle when I'd decided to get one. I'm not a big travelogue fan, for no other reason than I prefer fiction. I mean, there's rarely a happy-ever-after, let's-skip-off-into-the-sunset ending on a non-fiction book is there? But I really enjoyed Mousetrapped and was inordinately pleased when Catherine sent me an e-copy of its sort-of-sequel Backpacked and I finished up my current book quick as you like and dived eagerly into Backpacked.

I'm not really known as being a traveller. I've been on holiday to Florida - twice - to Alicante in Spain and to Tenerife, where I now live. However I would love to be a traveller. I dream of doing a road-trip across America; of visiting Australia; South America intrigues me as a place to travel, but I certainly would never go alone, that would be miles too terrifying. Backpacked allowed me to travel to South America all in the comfort of my own home! I went to Costa Rica, to Guatemala, to Honduras, to Nicagura and to Panama. It allowed me to visit all of those countries in South America and it seriously whetted my appetite for wanting to go to those countries.

Catherine Ryan Howard is our intrepid traveller, someone who prefers chilling in a 5-star hotel to backpacking through South America. But with no job, no home and nowhere else to be, Catherine figures going backpacking is going to be an adventure. And she's going with her best friend Sheelagh, who can save Catherine from all kinds of terrible things since she's a seasoned traveller herself! What follows is a 9-week adventure that is highly readable. At times when I was reading Mousetrapped (the predecessor to Backpacked) I found myself a bit bored with some of the longer ramblings from Catherine (I mean that nicely; the ramblings just weren't my kinda ramblings!) but in Backpacked it's as if Catherine has stream-lined herself and it all flows brilliantly. I was thoroughly ensconced in the book and couldn't wait to see where Catherine and Sheelagh were going to next.

Catherine is an excellent writer. She's scaled back on the more information-heavy paragraphs, only giving us the bare basics from books about the countries they're visiting and it's a much more personable read than Mousetrapped was. Catherine injected such humour into the book that I found myself laughing out loud on many occasions, particularly when Catherine travels up a mountain on a HORSE! There are many brilliant moments during Backpacked and every page was brilliant. I felt as if I was part of Catherine's journey and she writes about the places she and Sheelagh visited so thoroughly and with so much passion that I'm tempted to hop on the next flight to Guatemala. Backpacked is just brilliant, I thoroughly enjoyed it and despite Catherine was indeed a reluctant backpacker, you can tell she did on some level enjoy it and I enjoyed reading all about it. I'd hugely recommend it to anyone, but mainly to backpackers thinking of going to South America `cos Catherine really knows her stuff!
13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fun Read! Sept. 4 2011
By Kim Larrabee - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I read "Mousetrapped" while vacationing with my family - where else, Orlando - poolside on my Kindle. I stumbled across it almost by accident, looking for tourist-y type books on Florida, and I'm so glad I did! I subscribed to Catherine's blog and downloaded Backpacked as soon as I saw it was available. I finished the book in two days, and enjoyed every chapter. If you are looking for a lighthearted, fun book Catherine will not disappoint! I wish I didn't have to wait for October before Results Not Typical!
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Decent Story, But Unpolished Aug. 25 2013
By Dan Perry - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Before I begin my review, I need to point out that all of the 1-star reviews of Backpacked by Catherine Ryan Howard focus on the definition of "Backpacking." The reviews come off as arrogant and remind me of the annoying people you meet on the road who claim "I'm not a tourist. I'm a traveler!" "Backpacking" means different things to different people. Stop nitpicking the word's definition. And yes, I realize that the title of the book implies a certain type of travel, but all you had to do was read the book's description to understand what type of traveler Catherine is.

And now for my take on Backpacked (spoiler alert!):

Catherine set out to travel through Central America for eleven weeks. She wasn't looking for a deeper cultural understanding or to somehow "find herself" in this short trip. In the prologue, she lists her exact reasons for going to Central America, which I boiled down to the following: To connect with her best friend Sheelagh, to delay her return from the US to her home in Ireland for as long as possible while maintaining a certain level of comfort, and to brag to her friends on Facebook. At least she's honest.

By those metrics, Catherine's trip was a success. She strengthened her friendship with Sheelagh. She traveled in style for much longer than she could have done in the US. And I'm sure traveling to the top of a volcano and the numerous bus snafus she encountered made for some great fodder to impress her Facebook friends. I have a lot of respect for Catherine for straying so far from her comfort zone and then taking the risk of putting her story into a book. That took a lot of guts, hard work and dedication, and I commend her for doing it.

That said, I did have issues with the book. Here are some of them:

-- The first few pages read like a laundry list of complaints with no indication of either character development or adventure to come. Far from grabbing my attention, I would have put this book down on page 14 (the writing starts on page 11) if I hadn't already purchased it.

-- Sheelagh is an ever-present character in the book, but we never get a physical description of her and only get into her deeper personality traits in the book's second half. We learn early on that she's Catherine's best friend and is an intrepid traveler, but we need more info about her to make her more than a one-dimensional character. The other characters in the book don't require as much attention to detail, but Sheelagh does because she's so central to the story.

-- Several plot lines are started, but not finished. For example, in the Miami airport, it is revealed that Sheelagh has a tendency to lose things, so instead of relying on a bank card, she has hidden large sums of cash throughout her person in some very creative ways. Aside from not making much sense (wouldn't she be more worried about losing one of her $500+ cash stashes than her card?), this entire story gets dropped as soon as as Sheelagh makes it through security at the airport. Did she end up losing anything? Maybe she forgot about some of her hidden money? Did any of it get stolen? Did it burn such a big hole in her pocket that she blew it all in one night? None of these questions get answered and neither the cash, nor Sheelagh's tendency to lose things ever get mentioned again.

-- In another plot let-down, later in the book the two main characters go to a place called "Cafe Lago." Catherine says that she has changed the cafe's name "for reasons that will become clear later." This is a juicy lead-in that promises to blossom into a great story, but instead it fizzles. The owner of "Cafe Lago" simply gives Catherine and Sheelagh the names of three cheap hostels, they check them out and decide on one. Nothing sinister happens at "Cafe Lago," and its owner is painted as a nice man who serves good coffee and gives them helpful advice. The reasons for changing the name never become clear.

-- Several times in the book, Catherine gives the details of a main story and throws in an aside as an afterthought. For example, while talking about a fun night out, she mentions in one sentence that she nearly cut off the tip of her thumb while unlocking a bathroom door, but gives no further details. She needs to either expand that story to at least a paragraph (maybe even a whole page) or remove it. As a single sentence, it doesn't have enough detail for anyone who wasn't there (IE, the readers) to know or care about what happened.

-- There are some basic spelling and grammar issues in the book. A couple that I noticed were the consistent misspelling of "Colombia" (the country is not spelled "Columbia") and using "I" (subject pronoun) instead of "me" (object pronoun) multiple times. For example, "Eloise was funny and fit in really well with Sheelagh and I" should be "...Sheelagh and me." This isn't a huge mistake; it happens all the time in spoken English. But when it makes it into a book, the writing feels unpolished. These are just two examples; I'm not going to give a comprehensive list of the others here.

I think a good editor would have pointed out all of these issues and more. I know from reading Catherine's blog (which I do find a very helpful source of information) that she stresses the importance of hiring an editor, so I'm not sure why these problems made it into the book.

Despite everything I mentioned, I still liked Backpacked. The descriptions of hotels, restaurants and transportation were good. I liked the self-deprecating humor. The characters were flawed in interesting ways. The chapters were short and I wanted to keep reading when I finished them.

My favorite parts of the book were when Catherine opened herself to the world. During this trip, she discovered that she was shy compared with Sheelagh and gave a terrific example of what it feels like to be introverted. I felt so sorry for her when she just wanted some time to herself, but two of her travel companions wouldn't stop talking at her. I wanted her to be more assertive and tell the chatterboxes to shut up, but she was too concerned with hurting their feelings to do so. This showed a character flaw, which made for good writing. Catherine doesn't paint herself as a hero who's out to save the world. She's a human being, just like everyone else. Showing us this trait is where she comes off strongest as a writer.

I'm giving this book three stars because it's a pretty good story that feels unpolished. A round of good editing could tighten the writing and produce a compelling read for a wide audience of travelers, introverts, extroverts who want to understand introverts and self-development junkies.

As it stands, I don't recommend reading Backpacked if you consider yourself to be a "real backpacker" (whatever that means). However, if you are interested in international travel, but reluctant to leave the comfort of a First-World existence, you should read this book. It might not compel you to throw on a backpack and journey into the unknown, but you will travel vicariously through Catherine (the good, the bad, and the ugly) from the safety of your armchair.

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