April 15, 2010 / 7:20 PM / in 8 years

Perilous adventure travel celebrated in spring books

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Planes that crash, ferries that sink and crowded buses that tumble off cliffs are enough to make most travelers run the other way, but for travel writer Carl Hoffman they are starting points for adventure.

<p>Commuters travel in a suburban train in Mumbai February 24, 2010. REUTERS/Arko Datta</p>

Hoffman’s “The Lunatic Express: Discovering the World ... via Its Most Dangerous Buses, Boats, Trains, and Planes,” published by Random House imprint Broadway Books, is one of several this spring to present unusual travel possibilities.

“The place to discover something is right in its messy heart: in urban cities and on these incredibly hellish and crowded conveyances,” Hoffman told Reuters.

Hoffman seeks to test the dangerous and uncomfortable ways most of the world’s population moves from one place to another, but which generally do not find their way onto the itineraries of those traveling for pleasure.

Each chapter begins with a news report of a tragic accident -- a minibus in Kenya that plunged into a river, or an ocean ferry that capsized -- followed by Hoffman’s attempt to experience it himself.

He flies from Havana, Cuba to Bogota, Colombia on the “notorious” Cubana Airlines, befriends commuters on the overstuffed trains of Mumbai and relies on the kindness of strangers in Kabul.

In “Grounded: A Down to Earth Journey Around the World,” published this month by Penguin’s Riverhead Books, Seth Stevenson recounts how he quit his job to spend six months circumnavigating the earth without ever boarding a plane.

Instead, he and his girlfriend take a container ship across the Atlantic, drive across the Australian outback, cycle through Vietnam and ride the Trans-Siberian rail.

“I thought it would be neat to go back to an earlier time and see what it was like when you had to wade through everything instead of flying 30,000 feet above it,” Stevenson said. “It’s real travel, it’s an adventure.”

Breaking out of a person’s comfort zone and rejecting the idea of a standard two-week vacation are themes that run through all of the books.

“There is something to be said for just leaving the map and surrendering and just seeing where the boat takes you,” said Hoffman. “I think we do way too little of that in our lives.”

In “Three ways to Capsize a Boat,” out in May from Broadway Books, Chris Stewart, a former drummer with the band Genesis, tells of a summer spent skippering a sailboat around the Greek islands -- despite having only a vague idea of how to sail.

And in “The Titanic Awards: Celebrating the Worst of Travel,” out in May from Penguin’s Perigee Books, Doug Lansky offers “a coping tool” for voyagers who had travel experiences awful enough to make for great stories.

“I’d do it all again,” Hoffman said of his journey.

Though he added: “Obviously I would have felt differently if a ferry had sunk or a plane I had been on crashed.”

Reporting by Edith Honan; editing by Mark Egan

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