Overland by Ewen Levick

Overland is the true story of a journey from Australia to Switzerland without flying. From vast deserts to an Indonesian fishing boat, a slow train through Burma to an armed confrontation in Laos, lullabies from middle-aged Chinese businessmen to a cold night on the Great Wall, wolves and reindeer herders, thieves and nomads: this is a vivid illustration of Asia and the people who live there, and of one ancient, stubborn motorcycle travelling through the world’s wild places.

In Overland, journalist-photographer Ewen Levick shares his land- (and water-) based experiences: highs, lows, and comedic moments, as he crosses Australia and Eurasia, keeping to the earth’s surface the entire way – no longer an easy feat. This is the kind of travel adventure I long to read, a nod to the past, when travel meant tedious journeys on busses and trains. When border control was more than simply veering left in an airport, scanning eyes and moving on. This is the stuff of Grand Tours, Morris and Fermor, written in contemporary prose with a kindness essential to good travel, and an eye attuned to humour.

From Chapter 1, The Desert:

If curiosity and the strong wind at your back did indeed push you into the dark watchtower and did so on one particularly chilly May evening, you would’ve found a man with an unkempt ginger beard wearing nothing but shorts, a thin green raincoat and socks stuck to his feet by dried blood and broken blisters, shivering and tilting his head back as he desperately shakes the last drops of honey out of a small glass jar into his chattering mouth.

And so we’re introduced to our narrator, our guide, our hero. This is armchair travel as it ought to be. Not written by some idiot checking off countries, none of which they experience, nor some wannabe financing travel with lie-filled blogs. This is a traveller who knows how to write. And a writer who knows how to travel. Knowing when to find optimism, when to be scared, and how and when to diffuse a sticky situation, or at least spin it into a punchline.

From Chapter 3, The Islands:

One day I decided to go on a tour to some nearby islands. I joined twenty other tourists in the morning and we were squashed on to a small boat with an engine that sounded like a flabby fart, which took us out from Ko Lanta and motored steadily towards some distant specks of green.

From armchair comfort we’re drawn into the sensory – a 4D, VR video game, experiencing it all in real time.

This, from Chapter 5, The Plain:

I arrived in Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand, on a stuffy, smoggy evening. The change from Myanmar was remarkable – an almost instantaneous burst of noise, signs and minivans.

And from Chapter 11, The Mountains:

The tracks I was following became unreadable. I checked my phone. There was no signal. All I could do was use the sun to confirm that the wobbly powerline was still leading me south.

The notion of living a life of travel struck me, first time I heard it, as pompous. Self-aggrandizing. But the fact is, if I were drafting my resume now, claiming a life of travel would be accurate. Metaphors aside, we’re all travellers, moving toward or away from things – what we long for, what we fear. Doing so with a pack, passport and open mind strike me as the purest form of pursuit. If photos and stories get taken and written along the way, even better. Better for the traveller who’ll assuredly forget facets of their experience and better for sharing, assuming those stories are worth sharing. Ewen Levick’s stories are worth sharing. This is a skilled author genuinely living a life of travel.


About the Author: Ewen Levick is a journalist and travel author based in Sydney, Australia. He has a special passion for Mongolia and is a co-founder of Taiga Travel, a locally operated tour agency in Ulaanbaatar. He previously served in the Australian Army. He blogs regularly at ewenlevick.com and can be found on Twitter @EwenLevick.  

About the Reviewer: Bill Arnott is the bestselling author of Gone Viking: A Travel Saga and Dromomania: A Wonderful Magical Journey. Bill’s work is published in Canada, the US, UK, Europe and Asia. When not trekking the globe, Bill can be found on Canada’s west coast, making friends and misbehaving. https://www.amazon.com/author/billarnott_aps

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Bill Arnott is the bestselling author of the Gone Viking travel memoirs (Gone Viking: A Travel SagaGone Viking II: Beyond BoundariesGone Viking III: The Holy Grail) and A Season on Vancouver Island. He’s won numerous book awards and received a Fellowship at London’s Royal Geographical Society for his expeditions. When not trekking with a small pack and journal, Bill can be found on Canada’s west coast, where he lives near the sea on Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh land.