Book Review: We Came, We Saw, We Left by Charles Wheelan

We Came, We Saw, We Left // by Charles Wheelan

Pub Day: January 26, 2021

Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company


Charlie Wheelan and his family do what others dream of: they take a year off to travel the world. This is their story.

What would happen if you quit your life for a year? In a pre-COVID-19 world, the Wheelan family decided to find out; leaving behind work, school, and even the family dogs to travel the world on a modest budget. Equal parts “how-to” and “how-not-to”—and with an eye toward a world emerging from a pandemic—We Came, We Saw, We Left is the insightful and often hilarious account of one family’s gap-year experiment.

Wheelan paints a picture of adventure and connectivity, juggling themes of local politics, global economics, and family dynamics while exploring answers to questions like: How do you sneak out of a Peruvian town that has been barricaded by the local army? And where can you get treatment for a flesh-eating bacteria your daughter picked up two continents ago? From Colombia to Cambodia, We Came, We Saw, We Left chronicles nine months across six continents with three teenagers. What could go wrong?

“As we contemplated these thoughts, every flutter of every prayer flag dispatched compassion, wisdom, and goodwill to all corners of the earth.”

Charles Wheelan

My Thoughts:

When I first saw this title, I knew I had to read this book. I love traveling and my husband and I talk about it frequently. The idea of traveling around the world for 9 months with several kids sounds terrifying, even after reading this book, but Wheelan allowed us such an insightful look into the ups and downs of doing just that.

Each chapter started out with a little catch phrase of what to expect later on in that same chapter. Some of them were shocking, some of them funny and it was interesting to follow along to see how he could’ve gotten himself into those situations. I liked how they did most of their traveling in countries that I myself have not visited and do not know much about. It was fascinating to see the similarities and differences to our own lives as well as how traveling this time around compared to the traveling they did as a much younger couple.

I very much enjoyed the humor that was sprinkled in throughout the whole book. It also contains a mix of really profound, beautiful sentences with really funny ones. Some of the situations left me cackling while others had me groaning, remembering my own struggles with immigration and government documents. While most of the book was fun and quick though, some of the passages in Germany did rub me a little wrong though. I am probably taking this a little too personal seeing as I am from there myself, but it has always struck me as ironic to hear somebody frowning about nationalism and soccer pride after having attended American football games and seeing flags on every imaginable surface, including underwear and bed sheets, as well as the shows of nationalism itself in the US. But if nothing else, that just shows that it is both necessary to travel around to learn a different perspective as well as understand that even doing that may not grant us all the insights we may expect.

“There were monkeys everywhere, which had long ceased being a novelty for us. I did manage to get a photo of two monkeys having sex, which had been on my bucket list. In that respect, Sundarbans was not a complete bust.”

Charles Wheelan

About the Author:

Charles Wheelan is the author of the best-selling Naked Statistics and Naked Economics and is a former correspondent for The Economist. He teaches public policy and economics at Dartmouth College and lives in Hanover, New Hampshire, with his family.

About the Publisher:

W. W. Norton and Company, the oldest and largest publishing house owned wholly by its employees, strives to carry out the imperative of its founder to “publish books not for a single season, but for the years” in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, cookbooks, art, psychology, graphic novels and more. In addition to our Norton Young Readers, Countryman Press and Liveright Publishing imprints, we are the distributors of Thames & Hudson, New Directions, Mysterious Press, Tin House, Fantagraphics, Penzler Publishing, Tilbury House, Persea, and more.

“Fortune favors those who get their passports and go.”

Charles wheelan

Thank you to the author, publisher, and NetGalley for providing me with a free copy in exchange for an honest review.

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