On the road to a broader perspective
ONE YEAR OFF by David Cohen Photographs by Devyani Kamdar Simon & Schuster 320 pp., $24
While many dream of abandoning their daily grind to travel the world, trading security for adventure, very few actually do it. Far fewer even entertain such a fantasy if it means taking the kids along.
"One Year Off" is the story of just such a trip, taken by David Elliot Cohen, his wife, Devyani (Devi) Kamdar, and their three children, ages 2, 7, and 8. Their year-long journey actually takes 13 months, during which time they travel more than 50,000 miles and visit 16 countries on five continents.
Early in his career, Cohen lived a peripatetic life. As the co-publisher of the A Day in the Life series of coffee-table books, Cohen traveled the world, living for extended periods in Australia, Hawaii, Tokyo, and other exotic locales while producing his enormously successful books. ("A Day in the Life of America," published in 1986, sold more than 1.4 million copies and was one of the most popular nonfiction books of the decade.)
By the mid-1990s, his career long since peaked, Cohen was happily married, with three children, a prosperous business, and all the trappings of a settled, suburban life. While he didn't exactly suffer a mid-life crisis, he found himself dissatisfied with both his work and his hectic, overscheduled life.
Yearning for the old days, he concocted a plan for him and his wife (also an experienced world traveler) to sell everything and "disrupt our usual patterns so thoroughly that we'll be receptive to new options and possibilities." With the well-organized Devi acting as travel agent, and with a nanny along for about half the trip, the Cohen family took off on a one-year sabbatical.
Cohen recounts his family's adventures in this highly enjoyable book. They find that life on the road, and the broader perspective on life it affords, makes slowing down and enjoying the moment second nature. But the author notes another important influence as well: "When you travel with children for any length of time, you eventually learn that speed and efficiency aren't part of the plan and schedules are meant to be broken."
For a former globetrotter, seeing the world through the eyes of his children offers its own delights and surprises. "What impresses children is entirely different from what impresses us," he writes. Indeed, in Arizona, the kids are so spellbound by a chipmunk that they all but ignore the Grand Canyon. They find Las Vegas more impressive than Yosemite; a litter of kittens more striking than the picturesque villages of Tuscany; and the Louvre doesn't stand a chance next to the Museum ofMedieval Criminology, a collection of torture implements in Italy.
For someone who has spent so much of his professional life putting together books of photographs, Cohen proves to be a very capable writer, filling his narrative with interesting and amusing accounts, not only of the many sights they see and the adventures they experience, but also of the dynamics of living and traveling together in extremely close quarters, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The author's storytelling skills are evident, whether he is describing a "gustatory marathon" in Sardinia, the "exercise in terror" that is driving in Greece, rescuing his nine-year-old daughter from a powerful riptide in Australia, or stumbling on a cave in Laos filled with hundreds of carved Buddhas.
While "One Year Off" can hardly be called a guidebook, it offers a great deal of practical information for anyone contemplating an extended trip with children.
*David Conrads is a freelance writer in Kansas City, Mo.