Wherever the Road Leads

A wedding, a VW microbus, and two years on the road. A pair of newlyweds (an artist and an engineer) meet the rigors of travel and the ups and downs of married life in a Volkswagen microbus that continually needs repair. Surrounded by exotic backdrops and beset by travel and mechanical difficulties in a world before computers and cell phones, Tom and Katie drive almost 40,000 miles across four continents. Will their relationship thrive or will it crumble under the pressure of living together 24/7 in a van? Pen-and-ink drawings by the author, photos, and route maps illustrate this exciting adventure.

Wherever the Road Leads has earned several AWARDS including:

  • B.R.A.G.  Medallion Honoree
  • The US Review of Books, recommended review. To read it on their web-site, follow this link.
  • Silver Medal, Travel category, Benjamin Franklin Awards, Independent Book Publishers Association
  • The Da Vinci Eye Finalist, The Eric Hoffer Book Award
Benjamin Franklin Silver Award Seal
Da Vinci Eye Finalist Seal
Afghanistan Nomads

Wherever the Road Leads is a good choice for Book Groups.
Discussion Questions downloadable here.

Two Excerpts

Katie Passport Photo 1971

Katie Passport Photo 1971

Chapter 6 – Bypassing the Darien Gap

The crossing into Honduras went smoothly, and we drove straight to the next border and the consulate there, only to find the Nicaraguan officials continued to celebrate the fiesta. They would have issued the visas with a holiday surcharge, but we decided to return the next day rather than pay the extra two dollars each.

I marvel to think four dollars would make us wait a day. It helps to keep in mind basic costs in the United States in 1971—thirty-six to fifty-five cents for a gallon of gas (it was before the Arab oil embargo), twenty-five cents for a loaf of bread, forty-five cents for a dozen eggs, and $2,800 for a year’s tuition at Harvard!

Stalled at the border into Nicaragua, both Tom and I thought of the spot where we had stopped for lunch on the bank of a shallow river.

“Let’s go back to our lunch spot,” Tom suggested. “It was level and shady. We can stop at the service station we passed to fill our water tanks.”

I agreed to this splendid idea. At the river, several village women crouched in the water in the late afternoon sun, rubbing their laundry on the smooth rounded stones and gossiping. They looked up when we parked but quickly returned to their work.

Katie washing clothes in a river near Honduras border.

The eternal romantic, I decided I would do laundry, too. There was always soiled clothing to wash—T-shirts, socks, underwear, and jeans. I gathered a few things and a bar of soap and waded into the river. I was proud of myself as I knelt in the cold water, scrubbing socks and Jockey briefs against the rocks. Several young girls came over and watched as I tried to copy their mothers. The current ran faster and stronger than I anticipated and before I knew it, the water stole a sock from my hand, followed by Tom’s underwear. As I tripped among the stones, chasing the escaping underpants, the local women looked up, smiles stretched across their faces. I caught the briefs myself (they moved more slowly) and retrieved the sock from the outstretched hand of one of the washerwomen. But I was aglow with pride. I had done it! I had washed clothes in a river.

Chapter 14 – Four Peas in a Pod

Katie with Michelle and Mike

The morning found us all groggy and wrinkled. Carlisle wasn’t far and we stopped at a car park in the town to eat breakfast and wash our faces. The rain had stopped, though heaps of gray clouds bunched across the sky. To stretch our legs, we walked around the ramparts of Carlisle Castle. Looking down from the defensive wall, we spied a man in a kilt practicing his bagpipe in a roofless courtyard below. The gloomy, droning sound of the pipe reverberated off the surrounding stones, matching our mood.

We drove into Scotland for another wet day with little to see beyond green hills covered with grazing sheep. At a mill town, the village green had been converted into an inexpensive camping spot, and Tom decided to quit early. Thinking positively, Tom and the children set up the tent. But while we ate dinner, it began to rain again.

Mike and Michelle, Wales

“It’s only a summer shower. It’ll stop soon,” Tom said as he tucked Mike and Michelle into their sleeping bags. The children looked skeptical but were too tired to argue.

It soon became obvious Tom’s prophecy would not be fulfilled. The rain continued and threatened to inundate the tent. In they came for the second night in a row—Mike to his spot in the front cab and Michelle on the floor in the back, under the overhanging cantilever of our bed, the narrow, padded back of the bench seat making a passable mattress for her.

Even crowded together, we all slept soundly. When Michelle heard us fumbling to turn on the burner under the hot water kettle, she bounced up and asked, “Did you guys make love last night?”

I laughed. “No. We were too tired. But anyway, if we did, I wouldn’t tell you!”

“But it’s your honeymoon,” she said. “Don’t you make love every night?”

“No way,” Tom said. “Only every other night.”

“Not even,” Mike piped up. “It’s already been two nights.”

Tom and I believed it best to be open with the kids, especially under such intimate circumstances. Whatever they asked, we tried to answer them honestly. I know we told them our travel adventure was making our marriage stronger and advised them never to marry anyone without first traveling together. I guess we must have also mentioned sex as a natural part of a relationship between a man and a woman, though it was meant to be private. The private part is what Michelle had forgotten.


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“Tom and Katie encounter the joys and frustrations of marriage, tackle culture shocks and linguistic barriers, and embrace life and adventure during a seemingly simpler time in modern history.  . .  . In heartwarming portrayals of locals willing to help strangers and a young couple ready to learn the nuances of a variety of cultures, this work debunks the myths and stereotypes surrounding “nomadic” travel, unfriendly local populations, and “the ugly American” often associated with trips that are not reliant on traditional tourism methods. By fusing the insight of Katya Cengel’s From Chernobyl with Love and the philosophical observance of Robert M. Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, this book is guaranteed enjoyment for readers of travel essays and travel-focused literature.” US Review of Books, Nicole Yurcaba, Ukrainian-American poet, essayist and reviewer. A RECOMMENDED Review

“In the 1970s, for the first time, it became possible for responsible, middle-class twenty-somethings to work for a few years and gather enough cash to spend the next few years wandering the world. In 1971, together with her newly acquired husband Tom, Katie Lang-Slattery hits the road in a Volkswagen microbus with no destination in mind other than somewhere farther down the road.  .  .   . Wherever the Road Leads is a fond and evocative recollection of a world that has changed beyond all recognition. It’s not all roses and gilded sunsets but a heartfelt and sinewy account, full of fragrant moments as they roam free, laying down a bed of memories to treasure and share half a century on.” Michael Gebicki, travel writer, photographer, and columnist at www.traveller.com.au   

“To travel the world in a Volkswagen van is a dream of many travelers. This account of a young couple who did just that will spark wanderlust and make you ponder the possibilities of hitting the open road. A remarkable adventure and a delightful read.” Janice MacLeod, New York Times, best-selling author of Paris Letters and A Paris Year

“In this charming memoir, newlyweds Katie and Tom accomplish what many have only dreamed of.  . .  .  Delightful illustrations and photos enhance the fascinating stories.” Jill G. Hall, author of The Black Velvet Coat

“Wherever the Road Leads is a joyride of a story, capturing life, love, and travel in an age when people could truly connect to each other and the world around them without an app. A timely book that allows the imagination to wander when travel is limited. This memoir reignites a spark of passion for the people in all our lives who make the ride worthwhile.” Meg Weidner, screenplay writer, actor, and filmmaker of Best Mom

“If you’ve ever dreamed of a two-year camping honeymoon exploring the world, this book is a must-read.  .  .   . Along the way you’ll share special moments with a young, adventurous couple grappling with stress and emergencies, as well as celebrating the thrill of discovering the world and each other. Katie’s pen-and-ink drawings, many of them made on the road, and Tom’s photographs make it easy to visualize their epic trek.” Georgeanne Brennan, author of the memoir, A Pig in Provence-Good Food and Simple Pleasures in the South of France, and a James Beard international cooking award winner   

“And a long trip like this is also about your travel companion—in this case a new husband—as you navigate some of the challenges of constant change, being together 24/7, and sharing a small living space in a time when communication with the outside world was much more complicated.  I appreciate that Katie didn’t just share the happy moments but also shared the reality of this aspect of the experience.  This makes her book a much richer, realistic recounting.”  Kathy Wood, Founder & President, European Experiences (small group tours) www.european-experiences.com   

“Part travelogue, part memoir, Wherever the Road Leads will satisfy any reader’s wanderlust. . . .  Slattery is a good writer. Her smooth prose is injected with warmth, humor, and insightful observations of the many cultures she encountered. . . . I loved her descriptions and drawings of the regional clothing, recipes she tried, and the local cuisine. She also included a drawing of their van’s interior, fitted for habitation, a visualization I appreciated. The author shared personal feelings about her spouse, their fights, and the strains of living a mobile life style.” Janilyn Kocher for Storycircle.

“One of the compelling features of these accounts is the couples’ flexibility, adaptation, and sense of joy in encountering various peoples even under adverse conditions. . . . . This rosy glow follows the couple throughout their escapades and encounters. Recreated dialogue and descriptions lend a “you are here” feel to the story. Armchair travelers who would like to share this journey via microbus and memory will relish Wherever the Road LeadsIts vivid stories, illustrated with black and white maps, photos, and line drawings, fully capture the experience of encountering other cultures and peoples.”  D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review.

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