Posted by: David Stewart | December 16, 2008

Smarty-Pants Abroad (Book Review | “12,000 Miles in the Nick of Time”)

Spoiled brats. Primitive dimbulbs. Ingrate bloodsuckers. Incurious losers.

In 2000, Mark Jacobson and his wife decide to drain most of their bank account and take their three kids, ages 9, 12 and 17 on a round-the-world trip. Some of their chosen destinations were visited by the Jacobsons in 1980, when they were on their hippie honeymoon. The ethos they carried was definitely “back door” style travel – stay in ridiculously cheap accommodations, where locals might stay. This results in some spots in places like Katmandu and Varanasi that are pretty sketch, but they soldier ahead anyway.

This book caught our eye because it comes pretty close to the round-the-world trip that Deb and I took with the kids in 2004. We shared some stopovers (Angkor Wat in Cambodia, Paris and London), but where we spent time in Japan, China, Thailand, Italy and Germany, they wandered India, Nepal and the Holy Land.

Jacobson is a New York City smartie, steeped in the philosophic concepts of Hinduism, Buddhism and Western religion. But he lacks a faith of his own, and finds it particularly hard in the Holy Land, where spirituality is such a strong part of life there. Unfortunately, he tends to be a bit preachy in his pet concepts about the teaching value of travel. After all, isn’t it in the real world where your bad karma runs over your pet dogma.

When speaking of his children, particularly the oldest teen, there is a wistfulness about children growing up, wondering where his little girl or boy went.

You might read the opening quote and think this tirade is directed at some group of really strange people he met on their voyage. Not so, it’s about his kids, when his anger at their apathy boils over. Here’s the bigger quote:

For the hundredth time since we’d arrived in The World, I raged against their lack of wonder. Ask, get, ask again, get more: this was their receptor/consumer interface with the world beyond their blunted, self-possessed needs. They had no zeal to peek behind the Wizard’s curtain, to see what was really up. Spoiled brats. Primitive dimbulbs. Ingrate bloodsuckers. Incurious losers. It was all our fault. How had we managed to bring up such morons?

The oldest Jacobson daughter actually fought against coming on the trip, thinking it would spoil her summer. She actually gets some opportunities to tell her side of the story in some talk-back sections.

Fortunately our kids didn’t put up a fight about going on our 2004 trip (though Laura did inform us in no uncertain terms that she would in no way be going to Burma. That took another two years to get her there). This is not the picture perfect family, with charming and beatific children going on a dream trip. Which I guess in the end made this book an appealing read, since that pretty much sums us up too.

12,000 Miles in the Nick of Time, A Semi-Dysfunctional Family Circumnavigates the Globe by Mark Jacobson, available at Amazon.



  1. I’d love to hear more about your experiences in India, where I’ve been several times on business and never really wanted to see the “real” side, since the fake was depressing enough.

  2. Hi @davisw – we didn’t make it to India on our 2004 trip. In the book they describe their times seeing more of the “real” India than I might be comfortable with – the burning ghats of Varinasi, second class overnight train travel, the Taj Mahal. Check out the book for lots of good reading on this.

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