WESTERLY — Traveling to faraway lands may be on hold for most of us these days, but one local resident has made it possible to travel to 12 countries this Valentine’s Day — albeit vicariously.
Westerly native Ryan Jacobson, a 41-year-old middle school teacher, released his first travel book last month — “The Adventures of Mr. Brightside” — which zoomed straight to the top of Amazon’s best-seller chart for travel-memoir books days after it arrived.
Readers of Jacobson’s 316-page self-published book — whose full title is “The Adventures of Mr. Brightside: One Man. One World. Three Very Different Budgets” — can travel along with him as he journeys through a dozen countries — from Portugal to Morocco; from Albania to India; from Sri Lanka to Thailand; from Laos to Cuba; from Mexico to Belize; and from Panama to Peru — and shares stories about gorgeous beaches, fairy-tale countrysides, delicious daiquiris and divine desert experiences.
Readers can also experience the countries in three completely different fashions: on a “very low budget,” a “moderate budget” and on “an all-out luxury budget.”
Jacobson invites his readers to travel with him as he sips champagne in a Michelin-rated restaurant on the 65th floor of a world class hotel, then, the next morning, packs his backpack, hires a motorized rickshaw and heads to his home for the next four days: a cramped dorm room filled with strangers.
The book is more of a “how not to travel,” Jacobson joked one afternoon last week as he described his journeys, highlighted some of his favorite places, foods and experiences, and explained how he landed upon his unusual plan.
Originally, said the veteran traveler, he planned to travel around the world in 12 months while visiting 12 countries and spending only $1,000. He planned to call that journey project “Venture Twelve.”
But after “crunching some numbers while sipping a martini in his parents’ hot tub,” it dawned on him — and members of his family agreed — that he’d never survive on such a limited budget.
“So I went back to the drawing board,” Jacobson writes in his prologue. “While it’s true that I enjoy the finer things in life, I do also have the ability to ‘rough it,’ and get down and dirty.”
Jacobson, who once spent a summer teaching in war-torn Uganda and a week hiking through the Grand Canyon — and sleeping on a picnic table — has also toured some of the country’s finest vineyards and wineries and “mingled with celebrities” at speakeasies and in mansions.
“The point is, I’m like a cuttlefish,” Jacobson said. “I have the ability to blend into any environment I need to in order to survive whatever situation I find myself randomly landing.”
Thus he landed upon his plan, and, after roughly a year of dedicated planning, he headed off on his journey. With a special backpack — one that could easily fit in the overhead luggage compartments of airplanes — packed with comfy clothes and two permanently pressed designer suits for those fancier moments — off he went to sample camel burgers and lion fish, crickets and scorpions, swim in aqua-colored waters, and meet up with friends along the way.
Erin Burke, a sommelier who grew up in Ledyard — and first met Jacobson when the two worked as summer bartenders at the Windjammer in Misquamicut — met up with Jacobson in Morocco and again in Italy, Albania, Montenegro, Hungary, Kosovo, Serbia, Macedonia, Panama and Colombia.
Although she especially enjoyed their time in the Sahara where they stayed in a five-star-rated tent, Albania might have been her favorite, she said.
“I’d like to return to Albania someday,” Jacobson said.
“It was so special and so different,” Burke said. “There are mountains and then there are amazing beaches.”
Burke said reading “The Adventures of Mr. Brightside” was just like traveling with Ryan all over again.
“It’s so much like him,” she said. “You can hear his voice.”
Jacobson’s cousin, Rachel Doyle of Westerly, agrees.
“As I read ‘The Adventures of Mr. Brightside’, I could hear Ryan’s voice telling the stories and could visualize him living out his many adventures,” she said. “His book is laugh-out-loud funny. … I could not put it down.
“My husband, Sean, and I bought two copies,” Doyle added. “We read it simultaneously and would then discuss it. … I’m already looking forward to the sequel.”
Just last week, Chris Tillinghast Taylor, a Facebook friend of Jacobson’s, posted this message to the author: “Ryan, I finished your amazing book today, in the wee hours of the morning. It was so much fun to read. Your humanity shines through your words and your humor is one-of- a-kind delightful. Thank you for sharing your courageous and amazing adventure. It was an honor to vicariously live through your travels.”
Jacobson caught the travel bug when he was a youngster, said his mother, Michelle Jacobson of Westerly, and showed an interest in vacation planning from a young age too.
Both of her sons — Ryan and his older brother, Corey — “loved planning family vacations,” added Michelle, who still remembers how Ryan would “tag along” whenever she and her sister would plan family vacations.
Her son, she said, has been a certified lifeguard, a bartender, a sommelier, a journalist, an elementary school teacher, a middle school teacher, a high school teacher and English as a second language teacher.
And now he is a published author.
However, she said, how her son — voted “Friendliest” by members of the Westerly High School class of 1998 — was able to travel around the world, along with his cousin, Vanessa Ravenelle Harwood, was only with “God’s grace.”
“He has a terrible sense of direction,” she joked.
“The Adventures of Mr. Brightside,” said Ryan, who dedicates his book to his “loving parents, William and Michelle Jacobson,” will leave readers with “immense wanderlust” but at the same time an appreciation for being able to read it “from the comfort and safety of your own home.”
To see photos and learn more about Jacobson’s travels, visit venturetwelve.com.