Location: Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica
Publication date: 2016
Off the Beaten Trail: A Young Man’s Soul-Searching Journey Across Central America is a hard book to pin down. It is not quite a travelogue, yet provides some insightful descriptions of places and people in Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. It is not quite a memoir, yet Jake Heilbrunn’s story is one of a young man finding out more about himself and the world he lives in. It is not quite a self-help book, but the numerous quotes and references to self-help and religious gurus will provide inspiration for many looking to find their own place in this world.
Off the Beaten Trail tells the story is of a young man who seems truly changed for the better because of his decision to leave college, and discover more of what the world could offer him, and it is told with the honest ups and downs of that decision. The writing and stories are raw, innocent, and refreshingly honest. It was fun and valuable to experience someone’s first travels abroad and relive a few of my own memories (and mistakes) of my own first solo travels.
It was a quick and enjoyable read. However, my two biggest issues with the book were that Heilbrunn drops into cliché every few paragraphs and seems to have a literal life-changing moment at every corner (which seemed unlikely to me, though maybe I’m too cynical). These shortcomings sometimes took away from the valuable big picture lessons Heilbrunn learns along the way. Heilbrunn uses phrases such as “I suddenly realized” a few too many times, but his enthusiasm for all the new life experiences he gains through his travels is real.
While Off the Beaten Trail has its faults, it is a great effort from first time author Heilbrunn and a book everyone can learn from. His honest and naïve writing and journey can serve as inspiration for any young person looking to pursue a life different from the usual 9-5 or any seasoned travel who wants to look back and remember the innocence of a first trip abroad.