Travel literature review: The Upgrade (A Cautionary Tale of a Life Without Reservations)

The Upgrade (A Cautionary Tale of a Life Without Reservations) by Paul Carr

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Reviewed by Claire Beyer

The Upgrade by Paul Carr could easily be renamed – Eton Boys Go Wild.  And with the multiple references to drunkenness, porn and self-confessed bad boyfriend behaviour within the first few chapters you could be forgiven for believing that this is just another individual's wacky romp around the globe. Constant inebriation is questionably funny and not entirely original.

However Carr’s book progresses into something more substantial. With 30 looming, and tired of exorbitant London, Carr decides to cast off all material possessions and survive more economically by living solely in hotels on a fixed daily budget. As a freelance writer a fixed abode is arbitrary anyway and the prospect of travelling the world and seeking out stories for publication, as well as blog fodder, is an enticing one.

The journey begins in Manhattan but Carr is easily enticed at the prospect of a good time and so begin the drunken exploits from town-to-town across America,  to a remote town in Spain with a brief sojourn in a small hilltop town in Spain. A fling entices him to San Francisco and even he is surprised at how much he falls in love with the hilly town. After exploring the venues his literary hero Hunter S. Thompson frequented and wrote about, Carr checks into the famous York hotel, scene of  Hitchcock's Vertigo, and in true Gonzo style the hedonistic behaviour continues. Here his life involves 'blagging' his way into exclusive parties, acquiring passes into tech conferences, making full use of an open bar, blacking out then trying to piece together random memories in order to write a good story.

Carr has some demons to confront however when the drunkenness becomes his sole source of inspiration. Unable to write and function without it, his ego-driven persona is convinced in its necessity to entertain and placate his ever demanding online followers.

Less travel literature and more confessional biography, The Upgrade is utterly egotistical, charming, funny, at times aggravating but ultimately an interesting insight into a unique lifestyle, which initially may appear enticing. But as the subtitle suggests, it is a ‘cautionary tale' so blaggers beware.

Claire Beyer is part of the Sales team at Lonely Planet’s head office in Melbourne

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