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Richard Weston-Smith, a corporate marketing specialist and author, has lived on four continents and traveled more than 2 million miles. Courtesy photo
Columns Hit the Road

Hit the Road: Cancer prompts author to chronicle travel adventures

Exaggeration. Embellishment. Excess.

Yes, author Richard Weston-Smith employs them all in his newly published “Some Items May Have Shifted in Flight: A Life Aloft, Abroad and Occasionally Adrift,” but he does it so adroitly that you believe every word of it.

And you should because it’s all true — the rescue of a friend from a Botswana jail; maneuvering his wife, Kirsten, around Istanbul in a wheelchair; and getting schooled on “express kidnapping” in Brazil.

But perhaps the most impactful journey Weston-Smith has had was the one that prompted him to write the book. A marketing expert for national and global corporations, the author got his wakeup call in 2018 when he was handed a diagnosis of prostate and lung cancer.

Courtesy photo

“I began to see my life through a very different lens,” writes the 59-year-old Brit, who splits his time between London and Santa Barbara. “I began to consider the extraordinary things I had done … the people I had met, the places I had been. It struck me that I had not appreciated every detail of them as I could and should have.”

Unlike some authors who have had lightning-bolt moments, Weston-Smith doesn’t dwell on his medical misfortunes, but takes us quickly on his first journey — a coming-of-age adventure to Australia.

In 1977, at the age of 17, he finds himself on a plane to the Land Down Under, then a 2,000-mile hitchhike to a remote cattle ranch in North Queensland. Weston-Smith remembers the state as a land of “scorpions, ticks, leeches and mosquitos … (and) wild pigs that … will have a go at you even if you are armed with a flame-thrower and a Gatling gun, sitting in a metal cage perched atop a big yellow bulldozer.”

“One tends to look back on things in hindsight with more humor,” Weston-Smith said in a phone interview from his Santa Barbara home.

And if you’re a helicopter parent, this chapter and most of the others might send you into fits of anxiety.

“I had a level of freedom I’d never experienced before,” he added. “I was in Australia for a year and there was no communication then. There was no phone in my quarters. I had to get permission to make a call to England and then book a call 24 hours in advance.”

There are a lot of details — hilarious and otherwise — in these tales that unfolded as many as 40-plus years ago, so how did Weston-Smith remember it all?

“With some difficulty,” he said. “(I had) help from my wife, or friends who were with me such as in Australia, and also some trips were documented in a journal.  It’s amazing how, when you start talking about it, how much more two people can remember than one alone.

“Also, someone who was there mentions something and it triggers a wave of recollection of things completely forgotten about. I spent a lot of time figuring out the stories. Some are poignant — full of surprises because you never know quite where you’re going to go next. And then I go from lighthearted to the story of my father that is far from that.”

Weston-Smith is talking about Chapter 16, “Best of Enemies.”

He tells of the trip he and his brother took to retrace the steps that their father and Weston-Smith’s godfather took to escape a German prisoner-of-war camp during World War II. The brothers found the German family that sheltered the British soldiers from the Nazis until the end of the war. Reliving that journey was aided by the father’s and godfather’s escape diaries.

“Both of them wrote down completely different things about the same experience,” Weston-Smith said. “When I put them both together, there was quite a complete picture.”

The author gathered so much information that he’s “writing a book about my father’s experiences. There is so much to this story that’s so fascinating — the POW camp, the ecosystem that existed within that.”

In the end, this book is “for anybody who loves travel and has a sense of humor,” Weston-Smith said. “It’s a book you can easily pick up and read and put down — the perfect scratch for your travel itch.”

“Some Items May Have Shifted in Flight” can be purchased on Amazon.

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