Aside from the requisite cultural misunderstandings, skin rashes and homicidal drivers, Wheelan wisely focuses his book on the way the family navigates meltdowns, hurt feelings and all the high-stakes transactions of life on the go. I loved this family. Wheelan is a lucid and likable storyteller, and his antic family dialogues are spot-on, but he is not — and does not pretend to be — a poet of place ... We Came, We Saw, We Left tells an upbeat story. What I liked best about the book was watching two people parent their teenagers well. The Wheelans leaven respectful negotiating with some appropriate sarcasm.
... a swift and refreshing escape during these isolated, isolating times. It is also a disarming repudiation of those patronizing and "powerful social forces" that prevent too many families from similar adventures, and a waggish examination of nuclear (pun intended) family dynamics ... If this sounds like an utterly conventional book to hit the shelves in 2021 — an upper-middle class white family traveling the world together — you'd be right. Sort of. There's nothing especially novel in the premise alone, despite the obvious hazards involved in such a bold endeavor. And as the American publishing industry rightfully continues to grapple with a conspicuous lack of diversity, one might be tempted to question how or why such a book ultimately landed on the shelves. Only by chance did I snag an early copy myself, but Wheelan quickly proves an astute chronicler of both family life and foreign cultures. And ironically, it's often the utter normalcy of the Wheelan family that makes this travelogue so endearing.
The whys behind this nearly-year-long trip are interesting but not especially noteworthy or requiring extensive commentary. The places visited turn out to be fairly arbitrary, dictated by various family members’ interests and opportunities to visit friends or stay in accommodations arranged by them. The people involved make this journey notable, particularly Wheelan’s three children, all brought to life on the page through the sort of telling, and often embarrassing, details it takes a parent to reveal ... much of the story is quite funny. While unlabeled buses, unhelpful bureaucrats and unexpected airport detentions were surely awful in the moment, they make for engaging tales of ultimate triumph in retrospect ... If enjoyable travel is about the company kept during it as much as the places visited, the Wheelan family make wonderful partners and guides for a meandering stroll around the world. They offer no earth-shattering perspective shifts, no dazzling epiphanies, just engaging stories of a family bonding over the unusual challenges and opportunities presented by budget-minded globetrotting. They learn a little, amusingly summarized in the eight-page chapter 'The Things We Learned,' and reveal a lot about what truly matters in life.