We take a look at some classics, some newbies and some of the world’s most unusual travel books
Traveling is good, we all know that. But when the weather is terrible, money is tight, or something like a global health crisis makes travel even more difficult, you can always immerse yourself in reading about it. These selections might even inspire you to write your own book someday!
The classics of the travel novel
Dissatisfied with life in the West, writer-explorer Wilfred Thesiger wrote Arabian sands After traveling for five years among the Bedouins of the Arabian Peninsula, this 1959 book examines the enormous changes that have taken place after World War II and the gradual erosion of a way of life that has remained unchanged for thousands of years.
that of Mark Twain The innocent abroad follows the writer and a group of highly islanded American travelers on a five-month journey by land and sea from the United States to Europe and the Holy Land. Seeing the world both with his own eyes and with the eyes of his companions, there is nothing – whether touristy or local – that is not unworthy of a humorous aside.
Far from its gloomy depictions of the coalfields and industry of Nottinghamshire, DH Lawrence’s Sea and Sardinia is a joyous hymn to this island, on which Lawrence spent nine days in early 1921. Nine days may not seem like much, but Lawrence’s awe-inspiring descriptions of sparkling waters, whitewashed villages, humble people and a way of life so far removed from those the characters he wrote about in his fiction are simply glorious.
Since the publication of The lost continent in 1989, Bill Bryson can boast of being one of the most beloved English-language travel writers. It’s precisely because he’s not much of a travel writer who makes his books so accessible: he just pops up somewhere, walks around for a bit, meets locals, and then writes about it in a whole way. hilariously. Notes from a small island and its follow-up The small dribble route are trips across the UK, Neither here nor there crosses Europe, Down (Where In a land scorched by the sun give him his US title) attacks Australia, and A walk in the woods sees him attempting to hike the Appalachian Trail.
For a final dose of guts and realism, how about George Orwell Down and Out in Paris and London, in which the author struggles to survive in a Paris far from the elegant and romantic city that many novels describe. Written for middle and upper class audiences, its shocking depictions of misery and poverty might make you think twice the next time you sip coffee in a sun-drenched Parisian cafe.
In the years to come, this selection may be as popular as the bona fide classics above. Let’s start with the dramatic title Welcome to the fucking ice cube, in which we are introduced to Blair Braverman who, at the age of 18, left her Californian home to go to Norway where she learned to drive sled dogs. Become a tourist guide on an Alaskan glacier, her surprising life makes you think about what you were doing at 18!
Another glimpse of incredible lives comes in Annabel Abbs Windswept: Following in the Footsteps of Remarkable Women. Abbs walks trails once traveled by Georgia O’Keefe and Simone de Beauvoir, examining how what was considered a purely male hobby spawned creativity and liberation in women around the world.
For the hungry among you, how about Little moons by Nina Mingya Powles, a collection of essays on food: part travel journal, part kitchen companion and part meditation on the role of food in our lives as the author travels between Wellington, Kota Kinabalu in Malaysia and Shanghai. It’s not a long book (just under 100 pages), but you’ll probably find yourself coming back to it over and over again.
Monisha Rajesh has collected 50 of the world’s greatest train journeys in the single title Epic train journeys, a table book with amazing photos and practical advice for anyone who wants to experience these trips on their own. From two-hour walks to multi-day transcontinental trips, there is something for all tastes and budgets.
Finally, for this section, Dan Kois How to be a family is the story of how Kois and his wife uprooted their family from a typical life in Washington DC over a year of traveling and living in places as diverse as New Zealand, Costa Rica, the Netherlands Low and a small town in Central America. It’s a heartwarming memoir on the importance of finding happiness wherever you can.
Unusual reading options
Not all travel diaries are a frozen classic, a source of inspiration and beauty; some are just, well… a little weird.
Let’s start with Take a Fridge Tour of Ireland by English comedian Tony Hawk. After betting with a friend that he could do just that – hitchhike around the perimeter of Ireland with a refrigerator – Hawk discovers that people are extremely welcoming and tolerant of his absurd challenge and that the Irish coast is incredibly beautiful.
Tim Moore’s The cyclist going out in the cold are the adventures of the author trying to cycle the 9,000 km Iron Curtain Trail, from the far north of Finland to the Black Sea in Bulgaria. To do this, he chooses a bike that he believes will suit the history of the Iron Curtain: a foldable two-speed East German racing bike. During her three-month trip, Moore reflects on the failure of the Communist dream, while being fueled by a combination of energy drink and dumplings.
For the next selection, I think I might have to apologize in advance to… well, everyone… like The most clumsy people in Europe by Mrs. Favell Lee Mortimer is a reprint of a Victorian travel book (for kids, nothing less!) Todd Pruzan has put together three of his travel guides in one volume and, for someone who has practically never left her home, she has frankly direct views of just about every nation under the sun. It’s vicious, blunt, and no nation except Britain does it well. You will feel guilty about laughing, but the irony of someone so convinced of their own superiority being so very, very ill-advised serves some poetic justice.
Not a travel writer as such, but pop culture critic Chuck Klostermann served Kill yourself to live in 2005, traveling across the United States to visit the sites where famous musicians died. Kurt Cobain, Buddy Holly, the swamp where Lynyrd Skynyrd’s plane crashed and the famous Chelsea Hotel debauched, Klostermann’s road trip in search of music immortals is one of the strangest travel tales that you will read.
Finally, can spending time stuck on a cruise ship result in a travel diary? Well, David Foster Wallace’s A supposedly fun thing that I will never do again that’s just it. A wildly detailed account of a journey aboard a luxury Caribbean ocean liner, it examines and exposes some bizarre elements of the cruise industry, all done with wit, flair, and a sense of disbelief.
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