Exploration, adventure, discovering new things, challenging ourselves - these things all come naturally to the traveller within us. Not all of us are good at articulating how it feels to travel, but there are some writers who have a knack for summing up all the complex emotions of a journey abroad. From solo adventures in the wake of tragedy to delving into the heart of a place, here are some books that navigate the waters of adventure, solo travel, and cultural quirks.
Whether you want a bit of armchair travel or need something to pass the time on those long plane, train or bus trips, here are a few favourites of travellers around the globe you should add to your bookshelf (or suitcase).
The Art of Travel – Alain de Botton
“The pleasure we derive from journeys is perhaps dependent more on the mindset with which we travel than on the destination we travel to.”
If you’re reading this blog, chances are you love to travel. You know what draws you to explore the world’s far-flung places and experience things that open your eyes to new place, cultures, people and cuisines. But if you want to get into the philosophy behind the act of travelling itself and the often quite peculiar things we tend to do while abroad, this book is for you. It’s insightful and encourages you to question what the real point of travelling is. A definite must-read for anyone about to depart on a trip abroad, or who wants to contemplate the act of travelling while doing so!
The Great Railway Bazaar – Paul Theroux
"I decided that travel was flight and pursuit in equal parts."
This is the perfect read for those about to embark on a train journey, or those armchair travellers that simply want to immerse themselves in train travel from someone whose really done it. This book was first published in 1975 but it still resonates with travellers today, punctuated by Theroux’s witty observations about travel companions, the places he journeys through and other travellers (you’ll notice a particularly great remark about Australians in there). Even if you’re not so keen on train travel, this is a fantastic read from a master storyteller and travel writer, and it might even convince you to embark on a train journey of your own.
As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning – Laurie Lee
“I felt it was for this I had come: to wake at dawn on a hillside and look out on a world for which I had no words, to start at the beginning, speechless and without plan, in a place that still had no memories for me.”
One day, knowing only a single phrase in Spanish, Laurie Lee decided to head to Spain. This book is an account of what he saw along his travels as a 19-year-old travelling through a country about to be thrown into civil war. Reading this will conjure up all the optimism and freshness of travelling in your youth, while giving a beautiful insight into one of Europe's most fascinating countries at a very turbulent period of history.
Into the Wild – John Krakauer
“The very basic core of a man's living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun. If you want to get more out of life, you must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life that will at first appear to you to be crazy. But once you become accustomed to such a life you will see its full meaning and its incredible beauty.”
Before we say anything on this particular book, it’s important to stress that the journey recounted by Krakauer isn't something that should be emulated, as many people have done - some with tragic consequences. Into the Wild tells the story of Chris McCandless, who set off into the wilderness of Alaska after ridding himself of all his possessions. Despite the less-than-happy ending (McCandless died, much to the devastation of his family), this book is one that makes you think long and hard about that “call of the wild”, travelling alone versus sharing your happiness with others, and what it is to live a life of true adventure. You might not agree with Chris McCandless’ perspective on life, but reading his story with Krakauer’s narration will make you contemplate the meaning of life and what it is to be human – something that we often do on our travels
Eat, Pray, Love - Elizabeth Gilbert
“We search for happiness everywhere, but we are like Tolstoy's fabled beggar who spent his life sitting on a pot of gold, under him the whole time. Your treasure--your perfection--is within you already. But to claim it, you must leave the buy commotion of the mind and abandon the desires of the ego and enter into the silence of the heart.”
Say what you live about the movie, but this book has certainly inspired many around the world to travel to Italy, India and Indonesia in search of food, spiritual healing and someone who looks like Xavier Bardem. How successful these people have been is uncertain, but that’s not to stop you! After going through a mid-life crisis, Elizabeth Gilbert quit her job and embarked on a year-long adventure through three different countries on her own. This book is the remarkable account of her experiences during that year, and is a reminder of travel’s ability to reignite passion for life and the little things that make it worth living. This tale of self-discovery and getting out of your comfort zone will resonate with anyone who has ever felt the need to get away from it all and find themselves – at any age.
Wild – Cheryl Strayed
“It had nothing to do with gear or footwear or the backpacking fads or philosophies of any particular era or even with getting from point A to point B. It had to do with how it felt to be in the wild. With what it was like to walk for miles with no reason other than to witness the accumulation of trees and meadows, mountains and deserts, streams and rocks, rivers and grasses, sunrises and sunsets. The experience was powerful and fundamental. It seemed to me that it had always felt like this to be a human in the wild, and as long as the wild existed it would always feel this way.”
If you’ve been through trauma or hardship in your life and felt the urge to just pack your bag and go somewhere, this is a definite must-read. You may not have done something quite as extreme as hike the Pacific Coast Trail like Cheryl Strayed, but her journey is truly inspirational. Cheryl doesn’t romanticise the experience; the challenges both physical and mental are very much present. But that’s what makes this such a great read, especially for those with a penchant for exploring on foot.
Notes from a Small Island – Bill Bryson
“...it occurred to me, not for the first time, what a remarkably small world Britain is. That is its glory, you see--that it manages at once to be intimate and small scale, and at the same time packed to bursting with incident and interest."
"I am constantly filled with admiration at this--at the way you can wander through a town like Oxford and in the space of a few hundred yards pass the home of Christopher Wren, the buildings where Halley found his comet and Boyle his first law, the track where Roger Bannister ran the first sub-four-minute mile, the meadow where Lewis Carroll strolled; or how you can stand on Snow's Hill at Windsor and see, in a single sweep, Windsor Castle, the playing fields of Eton, the churchyard where Gray wrote his "Elegy," the site where The Merry Wives of Windsor was performed. Can there anywhere on earth be, in such a modest span, a landscape more packed with centuries of busy, productive attainment?”
Anything by Bill Bryson is a great read, but this might just be the best if you haven’t read any of his travel books before. His satirical, engaging writing style is sure to have you in stitches, while at the same time painting a vivid picture of Britain with all its quirks. If you’re interested in getting to the heart of what British culture and those Brits are all about, you’ll learn a lot from this book, and you’ll be laughing the whole way through.