Recently at a large party as we entered we were handed a name tag and a pen. We were told to write our name, how we knew the birthday boy and our favourite thing. It took me all of a nanosecond to add “travel” under my name. A close second on my favourite things to do list is reading. In particular I like to combine the two and read travel books.
I have scoured back through my Good Reads list, reliving many of the books I have read over the years, and below are ones that have stirred up that travel bug within me.
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The Accidental Adventurer is Ben Fogle’s story about going from an inexperienced teenager to someone who has had some amazing adventures and done some mind-boggling things. He will give almost anything a go, having walked to the South Pole, rowed across the Atlantic and competed in the Marathon des Sables. Ben has also gone on to be in many television shows. He doesn’t proclaim to be a writer, but this book is written in an interesting way and is easy to read and keep on reading
This was the first book I read that really made me realise that there are people out there that just travel, and build a life and livelihood around that. All I could think of for most of the book was how much I would love to be able to do the things he does. In reality I don’t REALLY want to spend weeks in Antarctica, or run hundreds of kilometres, and I definitely don’t want to be in any television shows. What I envied was the freedom to do whatever he wanted.
Holy Cow: An Indian Adventure is the story of Sarah MacDonald, an Australian journalist. In her twenties she backpacked through India, and swore she was never going back there again. A few years later as part of Sarah’s job she was transferred back there. Her story tells of the utter chaos of India and her search to sooth her soul.
I have always had a fascination with India. I love the romance of the Taj Mahal and the stories from the time of the Raj. The colour and energy are amazing, and the way things are perfectly ordered within the chaos. I particularly love the food. I am also daunted by the chaos and overwhelmed by the noise and sheer number of people. All this without stepping foot in the country, but by reading Sarah’s book and others like it.
This is one of the most memorable travel books I have read over the last few years. Jon Krakauer is an American journalist and mountaineer that was invited to join an expedition to summit Mt Everest and to write about the experience. Unfortunately this was the ill fated 1996 ascent that resulted in the deaths of eight people. What struck me most about this book was the reflections Krakauer made months after returning to the USA. His many “what if” questions were heart wrenching.
Doesn’t really sound like one of those travel books that provide inspiration does it? There are some great parts that describe the joys of mountaineering and encourage just getting out there. It is also a great reminder to prepare thoroughly, and even then things can go wrong. I probably would never have attempted Mt Everest – I have never seen snow and I am not a climber! It’s not for tourists who can pay the money, this is a serious pursuit for the professionals only. A timely reminder for any tourism activity.
I couldn’t write a list of inspirational travel books without including Michael Palin. I have read most of his books, and watched the tv series he made too. Here I have chosen to include “New Europe” because that is exactly where we are travelling next year and a lot of the initial interest was taken from this book. He travels through 20 different countries in Eastern Europe, and in his usual style gets involved with the locals and looks for unusual or off the beaten path attractions.
Like Palin, I knew very little about Eastern Europe when I read it. After reading about his journey and doing some research I just had to see it for myself. Our plan was to spend only a couple of weeks getting a taste of the culture, but it was two and a half months before we left the area. I credit this book with arousing my curiosity.
Every traveller knows about Lonely Planet. A whole generation has relied on their guides to help them navigate around the world. This is the story of how it all came about. Tony and his wife Maureen talk about the first trip they did which resulted in their very first book, Across Asia on the Cheap which eventually became the best selling South East Asia on a Shoestring. They also talk about the business journey they had with Lonely Planet, and their decision to sell the company.
I just loved reading about the Wheeler’s sense of adventure as they travelled long term. They did it with no plans and no money, showing that travel is possible for everyone. They were then able to turn their experience into a successful company through sheer hard work. Despite the Wheeler’s success, they still enjoyed travelling in a similar style for many years to come. This was the start of my realisation that I didn’t have to be rich to travel.
The Carpet Wars: From Kabul to Baghdad: A Ten-Year Journey Along Ancient Trade Routes By Christopher Kremmer
Journalist Christopher Kremmer has written about his ten year journey through the Middle East and other nearby countries to learn about carpets. His travels were completed before 9/11 changed a lot of the attitudes towards this area of the world.
I have been intrigued by a lot of the countries that Kremmer travelled to since we almost moved to the area a few years ago. I immersed myself in anything I could get my hands on that could teach me about the culture and countries. Even with all the volatility in the region, I still love to travel here and Kremmer has helped to show there are many reasons to visit. Of course it is not safe to go to some places at the moment, but do your research. Many of the countries Kremmer visited are safe and just waiting to show visitors around.
Like Michael Palin, I could not compile a list without including Bill Bryson. I have again read and enjoyed a few of his travel books. Notes from a Small Island documents Bryson’s trip around the United Kingdom. He always manages to find unique and interesting locations that no one has ever heard of and then describes them in a funny and interesting way. I always spend half of my time while reading on Google looking up the places he mentions. I so want to jump on a plane after reading Bryson’s books.
Notes from a Small Island was the first of Bill Bryson’s books I read and it made me see that there are many small interesting places in a country if you just look. Sure the big tourist attractions are just that for a reason, but some of the more interesting and unique experiences can be found talking to people in smaller locations.
Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky
Set during World War II as the Nazis invaded France, Suite Française is two intertwined stories telling of the trials ordinary people went through just to survive. The first is set in occupied Paris, the second in a small village in the countryside
Originally there were meant to be five stories, but Irène Némirovsky passed away in Auschwitz before the rest of them were written. While the writing is beautiful, it really did feel unfinished to me. There were some great descriptions of Paris and the small village that were just so French. This book also helps to explain some of the history of France during that turbulent time.
Happier Than A Billionaire: Quitting My Job, Moving to Costa Rica, and Living the Zero Hour Work Week by Nadine Hays Pisani
In this story Nadine Hays Pisani tells us about her experience doing what many of us would like to do – quitting the corporate nine-to-five and moving to a cheaper, slower part of the world. In this case it was Costa Rica. Of course expat life comes with it’s trials and tribulations and there are plenty of colourful anecdotes of things that are not quite the same as in the US, where the author is from.
I love the idea of packing up and moving to another country (at least for a little while) so I always find these stories interesting. I’ve not been to Costa Rica so it gave me a tiny snapshot of the country too.
Walking the Gobi: A 1600-Mile Trek Across a Desert of Hope and Despair by Helen Thayer
Helen Thayer is a woman from New Zealand who has some remarkable achievements in her life. Amongst other great adventures, she was the first woman to trek to the North Pole solo. “Walking the Gobi” is her account of being the first person to walk the 1600 miles across Mongolia’s Gobi desert, possibly the most inhospitable place on earth. She trekked for 80 days with her husband and two camels, dealing with incredibly hot temperatures, sand storms, smugglers and at one point coming close to death when they ran out of water.
This travel book is an incredible tale of persistence and survival, but the thing that makes it really inspirational for me was that she undertook this trek when she was 63 years old. Her husband was 74. She had also been in a car accident only months before and was battling painful injuries during the whole trek. “Walking the Gobi” is a fantastic reminder that we are never too old, and that we can achieve the seemingly impossible if we really put our minds to it. I could not put this book down and recommend it to anyone who needs a little more inspiration for whatever they are doing.
Alice to Prague: The charming true story of an outback girl who finds adventure – and love – on the other side of the world by Tanya Heaslip
Another expat tale, this time from an Australian who moves to the Czech Republic. Tanya makes an impulsive decision to move half was around the world with no real idea of what she is getting herself into.
I found this book to be much more relatable than “Happier Than A Billionaire” above, but that’s probably because I am from the Australian countryside (we actually went to neighbouring boarding schools), and I have travelled to Prague, so I have more of an understanding of where the author is coming from and all of the differences she found.
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
This popular novel depicts the Life of Elizabeth Gilbert after her “perfect” life in the USA disintegrates around her. She decides to travel to find herself, choosing Italy to eat, India to pray and Indonesia for love.
This is one of the most popular travel books out there so I thought I just had to read it, but you know what, it really wasn’t my favourite. I actually found it quite hard work, particularly the first half. I haven’t seen the movie either, so I was coming into it from scratch. I guess the question is why am I including it on this list if I didn’t like it? Well, while I didn’t like it, many other people do, so it might still be a good option for you.
Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
Shantaram is predominantly set in Mumbai, India. The main character, Lin, escapes from jail in Australia and then spends times in various parts of Mumbai from the slums to getting involved in the local mafia, from Bollywood movies to five-star luxury. The narrative provides such a rich and colourful look at the extremes of this vibrant city, intertwined with a page-turning story, that it can’t help but entice the reader to visit.
As I was planning my own visit to Mumbai I thought about this book a lot. Luckily I forgot the dangerous side, remembering the romantic, glamorous side of the city instead. As I drove along Marine Drive during my visit I couldn’t help but remember the wind blowing in Lin’s hair as he cruised down this beachside boulevard on his motorbike, escaping from the realities of his life.
The Mountain Shadow by Gregory David Roberts
The Mountain Shadow is the sequel to Shantaram. Lin has finally found a peaceful life, but that is all thrown into turmoil again when he is oligated to help out a friend and gets dragged back into Mumbai’s criminal underworld scene. All sorts of mayhem ensue as Lin tries to save the day and get some peace back in his life.
I came across a copy of this book on a hostel swap shelf about a week before I travelled to India, so I was able to read it while there. While I preferred Shantaram (isn’t the first book always the best?) I still really liked The Mountain Shadow. It’s full of interesting characters, action and like Shantaram, brought an extra dimension to my visit to Mumbai – the sign of all good travel books!
The Treasure Hunt: An Inspector Montalbano Novel by Andrea Camilleri
This book is a typical, fun, whodunnit, one of many in the Inspector Montalbano series. The setting is Sicily and the characters are quirky and true to the Sicilians past and present.
This was another I picked up as I was travelling that sounded like it had a good storyline, and it really brought Sicily to life for me. It’s a little different to most of the travel books I’ve chosen because the location is secondary to the storyline. That makes it no less inspirational though. From the pleasure taken in his meals to the slow lifestyle, I could see and smell small town life.
While this just happened to be the book I picked up, I’m sure almost any of the Inspector Montalbano books would bring the same sense of place and put Sicily firmly on your “must get to one day” list.
There are so many other travel books that I have read over the years. All of the above have been memorable and I have put plans in place to visit many of the locations. I have a huge travel wish list already, but I am still always looking for new destinations to visit and a well-written book can sometimes be just the catalyst I need for adding a destination to my next trip.
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