As a child I knew reading was good for me, but I couldnt seem to concentrate on reading the books I picked up from the library. I would get a few pages in and then get distracted, and turn to the music or television. I ended up dragging the same book around for months, moving it from the coffee table to my bedside table to my bag, but never seem to get around to actually reading it. Somewhere from “losing weight” and “eating healthy”, “read more” was another resolution that I set every year until I took keen interest in developing the reading habit. That is when I discovered that being a story teller, I also learn through story telling. Now some of the best travel guide books have been on my shelves and in my luggage for years. These traveling books have been my faithful companions for many years and through many countries. While these are great and informative, it’s the stories that make me want to travel and relive the pictures that they’ve painted in my mind.
Billions of us around the world are being urged to stay home as the coronavirus Covid-19 continues to spread. With your vacation most likely canceled or postponed, keep your wanderlust alive by picking up one of the best travel books to read if you are self-isolating. Here are my 7 best travel books that inspired me to travel far-off lands: these travel books are personal narratives and historic travel journals.
OUT OF AFRICA | Karen Blixen (Danish)
Out of Africa is a memoir by Danish author Karen Blixen (pen name Isak Dinesen). The book, published in 1937, recounts events of the seventeen years when she made her home in Kenya, then called British East Africa. The book is about life on her coffee plantation, and a tribute to the people in her life there. It also provides a glimpse of African colonial life in the last decades of the British Empire. Blixen proves herself a well of resilience as she faces a slew of challenges – from failed crops and un favourable weather to personal tragedies and illness. Blixen approaches everything with an unwavering grace and appreciation for Africa’s beauty, building relationships with the Maasai and Kikuyu people along the way.
2. WALKING THE HIMALAYAS| Levison Wood (British)
WALKING THE HIMALAYAS is Levison Wood’s enthralling account of crossing the Himalayas on foot. His journey of discovery along the path of the ancient trade route of the Silk Road to the forgotten kingdom of Bhutan led him beyond the safety of the tourist trail. There lies the real world of the Himalayas, where ex-paratrooper Levison Wood encountered natural disasters, extremists, nomadic goat herders, shamans (and the Dalai Lama). Over the course of six months, Wood and his trusted guides trek 1,700 gruelling miles across the roof of the world. Packed with action and emotion, Walking the Himalayas is the story of one intrepid man’s travels in a world poised on the edge of tremendous change.
I personally found it was a very interesting read, especially when it looked at out of the way places like Bhutan, or gave a fresh perspective on Afghanistan, away from the news headlines. It is a tale of courage, stamina and the kindness of strangers that will appeal to the adventurer in us all.
3. DARK STAR SAFARI| Paul Theroux (American)
It’s a rich and insightful book whose itinerary is Africa, from Cairo to Cape Town: down the Nile, through Sudan and Ethiopia, to Kenya, Uganda, and ultimately to the tip of South Africa. Going by train, dugout canoe, “chicken bus,” and cattle truck, Paul Theroux passes through some of the most beautiful – and often life-threatening landscapes on earth. Takes readers the length of Africa by rattletrap bus, dugout canoe, cattle truck, armed convoy, ferry, and train.
This is a sentimental journey when Theroux first went to Africa as a teacher in the Malawi bush.
4. HOW NOT TO TRAVEL THE WORLD | Lauren Juliff (British)
Lauren Juliff quit her job and sold everything she owned to travel the world. It wasn’t an easy decision: she suffered from anxiety and an eating disorder. This book is about following your dreams, getting out of your comfort zone, and falling in love with life on the road. She gets that backpack and heads off to South Asia – plans are to go to Shanghai, Bangkok and all the way to South Korea and Hong Kong. Lauren’s travels were full of bad luck and near-death experiences. Over the space of a year, she was scammed and assaulted; lost teeth and swallowed a cockroach. She fell into leech-infested rice paddies, was caught up in a tsunami, had the brakes of her motorbike fail and experienced a very unhappy ending during a massage in Thailand.
There are so many lessons here of what not to do, and not to travel, what not to eat, which places are best to avoid and the various local scams to catch tourists off guard.
5. EAT PRAY LOVE | Elizabeth Gilbert (American)
As a keen traveller myself, when I heard about Eat Pray Love and how it depicted one woman’s journey through Italy, India and Bali I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy. My friend first told me about it in the summer of 2010 and it was one of those books that all of a sudden EVERYONE was reading. Based on the real-life Elizabeth Gilbert’s best-selling memoir, Eat Pray Love is one woman’s year-long attempt to find unparalleled food and spiritual self-actualization. First, she finds a lover, David. Then she divorces her husband, Stephen—even though he begs her to work on the relationship with him. Then she leaves David, too, and goes to stay with her friend Delia. Eventually she travels around the planet to Italy, India and Indonesia to experience life as she thinks it should be lived; with adventure, gourmet goodies, reckless abandon, personal enlightenment and freedom.
Elizabeth Gilbert tells how she made the difficult choice to leave behind all the trappings of modern American success (marriage, house in the country, career) and find, instead, what she truly wanted from life. Setting out for a year to study three different aspects of her nature amid three different cultures, Gilbert explored the art of pleasure in Italy and the art of devotion in India, and then a balance between the two on the Indonesian island of Bali.
6. THE ALCHEMIST | Paulo Coelho (Brazilian)
Paulo Coelho’s enchanting novel has inspired a devoted following around the world because it is written in such a way that it could be relevant to almost anyone’s life. This story, dazzling in its powerful simplicity and inspiring wisdom, is about an Andalusian shepherd boy named Santiago who travels from his homeland in Spain to the Egyptian desert in search of a treasure buried in the Pyramids. Along the way he meets a Gypsy woman, a man who calls himself king, and an alchemist, all of whom point Santiago in the direction of his quest. No one knows what the treasure is, or if Santiago will be able to surmount the obstacles along the way. But what starts out as a journey to find worldly goods turns into a discovery of the treasure found within. Lush, evocative, and deeply humane, the story of Santiago is an eternal testament to the transforming power of our dreams and the importance of listening to our hearts.
For me the following words really stood out from the book
“When each day is the same as the next, it’s because people fail to recognize the good things that happen in their lives every day that the sun rises.”
7. ON THE TRAILS OF GENGHIS KHAN: An Epic Journey Through the Lands of the Nomads | Tim Cope (Australian)
The extraordinary adventure of one man’s journey following in the footsteps of Genghis Khan’s conquering armies. Inspired by a desire to understand the nomadic way of life, Australian adventurer Tim Cope embarked on a remarkable journey: 6,000 miles on horseback across the Eurasian steppe from Mongolia, through Kazakhstan, Russia, and the Ukraine, to Hungary retracing the trail of Genghis Khan. From novice rider to traveling three years in the saddle, – accompanied by his Kazakh dog, Tigon – Tim learnt to fend off wolves and would-be horse-thieves, and grapple with the extremes of the steppe as he crossed sub-zero plateaux, the scorching deserts of Kazakhstan and the high-mountain passes of the Carpathian.
Along the way Tim was taken in by people who taught him the traditional ways and recounted their recent history.
Five years in the making, On the Trail of Genghis Khan is Tim’s personal story of adventure, endurance –and at times tragedy-, and eventual triumph. Intelligently written, it is a narrative full of romance, history, and drama that ultimately celebrates the nomadic way of life —its freedom, its closeness to the land, its animals, and moods.
Travel books are the perfect way to get new travel inspiration. I love looking through them on a gloomy night or read them on the beach when it’s sunny. Besides using them as travel inspiration, they are also perfect to do additional research about the destinations you want to visit!
Which book do you plan to read or are reading on Travel?