Here is a selection of some of my all-time favourite travel books. This collection of books provided motivation and inspiration for planning my trips. They also help pass time when waiting around in an airport or relaxing by the hotel pool. I’ve taken the liberty of adding a sprinkle of fiction (such as Alex Garland’s The Beach). The fiction books are often heavily based on the author’s actual travel experience and are great for obtaining a real feel for a particular destination.
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Here’s that list of my favourite travel books I promised – they are listed in no particular order.
Theroux manages to pull off a very informative and educational approach to travel writing. In this book, he makes his way from the top to the toe of Africa trying to avoid using airplanes and instead climbs in the back of cattle trucks, catches majestic trains, and even takes a dugout boat. He focuses on the real Africa, on its people, its problems, and its blessings, with a sprinkle of drama and plenty of historical education. The story leaves you with a deep feeling slightly uneasy and confused, with despair for the future of Africa but also a desire to visit and experience the Dark Star continent for yourself.
Notes From A Small Island
I like Bill Bryson, he has an appealing, dry wit and way of describing what he sees on his travels that make them both mundane and yet fascinating at the same time. Small Island has the extra interest for me as it’s about my home country, so provides an outsider’s view on what we Brits really are like, and how lucky we are to live in such a captivating, beautiful, and diverse place.
This is the first of my fictional choices. It’s so descriptive, enthralling, and captivating that portrays a sense of traveling in Thailand with the added drama and tension of a fictional thriller. If you’ve watched Leonardo DiCaprio in the film, don’t let that put you off. This tale is much, much better than the film and it’s practically a different story – certainly, there is a much darker ending in the book. I only wish Alex Garland had written more in this genre.
I bought this book for my (at the time) 18-year-old daughter as she prepared to leave home for university. I wanted it to provide her with inspiration and courage to get out there and experience the world, whatever her fears and anxieties might be. The book is an easy-to-read travelogue of a young lady who suffers from anxiety and a distinct lack of travel experience (for example she’d never even eaten rice and yet sets off for a gap year in the Far East, on her own after she split from her boyfriend and intended travel companion). This is a funny, sad, and inspiring story that is definitely worth reading.
Subtitled “A Darkly Comic Road Trip Through South America” this book keeps you on edge throughout. It gives you a sense of a backpacker’s life in its heyday, traveling where the wind takes you, meeting new characters in every village and town, and enjoying the good things in life. Like all good stories should have, there’s a dark, shocking twist at the end.
A true tale of a travel adventure that goes badly wrong. The moral of this story is don’t go into the deepest jungle with a complete stranger, who comes across as slightly weird and dishonest from the get-go. The book was recently made into a film starring Harry Potter and which isn’t too bad but goes nowhere near to paying sufficient homage to this riveting tale of misadventure. You’ll find yourself living Yossi’s pain and anguish as he finds himself alone in the jungle without any idea of how to get home.
The first, and best, of a trilogy mapping the ex-Police (the rock band not the force) musician’s emigration to rural Andalucia and the perils, pitfalls, and enlightening moments faced by anyone brave enough to take the plunge and live overseas. This is more of a “Place in the Sun” type story than a travelogue, but it’s riveting and travels inspiring nonetheless.
A humorous yet sad but totally honest view of the world. Simon Reeve manages to evoke the spirit of the places he visits and the people he meets, whilst exposing the dark edges of humanity’s careless treatment of the planet on which it depends. He captures the good in people as well as the bad. Reading some of his reasoning for why the world is the way it is, I found myself disagreeing or picking holes in some sections of his evidence. But that’s good because it would be boring if we were all the same and Simon’s intentions are the right ones and most of his views, if not all, are soundly backed up.
This book had me on edge from the first page to the last. I didn’t know whether to be frightened or inspired. I actually watched the film of the same name before reading the book and didn’t realise until I scanned the introduction that this is actually a true story, such as the potency of its drama and tension. The film, by the way, was just as enjoyable as the book in this case. I read recently that the school bus used that was his makeshift home for much of the tale has only recently been recovered from the wilderness – because backpackers kept trying to find it and camp out to relive the adventures of the lead protagonist, only to need rescuing or experience severe peril.
The first in a series of Biddlecombe’s business travelogues makes it in here because it inspired me to make the most of my frequent and, up until then, not very exciting business trips. Before I decided to retire, I traveled to many cities around the world for business purposes. This book made me realise that just because I was flying to a relatively mundane city somewhere in, say the Netherlands or Germany, with only a few short evening hours to spare, I could still get a feel for the local area, taste great food (rather than just hotel food) and find new experiences. And of course, where business travel is concerned, there’s a bonus – generally, your company is paying!
The synopsis claims this is a true story. I’m sure it is, but I’m convinced there has to have been some embellishments here and there as, as the events unfold it becomes truly dramatic. The Backpacker is a riveting tale of how travel plans can quickly unravel when backpacking, undulating from having no cares in the world, living a purely hedonistic lifestyle to suddenly feeling that the bottom has fallen off your entire world. I won’t reveal too much of the story here, but be prepared for a seismic shock in the tale that you wouldn’t expect. If you liked The Beach, you’ll love this. It’s a shame Harris didn’t write more travel books.
I bought this because I’d enjoyed watching the TV series where Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman ride motorbikes from London to Australia (The Long Way Down). In a media interview, Obi-Wan Kanobe (i.e. McGregor) said that it was this book that had originally inspired the programme. As in the TV series, Jupiter’s Travels is a tale of a leviathan motorcycle journey. However, for this epic journey, Ted Simon travels on his own, without a film crew or gang of producers and fixers, and rides much further around the entire globe.
Other Great Books Worth Reading
Marching Power – Rusty Young
Bolivia Tried To Kill Us –Tony Hastie, Amanda Briggs-Hastie
Don’t Run Whatever You Do – Peter Allison
A Short Walk In The Hindu Kush – Eric Newby
Yesterday & Tomorrow – Jaquiline Hunt
A Walk In The Woods – BIll Bryson
Sitting Duck – Robert Dodds
Botswana Time – Will Randall
Don’t Sleep There Are Snakes – Daniel Everett
Blood River – Tim Butcher
Pigeon English – Stephen Kelman