Eight Books to Get you Excited for your Next Travel Adventure
By Zoë Bell
Missing travel? You are not alone. In the age of social distancing, travel is out of the question for the immediate future. Cancelling a trip can be devastating, but more time at home means more time to make post-quarantine plans. If we can’t travel the world ourselves, reading about dreamy destinations and heart-pounding adventure might be the next best thing.
From the Pacific Crest Trail to the Trans-Mongolian Railway to the frozen tundra of Svalbard, these books take readers to far-flung corners of the world – and remind us why we travel in the first place.
1. Wild, Cheryl Strayed
Strayed’s memoir, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail (2012), is an adventurer’s classic. Following her mother’s death and a painful divorce, Strayed impulsively sets off on an ambitious hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. As an inexperienced hiker, 22-year-old Strayed is unprepared for the challenges ahead of her – the enormous pack she must carry, the horrible blisters from too-small hiking boots, and the record snowfall in the high sierras. Still, she treks through California, Oregon, and Washington State – alone. Through flashbacks, Strayed reflects on her life before this journey – she looks back on failed relationships, infidelities, drug addiction, and broken family ties. Wild is an excellent story of grieving, healing, and surviving – against all odds.
“I was amazed that what I needed to survive could be carried on my back. And, most surprising of all, that I could carry it.” – Cheryl Strayed
2. The High Mountains of Portugal, Yann Martel
Yann Martel’s The High Mountains of Portugal (2016) takes readers on a surreal journey through the Portuguese countryside. The novel begins in 1904, when a young man named Tomás embarks on a quest from Lisbon to the High Mountains of Portugal, in the search of an ancient artifact that he believes could redefine Christianity. Fifty years later, a Canadian senator embarks on a journey to his ancestral home in northern Portugal with an absurd companion: a chimpanzee. The High Mountains of Portugal is not your typical travel story, but this strange, spiritual novel is an excellent escape from the ordinary – it’s the perfect cure for stress in these unprecedented times.
And, as a special mention, Martel’s best-known novel – the Booker Prize-winning Life of Pi – is also a great quarantine read. After all, it doesn’t get much more “socially distant” than being stranded on a boat in the Pacific Ocean with only a Bengal tiger to keep you company.
3. Travels with Myself and Another, Martha Gellhorn
Martha Gellhorn was a 20th century novelist and war correspondent, known for her bravery, strength, and tenacity. This memoir, published in 1978, takes readers along on some of her most horrific journeys through Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean – accompanied, often, by her then-husband Ernest Hemingway.
Gellhorn’s work does not glamorize travel – in fact, most of the time you’ll be glad you aren’t with her. But Gellhorn’s prose is whip smart; her dry, dark sense of humour is apparent even when journeys turn sour.
And, if you like this one, check out: In Extremis: The Life and Death of War Correspondent Marie Colvin, by Lindsey Hilsum. Colvin was another highly regarded war correspondent that put her life on the line to tell stories. If you enjoy reading about Gellhorn’s thrilling, dangerous journeys, Hilsum’s biography expertly depicts Colvin’s adventurous spirit and the extent war correspondents go for the truth.
4. No Reservations: Around the World on An Empty Stomach, Anthony Bourdain
Some of us travel for the beautiful views and sweeping landscapes – and some of us travel for the food. For those with an adventurous palate, check out Bourdain’s No Reservations. In this travel log, the late food writer and television personality – known for other popular books like “Kitchen Confidential” and the TV series “Parts Unknown” – takes readers around the world in search of exotic dishes. Bourdain’s snarky commentary and edgy personality shines through in his writing as he explores different cultures and cuisines. Perhaps No Reservations will even inspire you to get more creative in the kitchen.
“If I'm an advocate for anything, it's to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. The extent to which you can walk in someone else's shoes or at least eat their food, it's a plus for everybody. Open your mind, get up off the couch, move.” – Anthony Bourdain
5. Land of Lost Borders: A Journey on the Silk Road, Kate Harns
If you’re plotting your next big adventure, Kate Harns’s Land of Lost Borders will offer some major inspiration. In between studying at Oxford and MIT, Harns took off on a bicycle journey along the Silk Road. Harns’s memoir tackles what it means to be an explorer. As she cycles through remote landscapes, accompanied by her childhood friend, Mel, Harns reflects on boundaries and the limits we put on ourselves. The book mixes adventure with philosophy and exploration – making it a great book for contemplating the reasons we explore in the first place.
6. Around the World in Eighty Trains: A 45,000 Mile Adventure, Monisha Rajesh
Train enthusiasts: this one is for you. In Around the World in Eighty Trains, Rajesh and her fiancé traverse some 45,000 miles over the course of seven months. The couple begin with a tour of Europe, ending up in Moscow; from there, they take the Trans-Mongolian Railway to Beijing. After speeding through Asia, the pair fly to Vancouver, beginning their journey through North America.
Rajesh weaves a compelling narrative celebrating train travel. Her stories are full of wit, clever observations, and vivid descriptions of the landscapes and people she encounters on her journeys.
7. A Walk in the Woods, Bill Bryson
Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail is perfect for hiking enthusiasts. Bryson treks through the Appalachian Trail – the longest hiking-only trail in the world, stretching from Georgia to Maine. Bryson’s tale is hilarious – in fact, CNN named it the “funniest travel book ever written.” If you’re missing hiking and searching for an informative, engaging, and highly entertaining travel story – look no further.
8. Outpost: A Journey to the Wild Ends of the Earth, Dan Richards
In Outpost, Richards searches for quiet places. He seeks secluded refuges away from the hustle and bustle of human life. He follows in the tradition of famous authors and poets that went off the grid – Henry David Thoreau, Dylan Thomas, Roald Dahl, and Jack Kerouac, to name a few. Richards visits Dahl’s writing cabin at Great Missenden; he finds Kerouac’s lookout cabin at Desolation Peak in the mountains of Washington State. Richards climbs mountains across the world: from the North Cascades to the Cairngorms to Mount Mitoku. He visits remote outposts in Iceland and traverses the frozen terrain of Svalbard. This personal narrative offers brilliant descriptions of nature – the stunning, desolate landscapes Richards explores across the world – along with compelling tales of the people he meets along the way.
Zoë Bell is a freelance writer and avid traveler currently pursuing a master’s in International Journalism at City, University of London.