5 Favourite Travel Books
Christmas always means two specific things for me–lots of time with the fam-jam and long car trips. The whole lot of us–uncles, aunts, cousins, assorted SOs, and pets–trek it to my Grandmother’s house to spend Christmas. It is not unusual to have 30 people at the table for Christmas dinner. It is fun, a bit manic, and at times very loud. The drive from Toronto to Windsor where my Grandmother lives is four hours each way, and with all that noise sometimes you just need to sneak up stairs to just read a book in silence. I never go to any family gathering without being armed with wine and a couple of books. So in that spirit, here are my five favorite travel lit books.
Hitching Rides with Buddha, by Will Ferguson
Canadian expat Will Ferguson hitch hikes the length of Japan following the Cherry Blossom Front, despite his colleague’s insistence that no Japanese person would ever pick up a hitch hiker. Laugh out loud funny, the reader gets a sense of what it’s like to to be a foreigner trying to maneuver Japanese society. Adventure, misadventure, and confusion ensues.
A Walk In the Woods, Bill Bryson
Sometimes an idea captures your imagination and despite bears and a not having camped in decades you just need to do it. This is what set Bill Bryson and his friend Stephen Katz off on the Appalachian Trail–attempting to hike the length of it from Georgia to Main. Combining history, botany, and calamity, it makes you dream about life on the trail and wonder whether you have it in you to take on the challenge yourself. This book was made into a movie this year with Robert Redford as Bryson and a kick ass sound track from Lord Huron. As someone who loves the book I still recommend reading it first, but once you finish the book, the movie is definitely worth the watch too!
I’m Off Then, Hape Kerkeling
This book has inspired me to walk the Camino as well. Kerkeling is a German comedian who following stress and health problems decides with very little warning or fanfare to go off and walk the Camino de Santiago–a medieval pilgrimage route the stretches from France across the top of Spain. Detailing his own self exploration, life on the Camino, and the unique cast of characters that he meets along the way, Kerkeling makes you laugh while at the same time makes you dream.
Touch the Dragon, Karen Connelly
When I first read this book for a travel literature class in university, it immediately struck a cord with me. This had essentially been me, except I had been living in China rather than Thailand. Using her journals and letters from the time, Connelly tells the story of how her 17 year old self fared moving to Thailand from her home in Calgary, Canada. Culture shock, a long distance romance, and how we perceive ourselves and world around us as teenagers all come into play as she adapts to her new home. What this book does amazingly well is shows expat life in a very realistic and honest way. This book should be required reading for anyone going off on exchange, regardless of the country.
Under the Tuscan Sun, Frances Mayes
I would warn you not to read this book while hungry, but it wont make a difference. You could have just eaten an eight course meal and this book will still make you hungry. Mayes buys a fixer-upper of a Tuscan villa in Italy and the book that comes out of it is a sumptuous exploration of the Tuscan life style and many many amazing meals. Other than making you hungry, what this book does best if give you a feel of life in Italy in multi-sensory way that is the next best best thing to going there yourself. Or best option, take this book with you to Italy!
These are my picks for favorite travel novels, and yes, I’m sure you noticed what may be considered a couple glaring omissions on this list. I was not a big fan of Eat, Pray, Love, nor Wild, which is why they are not on the list. Though they have their merits, at the end of the day they are Oprah’s picks, not mine. I’ve always loved the story of the unprepared venturing forth into adventure, and to a degree all five of these books have that element. I think it is because most of us are not wild adventurers–we work jobs in offices and travel whenever time and finances allow. So we need to read about places far away and see a little bit of the traveler in ourselves.