Before I started travelling the world full-time, I escaped to foreign worlds with books. They were not necessarily all travel books but I quickly became addicted to a recurrent theme of crossing borders and diving deep into new cultures. Does it surprise anyone that my final thesis in the subject of literature was all about crossing oceans, the feeling of displacement and finding a home wherever you go? A classic foreshadowing case for me.
So no matter if you have been hopelessly bitten by the travel bug (there’s no known remedy except giving in to it altogether), need a little travel inspiration or just want a good book, here are my personally selected books I love and recommend. If you have some of your own to add or want to chime in on book praises, the comment section is all yours! (I would love to hear your thoughts.)
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The Snarky Anthropologists
A big chunk of my heart I left behind in England and before I travelled the world, I constantly travelled to the Isle. Therefore, I also read quite a lot of British literature – both by British authors as well as about Britain. A remarkable and timeless piece that observes and hilariously comments on British culture and its many manifestations (always see pubs as its own strange microcosm, for instance) is Kate Fox’s Watching the English. If you need more input on British quirks and places to be equally amazed and puzzled by, are Bill Bryson’s Notes from a Small Island and The Road to Little Dribbling.
In fact, any of Bill Bryson’s travel books (or any of his books) are worth a read. I cannot stress enough of I am seriously struggling not to burst out in laughter every single time. His piece on Australia, called simply Down Under, still rung in my head as I travelled the country. I remembered the time a couple drowned over the Great Barrier Reef when I nearly met the same fate. I rejoiced over beholding the breathing rocks that Mr Bryson was so fond of. (Clearly everybody else in my tour group was not fazed at all by them.) In short, if you want to get a certain sense of awe (and fright) from travelling Australia served with a hefty dose of humour, check it out!
The Travel Bloggers
If you haven’t seen it yet, I recently published my very first travel stories on my adventures in Australia and New Zealand (also available in German!). But of course, other bloggers have their own pieces as well. A read I enjoyed tremendously was Gloria’s From Excuses to Excursions. It is basically a walkthrough guide to her kick-ass attitude and how to take on globetrotting yourself.
If you need more disaster stories after reading my book, check out How Not To Travel The World by Lauren Juliff. She has had some pretty bad luck throughout her travels but has quite the stories to tell! I love how she always gets back on her feet and still remains so passionate about travel. Another travel blogger read is Kristin Addis’s A Thousand New Beginnings on her travels throughout Asia.
The Magical Fiction
Remember my literary thesis? A big part of it was about the enchanting novel Away by Jane Urquhart. It is an intergenerational love story to the power of water, the love for life and takes place in Ireland and Canada. For those more interested in the Amazon, have a look into State of Wonder to feel as if you’ve joined a mysterious jungle expedition with some unexpected twists.
Do I even need to talk about Harry Potter’s last book, the Deathly Hallows? It is about travel as well. (Is this too far a stretch? I just HAD to please my inner fangirl). Keeping with magical powers, have you read the Midnight Circus? It’s about a travelling circus that is utterly bewitched and fascinating. It might not actually be a travel book, but it does take you to another world.
Sometimes life writes the most dazzling and befuddling travel stories! A story that especially captivated me was Robyn Davidson’s Tracks. As a young girl, she was determined to cross Australia’s deadly stretch of desert with camels. It seemed ludicrous to most people but she succeeded and went on many more adventures afterwards. Truly inspiring!
A piece on how travel can save you from falling off the tracks and getting your life together again is Wild by Cheryl Strayed. Most people know the film with Reese Witherspoon (which was awesome), but you could try the travel book if you haven’t seen it yet (just like with Tracks).
The Classical Pieces
Since I’ve studied British and American literature, I cannot possibly write a post on travel literature for book worms without diving straight into the classical and world renowned writers. Here’s a quick shout out to Homer’s Odyssey (try it in Latin!) or – if you’re feeling meta – Joyce’s Ulysses. Ernest Hemingway is a good bet as well.
Students of British literature and lovers of travel books, listen up. Shakespeare might be a good idea to check out again if you want to enter a heated debate on if Shakespere was Shakespeare and how he knew (or made up) all these details about Italian places. Try Merchant of Venice and Much Ado about Nothing. One of my favourite novels about culture clash and relocation is North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell. It could be described as a Pride&Prejudice during England’s Industrialization, but it’s so much more than that!
The Travel Journalists
Of course I won’t forget American literature gems. What about Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn or The Innocents Abroad? For the adventurous, Jack Kerouac’s On the Road will delight as well as Jack London’s The Call of the Wild.
If you need a bit of a wakeup call in case you want to be an explorer yourself, read Krakauer’s Into the Wild, which is based on a true story. (The film is great, too!) However, there are not only travel books on road adventures with the young and curious. Not exactly a true story, but still, Graham Swift’s Last Orders is a quirky and award-winning novel on crossing the country to fulfill a last will, which is to travel the sea eternally.