The 5 Must-Read Books That Fed My Travel Addiction: Amanda Kendle
Since most of us aren’t lucky enough to be able to travel non-stop, reading some great travel narratives between trips is a perfect way to fill the gap. Well-written books about the travel experiences of others do many things: they inspire you to visit places you haven’t, they reminisce with you about those you have, and they quite simply entertain you with tales of somewhere away from home.
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If I cast my eye over my overflowing bookshelves, there are a few special travel books that jump out as ones I’ve digested more than once, smiled and laughed at, got jealous about or gone straight to the internet to book a flight over; the books that jumped out most zealously are making up my top five list today.
Paul Theroux: The Great Railway Bazaar
I’m not a big Theroux fan. To be honest, I still find him somehow obnoxious at times, and I don’t think I’d want to travel along with him. But it’s exactly this trait that seems to make his train journey narratives so fabulously enthralling.
Theroux’s story of a train trip through China, Riding the Iron Rooster, comes a close second as a worthy read, but The Great Railway Bazaar was the book that cemented my utter adoration of long train trips. While the section covering the Trans-Siberian railway is relatively short, it was enough to convince me that I had to take that journey across Russia.
Theroux has a habit of meeting interesting people; or does he just make them interesting, both through his attitude and his grasp of storytelling? On top of that, he’s pretty masterful at weaving facts and cultural tidbits into his story. He doesn’t find it necessary to travel in luxury, and that suits me just fine.
Bill Bryson: In a Sunburned Country
Published as Down Under outside of North America, this was just as entertaining for me as I find all of Bill Bryson’s travel books to be, but even more so because it was about my home country, Australia. Bill Bryson manages to combine the American directness with a British sense of humor and create interesting tales out of otherwise ordinary travels.
In a Sunburned Country is a book I buy again and again as a gift for my friends outside Australia. It’s part of my strategy to entice them to visit this far-away land, but also simply a way to make them laugh about some of Australia’s peculiarities. Memorably for me, Bryson begins the book with his amazement that Australia once managed to lose a Prime Minister. It’s true, he went swimming one morning and never came back. And that’s the kind of country everyone’s dying to visit, right?
Tony Hawks: Round Ireland With a Fridge
Tony Hawks might not be super-famous in all parts of the world — in fact, he’s more often confused with skateboarder Tony Hawk — but he’s now got four hilarious travel narratives to his name. The first three are all based on the premise that one of his friends made a bet with him, and he just had to keep it. Thus, he tried to beat each member of the Moldovan soccer team at tennis, leading to Playing the Moldovans at Tennis, and a similar off-hand remark had him quite literally travel Round Ireland With a Fridge.
The funny thing is, I avoided Tony Hawks’ books for years. It’s all because of a cranky tourist I met in Tunisia, who told me that the best part of Tunisia was the fact that he could read Round Ireland With a Fridge in his hotel room at night. I was so angry with this man for neglecting to see the incredible array of sights that are found in Tunisia that I boycotted this book for a long time. What a pity, because I’ve since discovered and grown to love the great blend of comedy and travel in all of Tony Hawks’ books.
Sarah Macdonald: Holy Cow!
India is one of the big travel meccas that I actually haven’t reached yet. For many years, I didn’t understand the strong attraction that so many backpackers and long-term travelers have to the region. I didn’t want to learn yoga, and it seemed like a country full of chronic hassles for travelers — cows that don’t budge when your bus wants to get through, poverty galore and bowel problems if you eat the wrong food.
All that changed when I read Sarah Macdonald’s Holy Cow!. Macdonald is an Australian journalist who follows her fiancé to India when he’s posted there for his job. Her book is an honest account of her experiences in India, good and bad, and her search for the meaning of the country. Her journalist background, coupled with the time she has to spare while her other half is off working, take her to many corners of the country and to experiences that would probably make me uncomfortable. In particular, she makes a great exploration of the different religions and spiritualities that pulse through India, and helped me understand a little more why so many people make it a must-see destination.
Alain de Botton: The Art of Travel
If you read this book, your attitude towards your own travels will never be the same again.
I’ve saved the best for last. As far as beautiful books go, with a small selection of inspiring photographs, and classically attractive prose, de Botton’s The Art of Travel will always be number one for me. It’s a philosophical journey about why people travel, rather than a strict travel narrative. It is divided into five sections that summarize the travel experience for de Botton and, curiously, for me too: Departure, Motives, Landscape, Art, and Return.
This book is full of those moments of recognition, when you see an insight into your traveling style or the reasons why you travel that you’d never thought of so clearly before. De Botton dips into the historical experiences of others, intertwining their philosophy and memories with a selection of his own trips to places like Barbados, Amsterdam and the Sinai Desert. If you read this book, your attitude towards your own travels will never be the same again.