28 of our favourite books that allow you to travel virtually: from inspirational coffee table books to our favourite paperback novels!
Thanks to Coronavirus staying in is the new going out, but that doesn’t mean you can’t create your own travel experience without leaving the house!
Travel books can whisk you away to the other side of the world, so while you’ve got this extra time at home, why not make the most of the opportunity to cosy up on your sofa with a good book?
Travel plans are scuppered for the near future, so it’s time to live vicariously through some of the world most renowned travel writers. Or, perhaps, you could get some inspiration and make plans for that trip you want to take once travel restrictions are lifted?
If, you’re looking for some new travel books to add to your reading list, then you’ll enjoy this handy list of 28 books to inspire travel. The Ladies What Travel team have added some of their own favourite books, but we also asked the wider travel blog community for their recommendations, providing you with a well rounded guide to the best travel books out there right now.
See what takes your fancy, pop onto Amazon and order a couple and then get ready to be whisked away on a virtual adventure…
Keri – Ladies What Travel
This is one of my favourite travel books to pick up and flick through when I’m trying to decide where to go on my next trip, as it offers readers an example of a special place to visit for each day of the year.
It’s a great way to learn about exciting local festivals, quirky sporting events and seasonal experiences and has helped me uncover several new destinations I had not heard of, or considered, before.
Whenever this book catches my eye on the shelf I’ll pick it up and see what it recommends for today (for example, on the publication date of this post – November 11th, it recommends heading to India to celebrate Diwali) and it’s fun to see what things you could do on special dates and occasions like birthdays and anniversaries. My birthday recommendation is to spot leopards in Yala National Park, Sri Lanka, while for mine and J’s anniversary there’s always Jazz Fest in New Orleans!
Amanda, Not A Ballerina
Before I travelled to Denmark I bought myself an oft-recommended book, The Year of Living Danishly. Author and journalist Helen Russell wrote about her first year of life in rural Denmark after she and her husband moved there when he was offered his dream job working at Lego.
Apart from being a fabulous read – it ranges from hilarious to sad through Helen’s various experiences of cultural differences, fitting in and trying not to offend the neighbours – it also taught me so much about Danish culture and left me even more intrigued about what I would learn and discover when I finally got to Denmark.
In fact, more than that – because I really like to be a thoughtful traveller and get to know a destination through its people, The Year of Living Danishly actually armed me with a bunch of questions to ask people I met on my trip and it made my whole journey so much more rewarding! But even if you’re not headed to Denmark any time soon, it’s a great read, addressing a lot of the research that shows Denmark is one of the happiest places in the world and figuring out just why this is so.
Karis, Ladies What Travel
Deborah Harkness’ world takes in so many amazing places. The series is a brilliant mix of the supernatural, history, and science and it has inspired me in my wanderlust.
For a history nut like me, medieval London has always been a place of wonder; the way it’s described by Harkness really makes you feel like she was there – I’ve walked the streets and tried to use my imagination to see the old paths and buildings she mentions. She also includes Prague, Venice, Amsterdam and France in her story. I would likely never have been to Venice if it wasn’t for the books.
I’ve written about this trilogy before, take a look at my entire dedicated blog post.
Emergency Sex (And Other Desperate Measures): True Stories from a War Zone, Kenneth Cain, Heidi Postlewait and Andrew Thomson
Mario, Rest and Recuperation
As a humanitarian, I have the luck of travelling a lot for my job. I don’t mean flying to somewhere like Singapore for a meeting and flying out as soon as the boring stuff is done. I mean that I live for six to eighteen months in the same country, which I think is the best way to know a particular place and culture.
I also have holidays that I spend in the same region, allowing me to further deepen my knowledge of that area. A good example of visiting the neighbouring region comes from Heidi, one of the three protagonists and writers of Emergency Sex (and other desperate measures), one of the must-read books for humanitarians. She is living in Somalia and goes for her R&R (rest and recuperation) to Kenya.
Books to inspire travel…
The books itself made me even more willing to travel and work as a humanitarian. It shows the cynical aspect of humanitarian work, the contradictions of this world, and the change of behaviour of aid workers towards their society the longer they stay in the business. But it is fascinating to see how the protagonists meet people like them and make friendships that last forever. Emergency Sex is a book that every humanitarian should read, especially those at the beginning of their career.
It’s also a book for non-aid workers so that they can understand this world, but also enjoy some very smart sarcasm about life in general. So follow Heidi, Ken, and Andrew through their adventures in Cambodia, Somalia, Haiti, Liberia, and Rwanda.
Keri, Ladies What Travel
Travels don’t always have to be to far-flung destinations, I think you can have just as exciting and enjoyable experiences closer to home. You can’t beat a good day trip and I have to say this book has inspired me to explore much more of London.
Similarly to The Best Places to Be Today, this book highlights something to do in London on each day of the year. Of course, it’s got all the main attractions London’s known for, such as the Tower of London with its Crown Jewels, but there’s also some hidden gems like the Brunel Museum, Europe’s first Thai temple and the Sphinxes of Crystal Palace.
It’s also a great guide of London’s pubs, with Jones even pointing out the pub where Samuel Pepys watched the Great Fire of London burn!
On the Road, Jack Kerouac
Have you ever meet someone, but the timing was way off?
Back in my early twenties, I was lost. I dropped out of college and my part-time job had recently laid me off. I had about $100 to my name and student loan payments coming due. So on a whim, I applied for a job for a photography company in Banff, AB. Photography had been an interest for me in high school, but I never took the chance to explore it as a profession. And to my surprise, I had got the job.
I had less than a week to pack up my life and move to the beautiful Rocky Mountains. A few days before I was set to leave, I met a guy. You know when you meet someone and it feels like you have known them for years. That was our connection. Between packing and saying goodbye to friends, we hung out for hours. Chatting about life, love and everything in between. On our last day together, he gave me a copy of On The Road by Jack Kerouac and said it reminded him of me.
A classic American novel
The book is an American classic about two guys who crisscross the country on restless adventures. Each adventure learning more about themselves and each other. While my adventures were never as crazy as that of the characters in the book, I would often travel with no plans. I would book a flight and the first couple of nights in a hostel but that was about it. I had no itinerary or tours booked.
This book inspires my spontaneous travel side. That spontaneous side that sometimes gets lost now that I am a mom. But I keep this book on my bookshelf to inspire me to include smaller spontaneous travel adventures in our plans. Adventures such as randomly stopping at unexpected museums or off the beaten track restaurants.
Just in case you were wondering, I never saw the guy again.
Karis, Ladies What Travel
When I went to the Abergavenny edition of Eat Your Words in 2017, the focus was on this cookbook and the author herself actually cooked our meal. The way she spoke about her journey through the Caucasus, including Georgia and Azerbaijan, to develop the cookbook really set the scene for stunning scenery, beautiful food and amazing people.
I bought the book and read it more like a story than a list of recipes. Hercules’ words bring to life the stories of the people she spoke to and an area I know very little about. I’ve been dying to get to Georgia ever since. Watch this space because I’ll get there whatever it takes!
The Lost Girls: Three Friends. Four Continents. One Unconventional Detour Around the World, Jennifer Baggett, Holly C. Corbett and Amanda Pressner
I read The Lost Girls years ago and it was the first book I ever read about traveling. The book chronicles the real-life adventures of three girls from New York City who decide to leave their lives behind and go traveling around the world for a year.
The idea is born while they’re on vacation in Brazil, when they find themselves in awe of the Iguazu Falls and dreading to go back to their jobs back home. They start dreaming about what it’d be like to take a leap and travel, and the seed is planted. It’s relatable to so many of us that have ever had that same thought, and it definitely hit home for me at the time since it was something that I dreamed of doing but scared of putting into action.
What drew me to the book the most was their ability to describe their adventures with all their senses. I truly felt like I was in front of the Iguazu Falls being mesmerized by its beauty. It fuelled my wanderlust and added a lot of great adventures to my bucket list.
Books that inspire travel…
A year after reading The Lost Girls, I had an opportunity to travel to Brazil and I booked myself a weekend side-trip to see the Iguazu Falls in person. It was everything I had imaged and more. It’s remained one of the most unique experiences I’ve ever had while traveling and I owe it all to this book. The book has stayed with me over the years as I finally took the leap and quit my corporate job last year to follow my dreams of traveling the world.
The Lost Girls is a book about discovering who you are, making mistakes, and following your dreams even when they scare you to bits. Each chapter is told from a different author’s perspective which allows you to not only root for them as a group and understand their evolving dynamic, but also to get to know each of the them as individuals through their own journey.
The Art of Non Conformity, Chris Guillebeau
WARNING. Do not read this book if you want to live an ‘average’ existence. This book will seriously alter your perception of reality and make you question everything you have ever been told about living your life. Guillebeau has created a masterpiece. His wit and practical advice will keep you hooked until the very end and the best bit? Every piece of advice he offers you, well he’s been there and done that, visiting every country in the world before he was 35 and living by the mantra of:
“Someone who will work 24 hours a day for themselves to avoid working one hour a day for someone else.”
If you want to break out of the conventional mould and find ways of making that possible, with a big sprinkling of honesty and inspiration, buy this book. He also has an incredible website that is worth checking out – https://chrisguillebeau.com/.
Secret Marvels of the World: 360 extraordinary places you never knew existed and where to find them (Lonely Planet)
Keri, Ladies What Travel
We love a good hidden gem, or quirky find, here at Ladies What Travel, which is why this book is right up our alley. Secret Marvels’ showcases over 350 weird and wonderful places you may never have heard of before, so it’s great if you’re looking to uncover something different to go and visit on your travels.
The book works its way across the world via longitude, starting with extraordinary places in Alaska, Hawaii and remote islands like Kiribati and then moving East. Each destination has an engaging short story written by Lonely Planet authors from around the world, bringing each spot to life and enticing you even more into visiting. Uncover weird and wonderful places “populated by oddballs and eccentrics”, Canada’s glass house, Lima Witches Market, deserted communist bunkers and a place in Ghana where you can buy coffins shaped like beer bottles or fish. It’s a crazy old world we live in, and this book will show you some of the craziest spots!
Memoirs of a Geisha, Arthur Golden
James, Travel Collecting
Memoirs of a Geisha is my favorite book about Japan. The book is set before, during and soon after the Second World War, and tells the story of a girl who was sold by her father to a family of geishas in Gion, the geisha district of Kyoto. The book paints a vivid picture of the lives and hidden world of these famous entertainers and the changes that WWII brought. It is a tale of intrigue and love, but mostly it is a fascinating insight into the intricacies and difficulties of these fascinating women’s lives. And it totally made me fall in love with Japan.
Although you may first think so, this book is actually not a memoir (it’s written but a western man!), but you would never know it from reading it. It really brings the whole geisha world to life and makes you want to be surrounded by it. And you can be. It’s fascinating to visit Kyoto and wander the streets of Gion. At dusk, there is a good chance to see geishas or maikos (apprentice geisha) wandering through the streets in elaborate makeup and hairstyles, dressed in gorgeous kimonos and wearing wooden slippers.
They are highly sought-after hostesses and entertainers (not prostitutes as is sometimes mistakenly thought). They mostly work at functions for Japanese businessmen in traditional teahouses, but it is actually possible to be served by geishas at some restaurants. Staying in a ryokan (a traditional Japanese inn) is one way to get a sense of the traditional world that existed during the book, but even better – at some of the best ryokans in Kyoto you can actually be served by geisha hostesses and live out your own Memoirs of a Geisha fantasy.
Sahara, Michael Palin
Ivan, Mind the Travel
Michael Palin is a former member of Monty Python and one of the stars of A Fish Called Wanda. In the last decade and a half, Palin’s been taking long journeys around the world, accompanied by a BBC camera crew and a great photographer, Basil Rao.
I fell in love with the Sahara desert back in 2006 when I spent two weeks exploring Casablanca and Rabat. My fun-filled informative trip was dwarfed by the adventure captured in Sahara. I expect I will never see the places described and documented, and for that reason, Palin’s book provided a wonderful virtual travel experience into this region.
Michael Palin’s epic overland trip across the Sahara desert was a major one. Covering eight Saharan countries, as well as politically volatile Western Sahara, the author roasted in 140-degree weather, rode as part of a camel train, ate camel livers and lived to tell the story, and was run over by the Paris-Dakar rally. The book is written in a funny, easy-to-read format with inspiring sights, smells, tastes, and adventures just around the corner. There’s always something more to learn about the divide between rich and poor and beneath some other things we think we know.
On his journeys, Palin visits the major sights you’d expect, and many others. Some of the places he hits rarely have outside visitors. At many of the places there’s a local or long-time resident accompanying him. He visits famous people but he also interacts with lots of ordinary people as well. Oh, and he’s often taking some odd form of transportation – tagging along on a camel train, for example.
As the journey unfolds, you’ll discover that Sahara is not only sand dunes, it’s also a huge and diverse range of cultures and landscapes and a long history of commerce and conquest stretching from the time of an ancient Semitic people to the modern Bedouin communities of Algeria.
The Girl Outdoors, Sian Anna Lewis
Keri, Ladies What Travel
I don’t consider myself very outdoorsy at all, blame my bad health or simply lethargy, but within minutes Lewis’ book had me wanting to get out and back to nature.
She shows you how accessible the outdoors really is, and that there’s something for everyone. Sure, if you’re into adventure experiences then yes, you could go hiking, canoeing, cliff jumping or surfing, but she also highlights many more sedate experiences, such as glamping, foraging or for the braver amongst us, skinny dipping!
Lewis comes across as your best mate, and looking at her inviting pictures you’ll be gagging to join her canoeing along the Wye Valley or scuba diving in mozambique…
False Tongues and Sunday Bread: A Guatemalan and Mayan Cookbook, Copeland Harris Marks
Michele, A Taste for Travel
Published in 1985, ‘False Tongues and Sunday Bread: A Guatemalan and Mayan Cookbook’ by author Copeland Harris Marks (1921–1999) was one of the most influential books during my travels through Guatemala. Even though Marks came to food writing late in life after serving in World War II, followed by careers in the foreign service and import-export business, he authored 16 cookbooks.
Born in Burlington, Vermont he specialised in writing about regional international cuisines he regarded as unrecognised and under appreciated. While the cuisines of Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica and El Salvador are featured in ‘False Tongues and Sunday Bread: A Guatemalan and Mayan Cookbook’, it’s Guatemalan cuisine – both that of the Maya, of the Garifuna of the Caribbean coast and of the Ladino ( those of Spanish colonial ancestry) that’s showcased.
My husband’s family hails from the lowlands of Guatemala and although I’m familiar with their traditional foods such as the famous queso de Zacapa, the quesadilla de Zacapa and pollo en crema con loroco, it was through Marks’ cookbook that I learned about patin ( a dried minnow wrapped in Maxan leaf), jocón or pollo en jocón ( chicken in green mole sauce) and pulique (ceremonial chicken) – Guatemalan dishes typical of the highlands – a region far from where our family lives.
In the 1980s and 90s, Guatemala’s civil war made it difficult to travel to the highlands as the government was waging a genocide against the Mayan people. So I counted on Marks’ book as both a historical account of regional dishes as well as an English language explanation of cooking techniques and ingredients I was learning about in the homes of friends and families in Guatemala City and the lowlands. After the 1996 Peace Accord, I spent more time travelling throughout the country spending time in markets, home kitchens, farmer’s fields and restaurants talking with people about the dishes they were preparing.
If you travel to Guatemala and spend any time with these passionate cooks and producers, you’re sure to agree that Guatemalan cuisine is more than rice and beans. It’s a fascinating and unique mix of sophisticated cooking techniques, modern and ancient methods, indigenous ingredients, pride in heritage and delicious flavours.
Julie, Ruhls of the Road
You surely have seen Machu Picchu pictures all over Instagram and Google. Machu Picchu is located 8,000 feet up in the Peruvian mountains, above the clouds and nearly reaching the skies. However, you probably don’t know many of the stories behind the creation and re-discovery of the Peruvian paradise. And these are some WILD and UNBELIEVABLE stories my friend.
Turn Right at Machu Picchu tells three stories in parallel. First, the story of the Ancient Inca people who populated Peru, and much of South America, when the Portuguese and Spanish settlers arrived. The tale of the Inca leaders is an incredible story, especially in regards to the creation of Machu Picchu. The beautiful castle in the skies was built as a refuge for the Inca people, and was undiscovered by the World until Hiram Bingham came to Peru in 1911.
The second tale is that of Hiram Bingham, the explorer who discovered Machu Picchu in 1911. Hiram’s story is full of ups and down, adventures and misfortunes. He traveled around the world multiple times from exploit to exploit, however one thing topped them all. The culmination of ALL of his exploration is his discovery of the wonderful Inca refuge: Machu Picchu!
Finally, the third story is that of the author: Mark Adams. Mark completed the full hike on the Inca Trail, a multiple-week-long adventure through the Peruvian jungle. Mark meets locals and learns stories that he shares with the reader. And the Inca Trail is available to hike, and would be an incredible bucket-list item for any adventurer. Read Turn Right at Machu Picchu and get excited for your own adventure to Peru!
Calm, Secrets to Serenity from the Cultures of the World, Lonely Planet
Keri, Ladies What Travel
Today’s world is all go, go, go and stress and mental health issues are being discussed more than ever before. We’re all searching for ways to unwind, de-stress and find inner peace, and I love this book as it looks at the ways different cultures deal with the stresses of modern life.
Wellness holidays are growing in popularity every year and this book’s bound to inspire you to try out something new, somewhere new. Perhaps you’ll want to head to Russia to visit a traditional banya (sauna) with its scalding hot baths and birch branch beatings, slackline between trees in California , share your dreams in Ecuador, climb mountains in Tibet or dance away your stresses in Buenos Aires. There’s something there for everyone, including tea-drinking Brits!
Wild: A Journey from Lost to Found Cheryl Strayed
Tanja, Ryokou Girl
I have a confession to make, I actually saw the movie of this book, starring Reese Witherspoon before I read it. Whilst the movie is also well made and definitely worth watching, I strongly recommend reading this book first because it’s so powerful and inspiring. It’s one of the only books that has made me cry whilst reading it.
Wild is based on Cheryl Strayed’s experience of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail but it’s so much more than a travel book. Cheryl hiked the trail by herself in her twenties, back in the nineties, before smartphones, Google maps or any of the technology we would use today. She had a map, a guidebook and a backpack filled with books that was so heavy other hikers named it ‘monster’.
A spiritual journey
As readers not only are we absorbed by Cheryl’s physical journey as a female solo traveler, losing her toenails, chucking her hiking boots off a mountain and being mistaken for a homeless person, but it is her spiritual journey which makes the story all the more powerful.
Throughout the book, we learn of what drives Cheryl to embark upon her journey, following the painful death of her mother which pushes her into a downward spiral of drugs, alcohol and adultery. Reading about these experiences it is refreshing to see a woman who makes mistakes and doesn’t always do the right thing in times of crisis. She is just a regular human and very relatable compared to the ‘perfect’ image of women we are often forced to watch on screen.
Wild is a must-read for anyone who ever wanted to take a trip on their own but felt scared to do so. It will undoubtedly inspire you to take a journey that will change your life, whether it be through the mountains of California as Cheryl did, or somewhere further afield.
Shanteram,Gregory David Roberts
Shanteram is firm favourite of ours and a regular on the travellers’ circuit, and it is not hard to understand why. Based on the author’s true life story of his escape from Australian prison and his experiences in the Bombay underworld, Shanteram is authentic, gritty and captivating.
Roberts guides you through his journey as if you were stood beside him, effortlessly interweaving an evocative sense of place with intrigue of what is to come. The characters are relatable and the rawness of the emotions detailed throughout the book will make you laugh and cry to the very end. His passion for India and its people ignites a fire within to go and explore this complex country and experience the sights with your very own eyes.
Married to a Bedouin, Marguerite van Geldermalsen
Pam, Travel Hacking Mom
I traveled to Petra, Jordan last year and learned of Marguerite van Geldermalsen, a New Zealand born nurse who not only traveled to Petra but stayed. Meeting a Bedouin vendor was not her plan when she entered Petra with her friend. Little did she know that his invitation to stay in his cave would lead to marriage, three children and shared life together in Petra.
Her son still sells merchandise in Petra, including her book Married to a Bedouin. Of course, I bought it and read it after leaving Petra. It brought the area to life for me as I imagined her living in the caves there. How I wished I could have read it prior to going to Petra! These days, if you are lucky, one can even meet Marguerite when she is working at her son’s stall.
Ever wonder what it would be like to completely change your life and live in a new culture? If so, this book is for you! I could just picture her baking bread and learning how to cook in a Bedouin manner. Adopting her dress style and walking along the red rocks as she took care of her family. Can you imagine living in a new place with new people without running water, electricity or indoor plumbing? Hers is a story that is romantic, adventurous and inspiring as you read about the life and sacrifices she made for love.
Petra is magnificent! Think Indiana Jones and you are present there too! Watch out for the horse-drawn carriages speeding to the Treasury but be sure and ride a camel there. Read Marguerite’s book and walk a mile in her shoes before walking through the magnificent site that is Petra!
Yes Man, Danny Wallace
Keri, Ladies What Travel
Yes Man is loosely based on a year of the author and comedian’s life, when he decides to make an effort to say yes more. This book really resonated for me as I’m a very cautious individual who’s missed out on opportunities in the past just to play it safe.
It’s just a fun, positive book and had me laughing at loud as Wallace saying yes to everything leads him on quirky adventures such as meeting with a group that believes aliens built the Egyptian pyramids and even a hypnotic dog! He goes to new places, meets new people and it’s just a fantastic feel-good story.
This book inspired me to say yes to more things, especially when it comes to travel, and led to me taking opportunities to visit new places like Tokyo and the Philippines and going off the beaten track a little more often. Most of my most special travel memories have come from saying yes more, so I have to say thanks to Wallace for that!
Marching Powder, Rusty Young
Shamefully (although secretly delighted) we were given this book on our recent trip to South America, making it the perfect companion for the long bus journeys.
Based inside the walls of Bolivia’s most notorious prison, Marching Powder is the story of Thomas, a small-time drug dealer who found himself on the inside, amidst a world of gangs, drugs and corruption. Through his sheer determination and savviness, Thomas ended up making a living by giving backpackers tours of the prison, even being named in Lonely Planet’s travel guide for Bolivia.
Like Shantaram, Thomas’s story is raw and emotive. The writing is effortless, transporting you into a world of corruption and adversity whilst simultaneously evoking hope and inspiration from the life lesson interwoven throughout.
A Year in Marrakesh, Peter Mayne
Heather, Conversant Traveller
Wandering around the old medina of Marrakesh, you get the impression that not much has changed over the years, and indeed even the centuries. It’s one of the few places left in the world that can give you a real sense of what life was like all those years ago, but that understanding can also be achieved simply by reading a book.
Peter Mayne’s A Year in Marrakesh is a brilliantly evocative description of everyday life in the Red City during the 1950s. He gives remarkably frank and colourful insights into a hidden culture, thoughtfully describing the routines of daily life, both for the locals and for him as a foreigner living amongst them.
Keen to settle into life as a resident rather than a tourist, Mayne recounts the frustrations and rewards of setting up home in this fascinating community, telling us in detail of interactions with his neighbours, landlords and shop keepers. He manages to capture the spirit of the city in a way that transports you through time, allowing you to explore the labyrinthine medina in a way that makes you feel like you’re there.
Books that inspire travel…
It’s one of those books that really stays with you, and inspired me to venture over to Morocco for the first time nearly 10 years ago. The scenes that confronted me were just as he had described. It’s a city centred on family, bustle and fragrance, and for all of these elements that, thanks to reading the book, felt both familiar and unknown, to come to life before me was a pretty magical experience. One I’ve since repeated countless times.
50 Places to Stay to Blow Your Mind, Lonely Planet
Keri, Ladies What Travel
If, like me, you love special hotels as much as special destinations then you’ll love this book – although your purse probably won’t! It’s full of unique hotel experiences that’ll have you grabbing your credit card in no time.
Some of these properties made it onto my Dream Travel Experiences Wishlist, like Giraffe Manor in Kenya and the glass igloos of Kakslauttanen in Finland. I mean, who wouldn’t want to sleep in their own castle for the night, or in an bungalow over clear, tropical waters? I’m still not sure about a stay at a capsule or ice hotel though…
A Room with a View, E. M. Forster
I was 15-years-old when I first read A Room with a View by E. M. Forster. The first part of the novel is set in and around Florence in Italy. Because I loved the plot and characters so much I also became fascinated with the locations the book was set in, and dreamed of visiting Florence with its stunning architecture, art and romantic atmosphere.
When I was able to go to Florence years later I made sure to visit all the sites I had first learned about in the book. I soaked up the atmosphere and imagined the characters Lucy Honeychurch and George Emerson in those very spots.
The Basilica de Santa Croce, where Lucy had a strange conversation with George and his father was a stunning building to visit. In a pivotal moment of the book Lucy and George witnessed a shocking violent act in The Piazza della Signoria. With Renaissance statues depicting violent scenes from legends, the Piazza was an evocative site to see.
Gazing over the River Arno, so many lines from the book came to mind. We even found the field near Fiesole, on the outskirts of Florence overlooking the grand city, where Lucy and George first kiss.
We thought it was amusing that like Lucy, our room had an appalling view. Unlike Lucy, we didn’t manage to swap the room with a handsome guest who had a much better view!
The book gently pokes fun at the tourists of its Edwardian era – with their Baedeker guides and non-stop tours. It’s hard to imagine how Forster would have reacted to the growth of tourism since then! Yet travel changed Lucy and the book certainly inspired me to travel Italy. It also unleashed a further sense of adventure to discover more of the world.
Where the West Ends: Stories From the Middle East, the Balkans, the Black Sea and the Caucasus, Michael J. Totten
Stephanie Craig, Sofia Adventures
Where the West Ends is a travel memoir that covers journalist Michael J. Totten’s journeys through the Middle East, Balkans, along the Black Sea and finally into the Caucasus. I was originally interested in the book because I live in the Balkans, but his rich stories from the Caucasus inspired me to continue to explore further east.
The memoir opens with Totten’s impromptu road trip from Istanbul to Iraqi Kurdistan, before continuing on to tales of his time in the Balkans. I especially loved his depiction of his travels in Kosovo, where so much has changed even in the past few years since he was exploring Europe’s newest country.
Books that inspire travel…
His time in Ukraine and Georgia was especially inspiring for my own travels while enriching my memories of places I had already visited. One thing that I have experienced is that this part of the world is getting easier and easier to travel. Smartphones, translation apps,and more information online mean that some of the kinds of adventures Totten had in this part of the world are becoming a thing of the past. It’s amazing to reflect on how technology has changed travel, making it easier to communicate across language boundaries.
If you love Where the West Ends, you can go on to enjoy Totten’s previous memoir, The Road to Fatima Gate, about Lebanon during the turbulent period of 2006. I would highly recommend this one for anyone who’s traveled to Lebanon or planning a trip there any time soon!
A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush, Eric Newby
Jitaditya, The Travelling Slacker
I have read scores of travelogues but if I must name one that has actually inspired me to travel and also has had a stylistic influence on my writing, that must be A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush by Eric Newby.
As the name suggests, the action takes place somewhere in the Hindukush Range, a remote region in northern Afghanistan. I started reading it simply because of the setting, as Afghanistan has always been a war-torn country that is rarely explored. While most parts of the world have become gradually more accessible, Afghanistan has actually become more inaccessible in recent decades and Newby was lucky to have visited this region in the 50s when it was at least possible.
The other reason why it has stayed with me is because it is one of those “travel for travel’s sake” stories that don’t try too hard to be anything else. The primary mission here was to make the first ascent to the peak of Mir Samir (5,809 m) but this is not a story of triumph and human endurance. Newby and his friend Hugh Carless never reached the peak and it was just a series of amusing escapades through the region of Nuristan (Land of Light), which was originally known as Kafiristan (Land of Infidels), because of the pagan culture of the locals who resisted conversion to Islam.
Newby’s text is notable for his characteristic, self-deprecatory wit and somehow most of their plans go wrong and these failures add up to match his style. Yet, through these bumbling attempts, we learn about the people and culture of a region that is unlikely to become accessible for average tourists anytime soon!
Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything, Elizabeth Gilbert
Danni, monkey & pal
Loving languages as much as I do, one might assume that I have always loved travelling – and to an extent this is true. At the age of 17 I took part in a World Challenge trip that saw me spend a whole month in India, trekking through the Himalayas and working at a school in Jaipur. It was awesome, I loved it and it showed me a whole new world that would be mine for exploring should I want to. Fast forward a few short years and I had enrolled in a languages degree that required me to live abroad for a whole year. Amazing I hear you say!?
Looking back, it was truly incredible, but it was also extremely difficult leaving my friends, family and then boyfriend (now husband) behind in the UK. At first, I was so homesick I barely left my room despite the fact that the beautiful South of France was just outside my door! Thankfully though by the time I made it to Voronezh, Russia, I read a book that changed my perception of travelling (and perhaps life) forever.
“Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it.”
The reality of travel
I spent a lot of time feeling very lonely when I was first travelling, often spending more time thinking about what others back home were doing then fully embracing the opportunities I had in front of me. But after reading Gilbert’s memoir on her search for everything in life, I soon came to realise that actually I was extremely lucky to be given such an amazing chance to travel around with little or no responsibility!
Her honesty about feeling so miserable in the most amazing places and how she brought herself out of her usual self to enjoy the possibilities really resonated with me and encouraged me to dust myself off and get out of the small Russian apartment I was living in. Reading about Gilbert’s journeys through the narrow Italian streets, or the description of the amazing food she was eating forced me to get out and see what I could find.
Whilst in Russia, I went on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the Caucuses which saw me ride horses through the mountains, drink Kislovodsk water and take a 52 hour-round trip on a Russian sleeper train. Something that I simply wouldn’t have done or experienced without travelling to a new country. 52 hours on a train in the UK and I certainly wouldn’t see half the sights that I did in Russia!
“I feel about travel the way a happy new mother feels about her impossible, colicky, restless, newborn baby – I just don’t care what it puts me through. Because I adore it.”
This particular quote perhaps means more to me now than ever before now that I am a Mum of two young girls. I would perhaps change the second part of Gilbert’s thought though. I certainly do feel about travel the way I felt about my newborn children in that while I’m there doing it, it pushes me totally out of my comfort zone and I’m not always sure that I’ll get through it, but once I’ve made it out the other side I desperately want to go back and do it all over again. More than that though, it’s amazing to see how far you can come with the benefit of hindsight and travelling to new places, meeting new people, and experience totally incredible things are a huge part of that.
Neverwhere, Neil Gaiman
Abbie, Imperfectly Abbie
If I had to recommend a book that really sparked my imagination for a destination, then I just can’t go past Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman.
Originally written as a companion book to a BBC television series, Neverwhere has really taken on a life of its own. It follows the adventures (or are they nightmares?) of Londoner Richard Mayhew, after he comes to the aid of a strange young woman named Door and finds himself swept up in the world of London Below. The charm of Neverwhere is that it leads the reader through a magical alternative version of London, while grounding it firmly in easily recognisable landmarks that you’ll pass every day on your travels.
The first time I read it, curled up in my childhood bed in little ol’ New Zealand, the UK capital seemed like a mythical, far-off land where adventure really could wait around every corner. By the time I finally made it to London myself, Neverwhere meant that I knew exactly what to expect.
‘Mind the gap’ is clearly a warning about the monsters that lived under the trains. Earl’s Court deserves your respect, and Angel and Blackfriars stations demand just a little bit of fear. Even a trip to Harrods will have you looking in the corners twice (although if you ask me, even with Gaiman’s added magic, it’s still an over-hyped destination – skip it and head to Fortnum & Mason’s for some old world magic instead). No matter if it’s your first or fiftieth trip to London, I promise that once you’ve welcomed Neverwhere into your life, you’ll never look at it the same way again!
Books to inspire travel – over to you!
So there you have it, our favourite books to inspire travel. But what are your best travel books? We’d really like to know! Why not share your personal favourites below, or over on our Facebook or Twitter accounts. Lets share the love and let others know about our favourite travel books!
Pin for later – books to inspire travel
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