You might know of some of these books, or more than one. Some might pop up on a “wanderlust reading list” or 20. But some of these are guaranteed to have never crossed your mind before, so let’s get started.
Summary: “Fueled by an unmistakable lust for life and adventure and a singular gift for storytelling, Chatwin treks through “the uttermost part of the earth”— that stretch of land at the southern tip of South America, where bandits were once made welcome—in search of almost forgotten legends, the descendants of Welsh immigrants, and the log cabin built by Butch Cassidy.”
I read this book in my world literature class in university. Back then, I didn’t travel much and I didn’t really know anything about travel writing. For me, In Patagonia is the book that fuelled my love for good travel writing narrative. If you ever want a sense of voyaging to an unmarked, undiscovered land…read In Patagonia. It’s dense and heavy at times, but worth it. Chatwin is an absolute master at turning scenic landscapes into vivid descriptions. Like this:
“I climbed a path and from the top looked up-stream towards Chile. I could see the river, glinting and sliding through the bone-white cliffs with strips of emerald cultivation either side. Away from the cliffs was the desert. There was no sound but the wind, whirring through thorns and whistling through dead grass, and no other sign of life but a hawk, and a black beetle easing over white stones.”
Summary: “This humorous story of one family’s search for the Arcadian idyll speaks volumes about learning to live, laugh, and drink Ouzo together while turning a tumbledown ruin into a place to hold their hearts.”
Sound familiar? Yup, writers love talking about how they flipped an old ramshackle house in an idyllic European countryside setting. I’m a sucker for it every time. I’m also a sucker for Greece, and everything involved with Greek history. This book’s a little different because John Mole absurdly buys a beaten-down shack thinking he can transform it into something beautiful. You will laugh, a lot, and then immediately book a trip to Greece.
Summary: “Bobbi French is just an ordinary person seeking an extraordinary life. For her, that means taking the boldest leap of faith in her life: moving to France to fulfill a lifelong dream. All she has to do is give up her successful medical career in Canada, sell her house, pare down her possessions to only what would fit in a carry-on suitcase, and buy a one-way ticket to Semur-en-Auxois.”
I first picked up this book because the author is from my home province, Newfoundland. In this debut novel, French delivers a hysterically funny account of her move abroad, and she does so in the most self-deprecating way possible. It’s kind of the opposite of the famous Under the Tuscan Sun: French exposes the unglamorous side of moving to a foreign country without knowing the language or culture, and still somehow makes us want to visit anyway.
Beyond Belfast – Will Ferguson
Summary: “Beyond Belfast is the story of one man’s misguided attempt at walking the Ulster Way, ‘the longest waymarked trail in the British Isles.’ It’s a journey that takes Will Ferguson through the small towns and half-forgotten villages of Northern Ireland, along rugged coastlines and across barren moorland heights, past crumbling castles and patchwork farms.”
Will Ferguson is one of my favourite funny travel writers, and it always surprises me that he’s not better known. He’s kind of like the Canadian version of Bill Bryson: snarky, hilarious, observant, and lover of oddities. I’ve always had an affinity for the Emerald Isle, especially since my ancestry is linked to there, and so this was a lovely read from someone who feels the same way as I do. Ferguson is also a master at breaking down The Troubles to make it easier for the average reader to understand. Yes, it’s unbelievably complicated.
Summary: “In 1957, Farley Mowat shipped out aboard one of Newfoundland’s famous coastal steamers, tramping from outport to outport along the southwest coast. The indomitable spirit of the people and the bleak beauty of the landscape would lure him back again and again over the years. In the process of falling in love with a people and a place, Mowat also met the woman who would be the great love of his life.”
Bay of Spirits is one of my all-time favourite books. Farley Mowat perfectly captures dying rural Newfoundland and the people in it, and the writing is just beautiful. I also dream of sailing the coast, visiting old abandoned villages and forgotten towns. You won’t find this book on too many reading lists, either. Of course, I have a soft spot for this read because he even visits my tiny isolated hometown. But if you’ve never been to Newfoundland before, I can guarantee you, this will make you go want to go.
Around the World in 90 Days – Jules Verne
Summary: “Phileas Fogg of London and his newly employed French valet Passepartout attempt to circumnavigate the world in 80 days on a £20,000 wager set by his friends at the Reform Club.”
Some people say the journey is the best part of travel. I’m not sure I’d agree, but this book is definitely all about the journey. Phileas Fogg is one of the quirkiest literary characters I’ve ever encountered, and his round-the-world adventure is something to be admired. What happens when you take a grumpy old man who LOVES his routine away from his routine? A lot, turns out. Plus it’s a cool insight into travel throughout the 1800s.
Summary: “The story begins in 1962. On a rocky patch of the sun-drenched Italian coastline, a young innkeeper, chest-deep in daydreams, looks out over the incandescent waters of the Ligurian Sea and spies an apparition: a tall, thin woman, a vision in white, approaching him on a boat. She is an actress, he soon learns, an American starlet, and she is dying. And the story begins again today, half a world away, when an elderly Italian man shows up on a movie studio’s back lot—searching for the mysterious woman he last saw at his hotel decades earlier. What unfolds is a dazzling, yet deeply human, roller coaster of a novel, spanning fifty years and nearly as many lives.”
If I didn’t want to go to Italy before, I certainly do now! This book is in the fiction genre, and it’s worth a read. Much of the story takes place in a rugged, isolated Italian village only accessible by boat. Walter’s descriptions of the landscape, food, and Italian people are dreamy. The narrative jumps back and forth in time, but seamlessly. You get all the perks of good travel writing with some romance thrown in as an extra bonus.
Let’s Get Lost – Adi Alsaid
Summary: “Four teens across the country have only one thing in common: a girl named Leila. She crashes into their lives in her absurdly red car at the moment they need someone the most. But it is during Leila’s own 4,268-mile journey that she discovers the most important truth—sometimes, what you need most is right where you started. And maybe the only way to find what you’re looking for is to get lost along the way.”
This is some YA Fiction I picked up last year on account of the pretty cover (seriously). It’s a nice and easy light-hearted read for anyone who wants to relax and sit back with a good, entertaining book. Road trips, new friends, and funny mishaps — how can you go wrong with that?
Summary: “Shantaram is narrated by Lin, an escaped convict with a false passport who flees maximum security prison in Australia for the teeming streets of a city where he can disappear. Accompanied by his guide and faithful friend, Prabaker, the two enter Bombay’s hidden society of beggars and gangsters, prostitutes and holy men, soldiers and actors, and Indians and exiles from other countries, who seek in this remarkable place what they cannot find elsewhere.”
Some literary folks will be mad at me for including this monster of a book on the list. Apparently it’s not hip to like Shantaram, because all the backpackers are doing it. But believe it or not, Shantaram gave me a strong desire to visit India. Lin’s story is so absurd it’s almost unbelievable. Even all the “bad stuff” about India – pollution, chaos, poverty – seemed somehow appealing after reading this book. I think it has a lot to do with the people. India really does seem to be a world of its own.
Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven – Susan Jane Gilman
Summary: “In 1986, fresh out of college, Gilman and her friend Claire yearned to do something daring and original that did not involve getting a job. Inspired by a place mat at the International House of Pancakes, they decided to embark on an ambitious trip around the globe, starting in the People’s Republic of China. At that point, China had been open to independent travellers for roughly ten minutes. Unsurprisingly, they quickly found themselves in over their heads. What began as a journey full of humour, eroticism, and enlightenment grew increasingly sinister – becoming a real-life international thriller that transformed them forever.”
I started out absolutely hating this book and its characters. But halfway through, things took a dramatic turn and I honestly couldn’t put the book down. Advice for travellers: be careful who you travel with! It’s a little sad to realize that there are so few places left on the planet that have been untouched by tourism. What must it have been like to visit China back then? Despite everything that happens in Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven, I actually found myself kinda wanting to visit. You will too.
What books have inspired you to travel?