10 to try: Travel books

Travel is not about the destination, it is about the journey

There are thousands of travel books, but many are either old and dusty or new and tediously self-regarding. Here are ten travelogues to get you thinking about routes to follow, pilgrimages to make and, if you can’t get away just now, armchairs to sink into…

A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle
Inspiration for trips to rural France. There have been many inferior copies, but this is the original relocation text. During their first year in rural Provence, Mayle and his wife had to cope with fierce weather, blackmarket truffle dealers and inflexible French workers. The story is told with flair and humour.

The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux
Inspiration for travel to Central Asia, or any long train trip. Published in 1975, Theroux’s train odyssey through Cold War Europe and Central Asia, and the return journey on the Trans-Siberian Railway, is a model of intelligent – but unpretentious – free-spirited overland travel.

Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson
 Inspiration for a weekend break in Blackpool. Pseuds like to judge Bryson as a lowbrow travel writer, but in this extended goodbye to his adopted home he made a final trip around the island, stopping over in villages such as Farleigh Wallop, Titsey and Shellow Bowells and celebrating British eccentricities such as Marmite-philia.

Journey Without Maps by Graham Greene
Inspiration for being a more daring traveller. Between writing novels and lighter ‘entertainments’, Greene was an untiring traveller and wrote several memoirs and travelogues. This story of a 350-mile, four-week walk through the interior of Liberia in 1935, taken with his female cousin, Barbara Greene, is a genuine search for a heart of darkness in a country still rarely visited by Europeans.

In Siberia by Colin Thubron
Inspiration for trips to Eastern Russia, reached by the Trans-Siberian Railway. Most of us can’t or don’t want to to visit the Gulags of frozen Siberia, but this book is rich in the details of political history and cultural context that gave rise to the place as well as the myth.

Coasting by Jonathan Raban
Inspiration for UK breaks, especially coastal ones. In 1982 Jonathan Raban sailed single-handedly around Britain in an old 32-foot seagoing ketch, the Gosfield Maid. This travelogue charts his travels on board, and his existential state – coasting as a man adrift on life’s sea.

The Beach by Alex Garland
Inspiration for a gap-year odyssey. Occupying an imaginative space somewhere between William Golding’s Lord of the Flies and a travel guidebook, Garland’s bestselling novel about a utopian community on an island in Thailand captures the deceptive delights and dangers of open-ended travel.

Terra Incognita by Sara Wheeler
Inspiration for an Antarctic cruise. South Pole bores love to tell you how they’ve read all of Shackleton’s journals or all the books about Scott and Amundsen, but Wheeler gives us a very accessible, human, contemporary and above-all engaging account of a winter on the Big Ice.

In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin
Inspiration for travel to the Patagonian regions of Southern Chile and Southern Argentina. Described as a ‘minor classic’ shortly after its publication in 1977, this thin book of slim chapters introduced novelistic techniques and invention, effectively modernising the travelogue for a new generation of world travellers.

On the Road by Jack Kerouac
Inspiration for an east–west cross-country road trip in the United States. A fiction based on travels Kerouac shared with his friend and spiritual mentor, Neil Cassady, this classic of Beat literature has the rolling energy and easy rhythm of a long drive.

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