At 21 years old, I am incredibly lucky to have had a wide range of travel experiences in my short life. I’m from an adventurous family; I lived in Australia from ages two – five (military kid), road-tripped from Boston to Montana and Wyoming at nine, and spent two weeks riding an RV around Alaska at 13. I enjoyed these trips, but in a passive way. I wasn’t really involved in them; I was just along for the ride, following my parents. I discovered the thrill of traveling for myself my sophomore year of college, when I was able to study abroad in London.
As much as I loved living in this huge, amazing city, my favorite thing about the semester was the opportunity it afforded to travel and explore Europe. During my four-month stay in the UK, I made trips to Scotland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, and France, as well as shorter day-trips within England. I discovered that I really love to travel. To land in a foreign place and spend days just walking and seeing things I couldn’t experience anywhere else.
Ever since I returned home over a year ago, I’ve had a major case of wanderlust. I’ll spend hours reading my Let’s Go: Europe guidebook, learning what there is to do in Prague or which cities I should visit in Sweden. I have itineraries written out for trips to Ireland, Portugal, and Croatia, and folders on my computer full of pictures of Norwegian fjords, Medieval French towns, Peruvian Inca ruins, and Cambodian temples. My soul is constantly yearning to be on the move again. But since I can’t be traveling all the time, I like to read books about other people’s adventures. Sure, these books can’t quite satiate my hunger for travel, but they can be informative and truly inspiring. For any other bookworms who are constantly hearing the call of the road (or train, or plane), I’d like to share some of my favorites.
On The Road, by Jack Kerouac: The essential road trip novel follows the adventures of Sal Paradise as he treks back and forth across the country in the company of reform school escapee Dean Moriarty, criss-crossing the nation by foot, hitched rides, busses, and hopped freight cars. The autobiographical novel is perfect for the restless soul longing to go “adventuring in the crazy American night.”
Seven Years in Tibet, by Heinrich Harrer: This is the true story of Harrer’s journey through Tibet and his residency in Lhasa in the 1940s. A German explorer visiting India when WWII broke out, he was captured and held in an English internment camp. After making a thrilling escape from the camp, Harrer begins a long trek through Tibet to seek asylum in Lhasa, the “Forbidden City” and home of the young Dalai Lama. The book provides an incredible description of a culture untouched by the Western world, an inside account of his surprisingly close relationship with the Dalai Lama, and a look at the incredible capital city of Lhasa before the Chinese takeover in 1950. Through his observations and stories, Harrer makes the reader really care about the plight of the Tibetans under Chinese rule: their people slaughtered and repressed, their monasteries destroyed, and their leader driven into exile. While the tale, ending with the exodus of the Dalai Lama and thousands of Tibetans before the approaching Chinese troops, will not leave you with a feeling of contentment (anger is more likely), it’s an epic adventure story about a completely foreign, mysterious culture and is incredibly satisfying for those who long to wander.
The Great Railway Bazaar, by Paul Theroux: As you might have guessed from the title, this book is the story of an epic railway adventure. Acclaimed travel writer Paul Theroux describes his journey across Asia by rail. Beginning in London, he travels by train across Europe and through Asia, as far east as Japan before returning to Europe via the Trans Siberian Express across Russia. A bit cynical and cross, he does not sugar-coat his experiences, but rather writes about the realities of train travel and the places he visits. Paul Theroux has also written many other highly recommended books describing his travels around the world.
A Year in Provence, by Peter Mayle: Mayle is a softer, more idealistic writer than Theroux. His book chronicles the first year he and his wife spend in the French region of Provence after retiring from England. Although he does not travel further than the Côte d’Azur, he paints a lovely picture of life in the French countryside, from visits to local markets to golden hours spent indulging his palate with enormous, delicious meals. Life in Provence is not all relaxing with a glass of wine and plate of fresh bread, though. Mayle recounts frustrating experiences trying to renovate his house, describing the not-so-professional work ethic of the local builders. For someone looking for a light read with a taste of Europe, this is a lovely book.
I have not read the following books yet, but they are on my list and would probably make for good reading if you are looking for further travel/adventure tales. Or, if you’ve already read any of them, let me know what you thought!
In Patagonia, by Bruce Chatwin
A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush, by Eric Newby
The Places In Between, by Rory Stewart
The Snow Leopard, by Peter Matthiessen
The Size of the World: Once Around Without Leaving The Ground, by Jeff Greenwald
Red Dust, by Ma Jian