It was Dr. Seuss’s birthday last week, so in honor of the good doctor, I thought I’d write a post about books. You know we’re big fans of guidebooks because we tell you incessantly to get them before you go on a trip. They’re totally worth the small investment on a large investment. But books about places — places you’re planning to go, places you only dream of, or even places you’d never think of going — are equally fantastic.
Some of our favorite travel books, mostly nonfiction but with a couple of fiction titles thrown in, are listed below in no particular order.
A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson is a hilarious tale of two middle-aged guys, Bryson and a childhood friend, biting off a little more than they can chew on a hike on America’s longest and most famous trail, The Appalachian Trail.
Wild by Cheryl Strayed is a not very hilarious tale of a young woman (Strayed herself) in turmoil who sets off to hike the Pacific Crest Trail on her own. This book was recently made into a movie, part of which was filmed in our home state of Oregon!
Riding the Iron Rooster by Paul Theroux is one of the first travel books we read; we got it from a paperback exchange at a hotel. This is a nonfiction book about Theroux’s nearly year-long experience riding the train throughout China. Fascinating stuff.
Kon Tiki: Across the Pacific in a Raft by Thor Heyerdahl is a harrowing nonfiction account of six inexperienced sailors floating on a raft from South America to the South Pacific Islands in the 1940s. Talk about crazy!
The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone is the best book ever to read before a trip to Italy. It’s long and very detailed but so compelling. It’s a biography of Michelangelo (and his contemporaries) in Renaissance Italy. Seeing his works was so much richer having read this book!
Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer Speaking of inexperienced…Krakauer, in his inimitable style, chronicles the journey of a young man searching for himself in the wilds of Alaska.
Under the Tuscan Sun: At Home in Italy by Frances Mayes Really, who among travelers hasn’t dreamed of buying and restoring a Tuscan villa and living happily ever after eating delicious Italian dishes just like Frances Mayes? At least she gives you enough doses of reality to make you stop and think about how hard it might be. For about two seconds at least.
Dracula by Bram Stoker is the classic vampire novel and is set in Transylvania, Romania. There are no sparkly people, however.
Tracks by Robyn Davis is filled with tales of Robyn’s solo journey across Australia. We first heard of her story about 20 years ago when we got a CD-ROM with one of our first computers called From Alice to Ocean. The CD ROM held dozens of mesmerizing photographs from her trip. You may recognize the photographer in the recent movie adaptation of Tracks from the most recent Star Wars movie!
Shantaram: A Novel by Gregory David Roberts may be the longest book on the list at 944 pages, but it’s one you’ll have trouble putting down, so clear some space on the calendar. An escaped convict from Australia flees to the underground of Bombay where he becomes a pseudo doctor.
Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden allows you to transport yourself back to 1930s Japan and the Geisha culture. I had to look up whether this book was nonfiction when I began reading it. It is beautifully written and a fascinating though fictional account of this part of Japan’s history.
Touching the Void by Joe Simpson is an engrossing chronicle of a climbing expedition in the Andes gone wrong. Fans of Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer will enjoy this book. Warning: Do not read this book while your husband and his friend are off on a backpacking trip!
Have you read any of these titles? Do you have a favorite book that fueled your travel plans or travel dreams that isn’t on our list? Let us know in the comments, and enjoy reading that next travel book, whether it’s for a week or a weekend!