Last week I posted about my top five fiction books that have inspired me to travel. Seeing as I can’t afford to escape to the far corners of the globe just yet, I love escaping through a good book – especially travel books. This week I’ve been reading Mark Twain’s The Innocents Abroad, which has got me thinking about the best travel books of all time. Innocents is meant to be one of them, and while I am enjoying it, I have to say I do find Twain just that tiny bit up himself! I mean, at times I find myself getting frustrated that he’s not even trying to enjoy Europe. However, that may just be because whenever I’m reading it I’m on the tube, either too tired at early o’clock on the way to work, or too frazzled on the way home from work! I think his point is that the joy in travel doesn’t usually lie in the tourist hot-spots and the over-visited great works of the ‘Old Masters’, but in the act of travel itself. He’s happiest on a train, or on the steamer, or riding in a coach through the countryside. And I can relate to that!
Anyway, without further ado, here are my Top Five Travel Books. Feel free to share your own, too; especially as I need inspiration for my next read after this one!
Ryszard Kapuscinski – The Shadow of the Sun
This was given to me by my grandfather when I was about fifteen years old and was the first travel book I can remember reading. Kapuscinski was a Polish journalist who spent a great deal of his 40 year career in Africa, and this book is full of his stories from that beautiful, dangerous and often bizarre continent, with fascinating encounters, colourful characters and plenty of gorgeous imagery.
Kira Salak – Four Corners
Another of the first travel books I read, and certainly the first written by a real life, female adventurer. I struggled with which of Salak’s books to include here, as I read The Cruellest Journey first and it certainly inspired me a lot more in terms of the idea of travelling solo and doing something challenging, unpleasant and terrifying just for the sake of having done it. But when I read Four Corners, in which Salak chronicles her solo journey through the jungles and tribes of Papua New Guinea, I found that I could really relate to the author, and discovered the possibility that I could satisfy my cravings for adventure with travel.
Paul Theroux – Ghost Train to the Eastern Star
It’s impossible not to include Paul Theroux on any list where travel writing is concerned – no one quite captures a place like him! In Ghost Train, he retraces the route of his first major success, The Great Railway Bazaar, more than thirty years after the original journey, but I prefer the second journey because it is one of rediscovery as well as first time experiences. Also, I loved Ghost Train for Theroux’s personality and honesty, which made the narrative much richer.
What I love about the Motorcycle Diaries isn’t so much the narrative, or the descriptions of places I long to visit (although the book is full of beautiful imagery). It is the theme of freedom, of the sort of adventure which is pretty much unobtainable now; two boys on an unreliable bike, with little money, on a journey they never entirely thought through, making it up as they go along.
Karl Pilkington – An Idiot Abroad
I know, I know, there are so many “greats” out there, so many books that perhaps I “should” have chosen. But I have to be honest, and I have never laughed out loud at a book as much as this one (pretty embarrassing when reading on a train, on my own). Karl Pilkington is so sweet, so innocent, so, well, stupid, and as always brutally honest. An Idiot Abroad is a masterpiece of accidental comedy!
There you have it, another top five! Please leave a comment to share your own!