It’s the month of May and the heat is on. The brave continue to saddle up and ride/drive off in search of adventure. For the rest of us – armchair adventurers who can’t be bothered to leave the relatively cool confines of our living room – it’s time to settle down with a cup of tea and a good book. Travel writing is one of our favourite genres. Now, actual travel would mean choosing a destination, finding a travel companion, organising rail or airplane tickets, booking hotel rooms and planning an actual itinerary. However, since we are loath to reject the comforting embrace of the old sofa that sits in the corner, we’d much rather just pick up a good travel book and read about other people’s adventures. This allows the mind (though not the body, admittedly…) to travel the world – all the thrill without running the risks of overcrowded transport, unclean hotel rooms, dodgy food and inclement weather. Not a bad proposition, right? So here’s our list of the travel books we want to read this summer.
To Shake the Sleeping Self, by Jedidiah Jenkins
‘On the eve of turning thirty, terrified of being funnelled into a life he didn’t choose, Jedidiah Jenkins quit his dream job and spent sixteen months cycling from Oregon to Patagonia. He chronicled the trip on Instagram, where his photos and reflections drew hundreds of thousands of followers, all gathered around the question: What makes a life worth living? In this unflinchingly honest memoir, Jed narrates his adventure – the people and places he encountered on his way to the bottom of the world – as well as the internal journey that started it all. As he traverses cities, mountains, and inner boundaries, Jenkins grapples with the question of what it means to be an adult, his struggle to reconcile his sexual identity with his conservative Christian upbringing, and his belief in travel as a way to wake us up to life back home. A soul-stirring read for the wanderer in each of us, To Shake the Sleeping Self is an unforgettable reflection on adventure, identity, and a life lived without regret,’ says the publisher’s note.
‘My parents walked across America in the ’70s. My Dad was in his mid-20s, my Mom in her late-20s. It took five years and they wrote about it for National Geographic. They were in search of America and themselves in the middle of the cloud Vietnam cast over this country. They went on their spirit quest. And now I was going on mine…,’ the author says. ‘Jenkins works a familiar trope: a challenging season of travel as a means of finding out what makes him tick and working out the big questions. Granted, his travel was far more challenging than most, as he decided to leave a job and a life that afforded him plenty of satisfactions in order to ride a bicycle from Oregon to the tip of South America,’ says Kirkus. ‘There’s some fun and vibrant travel writing here, including stories about tripping on mushrooms, seeing a butterfly migration, and exploring Machu Picchu. The narrative is about the journey, not the destination. This uplifting memoir and travelogue will remind readers of the power of movement for the body and the soul,’ adds Publishers Weekly.
To Shake the Sleeping Self: A Journey from Oregon to Patagonia, and a Quest for a Life with No Regret, is available on Amazon
Bears in the Streets: Three Journeys across a Changing Russia, by Lisa Dickey
‘Lisa Dickey travelled across the whole of Russia three times – in 1995, 2005 and 2015 – making friends in eleven different cities, then coming back again and again to see how their lives had changed. She traces the ups and downs of ordinary people’s lives, in the process painting a deeply nuanced portrait of modern Russia. From the caretakers of a lighthouse in Vladivostok, to the Jewish community of Birobidzhan, to a farmer in Buryatia, to a group of gay friends in Novosibirsk, to a wealthy family in Chelyabinsk, to a rap star in Moscow – Dickey profiles a wide cross-section of people in one of the most fascinating, dynamic and important countries on Earth. Along the way, she explores dramatic changes in everything from technology to social norms, drinks copious amounts of vodka, and learns first-hand how the Russians really feel about Vladimir Putin. Including powerful photographs of people and places over time, and filled with wacky travel stories, unexpected twists, and keen insights, Bears in the Streets offers an unprecedented on-the-ground view of Russia today,’ says the publisher’s note.
‘For the most part, Americans have no idea what [Russia] is really like, which is the reason I’ve come here. US media coverage of Russia tends to focus on the economy, political situation, and leadership. In contrast, I’m hoping to paint a portrait of not only how ordinary Russians live today, but also how their lives have changed over the past two decades,’ says the author. ‘Despite the general anti-Western sentiment she endured – President Barack Obama was considered untrustworthy, while Ukraine was claimed as Russian – the author presents nuanced portraits. An affecting travelogue that reveals true Russian personality,’ says Kirkus. ‘This memoir is the product of three major visits over two decades to a vast and often misunderstood country. Dickey, a writer who is based in Los Angeles, undertook lengthy journeys that essentially spanned the breadth of the landmass: in 1995, 2005, and 2015. Bears In the Streets is an accessible and enjoyable read, and especially relevant in a time when Russia is in the news,’ says Curve.
Bears in the Streets: Three Journeys across a Changing Russia, is available on Amazon
The Detour: Turning the Tide, by Ben J. Harris
‘Leaving behind Thailand after the 2004 tsunami, Ben, aged 19, made a life challenging journey without GPS or mobile phone to cross 11 countries in 8 months covering at least 16,000 miles, not including the occasional detour or missed direction. This is his log of the journey home,’ says the publisher’s note. ‘I have no real idea of how many miles I travelled. It’s difficult with no well-planned route, mobile phone to record my steps or guide my way. My route relied on my sense of direction, my compass and the kindness of others. Maps were difficult to find and so were often drawn or shared by fellow travellers, or copied from hostel walls,’ says the author. From the shattered shores of Thailand, Harris travelled to Myanmar and Laos, after which he snuck into China, illegally, via Tibet. There was no stopping the young adventurer, and he went on to cross Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran, making his way back home to the UK.
‘What comes through most clearly is the sheer excitement of travelling in South East Asia when you’re young, and seeing so many amazing things for the first time. This is a great account of the traveller’s life, in which random encounters become critical junctures and you find yourself somewhere unfamiliar every day,’ says Tom Feiling, author of Short walks in Bogota. ‘Hitching is by far my favourite mode of travelling, because although it’s not always the cheapest or quickest way, you meet so many different people and have the freedom to move on, anywhere and anytime. Wherever I’ve travelled, one thing I’ve found to be a universal truth is that those who appear to have less wealth will always be the ones to offer the most and ask for the least in return,’ says Harris. For those who like their travel tales rough and ready and vibrant, you’ll love this book.
The Detour: Turning the Tide, is available on Amazon
Wherever the Road Leads: A Memoir of Love, Travel, and a Van, by Katie Lang-Slattery
‘Wherever the Road Leads takes you on a stunning two-year van-life honeymoon. Newlyweds Tom and Katie, an engineer and an artist, meet the rigours of travel and the ups and downs of married life in a Volkswagen microbus that continually needs repair. Surrounded by exotic backdrops from Panama to India and beset by mechanical problems, Tom and Katie drive 39,000 miles across four continents in a world before the internet or cell phones. Everything from engine trouble to personal sanitation, from running out of funds to illness, affects their goals and desires. This beautifully written memoir describes the couple’s travel experiences, as well as details of van-life chores, marketing and cooking on the road, mechanical problems, people encountered along the way, and intimate moments of love and discord. The author’s memories were aided by a stash of saved letters, postcards, journal entries, and photos. The book overflows with the author’s joy for travel and her devotion to and frustration with her new husband,’ says the publisher’s note. ‘Throughout the adventure the author reveals the intimacy of van living [and] a glimpse of overland travel in the 1970s. The memoir is illustrated with photos, pen and ink drawings, quick sketches, and hand-drawn route maps,’ it adds.
‘Between September 1971 and August 1973, while Tom and I travelled and lived in our Volkswagen microbus, I wrote more than 73 journal-style letters and dozens of postcards. To this day I have these letters. Besides the saved letters, my resources included memories from my niece, nephew and sister, photos taken by Tom and drawings I did along the way. Re-reading my letters, poring through old travel books, and viewing our long unseen slides offered the delight of rediscovery. I could feel the person I was then looking back at me and saying, ‘Yes, those were the best years of your life,’ the author says. An old-style road-trip adventure from the pre-Internet era that you don’t want to miss.
Wherever the Road Leads: A Memoir of Love, Travel, and a Van, is available on Amazon
Baghdad without a Map and Other Misadventures in Arabia, by Tony Horwitz
This is Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Tony Horwitz’s 1991 classic account of his travels across the Middle East and through the Arabian Peninsula. ‘With razor-sharp wit and insight, intrepid journalist Tony Horwitz gets beyond solemn newspaper headlines and romantic myths of the 1990s, to offer startling, honest close-ups of the Middle East. His quest for hot stories takes him from the tribal wilds of Yemen to the shell-pocked shores of Lebanon; from the sands of the Sudan to the souks of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Careening through fourteen countries, including the Sudan, Iraq, Israel, and Afghanistan, Horwitz travels light, packing a keen eye, a wicked sense of humour, and chutzpah in overwhelming measure. This wild and comic tale of misadventure reports on a fascinating world in which the ancient and the modern collide,’ says the publisher’s note.
‘London-based reporter for the Wall Street Journal, Horwitz visited several Muslim countries, plus Israel, in 1988-89, sometimes accompanied by his equally intrepid wife. Of the 14 countries he travelled, Israel seems to have pleased him the least (“The first thing you notice, coming into Israel from the Arab world, is that you have left the most courteous region of the globe and entered the rudest.”) His memoir is entertaining, often funny, and occasionally informative,’ says Publishers Weekly. ‘Horwitz never really learned to love the Middle East – even its famed tourist attractions left him cold. What he mainly conveys in this book is the Alice-in-Wonderland atmosphere of the place. Things were never what they appeared. Deviousness was a folk art, contradiction a way of life,’ says The New York Times. But is the book funny? It sure is. Consider this gem: In Iran, Horwitz met someone who had attended an American college, and didn’t find Americans all that polite. As this person tells Horwitz, ‘I was surprised to find in the United States that yes means yes and no means no. This seemed very rude to me.’ We think you’re going to love this book.
Baghdad without a Map and Other Misadventures in Arabia, is available on Amazon
A Woman Alone: Travel Tales from Around the Globe, by Faith Conlon and other Editors
‘The idea of a journey without companions is too daunting for most travellers. Not so the women of this collection. These contemporary pioneers savour the ultimate freedom of solo travel. Marybeth Bond discovers the dubious pleasures of desert camel-riding when she decides to follow an ancient Indian trading route. Faith Adiele, a black Buddhist nun, enters a deserted train station at 3:00 am in a Thai village controlled by armed bandits. Ena Singh negotiates with Russian police to visit the blue-domed city of Samarkand. In A Woman Alone, these women and others tell their funny, thrilling, occasionally terrifying, ultimately transformative stories of navigating some of the most unusual destinations on the globe,’ says the publisher’s note.
‘Gathering the voices of women who have ventured solo across the world, this anthology is at once relatable, inspiring and great for short bursts of armchair escapism,’ says Suitcase. ‘A Woman Alone is filled with relatable stories from solo female travellers that are real, transparent and uplifting. This book will give you the push you need to face your fears and see the world all by yourself,’ says Forbes.
A Woman Alone: Travel Tales from Around the Globe, is available on Amazon
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