10 (More) Inspiring Travel Books
From ancient Baghdad to the wuthering moors of Yorkshire, from the heights of the Himalayan mountains to the plains of India — the settings in these books will inspire you to travel. Are your favourites on the list?
In Top 10 Inspiring Travel Books, Laura Byrne Paquet shared the books that inspired her imagination to soar and her feet to get moving. This is my list.
I started reading and writing at a very early age (not surprising, given that I am a professional writer!), and books have always inspired, entertained and comforted me. I generally prefer books that venture into the realms of the fantastical, and if they are set in the “mysterious east,” all the better! But I also love adventure travel books, with one lone man or woman striking out to follow the road less travelled and finding new worlds, both outer and inner, to discover.
This list is by no means exhaustive. Just the tip of the iceberg, really. I hope you enjoy—and please add your own recommendations in the comments below.
10. The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles
It’s really a tie with The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje for evoking powerfully romantic scenes of North Africa, with the force of danger and intrigue lurking beneath the surface. Made me want to leave my luggage—and life!—behind and venture into the desert with a mysterious, silent stranger.
Frankly, Matthiessen had me at “Himalayas.” But it helps that his writing soars, held aloft by his Buddhist-infused spirituality and commitment to telling the whole story, which includes his inner life of thoughts, feelings and a sense of his own transformation as he trudges deep into remote Nepal only months after losing his wife to cancer.
8. The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin
A masterpiece of travel writing, The Songlines is eccentric and effective: his digression into the history of mankind’s wanderlust is fascinating and persuasive. It’s not that I particularly wanted to go with Chatwin to Australia; it’s more like I would go anywhere he ventured to describe.
7. Full Tilt by Dervla Murphy
In 1963, a young Irish woman freed from many years of caring for ailing parents got on her bike, Roz, and rode from Dunkirk, France to Delhi, India. Then, she wrote a raucous, exciting and insightful book about her travel adventures. The entire book provoked a longing for a great adventure—the kind that is increasingly hard to conjure—but she also drew me into wanting to experience the two countries she enjoyed travelling through most: Afghanistan and Pakistan.
A storm-chased, lonely countryside, and two star-crossed, angst-ridden lovers enmeshed in a romance that even death does not end. What more could you want! There’s no other book quite like Wuthering Heights, and you cannot separate the melodramatic and deeply thrilling (especially to a teenage girl) story of Heathcliff and Cathy from the landscape it takes place in: the foggy moors of Yorkshire, England. The landscape and the story are a perfect mirror for each other and evoke a powerful atmosphere that made me want to dwell there, at least in my imagination.
5. Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen (pen name for Karen Blixen)
From the first line, “I had a farm in Africa,” I found the book utterly compelling, and it has stuck with me for many, many years. The story is not just about the Danish author’s 17-year sojourn in Kenya, it is about Kenya itself—a lyrical and somewhat melancholy love letter to a beautiful land, the Kikuyu people and her colonial life there as a coffee grower.
4. Black Narcissus by Rumer Godden
All of Rumer Godden’s books set in India, such as Black Narcissus and The River (another favourite) powerfully evoke the land of her youth. She brings the atmosphere alive with sensual descriptions, vivid details and observations about the light, flowers, monsoon rains and the wind that howls around the hilltop Palace of Mopu, near Darjeeling, the setting for this novel about Catholic nuns who take over a former “house of women” and try to set up a school.
3. The Razor’s Edge by Somerset Maugham
Truly, I could have chosen any of Maugham’s novels or short stories—they are all masterful both for their psychological insight and evocations of place. Whether a scene is set in Chicago or Paris, a coal mine in France or a mountain top in South India (as in this book), or London, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia or Singapore (as in many of his other books and stories), his writing always makes me want to travel.
My favourite book: it’s about a young man of Irish descent, an orphan, who takes to the road in India with an elderly Lama from Tibet. It is, indisputably, Kipling’s masterpiece and a classic road story. From Lahore to Lucknow, and from Varanasi to Simla, they cover a lot of ground in India by foot and train as the Lama searches for a river that will grant him enlightenment, and Kim helps and accompanies him. It’s a grand adventure, and Kipling’s skill as a writer and simpatico for India put you right there, on the plains covered in dust, walking briskly up the foothills of the Himalayas and everywhere else this charming pair go.
1. 1,001 Tales of the Arabian Nights
As a child, I was enthralled by the magical tales Scheherazade told each evening to her husband King Sharyar to keep herself alive. I pored over the stories, allowing them to ignite my imagination, and painted huge, colourful murals on my wall of genies coming out of bottles and palaces and pleasure gardens in mythical Baghdad and other points east. It’s of course a tragic irony that Baghdad has been war-torn most of my adult life—but still, it’s probably these tales more than anything else that set me wandering in Asia.
What are your favourite travel books? Let us know in the comments below!