What do you read when you travel? I love books that tell personal stories about the countries I visit, that teach me something about the world or inspire me to visit new places. I devour books that have vivid descriptions of lands I long to see with my own eyes and I’m drawn to stories of personal discovery and survival. So, when the Travel Republic Beach Holiday Book Club challenged me to put together a list of my top travel books, here’s what I came up with.
My top travel books
Jon Krakauer (Villard: 1996)
I was teaching in Hanoi when I picked up a second-hand copy of Jon Krakauer’s terrifying personal account of the 1997 Mount Everest disaster. At the time, the novelty of living in a new country was starting to wear off and I was feeling the familiar stirrings of wanderlust. Into Thin Air tapped into that need and I was riveted by Krakauer’s adventure, swept along by the vivid descriptions of the beautiful yet brutal Himalayan landscapes. This book sowed the first seeds of wanderlust that, two years later, led to my own incredible (yet much less extreme) adventure to Everest Base Camp.
What morbidly fascinated me about Into Thin Air was the examination into the psyches of the people who dare to climb Everest and of how differently people react in life and death situations. The book also offers a chilling insight into the dangers of climbing in the Death Zone, the perils for Sherpas working on the mountains and what it’s like to be caught in a struggle for survival in an environment so hostile and remote that you might as well be stuck on the moon.
Bill Bryson (Broadway Books: 1997)
I had the best autumn of my life road-tripping through colourful foliage and pumpkin-decorated towns in New England in 2015. Ever since, I’ve been obsessed with returning to explore more of the USA, particularly its wild and diverse national parks. Bryson’s tales of trekking the Appalachian Trail, a hiking route that stretches over 2,000 miles from Georgia to Maine, adds fuel to my wanderlust with its descriptions of untamed American forests and mountains. You can’t fail to be amused by the trials and tribulations, as well as the unforgettable characters, that Bryson meets along the way.
Loung Ung (Harper Collins: 2000)
The scars of Pol Pot’s genocidal regime, which occurred less than 40 years ago, are still painfully visible when you visit Cambodia today. Up to three million people were killed, families were split up and sent to labour camps and the country was left in economic ruin. Although Cambodia is a beautiful country filled with natural treasures, kind people and one of the most incredible temple complexes in the world, it’s also struggling to heal its wounds and remains one of the poorest countries in Southeast Asia.
Whilst travelling in Cambodia I felt it was respectful to learn about this history by visiting the Killing Fields and S21 Prison in Phnom Penh. However, it was reading Loung Ung’s brutally absorbing first-hand account of life as a child under the Khmer Rouge that really helped me to understand Cambodia’s past. The daughter of a government official, Loung was five years old when her family was forced into rural labour camps where they endured near starvation, were separated and Loung was forced to train as a child soldier. I was so inspired by Loung’s resilient spirit and the life she forged for herself – this book is a must-read for anyone visiting Cambodia.
Elizabeth Gilbert (Penguin: 2010)
Years ago, before I left the UK to travel the world, I picked up a copy of Eat, Pray, Love whilst on holiday in Turkey. It was the perfect beach read, a book I devoured in hours and wanted to continue reading after the last page. I love Gilbert’s personal writing style, the blend of travel and drama as she flees a painful divorce in America to heal and explore the world. No matter how many times I re-read Eat, Pray, Love, I never tire of hearing about the pasta in Italy or meeting the characters Gilbert befriends on her transformative journey.
What are your favourite travel books?
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