I consider myself a bit of a bookworm. I always have been, ever since I was a child. The thing that I love the most about reading is it’s ability to inspire wanderlust in me, transporting me to places I have never visited and make me feel that I am there. I have walked the rugged Cornish coast with Daphne du Maurier, explored the outback with Bruce Chatwin and taken a Short Walk in the Hindu Kush with Eric Newby.
As well as evoking far flung destinations, books sometimes just inspire a feeling in me. A general sense of wanderlust that makes me want to pack my bags with no specific destination in mind and hit the open road. The books listed below are not my favourite books but they’re the ones that have got to me in some way. They’ve either made me want to book a plane ticket to a specific destination or just travel with reckless abandon and no destination in mind.
On The Road
By Jack Kerouac
“I was surprised, as always, by how easy the act of leaving was, and how good it felt. The world was suddenly rich with possibility.”
― Jack Kerouac, On the Road
You’ll have to forgive me for starting this list with a very cliche choice. I, like many others, read Kerouac’s Beat Generation classic as a teenager and was swept up in Sal’s adventures as he rode boxcars across the US without any real aim or care in the world except to have an adventure. In ‘On The Road’, a fictionalised account of Kerouac’s own travels, a writer from New York is inspired by his friend and mentor (Dean Moriarty, the fictionalised version of the real life Neal Cassady) to hit the road and see America. As he traverses the American continent the way he catches up with friends, parties and ponders the complexities of life, all the while seeking out new people and ideas. The book propelled Jack Kerouac from unknown status to “king of the beats” and helped to inspire a generation of teenagers with a desire for freedom to seek out new adventures. It is not so much the story of the novel, but the way Sal and his friends look at the world with a sort of naivety and wild eyed abandon that captures the imagination and really spoke to my soul.
Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises
by Ernest Hemmingway
“Don’t you ever get the feeling that all your life is going by and you’re not taking advantage of it? Do you realize you’ve lived nearly half the time you have to live already?”
― Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises
To me there is nothing more alluring or romantic than the idea of Paris in the roaring 1920s. In ‘Fiesta…” a gang of american expatriates, sick of the parties, drinking, and dancing in Parisian cafes decide to abandon the city and decamp to Pamplona to take in the week long Fiesta. Reading this novel I was taken in by it’s cast of characters, feeling as though I was part of their disfunctional group. I feel like I waited far too long to sit down and read Hemingway’s first, and in my opinion, best work. It made me yearn for a part of spain I had never visited in a time I was born much too late to see.
The Motorcycle Diaries: Notes on a Latin American Journey
by Che Guevara
“I finally felt myself lifted definitively away on the winds of adventure toward worlds I envisaged would be stranger than they were, into situations I imagined would be much more normal than they turned out to be.”
― Ernesto Che Guevara, The Motorcycle Diaries: Notes on a Latin American Journey
He may be better known for his life as a revolutionary or for his manuals on guerrilla warfare, but as a young man Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara embarked on one of his greatest journeys. In 1953 at twenty three years old, Che and his friend set off across South America on a 500cc Norton motorcycle. Touring through Argentina, Chile, Peru and Venezuela, his greatest concerns are where the next drink is coming from, where the next bed is to be found and who might be around to share it. Becoming a world renowned figure less than a decade later may have cemented this book as a travel classic but even without his revolutionary future, this is still an absorbing and extraordinary tale. Looking back, this book is probably the reason I decided to embark on a South American Journey of my own.
Down and Out in Paris and London
By George Orwell
“If you set yourself to it, you can live the same life, rich or poor. You can keep on with your books and your ideas. You just got to say to yourself, “I’m a free man in here” – he tapped his forehead – “and you’re all right.”
― George Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London
In contrast to the other Lost Generation books written about the hedonistic Paris of the 1920s, this is no raucous story of drinking and dancing in Montemarte cafes. Instead it describes how a young Orwell (an albeit slightly fictionalised account) moves to the squalor of central Paris to work in horrific hotel kitchens while struggling to survive. With Orwell’s stories of bedding down with tramps and living a squalid, hand to mouth existence may not sound like the kind of book that would persuade me to up sticks and hit the road, there is something ‘romantic’ about the idea of vagabonding and living day to day that struck a chord with me. Throughout his misadventures, Orwell looks on his situation philosophically – not seeing it as a terrible situation but more a social experiment. Looking back, this book may have influenced my worldview more than I had realised.
“It sometimes occurs to me that the British have more heritage than is good for them. In a country where there is so astonishingly much of everything, it is easy to look on it as a kind of inexhaustible resource.”
― Bill Bryson, Notes from a Small Island
I’ll be honest – I really struggled to choose a Bill Bryson book for this list. Not because I didn’t think any were good enough, but more because they are all great. The first of his travelogues that I picked up was ‘Down Under‘ and to this day his hilarious account of wandering this hot, aggressive and deadly continent has me yearning to visit Australia. However, When it came to choosing his book that has inspired my travels the most, it has to be ‘Notes from a small Island‘. In this book Bryson takes a farewell tour around the Britain, the island that has been his adopted home for the last 20 years, before returning to the US. What really makes ‘Notes…’ stand out is the way that Bryson can give an outsiders view of all the oddities and idiosyncrasies of the British while also observing life here with the knowledge of a native Englishman. It made me realise what wonderful and weird places we have in Britain that I am yet to explore, giving me the inspiration to see more of my homeland instead of looking to distant shores for the beauty that was on my own doorstep all along.
As I walked Out One Midsummer Morning
By Laurie Lee
“I felt once again the unease of arriving at night in an unknown city–that faint sour panic which seems to cling to a place until one has found oneself a bed.”
― Laurie Lee, As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning
Abandoning the Cotswolds village that raised him, the young Laurie Lee sets out to walk to London in the hope of making a living by playing the violin and labouring. With this unleashing a sense of wanderlust in him, he decides to embark on a trip to Spain with only his violin, a blanket, and the ability to say ‘Will you please give me a glass of water?’ in Spanish. I find this to be an inspiring story – How one man at such a young age decided to embark on an adventure of a life time, crossing Spain on foot, with only the Spanish Civil war managing to stop him.
by Bruce Chatwin
“I pictured a low timber house with a shingled roof, caulked against storms, with blazing log fires inside and the walls lined with all the best books, somewhere to live when the rest of the world blew up.”
― Bruce Chatwin, In Patagonia
Considered Chatwin’s masterpiece, this book tells the story of how he was inspired to travel to the far reaches of South America by a fossil that once belonged to his grandma. In search of the strange beast that this fossil once belonged to, he wanders Patagonia encountering tales of Darwin, Butch Cassidy, dinosaurs and – most surprisingly – Welsh tearooms. Like Bruce’s journey, the book is often meandering, focusing not on the spectacular landscape and scenery of Patagonia but more on the stories and tales of the people that inhabit this part of the world. I picked this book up while planning my own adventure to South America and although Chatwin’s wanderings didn’t really help with organising an itinerary, his evocative prose and stories of life in this odd part of the world made sure that when I did head south, I would make sure to go to Patagonia.
“I lay in one of those protracted moments of rapture which scatter this journey like asteriks. A little more, I felt, and I would have gone up like a rocket.”
― Patrick Leigh Fermor
In 1933, at the age of 18, Patrick Leigh Fermor set out on an extraordinary journey by foot – from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople. Originally intended to be a trilogy, this book is the first and most well known of his travelogues. Written 40 years after his famous walk took place, A Time of Gifts is beautifully written, describing the countryside, castles, people and way of life in Europe that was about to be disrupted by a disastrous war. The main thing of note is that he travels through Germany during the time that Nazism was in the ascendancy (Hitler has been Chancellor just nine months). It is fascinating to see excitement that Nazism brought to Germany at the time with the hindsight of knowing the horrors and devastation that was to follow.
On our South American travels we had no plans on visiting the trio of forgotten countries in the far north east of the continent. In fact, not many people seem to give a thought to venturing over to Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana. Covered in dense impenetrable jungle and with 900 miles of muddy coast, separated by small wooden towns, it would seem that there is nothing to see or do, let alone write about. However, Gimlette manages to make his 3 month adventure enthralling, visiting forts rising out of steamy swamps, satellite launch pads and the site of the infamous 1978 cult suicide at Jonestown. The book takes the reader through the rich history from indigenous tribes who still live by sorcery to descendants of African slaves, Dutch conquerors, Hmong refugees, Irish adventurers, and Scottish outlaws. Although it didn’t persuade me to visit the 3 countries starring in Gimlette’s enthralling book (more out of lack of time when visiting South America than wanting to skip them), it helped me to realise that even the destinations that are off your radar and that look to have nothing to offer a traveller are often rich in culture, history and experiences.
The Old Patagonian Express: By Train Through the Americas
by Paul Theroux
“I wanted something altogether wilder, the clumsier romance of strangeness.”
― Paul Theroux, The Old Patagonian Express: By Train Through the America
Boarding the commuter train at the New York subway, Paul Theroux hops train after train, gradually works his way down the tracks to the end of the line and the end of the world at Argentina’s most southerly tip. Most travel books can seem overly saccharine, implying that every moment of travel is a wondrous journey, expanding your mind and feeding your soul so it is a welcome relief to read Theroux’s particular brand of curmudgeon. There are places he despises and people that rub him up the wrong way. he doesn’t concentrate on the locations he visits but on the minutiae of travel – The boring conversations on public transport or the train timetables in rural Mexico. While lazing in the jungle of Guatemala I was lucky enough to stumble across this book lying on the hostel’s bookcase. I began reading it and dipped in and out throughout my journey south through Latin America, reading the sections on cities and regions I was yet to visit just before I arrived. This book is constantly funny and had me laughing along as he sweat and shivered through changing temperatures and vomited through the rising altitudes of the Andes, thinking how his wry observations matched my own as I followed in his footsteps.
Are there any books that have inspired you to travel more? Let me know about them in the comments below. I’m currently putting together a list of book suggestions by other bloggers so if you’d like to get involved, get in touch!
Like it? Pin it!
Disclosure: This Post contains affiliate links. By clicking the links and purchasing an item, I’ll get a little kick back. However, the products will not cost any more for you.