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4 must-read books about travel

8 May 2019

While you may remember the UK observing World Book Day back in March, it turns out that we're somewhat out of the loop, as the rest of the world hosted their celebrations of all things literary just a few weeks ago, in April. April 23rd, the date which was officially chosen by the United Nations is aptly the anniversary of the death day of both renowned Spanish novelist Miguel de Cervantes, and the inimitable William Shakespeare, who is widely regarded as quite simply the greatest writer and playwright of all time.

So, in honour of the occasion, we've decided to round up a list of four must-read books all related to our favourite subject - travel. Whether you're an avid globetrotter yourself or simply a lover of the written word in search of your next injection of wanderlust, these works of literary art are sure to inspire, inform, and perhaps even change the way you see the world.


Seven Years in Tibet, Heinrich Harrer, 1952

Austrian mountaineer Heinrich Harrer's epic autobiographical travel tale depicts his unbelievable journey to Tibet, where he spent seven years of his life between 1944 and 1951 immersing himself in Tibetan culture, politics, religion and social norms. Harrer was travelling in India as part of a mountain climbing expedition when World War II broke out, resulting in him and his party being held in a British internment camp in then-British India. Harrer recounts his daring escape, challenging hike across the Himalayas, time spent in Tibet and incredible friendship with the Dalai Lana in detail that is simultaneously fascinating and unpretentious. This is a tale of adventure, survival, perseverance, and discovery, but most of all, it's a love story to the people and the land of Tibet, and one that is well worth reading.


"Wherever I live, I shall feel homesick for Tibet. I often think I can still hear the cries of wild geese and cranes and the beating of their wings as they fly over Lhasa in the clear, cold moonlight." 

- Heinrich Harrer, Seven Years in Tibet


My Family and Other Animals, Gerald Durrell, 1956

Vivid, charming and humorous, Gerald Durrell's semi-autobiographical book paints a magical picture of the years he spent living on the island of Corfu, Greece, with his family in the 1930s. Durrell portrays the fauna, flora and the humans that he encounters on the island in a beautifully written, wonderfully detailed and engaging manner. From the endearing perspective of an eight-year-old Gerald, you are transported away to discover the sun-drenched olives groves, cypress trees, secluded coves, cerulean waters and astonishing fauna of the Greek island. This is a delightful, feel-good read, with Durrell capturing the culture of the island, the eccentric nature of his family life, the quirks of the locals and the fascinating species that he discovers in a way that is simply a pleasure to devour - definitely one to pack in your suitcase this summer!


"Gradually the magic of the island settled over us as gently and clingingly as pollen. Each day had a tranquillity, a timelessness, about it so that you wished it would never end."

- Gerald Durrell, My Family and Other Animals


On the Road, Jack Kerouac, 1957

Jack Kerouac's 'On the Road' follows vagabond hitchhiker Sal Paradise on his bohemian, cross-country journey across the United States. This novel was an integral part of the beat movement, with Kerouac himself standing at the forefront of the Beat Generation alongside greats like Allen Ginsberg. The Beat Generation of the 1950s was a counter-culture interested in American politics and culture in a post-war era, with a particular focus on spirituality, philosophy, religion, sexual liberation, adventure and the rejection of mainstream culture and materialism. It's a fantastic read - Kerouac utilises an intimate, rambling writing style that makes you feel as though you are reading something personal, almost like glimpsing into the protagonist's diary. This is a novel that will immerse you in 1940s America; an America of hitchhiking, drugs, poetry, jazz and exploration. It's one that appears in many 'great travel books' lists, and with good reason.


"Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life." 

- Jack Kerouac, On the Road


Bill Bryson, Notes from a Small Island, 1995

No list of travel book recommendations would be complete without an entry from one of the most popular travel writers around, Bill Bryson. Bryson's nostalgic travel memoirs have enraptured people for decades; with his cheery prose, laugh-out-loud observations and refreshing perspective, Bryson grants us a unique glimpse into destinations we thought we knew. 'Notes from a Small Island' was written when Bryson, who is originally from the United States but had lived in the UK for around 20 years with his British wife, decided to move back to the USA. The book documents his final hurrah, so to speak - a seven-week long exploration of the towns and villages of Britain, undertaken off-season, in October, and carried out mostly by foot and on public transport. Bryson explores the four corners of the island with a strange mixture of misanthropy and delight, which makes for a light-hearted and pleasingly unique travel memoir. While we had to pick just one for this run-down, we would thoroughly recommend adding any of Bill Bryson's books to your reading list if you're a fan of comforting, witty and observational travelogues.


"Suddenly, in the space of a moment, I realized what it was that I loved about Britain - which is to say, all of it. Every last bit of it, good and bad - Marmite, village fetes, country lanes, people saying 'mustn't grumble' and 'I'm terribly sorry but', people apologizing to me when I conk them with a nameless elbow, milk in bottles, beans on toast, haymaking in June, stinging nettles, seaside piers, Ordnance Survey maps, crumpets, hot-water bottles as a necessity, drizzly Sundays - every bit of it."

- Bill Bryson, Notes from a Small Island