With much of the world still in varying degrees of lockdown and international travel off the cards for many, vicarious travel is thankfully still very much an option. These five books are some of the best travelogues ever written. Their authors wander in places as diverse as the Outback of Australia, the beaches of Bali and the markets of Turkey, but at their heart they all celebrate the same thing: a love for movement, exploration and travelling for the sheer thrill of it.
A Siberian Winter’s Tale – Helen Lloyd
The bitter, unforgiving wilderness that is Siberia in winter doesn’t top most people’s lists when it comes to planning a cycling holiday, but Helen Lloyd is not most people. The writer and adventurer spent three months pedalling through the frigid landscapes of northern Russia, successfully avoiding wolves, hypothermia and solitude-induced madness (yay!). Her account is vivid and beautifully written and, unlike the land, full of warmth for the incredible people she met along the way.
The Great Railway Bazaar – Paul Theroux
One of the most brilliant travel books ever written, Paul Theroux’s Great Railway Bazaar documents his 1973 rail journey from the UK to East Asia and back again. His 4-month route took him from London through Europe, the Middle East, India, Burma, Thailand, Singapore, a wartorn Vietnam, Japan and finally across Russia back to Europe on the legendary Trans-Siberian Express. The characters he meets en route are as grippingly brought to life as the landscapes he trundles through.
Eat, Pray, Love – Elizabeth Gilbert
The film adaptation of Eat, Pray, Love, starring Julia Roberts, has eclipsed the book in terms of fame, and while it’s a good flick, it doesn’t come close to the literature that inspired it. Written by American author Elizabth Gilbert, the travelogue charts her physical and emotional journey around the world following a divorce. She spent time in Italy enjoying simple pleasures (‘eat’); then India developing her spirituality (‘pray’) and finally Bali, where she fell in love again (‘love’).
On the Road – Jack Kerouac
The word ‘iconic’ is overused but this book really is worthy of the description. Technically a novel but very much based on real life travels, the book follows narrator and maverick Sal Paradise (Kerouac) as he road-trips around 1940s America in search of adventure, life-affirming experiences and kindred Beat generation spirits. He finds all in abundance. Though the book received mixed reviews at publication, its legacy is now that of a classic, having inspired everyone from Bob Dylan to David Bowie.
Down Under – Bill Byson
The incomparable wit of Bill Bryson is on full display in this hilarious account of his travels through Australia. The style of the book is cemented in the first few pages, with a side-splitting story of him falling asleep in a highly undignified manner in the passenger seat while being shown around an area by a well-meaning local. From there, he cautiously explores the gigantic country with a take on everything about as dry as the Outback.