For years, I wasn’t really into reading. I figured … why read about people who do cool stuff when I could just go out and do cool stuff myself? Hence, for a long time I’ve labeled myself “traveler” but not “reader.”
I’ve warmed up to books, though.
Because traveling and reading have more in common than I used to think. They are both ways to see the world through others’ perspectives.
That’s why my new favorite genre of books is Travel. I love travel books, and here are my favorites. (At least for now. I am in the middle of reading a travel book, so the list is ever-changing.)
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My 5 Favorite Travel Books
1. “A Walk in the Woods” – Bill Bryson
My senior year of college, I took an elective course called “The Appalachian Trail,” and “A Walk in the Woods” was one of my reading assignments. Best assigned reading ever!
Bryson, a middle-aged, overweight man, attempts to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail with his eccentric, even more out of shape, friend named Katz. (Let’s be honest, Katz is absolutely the best part of this book. Thank God he signed up for this trip with Bryson.)
For those of you who don’t know, the Appalachian Trail is a trail that is over 2,000 miles long and passes through 14 states along the East Coast. And yes, two old guys with minimal-to-no backpacking experience attempt to hike the entire thing. It’s glorious.
My favorite part about Bryson’s books is his realistic, borderline pessimistic, view on traveling. There are entire chapters devoted to worrying about being killed by bears and to bitching about how much backpacking sucks. Thankfully, the book is a comedy goldmine, otherwise this material could be depressing.
His writing style reflects my attitude about travel. It often sucks to the point of being hilarious. And that’s what makes traveling great.
“I have long known that it is part of God’s plan for me to spend a little time with each of the most stupid people on earth, and Mary Ellen was proof that even in the Appalachian woods I would not be spared. It became evident that she was a rarity.”
Oh, man. I know I said Katz is the best character, but Mary Ellen is a close second.
2. “On the Road” – Jack Kerouac
I have mixed feelings about “On the Road”.
On one hand, it’s a classic. And for good reasons. Kerouac’s narrative is so authentic. He explores how travel is both a cure for his loneliness and an enabler for his loneliness. And holy moly, isn’t that true?
Also, the book is full of fantastic quotes and one-liners that I just want to stencil onto my bedroom wall.
On the other hand, his writing style is a little too stream-of-consciousness for my taste. But that certainly doesn’t detain most readers. Some people would say that this style is their favorite part of Kerouac as an author.
“Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life.”
Amen. That’s how I feel all the time.
3. “Eat Pray Love” – Elizabeth Gilbert
Yes, I recently wrote a blog post about all my thoughts, both good and bad, on “Eat Pray Love.”
You can check out that blog post for my full thoughts. But just let me say that it’s worth the read. This book and #5 on the list are wonderful for female travelers who need a little encouragement.
“The Bhagavad Gita–that ancient Indian Yogic text–says that it is better to live your own destiny imperfectly than to live an imitation of somebody else’s life with perfection.”
4. “Hap Working the World” – Hap Cameron
I have never met anyone else who has read “Hap Working the World.” But I freaking love it.
I stumbled upon the hardback when I lived in New Zealand and was roaming the Wellington City Library on my break from work. It’s possible that the reason I’ve never seen it anywhere else is because the writer and protagonist is from New Zealand.
Hap Cameron is a kiwi gent who makes it his goal to work on every continent in the world before he turns 30. Yes, including Antarctica.
He faces several trials on this voyage, from his Korean girlfriend telling him that he’s knocked her up, to literally not being able to find a job in Antarctica at all.
I think I love this book so much because his goal sounds exactly like one I would set for myself. It’s a hoot.
I have no quote to post, because there are none posted on the Internet. (I told you, the book is not very well-known!) I left the book at the Wellington City Library and my notebook with my favorite quotes somewhere in New Zealand. Sorry.
5. “Wild” – Cheryl Strayed
Another hiking book. But Strayed’s writing style and story in “Wild” are immensely different than Bryson’s in “A Walk in the Woods.”
Maybe you’ve seen the movie with Reese Weatherspoon. Or maybe you’ve seen Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, with way too much camera time devoted to arguing over whether the movie or the book is better.
Duh, the book is better.
Which should say something, because most people I know adored the film.
Strayed spends three months hiking the Pacific Crest Trail on the West Coast as a way to recover from her mother’s death. Well, not just her mother’s death. She also wants to recover from her drug abuse, unhealthy relationships, failed marriage, and collapse of her family as a result of her mother’s death.
This book is hella emotional. But also inspirational. And empowering for female solo travelers. And I must say, Strayed is just a damn good writer.
“I knew that if I allowed fear to overtake me, my journey was doomed. Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me.”
That quote gives me chills.