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By Alex Martin | March 23 2020
Billions of us around the world are being urged to stay home as the coronavirus Covid-19 continues to spread. As we hunker down indoors for the greater good, nothing will pass the time better than a good book. With your vacation most likely canceled or postponed, keep your wanderlust alive by picking up one of the best travel books to read if you are self-isolating.
Here, Elite Traveler goes through 11 must-read books that will have you adventure-ready once the world return to normal.
Cheryl Strayed struck a chord with people all over the world with the publication of her memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. Struggling to process her mother’s death and a recent divorce, Strayed undertook an arduous 1,100-mile hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. The book is both a beautifully written memoir about her experience on the trail, but also her slow rediscovery of a zest for life. Wild has been a best seller in a number of countries and translated into 30 different languages. It was also adapted into a Hollywood movie, starring Reese Witherspoon, but, as is often the case, the book offers a far more intimate account of Strayed’s journey back to life.
Patagonia is on the more bucket lists for adventure travelers than anywhere else, and Bruce Chatwin’s masterpiece has inspired countless adventures to this most majestic of lands. Chatwin spent six months exploring the southern tip of South America, originally on a quest for “a piece of brontosaurus” but he instead discovered fascinating stories from a group of European refugees who had made a new life for themselves so far from home. The book not only details the extraordinary landscapes of Patagonia but the amazing accounts of people living in remote towns and cities across the region.
Nothing quite captures the romance of France than the region of Provence. There have been countless books written about it, and Peter Mayle’s charming memoir is one of the best. The book chronicles Mayle’s first year living in Provence and the strange quirks of the area. He battles with the fierce Le Mistral trade winds, black market truffle dealers and the laid-back attitude to working hours. Slowly, Mayle falls for the local customs of the area, and we can guarantee you will too.
One of the great American novels, Jack Kerouac based the book on his own travels across the United States. It is one of the earliest pieces of work that drew attention to the counterculture that took hold through the 1960s and is now considered one of the most influential novels in American literature. The story follows Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty, who undertake road trips between 1947 and 1950 when the USA was still recovering economically from World War II. The book is autobiographical with Paradise an alter ego of the author and Moriarty a fictional version of Neal Cassady, an early influencer of the Beat Generation.
Christopher Johnson McCandless looked destined for a successful career. He had a rich family and high grades from Emory University. Then, one day he disappeared off the face of the earth. He donated his entire college fund to Oxfam and made his way around the United States, living as a penniless vagabond. Into the Wild tells the story of writer Jon Krakauer’s attempts to retrace McCandless’s journey across North America. Krakauer not only succeeds in tracing much of McCandless’s journey but also adopting the state of mind that inspired him to take such drastic action. Krakauer eloquently describes how he struggled to fit into society and how the lust for genuine adventure – something we all feel from time to time – eventually overwhelmed him, culminating in his death in the remote regions of Alaska.
Bill Bryson is widely regarded as one of the best travel writers of his generation, and A Walk in the Woods is one of his finest works. The autobiographical book details his attempts to walk the Appalachian Trail with his friend, Stephen Katz. Living near the trail, Bryson finds himself fascinated with the idea of through-hiking the 2,181-mile trail from Spring Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. The book is a humorous account of just how ill-equipped Bryson and his bumbling friend are. Bryson describes not only the difficulty of carrying the gear but also coping with the constant presence of his friend. They ultimately walk just 800 miles of the trail but experienced enough adventure to make a truly classic book.
Perhaps more famous for the film starring Julia Roberts, the book Eat, Pray Love remains the inspiration for thousands of people planning a solo trip around the world. The memoir chronicles Gilbert’s trip around the world and her attempts to rediscover her joie de vivre following a life-changing divorce. She spends four months eating her way across Italy, three months in India discovering the importance of spirituality before eventually finding new love in Bali. The book was a sensation and held a place on the New York Times Best Seller list for 187 weeks.
Coasting details Jonathan Raban’s epic 4,000-mile voyage around the British Isles in a 32-foot sea-going ketch. As well as Raban’s trials and tribulations at sea are an absorbing read, the most impressive aspect of the book is its insights into a country that was at the time going through drastic cultural change. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was making policy choices that would change the lives of millions or people while British soldiers fought in the Falklands War thousands of miles away. Raban is both isolated at sea, but always in sight of his homeland, lending him an acute perspective that draws many parallels with today’s political environment in the UK.
Another book detailing a road trip across the United States, John Steinbeck set off on his own adventure in 1960 with no one but his standard poodle, Charley, for company. Steinbeck, a writer himself, longed to explore the country he wrote about and discover the people who kept it running. His eldest son, Thom, claims it was his father’s last hurrah after discovering he had a heart condition. John died six years after the book was published. Starting in Long Island, Steinbeck undertook a 10,000-mile journey around the outer border of the United States in a specially made campervan.
The Beach is perhaps more famous for the film starring Leonardo DiCaprio, but the novel remains a must-read for anyone searching for a speck of wanderlust. The story follows Richard, a British backpacker, as he heads to Thailand following a break-up. During his solo trip, he learns of a secret community hidden on a paradise island and takes great risks to find it. The book then details the slow breakdown of what at first appeared to be an idyllic society. Author Alex Garland was heavily influenced by Lord of the Flies, which becomes apparent as the book moves towards dark corners and culminates with a dramatic conclusion.
Antarctica has become a hotspot for high-net-worth individuals, who are keen to walk in the same footsteps as the pioneering polar explorers of the early 20th century. Many have been inspired by the incredible survival stories of Ernest Shackleton and Robert Falcon Scott’s ill-fated expedition to reach the South Pole. The Worst Journey in the World is Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s memoir of the latter expedition, which culminated in the death of Scott and his men on their return from the South Pole. The book encapsulates Antarctica beautifully, speaking of its majesty whilst simultaneously bemoaning its insatiable inhospitality.