“The world is a book
and those who do not travel
read only one page.”
– Augustine of Hippo
Books have the strangely sweet ability to transport readers to different worlds. Whether one wishes to immerse themselves in 19th century Dickensian London or hop aboard a magical train that departs from platform 9 ¾, books promise to fulfill such wishes. What remains invariant, however, is what Jhumpa Lahiri astutely articulated, “That’s the thing about books. They let you travel without moving your feet.” But #DSSCRecommends 11 travel books that will inspire the traveller in you to catch that flight, train, or bus to the subject of their destination.
Travel as Transformation by Gregory V. Diehl
From living in a van on the streets of San Diego, to teaching in the Middle East, to volunteering in Africa, Diehl had lived and worked in 45 countries by the age of 28. In this book, he uses his diverse cultural experience to frame a crucial question: When you travel to a foreign place, do you experience this new life as your old self? Or do you become a new self? Through a nomadic journey across the globe, he compels the reader to examine humanity through an unbiased lens.
City of Djinns by William Dalrymple
Peeling back layers of Delhi’s history, Dalrymple reveals an extraordinary array of characters — from eunuchs to descendants of the Mughals — whilst employing the same open-mindedness that Diehl’s book espouses. He takes the reader through the seven historical cities that today make the eighth, present day Delhi, in a homage to the djinns, or spirits, who ensure the city’s regeneration. Winner of the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award, this book ought to be read to understand the character of Delhi.
Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
An autobiographical novel, Shantaram is a passionate love letter to India with all its slums and 5-star hotels. A convict with a fake passport, Lin escapes an Australian prison and arrives in India. He befriends Prabaker, who acts as his guide, and together they explore Bombay’s underbelly of beggars, gangsters, prostitutes, and holy men, along with its actors, soldiers, and exiled locals and foreigners. The book, thus, encompasses a whole world of experience within its reach.
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
In this fictionalised account of his own journeys across America with his friend Neal Cassady, Kerouac crystalised the soul of the beatniks for generations to come and changed the landscape of American fiction. Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty make trips from New York to San Francisco to Mexico by hitch-hiking and riding buses to experience America in its rawest form: a place where living is hard, but “life is holy and every moment is precious”. This book is a must-read for nomadic souls and backpackers who like to live off the grid in the search of the meaning of life.
Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
This stream-of-consciousness novel set after the First World War follows a day in the life of its middle-aged protagonist, Clarissa Dalloway, who walks through London in preparation of a party. As she explores the city, we get a glimpse of the changes war brought in London and its citizens. The big, red buses, Hyde Park, Oxford Street, all make up the cityscape as the chimes of the Big Ben loom large in the background, and bring London to life in this Woolf classic. Immerse yourself in the Edwardian twilight of this novel and live through London as it was nearly a century ago.
Death in Venice by Thomas Mann
This novella by Nobel laureate Thomas Mann tells the story of Gustav von Aschenbach, a successful but aging writer who follows his wanderlust to Venice in search of spiritual fulfillment. The novella is a love letter to Venice, where the dark, erotic mood is reflected in the grey skies and empty corridors of the city. The heartbreak of the book notwithstanding, it richly evokes Venice and continues to inspire readers to embark on a journey to the City of Seven Hills.
The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux
Theroux recounts his early adventures on a grand continental tour. From London’s Victoria Station to Tokyo Central (and back), he travels on Asia’s fabled trains — the Orient Express, the Khyber Pass Local, the Frontier Mail, the Golden Arrow to Kuala Lumpur, the Mandalay Express, and the Trans-Siberian Express. Brimming with Theroux’s wry observations and wit, this modern classic of travel literature is an essential read for both ardent adventurers and armchair travellers.
In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin
Fuelled by a lust for life and adventure, Chatwin embarks on a trek through “the uppermost part of the Earth”, the stretch of land at the southernmost tip of South America, in search of forgotten legends and unforgettable anecdotes. Here, he finds descendents of Welsh immigrants and the log cabin built by Butch Cassidy. With evocative descriptions of a remarkable history, this book will certainly inspire you to traverse the “uppermost” reaches of the earth.
In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson
The friendliest people, the driest climate, and the most lethal wildlife on earth constitute the ideal ingredients for adventurous and fun-filled trips, according to Bill Bryson in his book on Australia. Transcending the road more travelled by tourists, Bryson gives his readers an account of a place which, despite its sharks, crocodiles, spiders, riptides, and deserts, is lively and perennially soaked in sunshine. The animals, for him, provide a source of uniquely thrilling hilarity, which makes the country worth travelling to.
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
A voyage of self-discovery, this book details how the author, after going through a divorce and depression, quits her job, and embarks on a solo journey across the world. She pursues worldly pleasures in Rome, spiritual exploration in India, and strikes a balance between the two in Bali as she rediscovers love. To understand the boundless possibilities that come with taking charge of your own contentment without following society’s ideals, this book should definitely be on your list.
The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño
A radical group of Mexico City poets, who call themselves the Visceral Realists, leave their home in a borrowed Impala in search of the vanished poet, Cesarea Tinajero. Their search turns into flight after they threaten the social order and spread across the world to Barcelona, Perpignan, and Nicaragua, before returning to their home country. The protagonists are described through the perspectives of the people they cross in Central America, Europe, Israel, and West Africa, leading to a polyphonic reading that has inspired a generation of writer-revolutionaries and travellers.
These books will certainly spark wanderlust, but who knows, they may even inspire the travel writer in you.