Below are four books that deeply cover popular topics of travelling such as meeting people, getting lost in nature, finding paradise, finding yourself, etc. While not on any list of greatest books of all time, I feel all four of them were written in a very honest and fresh way, and are specially interesting as an introduction to the different types of travel literature (travelogue, backpacking, fictional and non-fictional adventure).
The stories in them resonate with both the excitement of first-time travelers and the wisdom of longtimers.
Jupiter’s Travels, Ted Simon
Journalist Ted Simon rode across the six continents for four years in the 1970s on a Triump Tiger, with no internet and no guidebooks.
Along the journey, Ted goes through all sort of phases. Sometimes he eloquently dissects the simplicity of moving from one point to another, and sometimes he shares his own revelations about the way that traveling affects the transcendental nature of one’s experiences; if that makes any sense to you.
A professional writer, Ted seamlessly mixes politics, religion and history in his memories, and he covers it all up with the kind of comedy that comes off extrovert world travelers naturally.
What I like the most about this book is how Ted manages to tell the story of the communities he interacts with via short dialogues and quick internal thoughts. He captures the beauty in human relationships in simple words without even trying. He does so while traveling alone, so the reader can get a good glimpse of what it is like to travel solo: to meet new people and make friends in every town.
He brings up one universal truth about traveling: traveling is about the people. Followed by another universal truth about life: anywhere you go, there is someone willing to help you out if you are in need.
When my bike breaks out there on the road, or I find myself stuck in a remote village after a long day of hitchhiking, and people come forward to help me out, I sometimes think of Ted.
The Beach, Alex Garland
The Beach is a fast-paced story about finding paradise and trying to live in it. The first half of the book makes The Beach a classic backpacker‘s tale.
It is good and very exciting: from a shitty hostel room in the frenzy of the streets of Bangkok to the beautiful beach in a secret island, the protagonist shares every backpacker’s endless curiosity and desire to find the next big adventure.
The second half of the book tells a different story. Through a series of events, the author reveals the crude reality of what life in this kind of paradise could really be like.
Albeit there are a few exaggerated situations here and there,the author does a good job of putting such “perfect life” into perspective. At the very least, he challenges all the idealizations about it. Like Ted Simon, he indirectly puts on the table the fact that it’s more about the people than the place.
The movie has greatly adapted the first half of the story, but fails to do the same with the rest. It leaves you with a totally different taste in your mouth than the novel, and the degree to which the whole idea of paradise is dissected is much lesser.
Lost Horizon, James Milton
While escaping a civil war, Conway’s plane is hijacked and crashed in the mountains. There, a Chinese man takes them to Shangri-La, a monastery in a secret valley. It is a delicious story of hidden cities, jungles and spirituality in a remote part of the globe; ideal for the adventure-junkie type.
Although this novel is not a travelogue, a sought-after perfect type of trip is discussed within its pages: traveling to find paradise, to find yourself. For some travelers, such escape from mundane life is done by means of meditation and spirituality, omnipresent in the book.
Lost Horizon is a very relaxed and fresh read about adventures in the high Tibetan mountains where monks reside. The novel is from 1933, and so features the kind of old-style exploration narratives found in 60-80s adventure movies.
If you are traveling anywhere near the Himalayas or regions where Buddhism is practised, this book will definitely give you the hypes!
Into the Wild, Jon Krakauer
Into the Wild is another well-known classic. Whereas Jupiter’s Travels is a solo traveling novel somewhat centers around the people, Into the Wild shifts the focus to the other type of solo travel: the one after pure natural wonder.
The protagonist embarks on a journey to finally reach north, which is Alaska, and enjoy his sort of ultimate experience once there. He rejects modern society and life as they are around him in the US, and finds joy instead in nature. He reaches for the essence of life through living in the wild, traveling and building human relationships strictly within the frame of nature and Earth.
While hitchhiking his way across the States, the protagonist finds himself constantly discussing these topics with the people he meets. From these encounters, he takes away powerful advise and wisdom, some of which he sticks to.
The movie adaptation is very good, and contains amazing soundtrack.
Do you know any must-read travel book? Let me know in the comments section and I will definitely give it a read soon!