I once read somewhere that the best thing you can do to keep yourself entertained while travelling is to immerse yourself in a good book that is completely unrelated to your destination. It might sound counterintuitive, but the thought process here is that focussing your mind on some arbitrary topic will actually let you be more present while travelling. By taking your mind away from the minutiae of planning, fact finding, or someone else’s interpretation of where you are visiting, you will be able to more fully experience your surroundings in your own unique way.
If that is the best advice that I’ve heard in terms of what to read when you are looking to kill boredom at a train station or airport, then the inverse is also true when it comes to selecting reading material for your everyday life. Books have the amazing power to inspire and whisk us away to other times and places. And while many adventure travel books will certainly make you feel like dropping everything to head off on a globetrotting adventure, I think you will find that reading about someone’s escapades in a far off land will actually have the same effects as the above example. If you can take your mind off of stressing about the little details of everyday life and focus – at least temporarily – on some daring, funny, or life-altering travel stories, you will be able to broaden your mind and experience the present in a more attentive and meaningful way.
There are countless examples of exciting and well-written adventure travel books that range from extravagant continental journeys from centuries past to funny contemporary accounts of backpacking around the globe, but the important thing is to find a story that resonates with you. Whether you have a passion for exhilarating adventure sports, want to relive your gap-year adventures, or simply want to learn about new cultures or places, you just might find that picking up a good book on the topic will both help you be more present in your everyday life and provide a bit of inspiration for future travels.
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Classic Travel Books
When it comes to travel/outdoor literature, there is a nearly endless supply of books that are deemed as being ‘classic’ examples of the genre that you must read if you are just beginning to dip your toes in the water. Of these, there are a few authors that I find really encompass the heart and soul of what it means to travel, none more so than Steinbeck and Kerouac. Both writing in the mid 20th Century, John Steinbeck and Jack Kerouac provide unique accounts of travelling around the United States in the post-war era.
Steinbeck, in his work Travels with Charley: In Search of America, recounts his adventures of taking a roadtrip with his poodle from New York to Maine, then across the country to the Pacific Northwest, down into California and Texas, before crossing the Southern states on his way back into New York. Taking place in the 1960s, the work provides an insight into the post-war character across America, as Steinbeck really focuses on connecting with the people and places he encounters throughout the journey.
Similarly, Jack Kerouac’s two books from the late 1950s, On the Road and Dharma Bums, are classic literary works that focus on American post-war character, albeit in a different light. These two books encompass the ‘Beat Generation’, whose ideals were focussed on modern jazz, Zen Buddhism, poetry, and recreational drugs, but also a penchant for outdoor activities like hiking, mountaineering, hitchhiking, and train hopping. The characters and storylines in each are as funny and ridiculous as they are enticing, making for a quick and easy read.
Gripping Adventure Tales
If you are less focussed on the classics and want to dive into some exhilarating accounts of adventure travel and the outdoors, then there are plenty of contemporary books for you to sink your teeth into.
For those with an interest in the thrilling world of mountaineering, The Escapist by Gabriel Filippi is a fantastic book about a Canadian man who discovers a passion for climbing mountains and sets out to summit the world’s tallest peaks. Throughout the book, he narrowly escapes death on more than one occasion, surviving Taliban attacks in Pakistan and a harrowing disaster on Everest.
Another Canadian work, Beyond the Trees: A Journey Alone Across Canada’s Arctic is a similarly enthralling tale of adventure travel, in which Adam Shoults races across the unforgiving landscape of Canada’s Arctic between Eagle Plains, Yukon and Baker Lake, Nunavut. Along the nearly 4000km journey, he encounters a seemingly endless amount of obstacles that include rugged terrain and wild weather, in addition to overcoming the mental obstacles of such a challenging ordeal.
In keeping with the theme of exploring the northern reaches of the world, Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube: Chasing Fear and Finding Home in the Great White North by Blair Braverman is a fascinating tale of one woman’s experiences exploring the wilds of Alaska and Norway by dog sled. Physical exhaustion, polar bear attacks, and whiteout blizzard conditions are only a few of the extreme circumstances that come her way throughout this vivid story of self-reliance.
While action-packed adventures or classic works of travel writing are fascinating to read, they can sometimes miss the mark on one of the most essential elements of travel: humour. The ridiculous situations we find ourselves in, genuine characters we meet, and funny stories we later have to tell all come from our experiences travelling the world, and sometimes it’s nice to simply kick back with a book that encapsulates those funny moments.
For anyone that has read a Bill Bryson book, you will know that his writing style is a fantastic mixture of curiosity, humour, and interesting facts. So for those thinking of visiting Australia, his work In a Sunburned Country is an absolute must-read, as it takes you on a hilarious journey far off the beaten path across a country filled with deadly wildlife and cheerful people.
In a more ridiculous telling of travel events, The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific, details the adventures of Maarten Troost and his girlfriend, who traded in their mundane lives to move to Tarawa in the island Republic of Kiribati. This hilarious book tells of their adjustment to the idiosyncrasies of life on such a tiny island, the fascinating characters that they met along the way, and the stark difference in customs that they faced, all before the jarring culture shock of returning back home.
Lastly, those familiar with the combination of ridiculous humour and adventure travel will likely be acquainted with the popular television series An Idiot Abroad and its namesake traveller Karl Pilkington. However, what you might not be aware of is that Karl has an equally hilarious book, Happyslapped by a Jellyfish, that details some of his travels. This is a quick, easy, and funny read, whether you are a fan of the show or are simply looking to take in some funny travel anecdotes.
Just Dive In
It can be difficult to get into the habit of reading regularly, particularly if you haven’t done it in a while, but adventure travel offers so many different topics and avenues to explore in addition to those above. Whether you are a big reader who enjoys sinking into a good book, prefer to listen to audiobooks while commuting to work, or just really aren’t that interested in reading at all, the above titles are easily accessible and serve as a great jumping off point from which you can begin to explore the wider world of travel literature. In doing so, you will undoubtedly gain plenty of inspiration for your future travels and enjoy countless hours learning about the world around you.