Which books do you turn to for a spot of armchair travelling? Who are the authors that can transport you from sofa to far flung locale within a couple of words? My personal favourites include Pico Iyer’s unforgettable portrayal of love in a tumultuous time in Cuba And The Night and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes, an account of a 120-mile hike in 1878 that really does encapsulate isolation. His relationship with the donkey is hilarious too.
Here a few authors and travel personalities reveal their favourite travel-related reads. Let us know yours below.
Into the Heart of Borneo (Redmond O’Hanlon)
Andy Turner, Travel Editor, Rough Guides: A classic account of the author’s ill-prepared journey across Borneo, battling against dense jungle, uncooperative wildlife and his own incompetence. Buy a copy of the book.
Among the Cities (Jan Morris) and The Snow Leopard (Peter Matthiessen)
Pico Iyer, Writer and traveller: These two have really taught me how to travel – and how to try to write about place – and I still re-read both books every other year or so, to remind myself of why we ever leave home and how going far away can send you back home a much clearer and more rigorous, open-eyed person. But generally the travel I most like does come in the context of something else – as in the fiction of D.H. Lawrence, John le Carré, Graham Greene or Somerset Maugham, to name but four (you could throw in Paul Bowles as well, to make it a royal flush). All of them get places, and get to the heart of places, as brilliantly as any professional traveller, but for all of them there’s something even more essential at stake, having to do with character and conflict and a soul alone in the dark facing his most difficult demons. Travel can be a wonderful way of bringing out and intensifying the challenges we try to sidestep at home, and the writers I most cherish see travel as a way to confront something more invisible than place.
In Patagonia (Bruce Chatwin)
Keith Drew, Senior Editor, Rough Guides: It’s a book that really befits its subject: quirky, steeped in myth and full of larger-than-life characters.
The Old Man and the Sea (Ernest Hemingway)
Ben Fogle, Adventurer and TV presenter: Although it’s not a conventional travel book, it’s one of my favourites. I quite like books which are a hybrid of fiction and non-fiction. I’d love to write fiction but I don’t think I’m brave enough yet.
Travels In Siberia (Ian Frazier)
Stephen Keeling, Author: It combines the mystery, grimness and desolation of Siberian history with entertaining accounts of travelling in post-Communist Russia.
Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi (Geoff Dyer)
James Smart, Senior Editor, Rough Guides: In part one of this hilarious, heartfelt double-hander, a journalist drinks his way round the Venice Biennale and falls in love; in part two the writer immerses himself in Indian mysticism and the filth of the Ganges. This wonderfully odd novel captures both locations in fine style.
Simon Reeve, Adventurer and TV presenter: I love anything by Bill Bryson. I like his humour and the information he packs into his books while appearing to offer a self-deprecating comic tale.
Cutting for Stone (Abraham Verghese)
Lucy Kane, Travel Editor, Rough Guides: This book is a wonderful family saga that begins in India and ends in New York, but is set predominantly against the backdrop of a war-torn Ethiopia during the Emperor Haile Selaisse’s reign (1930–1974). It’s moving, exhausting and powerful – and effectively displays the effects of political turmoil on Ethiopians over half a century ago.
Ant Egg Soup (Natacha Du Pont De Bie)
Emma Gibbs, Travel Editor, Rough Guides: This foodie exploration of Laos is a mouthwatering mix of travel memoirs and local recipes.
The Great Railway Bazaar (Paul Theroux)
Steve Vickers, Author: Recounting one man’s self-indulgent train journey through Europe and Asia, The Great Railway Bazaar captures some of the giddy excitement that comes from travelling solo. Buy the book.
The Lost Continent (Bill Bryson)
Mark Carwardine, Zoologist and TV presenter: I love its laugh-out-loud humour and wonderfully memorable lines. I’d also vote for Moondust, by Andrew Smith, for its stunning insight into the world of the last surviving Apollo astronauts and Travel Diaries of a Naturalist, by Sir Peter Scott, because it is incredibly inspiring and written by one of the greatest naturalists and conservationists of all time.
Waterlog: A Swimmer’s Journey through Britain (Roger Deakin)
Alison Roberts, Travel Editor, Rough Guides: A spellbinding aquatic adventure, Waterlog charts the author’s travels as he swims across the waterways of the British Isles, from moats and fens to waterfalls and whirlpools. A paean to wild swimming, you’ll be hard-pressed not to try it for yourself once you’ve read this.