The right book can change our life forever. It’s a secret weapon that we carry with us, especially as we travel and discover not only the world we live in, but explore who we are as a human being. Reading is a great form of entertainment and inspiration. However, for aspiring travel writers, it also serves as a necessary tool to learning the craft of writing. Books become your teachers, and who better to learn from than the legends of literature? There are millions of books out there “in the cloud” and in the bookstores, but only a few deserve our attention and will continue to deserve our attention. This alternative list is for the overlooked gems, or should-be classics by a range of great writers.
Known for his bestseller Travels on My Elephant, Mark Shand’s River Dog is a tale of his trip down the Brahmaputra with an adopted four-legged friend called Bhaiti. Where his earlier book brimmed with youthful energy and humor, River Dog, written a decade later, has the wit and wisdom of the slightly older traveler. An overlooked masterpiece.
Traveling only along small back roads, Alan Booth traversed Japan’s entire length on foot, from Soya at the country’s northernmost tip, to Cape Sata in the extreme south, across three islands and some 2,000 miles of rural Japan. The Roads to Sata is his wry, witty, inimitable account of that prodigious trek.
Although he was a city person-he was brought up in London and spent most of his adult life in Tokyo – Booth had an extraordinary ability to capture the feel of rural Japan in his writing. Throughout his long and arduous trek, he encountered a variety of people who inhabit the Japanese countryside-from fishermen and soldiers, to bar hostesses and school teachers, to hermits, drunks, and tramps. His wonderful and often hilarious descriptions of these encounters are the highlights of these pages, painting a multifaceted picture of Japan from the perspective of an outsider, but with the knowledge of an insider.
The Roads to Sata is travel writing at its best, illuminating and disarming, poignant yet hilarious, critical but respectful. Traveling across Japan with Alan Booth, readers will enjoy the wit and insight of a uniquely perceptive guide, and more importantly, they will discover a new face of an often misunderstood nation.
Thus begins the epic journey of a New Zealand lawyer, a Buddhist monk, an Argentinean photojournalist, an Italian recording artist and a Mormon golfer, travelling together along the Great Wall of China. Having decided to mark the millennium in cultural, racial and religious harmony, the five men quickly encountered reality: blizzards, lightning strikes, thirst, starvation, snakes and police detention.
This is Nathan Gray’s account of his 4,000-kilometre trek along the largest man-made structure ever built. His story is remarkable, uncovering the Wall’s profound history and revealing insights into China’s geopolitical climate, as he shares his personal journey of physical, mental and emotional triumph.
Tracing the story of William Sleeman and the legend of ‘thugs’ across south and central India, Rushby’s efforts to dig through Raj-era orientalist attitudes and work out the truth behind the legends is fascinating. He boldly goes way off the beaten track in the footsteps of the infamous bandit Veerapan and relates his journey with open-minded, balanced judgment in this refreshing, exciting book.
Robyn Davidson’s opens the memoir of her perilous journey across 1,700 miles of hostile Australian desert to the sea with only four camels and a dog for company with the following words: “I experienced that sinking feeling you get when you know you have conned yourself into doing something difficult and there’s no going back.”
Enduring sweltering heat, fending off poisonous snakes and lecherous men, chasing her camels when they get skittish and nursing them when they are injured, Davidson emerges as an extraordinarily courageous heroine driven by a love of Australia’s landscape, an empathy for its indigenous people, and a willingness to cast away the trappings of her former identity. Tracks is the compelling, candid story of her odyssey of discovery and transformation.
In 1983, at the age of thirty, dissident artist Ma Jian finds himself divorced by his wife, separated from his daughter, betrayed by his girlfriend, facing arrest for “Spiritual Pollution,” and severely disillusioned with the confines of life in Beijing. So with little more than a change of clothes and two bars of soap, Ma takes off to immerse himself in the remotest parts of China. His journey would last three years and take him through smog-choked cities and mountain villages, from scenes of barbarity to havens of tranquility. Remarkably written and subtly moving, the result is an insight into the teeming contradictions of China that only a man who was both insider and outsider in his own country could have written.
An exciting new voice in travel writing, Able travels 6200 miles around India in a tiny yellow Tata Nano. Since most visitors would have trouble battling a car through Mumbai’s traffic, let alone taking a jaunt around the subcontinent, Able’s ambitious journey, told in a witty, intelligent style, is a feat not to be underestimated.
Beloved by all who discover it, the magic of Mayne’s book is in his approach to living among the locals. He plunges straight into learning Arabic, figures out the neighborhood dynamic and, rather amusingly, actively avoids fellow foreigners. For a book published in 1953, his attitudes are way ahead of their time. Perhaps the similarity in both the author’s name and book title to Peter Mayle’s famous Year in Provence has caused some confusion because this book deserves more attention than it gets.