I believe, the books you read shape your life by influencing the way you think, perceive the world or travel. Reading certainly instilled a sense of wonder in me. I travelled to learn about people, experience cultures, and the flora and fauna. And here are some of my favourite travel books that will make you travel differently.
1. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Written in 1948 by a French Aviator, the fact that The Little Prince has been translated in over three hundred languages attests to its credibility. I first read this book in German while trying to learn German. Therefore, I could only comprehend half of it, but that was enough to make me fall in love with this pocket-sized dynamite.
The book is about travel, expect it is interplanetary. The Little Prince leaves his home, a tiny asteroid called B 612, and his companion, a pompous, silly rose, to discover the unknown realms of the universe. As he hops from one planet to another in the galactic plane, he meets some narrow-minded people with some strange habits. During his journey, he further meets a pilot, a snake, a desert flower, a fox and eventually a whole row of rosebushes, which makes him pine for his own rose and his planet.
A science-fiction, fairy-tale, children’s book, call it what you will. It is sure to take you on an out of the world journey and nourish you with some food for thought.
2. Walden; or, Life in the Woods by Henry David Thoreau
In Walden, Henry David Thoreau details his experience living a simple and self-sufficient life in the woods at the Walden pond. During the two years, two months, and two days of living in the woods, he undertakes a scientific and philosophical quest. He sets out by building his cabin using the wood from the forest, growing his vegetables, and bartering them for additional goods.
Thoreau chronicles his scientific observations of nature as he watches owls, hares, red squirrels, and birds go about their day hunting, singing, foraging and feeding. He enjoys watching the pond and the life around the pond freeze in winter and thaw and come back to life in spring.
He also discusses economy, reading, solitude, whether hunting wild animals and eating meat is necessary, among other things.
Now, what is it got to do with travel, you might ask. Good question. I read this book as a teenager, and I’d say it is the right age to read Walden. It influenced me immensely. I have to admit I took some of the principles, such as the concept of civil disobedience, a bit too far and rebelled at home. Also, I conveniently ignored the self-sufficiency part and got myself into trouble with my parents, but I learned a lot in the process. That’s when I started observing nature and my surroundings closely. I got into watching wildlife. I started travelling to be amidst nature and to observe nature.
3. In Xanadu: A Quest by William Dalrymple
In this book, William Dalrymple traces the voyage of Marco Polo along the Silk Route. As he travels from Jerusalem to Shang-Tu, aka Xanadu, in the Inner Mongolia region of China, the author relates the old time’s grandeur of the cities as portrayed by the 13th-century explorer to their condition in present times.
It is a humorous and historical account of the author’s expedition. It takes the reader on a journey to the middle-ages and helps to re-live the entailing events.
The book made it to the list because of its “travel with purpose” aspect. It may not be a grand expedition like tracing a Venetian explorer’s journey, but it helps to travel with purpose, whether it is to learn, to create, or to help, whatever floats one’s boat.
4. A Walk in the woods – Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson
Bill Bryson is no stranger to people who read books in the travel or humour genre. It is hard to recommend one book as his best because many of his books are side-splitting accounts of his travels or rather misadventures across the world. You won’t go wrong choosing his books at random.
I will anyway suggest reading “A walk in the woods”. It is, as usual, a hilarious story of his adventures hiking The Appalachians trails. Bryson prepares for his hike by reading some scary books on bear attacks. He goes shopping for hiking gear in a shop that is Louis Vuitton of hiking gear. He hikes the Appalachian trail with a friend, who is an overweight recovering alcoholic and quits half-way.
Bill Bryson’s books help you see your travels and the accompanying misadventures in good humour.
5. A Zoo in My Luggage by Gerard Durrel
As a wildlife enthusiast and an avid reader of humour, Gerard Durrell is one of my favourite authors. I’d recommend many of his books, but “A zoo in my luggage” is more appropriate given the context. And who knows, it might turn you into a wildlife enthusiast or expert for that matter.
This book details Gerard Durrell’s journey to Cameroon island to obtain animals for his zoo. And in the process, his humorous encounters with the local people and the local animals or endemic species as the technical term goes. It also gives you an insight into what it takes to be a zookeeper or work with animals.
And next time when you travel around the globe, visiting zoos or wildlife parks, you’re bound to appreciate the effort that goes into keeping them.
So that was a list of some of my favourite travel books that, I thought, will make you travel differently. Let me know your favourites.