10 Must Read Travel Books
Most travelers relish a good read as enthusiastically as they book their next plane ticket, for when the body is forced to stay put, a book at least allows the mind to wander limitlessly. Our Wild staff members are no exception and when we aren’t traveling, creating a new trip or writing and talking about adventure travel, we’re reading about our destinations in the form of guide books, novels, conservation journals, poli-sci essays – you name it! Here are some of our must-reads, organized by region, for your next global adventure with Wildland!
India & Asia
1. Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard by Kirin Desai
For a change of pace in Indian literature, which can often be depressing, I recommend this book. This is a humorous look at the eccentricities of India’s Hindu pilgrimage culture with a touch of family relationships and peek into village life. Add in excellent writing from an author who won a Man Booker prize for her next novel, The Inheritance of Loss.
Recommended by Laura Finkelstein
– Program Director for India
2. A Fine Balance
by Rohinton Mistry
This book is a masterpiece – so thoughtfully written. Absorbing, insightful, educational and moving. It brings new understanding to India’s struggles with poverty and the caste system. The setting is an unnamed city in India around 1975. You will feel the characters’ sadness, fear, loss and desire to survive. The main character Dina Dalal, a Parsi woman, is a widow determined to be independent in a world where women have little value. She quickly becomes the glue that holds 3 other lives together. Maneck is a student from a mountain village attending school in the city. Ishvar and his nephew Omprakash are tailors escaping terror in their village by looking for work in the city. This is a story about relationships and trust during at time that makes trust almost impossible.
Recommended by Anne Kutay
– Vice President and Travel Goddess Queen
3. The Great Railway Bazaar
by Paul Theroux
When exploring the world with Semester at Sea in the fall of 2005, my best friend and I became enamored with this book and decided to retrace Theroux’s journey through Myanmar (Burma), on the train from Yangon to Mandalay. Our intended trip got derailed in Toungoo, where a chance encounter led to a whole different adventure through Burma’s jungles and rivers, but to this day I can’t catch site of this book without being transported back to Burma. I can hear the creaking of the old wooden train cars, see the vendors crowding the betel-nut stained platform, each seated behind their satays of seared sparrows laid out in neat piles on yesterday’s newspaper, and I can distinctly recall the smell of cheroots, the thick, tree bark cigars smoked by nearly everyone. While Theroux’s voice and views may not appeal to everyone (he writes with a candor similar to Anthony Bourdain), his epic tale of travel across Asia and Russia by rail in the early 1970s is one for the ages and required reading for every adventurer.
Recommended by Kirsten Gardner
– Program Director for Latin America
4. Shadow of the Wind
by Carlos Luis Zafon
I highly recommend Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s book, once you start reading this book you will never want it to end. – The author writes beautifully – take your time or read the book quickly because once you start, you will have no choice. Prepare to be swept away! It's a matrioshka doll of a book, plots within plots within more plots, all set during and after the Spanish Civil War. Sorting it all out is wonderful and holds the reader to the last page. Its delights include several romantic threads, at least one horror story, and the city of Barcelona among the memorable and seductive characters we meet. Reading this book before a trip to Barcelona gives travelers a chance to have a wider perspective of the country's more recent history, made palatable by excellent mystery writing.
Recommended by Grettel Calderon
– Program Director for Central America
The Middle East
5. The Oblivion Seekers
by Isabelle Eberhardt (Translation by Paul Bowles)
Swiss adventuress Eberhardt died in an Algerian wadi during a flash flood in the year 1904. In the short 27 years of her life leading to that moment, Isabelle defied all societal norms, setting off into the Muslim world alone, dressing as a man, racing horses across the desert, converting to Sufism and later becoming a member of the secret Sufic cult of the Qadriya, which held sway over the nomadic tribes of North Africa. She was widely believed by the French colonial military to be a spy and endured incarceration as well as attempts on her life by enemies of the Qadriya. "The Oblivion Seekers' is a collection of brief, sometimes almost surreal observations, told with poetic passion and outsider's eye of the traveler ever on the road.
Recommended by Sherry Howland
- Program Director for Jordan
6. Turn Right at Machu Picchu
by Mark Adams
Perfect for anyone already booked on a Peru trekking trip or for someone considering the Inca Trail
or Choquequirao Trek
, Adams’ book recounts the author’s fascination with Hiram Bingham that prompted him to retrace his footsteps through the Andes. It’s a great mix of self-deprecating humor (Adams was not necessarily in high-altitude trekking shape when he began his journey), travel narrative and historical information without being overly academic. Adams also takes care to present several different and conflicting perspectives on the work and legacy of Bingham and theories about the function of Machu Picchu. We can’t make any promises, but some of the local guides mentioned in the book may just end up guiding your Wildland trip to Peru! (Not John Leivers for anyone who was getting nervous!)
Recommended by Kirsten Gardner
– Program Director for Peru
The South Pacific
7. In a Sunburned Country
by Bill Bryson.
Oz is not a Wildland destination, but this is one of the best travel books I’ve read. In this book Bill Bryson recounts his travels in Australia. He has a wonderful way with words and I found myself laughing out loud many times while reading his book. His often quoted description of a cricket match is hilarious.
Recommended by Katharine Gallagher
– Operations Manager
8. Voluntary Conservation in Costa Rica
by Carlos M. Chacon.
About Civil Society’s contributions toward sustainable development, this is a book that will give the reader a free trip to those Costa Rican places where people are carrying out great conservation efforts. One gets immersed in the country’s different habitats, wildlife, and people through great photography and bilingual descriptions. The book details over 20 examples of civil society initiatives in which single individuals, communities and hotel owners have implemented always-integrating ecological, social and economic factors into their life styles in a well-balanced way. It shows the willingness of people to conserve the natural surroundings and serve as an example to other groups or individuals in a moment when it is so necessary to take action toward a more sustainable and loving way of living to protect our world.
Recommended by Grettal Calderon
– Program Director for Costa Rica
9. Jock of the Bushveld
by Percy Fitzpatrick. (Great Read for Family Travel!)
Great children’s book about the adventures of a very brave and endearing dog named Jock and his adventures in the wilds of Kruger National Park. Nice and light read for families going on safari in South Africa.
10. The Long Walk to Freedom
by Nelson Mandela
The autobiographical account of Nelson Mandela’s 25 year imprisonment during apartheid is a must read!
Both recommended by Nick Bay
– Program Director for Africa
There you have it, 10 must read travel books for the avid traveler. That should keep you busy for a little while!
till then, keep it Wild!