Perhaps the next best thing to travelling is reading about travelling. Whether travelling through the pages of books, browsing internet travel sites, or reading travel blog posts; armchair travelling is a pleasure in itself.
Like most travellers I love guidebooks. Even though I don’t really need them so much these days (I use the internet mostly for planning and research), I often get one for a country just because I love to browse through for inspiration and later see the book on my shelf as a memento of the trip.
I also enjoy travel writing, which is not the same thing. A well written book about travelling is one of the best sources of inspiration. It can trigger a desire to visit a country or city; it can provide colour and context while on a trip; and it can broaden your understanding of a country as you later start to reflect on your own experiences there. Here are a couple of my own favourites:
This is possibly my all-time favourite travel book, for several reasons. Firstly, it has its genesis in something that is the very antithesis of travel, imprisonment. When Brian Keenan and John McCarthy were incarcerated by terrorists in a Lebanese dungeon they kept themselves sane by travelling in their minds across Patagonia. After their release they took the trip for real, and this book is their account of it.
Which brings me to the second reason I like it so much. It is told alternately by the two men, and their characters and travel styles are very different. They remind me a bit of me and my husband when we travel. When McCarthy arrives in a new place he already has a list of the things he wants to see and a plan for how they will see them, rather like me. Keenan on the other hand would rather sit in a bar; or maybe go for a stroll, and see if anything interesting comes along, more like my husband. It’s fascinating to see their journey through both perspectives.
This is the book that sparked my desire to visit Chile and in particular to see the El Tatio Geysers. That proved to be one of our favourite trips ever, so that is a third reason to like this book!
This isn’t exactly travel writing, it has to be said. But one of the things I like to do is read a book while travelling that relates to the place(s) I am visiting; and this is one of my favourite ever picks for that. I read it while on our Antarctic cruise. That proved the perfect setting in which to appreciate this true account of Scott’s ill-fated expedition to the South Pole.
Apsley Cherry-Garrard (1886-1959) was one of the few to survive the expedition. He later faced a struggle against depression, haunted by the thought that that he could possibly have saved Scott and his companions. But in truth he was one of its heroes, undertaking an epic journey in the bitter Antarctic winter to collect the eggs of the Emperor penguin for scientific studies of the birds. The temperature was seventy below freezing, his teeth shattered in the cold and the tent blew away. Later he wrote about his experiences in The Worst Journey in the World, which inspired Wheeler’s interest in him.
Although we didn’t experience anything like such temperatures on our visit to the region it was nevertheless easier to picture the conditions he survived while looking out on these icy wastes than it would have been reading it at home in my cosy London suburban house!
Now for something rather different. One of my most treasured travel guides is also one of the least useful. It is old (1960s) and written mostly in Russian, of which I only speak a handful of words. When I visited Lviv in 2010 it was with a group of Virtual Tourist friends and we were welcomed to the city by a Ukrainian member of VT, Victor. Although he lived in the far east of the country, and didn’t know Lviv, he was a huge help in assisting us to navigate the city, find the key sights, book restaurants and understand the language and culture.
One evening he showed me his old guidebook to Lviv, published back when Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union. I found it fascinating and was really touched when he gave it to me as a gift when we left. In fact I felt bad then for having shown such interest in it! Of course I sent him a present in return when I got home, a book about my London suburb Ealing; but it didn’t feel quite enough recompense for such an interesting and unique book.
A gift from Victor, the old guidebook to Lviv
Since then Victor has been forced to flee his home twice; eight years ago when war broke out in his home city of Luhansk and again earlier this year when the present war got too close for comfort to his new home in Severodonetsk. He and his wife are currently safe in Poland, staying with a mutual Virtual Tourist friend, and despite everything he remains positive. He is such a well-liked member of our community; we all wish him well and hope for peace so he can return to the country he loves. Meanwhile this book is a lovely reminder of our time in this beautiful city which I hope is spared the awful destruction we have witnessed elsewhere.
Do it yourself
Like many keen travellers I enjoy creating books as a memento of our travels. Years ago that meant collecting bits and pieces to combine with photos in a scrap book.
Scan from our Syria scrapbook from 1996
Today however we can create ‘proper’ books using one of several companies who provide this service. We upload our photos, design the layout of our pages and hey presto, we have a travel book! I haven’t found the time to create as many of these as I would like (it was going to be a lockdown project until I discovered blogging!) but I have done a few of some favourite trips.
My most ambitious work to date however has been compiling a book for my husband which I called ‘All the holidays we ever had (so far)’. It covers the period from our first little holiday together on the Isle of Wight in 1980 to the trips we made in 2014, the year I put it together. Obviously there will need to be a part two in due course when I have enough material, although Covid has probably delayed that by an extra year or two.
Thank you Sandy and the What’s On Your Bookshelf team for taking me down memory lane with this look back at travel books I have both enjoyed and enjoyed creating! Next time around (6th May) it will be my turn to host Friendly Friday with another photography challenge, so please join me then.