No Non-essential Travel

While I’m pretty sure everyone is finding the prospect of weeks upon weeks cooped up with potentially no end in sight, those of us who get itchy feet even in normal times are likely finding the concept unbearable. When I’m not travelling I look after American students, and last week they were suddenly all summoned home. I fell apart. Yesterday was my last day in the office, and I spent much of it in tears. I now face a prolonged period stuck, if not within my flat, within my area of north London, isolated (at least physically, if not virtually) from many of the people I love. As someone with depression and anxiety always hovering in the background, this frightens me, despite the fact I have a perfectly nice flat, am healthy and even have a few savings. But, it occurred to me that those of us who right now just want to be somewhere else could use some inspiration. So, here are some of my favourite books that are vaguely travel-related – they’re not all actual travelogues, as reading about places we could go and can’t could potentially make us feel even worse! But, if you’re after inspiration…

A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute

This has been my favourite book since I was a teenager, and the main reason for wanting to visit Australia, which I have since managed to do, though sadly not to Alice Springs itself. A love story initially set against a bleak World War Two backdrop, it’s beautiful, sad and uplifting all at once. One thing I would like to do, one day, is walk around the mainland part of Malaysia using the route in the book.

When The Going Was Good – Evelyn Waugh

I stumbled across this collection of Waugh’s travel writing a few months ago and it’s wonderful. Seeing what has changed – and what hasn’t – since the 20s and 30s is fascinating, and of course Waugh’s writing is impeccable.

Down Under – Bill Bryson

Of course, if you want humorous books about travel, Bill’s your man, but this is my favourite by far. Laugh-out-loud funny, I made the mistake of reading this on the plane to Australia, leading to frowns of disapproval as I sat in my tiny seat audibly sniggering. Brilliant, hilarious and incisively accurate.

Three Men In A Boat – Jerome K Jerome

A novel from 1889 that could easily have been written in 2009, this is still very funny, especially if you’re familiar with Hampton Court’s maze. I was very disappointed that my husband hated it so much he gave up after 20 or so pages, leaving me to wonder if we really were as made for one another as I’d previously thought.

Everything Is Illuminated – Jonathan Safran Foer

I honestly think this is one of the finest books ever written. Getting into it is a bit of a marathon – persevere!! The strange style and the jarring between sections makes sense after a while, and the balance of humour (the translator is a wonderful character) and despair is so good that it’s exhausting.

Travels With Charlie – John Steinbeck

Again, largely historically interesting as a record of how things have or have not changed, this insightful, sometimes funny, sometimes mournful record of a journey across the US with a dog for a companion is unjustly one of Steinbeck’s lesser-known works.

The Great Railway Bazaar – Paul Theroux

This is a classic travel book, plus I have a mild obsession with trains. Pure, immersive writing and worth a read if you want to pretend you’re somewhere else.

The Call of the Weird – Louis Theroux

I thought it only fair to include this given I’d included his dad, and while not strictly a travel book, it’s great nonetheless. Louis is one of those writers that you can’t read in your head without doing it in his voice, and that’s a real skill. I recommend this!

Pole to Pole – Michael Palin

I almost put in Around the World In 80 Days as that was the first of his adventures, but Pole to Pole was extraordinary in that so many seismic changes occurred the year Michael happened to go on this particular trip, with the Soviet Union literally dissolving behind him as he travelled south. And, of course, Michael Palin is a delight to read.

Leaving Home – Garrison Keillor

Is it cruel to put a book called Leaving Home on this list when none of us can? I love Garrison Keillor, and it’s worth noting for anyone who is not into reading but has nonetheless somehow got this far on the blog post that you can get hundreds of episodes of The News From Lake Wobegon on YouTube, in Keillor’s own unparalleled voice. His writing – especially when he’s reading it – is one of those things that can calm me down, and make me feel as though the world is OK really, even when it isn’t. I think Leaving Home is probably the best collection of the Lake Wobegon stories, which are short and sweet so perfect if you want a book to just dip into now and then.

So, that should keep people going for a while!