Travel tales

Reads on the road 2: My travel book recommendations

Reads on the Road 2 travel book recommendations

After sharing my first Reads on the Road recommendations earlier this year, I’m back with the another installment featuring inspiring and interesting travel-related books I’ve discovered in the last six months. And I’ve certainly put in plenty of research. One benefit of the long train and plane journeys I’ve done this spring and summer is having lots of time to read. Somehow I always feel I should be doing something ‘useful’ when I’m at home, but stick me in a seat for a six-hour journey and I’ll happily work my way through book after book. But which did I enjoy the most? This edition includes a mixture of fiction and non-fiction, with everything from memoirs to short stories, spanning the globe from the USA to South East Asia. And do please share some of your recent favourites too so I can add them to my reading list.

More travel book recommendations: One, Three, Four, Five, Six
Charles Lindbergh plane

Charles Lindbergh’s plane being mobbed by crowds of fans

I love Bill Bryson’s writing, and although he doesn’t do many travel books these days, his most recent one brings history and travel together. One Summer: America 1927 tells the story of the USA over a six-month period in 1927. You wouldn’t think much could happen in such a short amount of time, but this summer packed in some major moments in American history. Charles Lindbergh made the first flight across the Atlantic, The Jazz Singer became the first talking picture, television was invented and Babe Ruth hit a record-breaking 60 home runs. All set against a 1920s background of Prohibition and Al Capone. Bryson’s incredibly enthusiastic as always, mixing up facts and research with the personal details that bring the different stories to life – he even kept me interested during the baseball history section which is quite a feat!

Another non-fiction book that had me fascinated is On The Map by Simon Garfield. My geography student background and travel obsession mean I’m a bit of a map fanatic, so this was perfect for me. It tells the story of the world through its maps, all the way from early sketches by philosophers right up to Google Maps. Sound a bit too academic? Not at all – each map has a story to go with it. You have the mountains and islands that appeared on atlases for years after explorers who didn’t manage to find anything decided to make them up. Or Phyllis Pearsall,  who created the London A to Z and catalogued the whole city on index cards, but missed Trafalgar Square out of the first draft because her box of T cards blew out of the window. The book’s tales of mythical beasts and other worlds even inspired my recent trip to the Mappa Mundi.

Old world map

A vintage map of the world

Back in the world of fiction, I’ve discovered some good books from publishers Summersdale, who have a great selection of travel stories (and I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover but theirs are gorgeous). First up was Fragrant Heart by Miranda Emmerson, described as ‘A Tale of Love, Life and Food in South-East Asia’. It follows Miranda and her partner as they travel across China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Malaysia, and weaves in recipes and details about the region’s food along with their travel stories – good and bad. It’s guaranteed to make you crave Asian food by the time you get to the end. It brought back great memories of my travels around that part of the world, but also looks at the pull between home and travel, and how to balance settling down when you have a need for adventure.

The Ribbons are for Fearlessness by Catrina Davies is another Summersdale title, dealing with a different kind of life-changing event – the loss of a friend. Catrina and her friend Andrew talked about travelling from Cornwall to Portugal via northern Norway in a yellow camper van. But when he’s killed, she deals with her grief by heading off alone, despite having no money and no plan. She survives by busking with her cello and with the help of the people she meets along the way. The book follows her journey, both the 15,000km travelled across Europe and her personal journey from rock bottom to new confidence. There’s a great quote that “fearlessness has got nothing to do with being unafraid. It’s about doing things anyway, getting on with it, living, whether you’re afraid or not” which applies to so many things in travel and in life.

Scenery near Myrdal, Norway

Gorgeous scenery in Norway, where Catrina travels in the book

My next recommendation is a bit of a departure from my usual reading style. Shy Feet is a collection of short stories inspired by travel, written by travel blogger Frances Thompson. I’ve never read many short stories – I read fast so tend to go for the thickest book I can find, so thought I would just devour them in minutes. But the stories kept me thinking about the characters long after finishing the last page. Inspired by her travels around the world, Frankie takes you from the Red Centre of Australia to Gatwick Airport, but the locations are really just the background as the heart of the stories is in the characters. Despite their length the 12 stories deal with big themes like love, death and motherhood. So consider me a short story convert – and luckily Frankie has just published a new series of stories inspired by London called London Eyes.

I have to admit buying my last book partly because of its name. With almost everyone I know having babies in the last few years, What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding would make a good subtitle for my blog. But in this case its a memoir by US sitcom writer Kristin Newman. While all her friends got married and had kids, she used the gaps between her job’s intense writing seasons to see the world – from Argentina to Israel – and in the spirit of “doing the thing you’re supposed to do in the place you’re supposed to do it” she dated a few sexy locals along the way. Probably not one for the prudish, I loved the how she described becoming ‘Kristin-Adjacent’ while she was travelling – that more chilled out (and in her case a bit sluttier) version of your normal home persona. It almost made me miss my crazy single girl travel days!

Sand dunes in Esperance, Western Australia

On the dunes in Esperance in Australia during my (crazy single girl) 2003 RTW trip

So those are my favourite recent travel reads, but what are yours?

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Reads on the road 2: My travel book recommendations

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40 Comments

  • Reply
    swo8
    October 8, 2014 at 6:17 pm

    After your travel reads you can listen to my travel music. I’m currently working on my India album. It will be released soon. Meanwhile there is the Sahara Rose for Tunisia, Monkey of Sousse for Tunisia, Osaka Time for Japan and Manaus Where Two Rivers Meet for Brazil. Have a listen and enjoy.
    Leslie

    • Reply
      Lucy
      October 8, 2014 at 7:34 pm

      I’ve not listened to much world music before so may have to give those a try, thanks.

      • Reply
        swo8
        October 8, 2014 at 8:15 pm

        Be my guest.
        Leslie

  • Reply
    Browsing the Atlas
    October 8, 2014 at 6:29 pm

    Wow! All of these sounds good. I’m going to add them to my wishlist. I did read ‘What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding.’ I enjoyed the travel aspects of it, but prudishly thought she was too slutty for my taste. At the same time, it made me wish I’d been a little more carefree when I was single and in my 20’s. I think her in-your-face sexual escapades were too much. I really didn’t need to know every sexual act she engaged in. She could have left something to the imagination. The book would have been better if she’d toned it down a little because the travel writing itself was excellent.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      October 8, 2014 at 7:33 pm

      Yes I think I’d describe it as more of a confessional than a travelogue – she was brave to publish it though, I’m not sure I’d want all my friends and family knowing quite so much detail if it’d been me!

  • Reply
    mjcolbert
    October 8, 2014 at 6:49 pm

    I definitely know what you mean about reading so much more once you’re on an airplane or train for hours at a time. I’ll have to add some of these titles to my reading list for some upcoming trips!Some great plane and train books, while not travel related, that I’ve read lately are Gone Girl, Sharp Objects, and Dark Places (all by Gillian Flynn), Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookshop (Robin Sloan), and Haroun and the Sea of Stories (Salman Rushdie).

    • Reply
      Lucy
      October 8, 2014 at 7:21 pm

      I was totally gripped by Gone Girl (and hoping to see the film later this week to see how it compares) and have downloaded Dark Places so look forward to reading that. Thanks for the other suggestions too, I’d not heard of either so will have to check them out.

  • Reply
    bevchen
    October 8, 2014 at 7:40 pm

    What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding is a hilarious title! I would definitely have read it for that alone.

    I still haven’t got round to reading On The Map. Really must do that! I always feel like I should be doing something other than reading at home as well, but luckily I have my commute where I can read all the books I want!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      October 8, 2014 at 8:10 pm

      Not having a commute to read on is about the only thing I miss from working at home! Yes the title totally sold it to me too – my blogging friends are the only people I know who seem to have non-baby interests these days!

  • Reply
    Suzanne Jones
    October 8, 2014 at 8:08 pm

    Some great recommendations Lucy, thanks. I’ll add some of these to my ever-growing list….!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      October 9, 2014 at 11:41 am

      Thanks Suzanne – and do let me know if you come across any other good ones when you’re working through the list!

  • Reply
    Mani (A New Life Wandering)
    October 8, 2014 at 8:39 pm

    Great list and descriptions! I think the one that sounded the most interesting to me was On The Map. When I was little I drew every single flag in the world just for fun.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      October 9, 2014 at 11:44 am

      I remember having a big atlas when I was a kid and being obsessed with the flags and the maps too – you’ll definitely enjoy On the Map then!

  • Reply
    unfinishedtravel
    October 9, 2014 at 2:35 am

    I was just looking for some new travel-inspired books to add to my reading list, so will definitely check these out!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      October 9, 2014 at 11:45 am

      Great, hope that you enjoy them!

  • Reply
    travellingbag
    October 9, 2014 at 5:00 am

    Thanks Lucy – I’ll be looking into some of these 🙂

    • Reply
      Lucy
      October 9, 2014 at 11:43 am

      You’re very welcome, hope you enjoy them!

  • Reply
    amaatk123
    October 9, 2014 at 8:17 am

    Hi Lucy – I did a travel writing module the 3rd year of my English/Eng lang degree and we read some very diverse material on that. I very much enjoyed Jonathan Raban’s ‘Hunting Mr Heartbreak’, Sara Wheeler ‘Terra Incognita’ and, for something completely different ‘The Travels of Dean Mahomet’ – an 18th C journey through India – though arguably his story got more interesting when he came to Dublin.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      October 9, 2014 at 11:46 am

      It’s good having a reading list as it pushes you to try out some books you might normally not think of reading. I’ve not read any of the ones you mention so will have to look them up (my Kindle is in need of a top up!).

  • Reply
    Suze
    October 9, 2014 at 9:05 am

    A great list, Lucy! I ordered ‘on the map’ right away. Back in High School we had to read ‘Into the wild’. I loved it (and have been wanting to see Alaska ever since!)

    • Reply
      amaatk123
      October 9, 2014 at 9:28 am

      Oh I read that one on my travel writing module too. 🙂

    • Reply
      Lucy
      October 9, 2014 at 11:47 am

      Hope you enjoy it! I read Into the Wild years and years ago but it’s one that could definitely do with a reread.

  • Reply
    Ayla
    October 9, 2014 at 11:27 am

    Ooh I love the sound of some of these! Obviously I’ve already read the #travelbookclub ones but Shy Feet sounds good even though I’m not usually a fan of short stories either. And I have to read What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding – sounds perfect for me! 🙂

    • Reply
      Lucy
      October 9, 2014 at 11:49 am

      What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding is a great read – now almost all of my friends are settled down it’s the nearest I get to listening to girlfriends’ mad single girl adventures!

  • Reply
    thegrownupgapyear
    October 9, 2014 at 1:02 pm

    Glad to see some #travelbookclub ones made the list! I love the sound of Shy Feet. I’m actually a big fan of short stories, as I think it is such a skill to tell a meaningful tale within a limited word count, so I’ll check this one out. I’m reading Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie at the moment. Not exactly a travel book, but a really interesting look at trying to keep your own identity while learning to find your way in a new country.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      October 9, 2014 at 9:01 pm

      We’ve had some great #travelbookclub choices – next month’s was actually in my last book recommendations post! I know what you mean about short stories, it’s a real skill to bring the characters to life so quickly, I will have to check out a few more.

  • Reply
    Shikha (whywasteannualleave)
    October 9, 2014 at 3:47 pm

    Ooh some great tips here – I’ve not read any of these! I’m heading to South East Asia next month and really wondering whether to look up Fragrant Heart as a potential read for that trip – that way, if I crave the food, I’ll have easy access to it 🙂

    • Reply
      Lucy
      October 9, 2014 at 8:58 pm

      That sounds like a great idea! I had to try and make my own version using the recipes in the book, but it never tastes quite the same. Hope you have a fantastic trip.

  • Reply
    Packing my Suitcase
    October 9, 2014 at 4:55 pm

    What a great list…thank you for sharing this! I will make sure to read On the Map and Shy feet… just what I was looking for these days 😀

    • Reply
      Lucy
      October 9, 2014 at 8:57 pm

      Thanks – hope you enjoy them both!

  • Reply
    lucinda032
    October 10, 2014 at 7:24 am

    The title “What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding” is enough for me to want to try it too. Great title!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      October 13, 2014 at 11:07 am

      Brilliant isn’t it – I wish I’d thought of that!

  • Reply
    Marc Latham
    October 10, 2014 at 3:51 pm

    Nice post Lucy. I haven’t read any of the new ones, but Kerouac and Theroux were big inspirations and influences.

    In a similar vein to the Summersdale books I wrote a Kerouac-style memoir about my first trip hitching, sleeping rough and working itinerantly around Europe and the Middle-East, and although it’s more laddish than ladyish, you might still relate to it from your wild Aussie adventure.

    I’ve also written a couple of fantasy rambles, including one across all regions of Australia to a Wizard of Oz theme, using Google Maps, after I also travelled there in 1989.

    They’re available on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/author/marclatham, and if you’d like to do a book swap I’ll buy ones you recommend from your links. Cheers, and have a great weekend…

    • Reply
      Lucy
      October 13, 2014 at 11:08 am

      Thanks Marc, I will definitely check out your books too!

  • Reply
    jpilkington09
    October 19, 2014 at 11:03 am

    On the Map sounds like my ideal book. On to the Christmas list it goes!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      October 24, 2014 at 12:12 pm

      It’s fab! Definitely one of those that has you quoting lots of random facts to people!

  • Reply
    Mike F
    January 3, 2015 at 12:00 am

    Thanks for these recommendations. Can’t believe I had never stumbled across On the Map before.

    Another novel to add to the list is “Wondering, the Way is Made” by Luke F. D. Marsden. It’s a great travel tale set in South America that recounts the journey of a group of friends across the continent. I happened upon it while looking for books set in that part of the world – quite a discovery.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      January 3, 2015 at 10:07 am

      Hope you enjoy On the Map, it’s a fascinating read. And thanks for the tip about Wondering, the Way is Made, it sounds just my type of thing, I’ll definitely look that one up.

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