I have chosen ten personal favorite travel accounts. Not a single one would serve as a guide book, but each one inspires the imagination with tales of adventure.
- Road to Oxiana, by Robert Byron
Cousin of poet Lord Byron, Robert Byron recorded his several months of travel through Oxiana, Persia and Afghanistan in the years 1933-1934. Sprinkled liberally with wit and humor, Byron describes the ancient monuments and ruins of this area with passionate appreciation
- Italy in Mind, by Alice Leccese Powers This wonderful collection includes excerpts from travel journals, essays, poetry, short stories and novels, with brief biographical preceding each author’s chapter. Well-known authors include Elizabeth Browning, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, D.H. Lawrence, Mark Twain, Gore Vidal and Edith Wharton. Easy to read a few chapters at a time, but also hard to put down.
- Their Heads Are Green and Their Hands Are Blue, by Paul Bowles
In this incredible collection of eight travel essays, subtitled Scenes from the Non-Christian World, author Paul Bowles captures scenes, moments, personalities, and conversations in countries such as Ceylon (modern-day Sri Lanka), Turkey and the Sahara. Written in the 1950s, a time travel to these destinations was unusual, the Foreword reads “Each time I go to a place I have not seen before, I hope it will be as different as possible from the places I already know.”
- When the Going Was Good, by Evelyn Waugh
This book has five sections, written between 1929 and 1935, with destinations in Africa and Brazil. Waugh is much more the adventurer than one might guess and although he outfitted himself with trunks full of supplies, he did face many trials of travel. For anyone who appreciates Waugh’s humor, satirical wit, knack for detail and exquisite use of the English language, do not miss his travel tales.
- Women of the Four Winds, by Elizabeth Fagg Olds
Subtitled The Adventures of Four of America’s First Women Explorers, this can be considered four small books rolled into one. Each of these adventurous, independent, determined brave women deserves recognition and I thank the author for making their stories available. My favorite is mountain climber Annie Smith Peck who tackled some of the world’s highest peaks in the late 1800s and early 1900s, long before the days of high-tech outdoor gear.
- Travels with a Donkey, by Robert Louis Stevenson
Stevenson’s beautifully written account of a 12-day journey in 1878, on foot through the Cevennes, a mountain range in south-central France. Although often described as a solo trek, much of the charm and delight of this narrative is due to the author’s companion, a stereotypically stubborn donkey named Modestine.
- Appalachian Trail Reader, edited by David Emblidge
In addition to presenting interesting and valuable information on the history and development of the Appalachian trail, the many voices collected in this anthology convey an inspiring love for nature. Highly recommended for anyone who lives near any part of the Appalachian trail, for hikers elsewhere and for all nature lovers. These selections reach back to early protectors of the Appalachian wilderness and stretch into modern times.
- Down and Out in Paris and London, by George Orwell
Published in 1933, this is a bit of a wild card for a travel list. The second part, set in London and environs, is more accurately a journey into homelessness. George Orwell, famous for Animal Farm and 1984, explored the depths of poverty during one phase of his short life. He joined tramps in their trampings and provides detailed documentation of that lifestyle, in what was a journey of choice for him.
- Getting to Know the General, by Graham Greene
As with several other authors in my favorite travel book list, Graham Greene is better know for his novels. Subtitled The Story of an Involvement, this is an account of five trips, at the invitation of General Omar Torrijos, from 1976 to 1981, to the country of Panama. Greene traveled widely but always to spots of political tensions and troubles. Any Graham Greene devotee, or anyone interested in the politics of Central America will find this a rewarding read.
- Come, Tell Me How You Live, by Agatha Christie Mallowan
Yes, this is Agatha Christie of murder mystery fame. For several years she accompanied her husband to Syria and Iraq on his summer-time archeological expeditions. With a writing style as giddy and gushy as a school girl, she also captures with good humor and exuberance, scenes from other lands in the 1930s.