One way librarians encourage children to read is to describe how books can take you to exciting, new places – all just by turning the page. Which is precisely what the best travel books do: Make us feel like we’re right there with the author, hiking remote forest trails or cavorting with island natives with a history of cannibalism. In honor of National Library Week, here are our picks for out-of-this-world travel books. Check them out – at your local library, of course.
The South Pacific: The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific by J. Maarten Troost
This Dutch-born, U.S.-based author made a spectacular debut with his first book, which regales the reader with laugh-out-loud tales from the two years he and his now-wife, Sylvia, spent on Tarawa, a remote South Pacific island.
Among Troost’s misadventures: swimming in polluted seas, toxic fish, suffocating heat, and a boat journey during a vicious storm that nearly does them all in. His style is wry, witty, and somewhat self-deprecating, the latter a refreshing contrast to the legions of smug travel writers out there.
The Appalachian Trail: A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson
Bryson is a master of weaving excellent reporting and razor-sharp observation – in this case, the baffling inadequacies of the U.S. National Park Service – into side-splitting storytelling about the journey at hand. In this book, which was published in 1988, Bryson attempts to hike the Appalachian Trail with his buddy, Stephen Katz, both of them comically underprepared. The resulting journey, not surprisingly, makes for a terrific read that at once makes you want to grab your backpack for your own walk in the woods, and appreciate your creature comforts, too.
Europe: Down and out in Paris and London by George Orwell
The first full-length work by the famous English author, this classic is a gritty account of life on the fringes in Paris and then London. The first part describes Orwell’s experience working as a dishwasher in the kitchen of a posh Parisian restaurant, while the second is a travelogue of Orwell’s hardscrabble, vagabond existence in London while waiting for a job, meeting all sorts of interesting characters along the way. It’s a poignant, still-relevant look at poverty in our society – and one that’s guaranteed to change the way you see these two great European cities.
Worldwide: The Bird Man and the Lap Dancer: Close Encounters with Strangers by Eric Hansen
A head-spinning collection of tales from 30+ years of Hansen’s global travels, this excellent read includes some of his most memorable experiences. Among them: serving as a volunteer in Mother Teresa’s Calcutta shelter, tripping on kava in Vanuatu, and meeting a bird-watcher with an affinity for sharing his passion with – as the title hints – topless dancers. It’s a bit self-congratulatory at times, but you’ll leave with an envy for Hansen’s adventures – and a desire to create some of you own.
Pacific Crest Trail: Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
Strayed, a wildly popular advice columnist from The Rumpus, gained a whole new legion of fans with her story of overcoming a downward spiral that included heroin use, the loss of her mother, and failed marriage by embarking on the 2,663-mile Pacific Crest Trail, or PCT. Strayed finds solace and inner strength in her transformational journey, which she tells in a refreshingly direct way without any irritating navel-gazing.