Self-isolation or lockdown comes with a number of challenges. Do you have enough data to binge-watch Netflix? Is it ok to talk to your house plants? Should you chance a trip to the shops to restock the pantry?
“No” say the travel gurus at Contiki, take an armchair trip around the world instead.
Books by nature bring exotic sights, sounds and smells to life; they take you to places you’ve never been before and can even shift the way you look at the world. So, if you’re looking to journey beyond your four walls, even if only in your imagination, here’s a selection of Contiki’s Six Two writer, Dominic Oliver’s, list of some of the best travel books of all time.
1. Around the World in 80 Trains: A 45,000 Mile Adventure – Monisha Rajesh
Announcing that you’re going to travel the globe in 80 train journeys is quite a big deal… But after carefully plotting her route, gliding along the world’s most iconic railways (including the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express) author Monisha Rajesh set out for the ride of her life.
Going from St Pancras station in London to some of the world’s most majestic landscapes including Russia, Mongolia, Singapore, Tibet, Canada and Kazakhstan, the book settles into a satisfying rhythm. Obviously, the journey isn’t without bumps in the road, like road blockades and pop up police stations.
But the real magic is in the unlikely friendships she forges aboard each train journey and the swirl of cultures and breath-taking views she discovers along the way. It’s funny, poignant and is written at just the right pace to take it all in.
2. Down Under – Bill Bryson
Any one of Bryson’s books could be on this list, but in the end we had to go with Down Under, his funny take on the wild and wonderful island of Australia. In the first few pages Bryson conveys the sheer scale and sparsity of Australia by revealing that a cult possibly tested a nuclear weapon in the outback – without anyone noticing.
We love this book because Bryson effortlessly balances humour and trivia, warmth and cynicism.
Here’s his take on spiders:
“No one knows, incidentally, why Australia’s spiders are so extravagantly toxic; capturing small insects and injecting them with enough poison to drop a horse would appear to be the most literal case of overkill. Still, it does mean that everyone gives them lots of space.”
3. The Motorcycle Diaries – Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara
From an author needing little introduction, The Motorcycle Diaries is a memoir that traces the travels of Guevara and his friend Alberto Granado across Latin America. Leaving from Buenos Aires, the pair journey to the Andes, the Atacama Desert and the Amazon River Basin.
From Incan ruins to thicketed jungles, the book is a colourful tribute to Latin America’s history and biodiversity. But it’s also in an intensely political book, in which Guevara documents the plight of the region’s poor. Ultimately, his travels provoke his revolutionary awakening, leading him to conclude: “I’m not the person I once was… when the guiding spirit cleaves humanity into two antagonistic halves; I will be with the people.” It was with these deeply-held convictions that Guevara went on to play a crucial role in the Cuban revolution.
Talk about the transformative power of travel.
4. Only Two Seats Left – John Anderson
Did you know that there’s a Contiki book? Our story began back in the summer of ‘62, when a young man called John Anderson arrived in London short on cash but high on a dream. A dream to see as much of Europe as possible and make the kind of memories that’d stay with him forever. A dash of bravado, a deposit on a twelve-seater minibus and an advert on a noticeboard later, he’d found the solution. The very first Contiki trip was born.
This book is Anderson’s colourful account of those early trips, and how he boldly turned £25 and a battered kombi into an iconic brand we know and love today. It’s a compelling tale of luck, love, adventure and entrepreneurship, and is a timely reminder of just how far a dream can take you.
5. On the Road, Jack Kerouac
Just as some travel books are all about a particular place, others are more interested in a particular moment in time. On the Road by Jack Kerouac is a classic example of zeitgeist travel writing, bringing the 60’s counter-cultural movement to life as Kerouac journeys across the United States.
For the author, a book about America is also a book about freedom. He revitalises the original dream to ‘head west’ – and then adds lots of sex and drugs. This freedom is represented in the kooky characters Kerouac encounters, but also in his stream of consciousness writing style.
Ultimately, the book evokes the feeling of travelling when you’re young, needing nothing more from life than the beating sun and open road ahead of you. It’s the feeling of being on a Contiki trip, essentially, which is why this book is on our list for the best travel books of all time.
Take an armchair trip around the world to keep your love for travel alive. Visit Contiki’s website to get some inspiration on where to travel when the doors to world are once again flung open.