Explore the world from your armchair

Helen Alexander

Senior Contributor

Great travel writing means you can explore the furthest reaches of the globe without leaving home. We take a look at some of the most inspiring reads out there.

Inspiring offerings from wild wanderers

If you find the idea of a one-way ticket equally thrilling and terrifying, put yourself in the hiking boots of Cheryl Strayed who, at 22-years-old, embarked on the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail following the death of her mother and the breakdown of her marriage. Running 4,265km across the rugged mountain ranges of California, Oregon and Washington, she recounts the walk’s crushing lows and inspiring highs in Wild.

For more back-to-basics adventures, Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer recounts the journey of famous young hitchhiker Chris McCandless, who was intent on escaping the trappings of modern society and reconnecting with nature. As he writes: “The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.”

A homage to the Himalayas

For as long as people have been inspired to tackle this unforgiving terrain on foot, they have wanted to write about it. Most recently, Robert Twigger embarked on his quest to explore the region and its fascinating people. Highlights described in White Mountain include an encounter with the tribespeople who call the Naga Hills on the border of India and Burma home and a beautifully described bike ride from Lhasa to Kathmandu.

For more writing that reaches some pretty dazzling heights, follow Colin Thubron’s arduous pilgrimage up Mount Kailas – the most sacred of the world's mountains – in To a Mountain in Tibet. While in Scotland, The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd charts one woman’s love affair with walking in the Cairngorms during the Second World War.

Australia, explained

Sometimes a country is so massive and the landscape so mind-blowing, you need someone to take you by the hand and lead you through it. When it comes to Australia, that knowledgeable guide comes in the form of Bill Bryson. Down Under: Travels in a Sunburned Country is full of interesting facts and quirky trivia – like the fact that someone suggested the nation’s capital Canberra be called Sydmeladperbrisho (using the first letters of the state capitals).

In between sharing his wonderment at the sheer scale of the country and his deep fear of its often-deadly wildlife, he charts a fascinating path through the country’s towering forests, coral reefs, mining towns and red-dirt outback. 

Inca adventures

If you’ve dreamt of recreating some of the world’s most incredible journeys – or fancied yourself as a bit of an Indiana Jones character – then Turn Right at Machu Picchu by Mark Adams is for you. Following the route that archaeologist Hiram Bingham took in 1911, leading through Peru, crossing the 15,000-foot-high Choquetacarpo Pass and eventually arriving at the Incan citadel, the book is a fascinating, hilarious account of a man getting out of his comfort zone and pushing himself to the limits.

Sticking with this diverse continent, fresh insight is given to iconic characters like Charles Darwin, Pablo Escobar and Che Guevara in Kim MacQuarrie’s Life and Death in the Andes, which roams the length of the world’s longest mountain chain, while In Patagonia by travel writer extraordinaire Bruce Chatwin charts the remote southern tip of South America.

Eating their way around the world

Anthony Bourdain’s enthusiasm for sampling new dishes and seeking out adventurous ingredients never fails to inspire hungry globetrotters. Peppered with anecdotes and observations, A Cook’s Tour is an inspiring reminder of the chef’s culinary curiosity and sees him roam from Mexico to Morocco in search of the perfect meal.

Meanwhile, Laura Schenone’s travels from the grit and grim of New Jersey to the sun-kissed Ligurian coast in search of her great grandmother’s long-lost recipes is a powerful reminder of food’s powerful ability to bring families together. The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken truly is a celebration of place, and pasta.   

Quotes to live by from Twain’s travelogues

“I have found out there ain't no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.” When he wasn’t putting potential friends to the test, American novelist Mark Twain was sharing vivid portraits of the people he met on the road. The Innocents Abroad (published in 1869) chronicles his “great pleasure excursion” through Europe and the Holy Land, which led him to write that: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.”

But, perhaps he is best remembered for this inspiring piece of travel advice: “20 years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

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