Words have the power to take you to a thousand new worlds, concocting incredible imagery and dreams that are tough to shake from your mind. From the snowy tundras of Narnia to the rolling emerald hills of Tolkien’s Shire, unforgettably-crafted worlds abound in novels both fictional and real from which to fuel your wanderlust, and you can’t do much better than these books if you’re hankering after inspiration for your next escape.
God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
The days are long and humid. The river shrinks and black crows gorge on bright mangoes in still, dustgreen trees. Red bananas ripen. Jackfruits burst.”
This enthrallingly-crafted story is set in the leafy Keralan backwaters of a small town by the name of Ayemenem and tells the story of twins through a series of flashbacks. Their strong connection to the river is integral to the story, and relationships between human and nature permeate this enchanting narrative, building in its readers a deep need to explore and understand the world in which its characters live. In reality, this fictional town is based on Roy’s hometown of Aymanam, a tiny haven of rice plantations, with a river on its left and a lake on its right; the perfect place to experience the real Kerala, even if just through her words.
Wild by Cheryl Strayed
It had to do with how it felt to be in the wild. With what it was like to walk for miles with no reason other than to witness the accumulation of trees and meadows, mountains and deserts, streams and rocks, rivers and grasses, sunrises and sunsets.”
Made famous by Reese Witherspoon’s starring role, Wild tells the story of Cheryl Strayed, a woman who, in 2012, embarked on a 1,100-mile journey of self-discovery along the Pacific Crest Trail, which runs from the Mojave Desert to the Bridge of the Gods in Washington State. Strayed’s adventure is fraught with misfortune, from losing a hiking boot in the wilderness to getting herself in some sticky situations, but this does nothing to detract from the all-encompassing need to thru-hike the PCT yourself after you’ve finished. From the deserts of California to the verdant forest of Oregon, there’s an abundance of scenic inspiration to be taken from this epic adventure.
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
There was nowhere to go but everywhere, so just keep on rolling under the stars.”
A classic novel which is likely to already have pride of place on the bookshelves of bibliophiles, Kerouac’s beat-generation story is an almost autobiographical tale of his adventures throughout 1950s USA. Featuring settings across the continent from San Francisco to Texas and Manhattan to Mexico, a read of this classic will have you researching RVs and raring for the freedom of the open road. Switch on some jazz, pick up a copy and you’ll be exploring Kerouac’s world in your mind in no time, experiencing the American Dream from the comfort of your own home.
The Amazing Story of the Man Who Cycled from India to Europe for Love by Per J Andersson
The route is full of romantics like him. Tireless travellers…With these companions, he shared the feeling that anything is possible.”
This unbelievable true story chronicles the life-changing journey of PK Mahanandia, who, after meeting a Swedish woman while painting portraits in a New Delhi square, falls in love. The couple marry within just a few days of meeting, but when his wife must return to Sweden, he cycles to Gothenburg to find her. His 19-week journey on a second-hand ladies’ Raleigh bike took him through Iran and Afghanistan, along the 1970s hippy trail where he became part of the family, and met person after person whose portrait he drew in exchange for help. If nothing else, this novel is a testament to the power of love, as well as the power of the kindness of strangers.
Turn Right at Machu Picchu by Mark Adams
On a globe it looks like a swollen California. Within that space, though, are twenty-thousand-foot peaks, the world’s deepest canyon (twice as deep as the Grand Canyon), unmapped Amazon jungle and the driest desert on earth.”
If you’ve ever fancied a trip to Peru or dreamed of hiking the Inca trail, then this is the wanderlust-fuelling book for you. Having spent his life as a travel editor who’s never really travelled, Mark Adams sets off on his life’s biggest adventure, to retrace Hiram Bingham’s 1911 “discovery” of the ancient Inca city that was thought to be lost in the clouds. His rehashing of Bingham’s trip, interspersed with his own journey and a discovery of Peru’s landscapes are enough to make anyone want to complete this feat, not least for the sense of accomplishment. And, as an added perk, you’ll learn a thing or two about Inca culture on the way.
Kindness of Strangers: Travel Stories That Will Make Your Heart Grow
The power of kindness is a huge, infinite maybe.”
Speaking of the kindness of strangers, this anthology will undoubtedly renew your hope in humanity. This collection of stories spans the globe, and features pieces from adventurers, travel writers, journalists and even a conservation biologist and Navy Seal. You’ll find tales of tea with strangers, of locals helping intrepid explorers get across borders and through rainforests, of a man who broke the world record for cycling around the world and two men who began an end-to-end journey of Britain in only their pants.
Arabia by Levison Wood
The snow had melted now, giving way to a verdant paradise filled with deep gorges, plentiful lakes and sublime waterfalls.”
Levison Wood is one of Britain’s most revered contemporary adventurers and an Army Major, a modern day explorer whose adventures have been chronicled in a series of books and documentaries. Though he has walked the length of both the Nile and the Himalayas, and hitchhiked from Nottingham to India, perhaps his greatest feat is the subject of his most recent book; a full circumnavigation of the Arabian Peninsula. This thrilling narrative sees him venturing into war-torn Syria, through the Empty Quarter desert in Oman, traversing Saudi Arabia at a time when it wasn’t open to tourists, and even visiting the occupied West Bank. Though you might not crave the scrapes Wood gets himself into, this epic account will surely have you lusting after Arabia’s unparalleled hospitality and unfathomable sights.
Deep South by Paul Theroux
Though the Mississippi is not the busy thoroughfare it once was, it is impossible for an American to see this great, muddy, slow-moving stream and not be moved, as an Indian is by the Ganges.”
Many of us find ourselves overcome with a fascination for the American South, an area with a torrid history that spans the United States’ relatively short life. In this fascinating book, famed travel writer Paul Theroux visits the downtrodden and forgotten towns of the south throughout four seasons, inspiring its readers to see these areas in a different light. He visits gun shows and churches, and makes friends with those trying to do good in the world unaided and those just trying to get by. Southern food takes centre-stage here, and you’ll surely be salivating after biscuits, barbeque, gravy and grits before the first chapter is out.
The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner
For me, a place unvisited is like an unrequited love. A dull ache that—try as you might to think it away, to convince yourself that she really wasn’t the right country for you—just won’t leave you in peace.”
In this voyage of self-discovery, self-professed grump and veteran foreign correspondent Eric Weiner sets off to find the world’s “unheralded happy places”, after spending years in the unstable states of Iraq and Afghanistan. He visits some of the world’s happiest countries, including Iceland, Bhutan and Thailand, to find out just what makes their citizens jolly amid the world’s continuing crises, and the answers are stark in their difference. From the hidden virtues of boredom in Switzerland and Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness scale to simply thinking less and doing more in Thailand, each country views happiness in a different way. This book is part travelogue, part scientific experiment, part psychological exploration, and in its entirety a charming and inspiring read for anyone who has ever wondered where the true meaning of happiness lies.
Seven Years in Tibet by Henrich Harrer
I often think I can still hear the cries of wild geese and cranes and the beating of their wings as they fly over Lhasa in the clear, cold moonlight.”
After escaping from a British internment camp in India in 1944, Heinrich Harrer, once friend and later staunch denouncer of Adolf Hitler, fled to Tibet, where he stayed for seven years. During this time, he became a tutor and friend to the 14th Dalai Lama and provided the world with an insight into the little-understood independent nation he found himself in. Harrer’s narrative is not only a tale of adventure in the extreme, but a deep-dive into Tibetan culture, Buddhism, happiness and man’s place in nature’s scheme.