It’s summer in Europe and my Instagram feed is filled with photos of people eating ice cream along the banks of the Seine, daffodils in the English countryside, and waves crashing on pebbly Italian beaches. Oh how I wish I could be there!
Spring and summer in Europe are magical seasons where the sky is always blue, the days go on forever, and a cold beer is the perfect way to end a day where you have walked, and walked, and walked.
Unfortunately work commitments and lack of funds mean that the closest I will get to Europe this year will be a croissant at my local bakery, but in the meantime I am travelling the world in my imagination and going back through my collection of travel books.
If you’ve never discovered the genre, you are in for a treat. Travel books let you explore new places through the eyes of the author for much less than the cost of a plane ticket – all while snuggled comfortably under your doona.
You won’t lose your passport, get blisters, or suffer from jet lag (unless you stay up all night reading). You can revisit favourite places, or discover locations you’d never normally visit. So pack your bag, fasten your seatbelt, and browse through my top 10 travel books.
My top 10 travel books:
Do not read this book on an empty stomach. This account of Englishman Peter Mayle’s first year living and renovating a house in Provence in the early 80s is full of hearty country meals, young vino and good olive oil. Warm, quirky characters and plenty of humorous moments—all set amidst the sublime Provincial countryside—make for an entertaining stroll through the seasons. I have always loved this book, but even more so after visiting the region a few years ago and tasting the magic of Provence for myself. There really is nowhere else like it.
This account of an Aussie’s experiences as a tour guide in a double-decker bus crossing Europe is just gold. I started reading it on a flight from Barcaldine to Brisbane, sitting in the very back row of the plane and laughing so much that people down the aisle turned to see what was so funny. From hilarious observations about Aussies abroad to crazy anecdotes about how to survive 35 days on the road as an impoverished tour guide, it’s the easiest trip you’ll ever take.
This was my book of 2015. Copywriter Janice MacLeod realised that she needed a major break from the corporate world, so she challenged herself to make changes to her life and save enough money for a year’s sabbatical. She set off on her trip, planning to travel around the world – except that in Paris she fell in love and decided to stay. But the story doesn’t end there. The joy of discovering her new home town and the love of a good man gave Janice the idea to create painted story letters of Paris that became a worldwide hit.
A love story. In Paris. With recipes.
What’s not to love?
And then read Picnic in Provence if you want to know what happened next.
Yes, there is a French theme here. Before Julia Child, became Julia Child, she and her husband Paul moved to France where he had a job at the American embassy. They fell in love with the city, its people, and the food; and Julia found her passion in food and cooking.
This is the story of what led to the creation of “Mastering the art of French cooking” but it’s also a beautiful account of France from the 1940s to the 70s and a joyous tale of love, friendship, cooking and eating.
In the year that he turned 40, Peter Moore bought a vespa made in the year off his birth and drove it from Milan to Rome.
His vespa, ‘Sophia’, took him on a journey of discovery around Italy, where he travelled the prettier back roads and got to know the locals as they admired—and occasionally helped him repair—his fabulous vespa.
We always imagine that the rich and famous don’t experience travel the way that we do. But really, every tourist shares similar experiences. This collection of travel tales from people like Alec Baldwin, Richard E. Grant, and Sandra Bernhard is really entertaining.
My favourite tale is from Anthony Edwards, who bought a plane with his wife and spent a year travelling the globe with their four children, two pilots and a school teacher. Amazing and heart warming.
My mum bought me this when I was about 15, so it was probably the first travel book I ever read.
Gerald Durrell’s tale of his time living in Corfu with his family and a host of animals is a light and humorous read – a picture perfect view into a simpler life.
Alexa Thompson needed a change in her life, so she gave up her corporate job and applied to be a cook in the coldest place on earth.
This isn’t always a glamorous tale—and I don’t think that I could have done it—but it was a fascinating view into a world most of us won’t ever see.
There are too many lovely Bill Bryson books out there to name just one and he is certainly one of the most well-known travel writers in the genre. A journalist from Iowa, Bill set out for Europe after college and ended up in London. I get the feeling he’s probably a pretty quiet bloke, but he doesn’t miss much and his dry humour translates his experiences beautifully wherever he goes.
My most recent re-read has been A walk in the woods and I’ve just bought The road to little Dribbling. If you haven’t read him before and don’t know where to start – Notes from a Small Island is probably a good place.
And the common theme (aside from travel)…
If there was a theme to the books I’ve chosen here, it’s probably that they tell simple tales of everyday life in un-everyday locations.
Misadventures and extreme activities are always entertaining, but travelling with all your possessions in one bag, being in a place where you don’t speak the language, and experiencing different cultures and cuisines are things that every traveller can relate to, and maybe that’s why we like reading about them so much.
If only you could get stamps in your passport for it.
So what are your favourite travel books?