February used to see us making travel plans but that isn’t possible right now. With all those Facebook memories popping up, it’s making me nostalgic. Photos from a time when we could simply take a weekend away, pop to the coast, or enjoy a family holiday. But if we can’t physically travel, what about transporting yourself away with a book (or art, or a video, or a map)?
We all know books give us dangerous ideas, so read on, and who knows where you’ll find yourself - physically or mentally! Six years ago I read a book which changed my life - sorry for the cliche - and that set me off on my Balkan journey. Who knew a story about a horse-drawn mobile bookshop would inspire a quest for adventure and self-knowledge?
'Tough women adventure stories: Stories of grit, courage and determination' edited by Jenny Tough
This collection is a perfect pandemic read. Although I enjoyed the fast paced, adrenaline-rush stories about icy polar expeditions and Australian outback heat, the most moving accounts were about women overcoming illness or injury and achieving incredible feats. It takes determination and bravery to leave a hospital bed, let alone go on to climb a rock-face or compete in a cross-country bike race.
I’ll never get used to the feeling of throwing myself in at the deep end and wondering whether I’m in over my head. But a willingness to be vulnerable will always breed strength. And I’m not talking the kind of flex-yer-muscles ‘let’s go do some deadlifts bro’ kind of strength. I mean an inner strength.
Watch more: Do you think the winter has been cold? Check out Ann Daniel’s videos!
'One more croissant for the road' by Felicity Cloak
The journey in this book is a foodie dream come true. Imagine a beautiful country famous for breakfast pastries, imagine burning off pastry calories because you’re exercising everyday: what could be better than France, croissants and cycling? Felicity has a chatty and entertaining style, and she offers practical cycling advice, as well as gastronomic insight. Read it for gems like this:
It’s so muggy I tear my waterproof off with claws of desperation. While stuffing the damp garment into a pannier, I get the funny feeling I’m being watched and I look up to find myself an object of intense interest for a field of cows, who have silently gathered near the fence for a better look. I feel the weight of their judgement upon my red face, and hastily move on.
Read more: For an alternative, truly extraordinary story about cycling, try “Around the world on two wheels: Annie Londonderry”.
'Anachronist: A time travel adventure' by Andrew Hastie
This book was a pleasant surprise and a great way to pass an evening. I keep telling myself I dislike time travel books but I’ve discovered that if they contain action packed adventure, a dash of mystery, a bad-boy protagonist, then I am happy to indulge travel through time and space. Who hasn’t held a historic object and not wanted to be transported back to when and where it was produced? I shall enjoy the rest of the series.
They were both Draconian Nautonniers, specialist navigators who travel into the forgotten parts of history, literally the spaces on the map. You ever heard the saying hic sunt dracones?
“It means ‘Here be dragons’. It was what the old cartographers used to put on the blank parts of their maps
Read more: There are no dragons on the Mappa Mundi, but there are unicorns, camels and the Golden Fleece.
'Prisoners of geography: Ten maps that tell you everything you need to know about global politics' by Tim Marshall
I’m obsessed with maps so I picked up this award-winning title with interest. Some of the places that he discusses, for example North Korea and Syria are inaccessible even without a global pandemic so it’s a reminder that some people are constrained and controlled by their geography. Wars over borders, wars over rapidly diminishing natural resources, and wars being stoked by foreign powers - our world is constantly in flux.
As the twenty-first century progresses, the geographical factors that have helped determine our history will mostly continue to determine our future...Of course geography does not dictate the course of all events. Great ideas and great leaders are part of the push and pull of history. But they all operate within the confines of geography
Read more: If you’re interested, Vanished kingdoms: The history of half-forgotten Europe by Norman Davies is an in depth exploration of the rise and fall of various European states.
'A Fly Girl: Travel tales of an exotic British Airways cabin crew' by Amanda Epe
Who hasn’t admired the poise and patience of the airline cabin crew? Amanda joined the hallowed ranks of British Airways and she takes us behind the scenes; what happens when the pilots party, and how quickly the glamour fades. But most importantly she explores the cultural, political, and historical aspects of a black woman who travels for work. It made me laugh, cry and, in parts, really angry.
I did not fit in. At that point I knew that I did not belong, and I did not want to just be able to travel. Before I left home, I hoped that I would celebrate New Year’s Eve out with colleagues, but it was pointless to jive with people whose lights were out and who lived in their own darkness
Look at more: From airplanes to ships, Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle continues to delight and intrigue visitors to Greenwich, London.
'Lonely Planet’s Guide to Travel Writing: Expert advice from the world’s leading travel publisher' by Don George
It’s one thing to read other people’s travel experience, but have you considered recording - photos, writing, video, embroidery, music, painting etc - your own journeys? Right now, our worlds have been reduced to our own back garden, the immediate streets outside, or trips to the supermarket but that’s ok. Why not let your photos from previous holidays inspire you? Or research your local park with the use of online maps?
This practical and informative guide to travel writing is full of hints and tips. In an interview with Paul Clammer, he was asked “do you have to do extreme things?”. He said, “Naw. Lots of people do extreme things and are never published because they can’t write. Writing is the key. Better a well-written travel story about a picnic in the backyard, than a tedious story on someone who did cartwheels up Everest.” So get inspired by what is around you and create your own get-aways!
Next on my to read list is a book I saw on Instagram. A librarian friend said she was enjoying "Underland" by Robert Macfarlane. One review has me tingling with anticipation,
Underland is, as its title suggests, “a book about burial and unburial and deep time”, “the awful darkness inside the world”, “of descents made in search of knowledge”, to study the places where “we have long placed that which we fear and wish to lose, and that which we love and wish to save”.
This is just a handful of books that I’ve enjoyed this year already. What travel writing can you recommend from your reading lists?