Travel Without Leaving Home

Vicuñas Seen on the Road to Puno, Peru

Why should I care that you become an armchair traveler rather than an actual traveler? Curmudgeon that I am, if I ran into you on my travels, all eager to talk about your lovely home town of East Jesus, Arkansas, you would be met with a torrent of Hungarian and not a word of English. I would be perfectly happy to see you indulge your desire for travel by reading a book rather than obtruding with your actual presence.

As for myself, I not only like to travel, but I like to read about travel. Here is a list of an even dozen travel classics. Curiously, they are all written by English or American travelers. Not that other peoples have not written travel classics: Only, they tend to be more obscure in the Anglo-American world of publishing. And besides, the English are so damned good at it!

The following are presented in alphabetical order by author:

  • Robert Byron: The Road to Oxiana (1937). Driving through Persia to reach Afghanistan at a time when roads were few and hairy.
  • Bruce Chatwin: In Patagonia (1977). Not everything Chatwin says is 100% true, but it always is 100% fascinating.
  • Lawrence Durrell: Prospero’s Cell, A Guide to the Landscape and manners of Corcyra (1945). All Durrell’s travel books are worth reading.
  • Patrick Leigh Fermor: A Time to Keep Silence (1957). About the first part of a walking tour from Holland to Istanbul, just as the Second World War is about to break out.
  • John Gimlette: At the Tomb of the Inflatable Pig (2003). A fascinating book about Paraguay, its history and people.
  • Graham Greene: The Lawless Roads (1939). Greene’s research for his novel The Power and the Glory, about a trip to Mexico during a persecution of the Catholic Church.
  • Eric Newby: Slowly Down the Ganges (1966). About an attempt to navigate the sacred river of India all the way to the Indian Ocean.
  • Freya Stark: The Valley of the Assassins and Other Persian Travels (1934). By a woman traveling alone in the Middle East!
  • John Steinbeck: The Log from the Sea of Cortez (1951). Travels in the Gulf of California doing oceanographic research.
  • John Lloyd Stephens: Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatán (1841). Travels in Maya land in the middle of a civil war.
  • Paul Theroux: The Old Patagonian Express (1979). The book that inspired my own travels to South America.
  • Colin Thubron: To a Mountain in Tibet (2011). A religious pilgrimage to Mount Meru, a magnet for three religions.

I could have added another twelve without too much further thought. Hell, I could have added another hundred.

Born in Cleveland, we were too poor to afford travel far beyond Northeastern Ohio. That resulted in my case with an insatuiable desire to see the world, which I started to do in 1975. God, how I wish I could live long enough to continue in the same vein.