News from Tartary: A Journey from Peking to Kashmir by Peter Fleming (1936)
News from Tartary: A Journey from Peking to Kashmir
by Peter Fleming (1936)

A good author should always suffer for his or her art. Well, the best travel writers suffer more than most, so perhaps that’s why their books are so memorable.  A journey without problems is a dull one and this selection of essential travel writing details obstacles like a boat sinking in 60 seconds in the middle of the ocean and a country on the brink of civil war. When a book is called In the Land of White Death then you know the author faced more problems than missing a bus.

Although drama is always close at hand for a committed traveller, writers now face the dilemma that no path has been left untrodden. Victorian and Edwardian travellers had a vast choice of countries to visit and describe. Today, the Lonely Planet writers have already been there and written about that, and yet travel writing remains a vibrant genre.

The best travel writers go beyond vivid descriptions of their destinations. They study modes of travel and their fellow travellers. They also seem drawn to understanding the history of their journey and the written legacy of previous travellers.

This selection details journeys by car, train, boat (and lifeboat), horseback and on foot. In fact, journeys by Shanks’ pony have always been important to travel writers because they see so much while on foot. Nobody seems to write about air travel these days and who can blame them.

Some of these journeys took years, other a few weeks such as Hemingway’s safari in Green Hills of Africa. Some are clandestine like Richard Burton’s historic pilgrimage to Mecca in disguise. Some are highly organised and others a shambles such as Graham Greene’s trip to Liberia in 1935. We also include William S. Burroughs’ book about his journey into the Amazon jungle as a magnificent anti-travel book as he detests travel and also his destination, and simply craves a rare Amazonian drug. You also have to love a book describing how Italian soldiers break out of a World War II prisoner-of-war camp so they can climb a mountain.

Although not on this list because it’s fiction, we also recommend The Rings of Saturn by W.G. Sebald. It’s a special book about a walking tour of Norfolk that stretches the travel genre to its limit.

 

A Selection of Essential Travel Writing

The Oregon Trail by Francis Parkman (1849)
The Oregon Trail
by Francis Parkman (1849)
Roughing It by Mark Twain (American west, 1872)
Roughing It
by Mark Twain (American west, 1872)
Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes by Robert Louis Stevenson (1879)
Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes
by Robert Louis Stevenson (1879)
In the Land of White Death by Valerian Albanov (the Arctic, 1917)
In the Land of White Death
by Valerian Albanov (the Arctic, 1917)

Sea and Sardinia
by D.H. Lawrence (1921)
The Royal Road to Romance by Richard Halliburton (Many places, 1925)
The Royal Road to Romance
by Richard Halliburton (Many places, 1925)
The Gentleman in the Parlour by W. Somerset Maugham (the Orient, 1930)
The Gentleman in the Parlour
by W. Somerset Maugham (the Orient, 1930)
The Valleys of the Assassins by Freya Stark (Persia, 1934)
The Valleys of the Assassins
by Freya Stark (Persia, 1934)
Green Hills of Africa by Ernest Hemingway (1935)
Green Hills of Africa
by Ernest Hemingway (1935)
Journey Without Maps by Graham Greene (Liberia, 1936)
Journey Without Maps
by Graham Greene (Liberia, 1936)
Lost on a Mountain in Maine by Donn Fendler (Maine, 1939)
Lost on a Mountain in Maine
by Donn Fendler (Maine, 1939)
Black Lamb and Grey Falcon by Rebecca West (Yugoslavia, 1942)
Black Lamb and Grey Falcon
by Rebecca West (Yugoslavia, 1942)
The Air-Conditioned Nightmare by Henry Miller (USA, 1945)
The Air-Conditioned Nightmare
by Henry Miller (USA, 1945)
No Picnic on Mount Kenya by Felice Benuzzi (1952)
No Picnic on Mount Kenya
by Felice Benuzzi (1952)
Rome and a Villa by Eleanor Clark (1952)
Rome and a Villa
by Eleanor Clark (1952)
Seven Years in Tibet by Heinrich Harrer (1952)
Seven Years in Tibet
by Heinrich Harrer (1952)
The Spanish Temper by V.S. Pritchett (1954)
The Spanish Temper
by V.S. Pritchett (1954)
A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush by Eric Newby (1958)
A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush
by Eric Newby (1958)
Arabian Sands by Wilfred Thesiger (1959)
Arabian Sands
by Wilfred Thesiger (1959)
The Pine Barrens by John McPhee (New Jersey, 1968)
The Pine Barrens
by John McPhee (New Jersey, 1968)
Survive the Savage Sea by Dougal Robertson (the Pacific Ocean, 1973)
Survive the Savage Sea
by Dougal Robertson (the Pacific Ocean, 1973)
The Fearful Void by Geoffrey Moorhouse (Sahara, 1974)
The Fearful Void
by Geoffrey Moorhouse (Sahara, 1974)
The Yage Letters by William S. Burroughs (the Amazon, 1975)
The Yage Letters
by William S. Burroughs (the Amazon, 1975)
Coming into the Country by John McPhee (Alaska, 1977)
Coming into the Country
by John McPhee (Alaska, 1977)
In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin (1977)
In Patagonia
by Bruce Chatwin (1977)
The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen (Tibet, 1978)
The Snow Leopard
by Peter Matthiessen (Tibet, 1978)
Blue Highways: A Journey into America by William Least Heat-Moon (1982)
Blue Highways: A Journey into America
by William Least Heat-Moon (1982)
Iron & Silk by Mark Salzman (China, 1986)
Iron & Silk
by Mark Salzman (China, 1986)
Great Plains by Ian Frazier (American west, 1989)
Great Plains
by Ian Frazier (American west, 1989)
Alone by Gerard D’Aboville (Pacific Ocean, 1993)
Alone
by Gerard D’Aboville (Pacific Ocean, 1993)
Chasing the Monsoon by Alexander Frater (India & Bangladesh, 1993)
Chasing the Monsoon
by Alexander Frater (India & Bangladesh, 1993)
Skating to Antarctica by Jenny Diski (1997)
Skating to Antarctica
by Jenny Diski (1997)
Video Night in Kathmandu by Pico Iyer (Many places in Asia, 1998)
Video Night in Kathmandu
by Pico Iyer (Many places in Asia, 1998)
In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson (Australia, 2000)
In a Sunburned Country
by Bill Bryson (Australia, 2000)
Wrong About Japan by Peter Carey (2004)
Wrong About Japan
by Peter Carey (2004)
The Places in Between by Rory Stewart (Afghanistan, 2006)
The Places in Between
by Rory Stewart (Afghanistan, 2006)
Along the Ganges by Ilija Trojanow (2006)
Along the Ganges
by Ilija Trojanow (2006)
Cross Country by Robert Sullivan (America, 2006)
Cross Country
by Robert Sullivan (America, 2006)

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