Travel Books You Want to Read This Fall: Part 1

Being a Broke-Ass means so much more than not having a lot of money.  For you, it might mean spending less in order to live it up more.  For others, it means working less in order to simply enjoy life more.  And others choose to take on six different part-time jobs in order to have the flexibility and freedom to continue to follow their art/dreams/passion/whatever.  Broke-Asses can be found in every industry, in every country in the world.  I know Broke-Asses with comprehensive health insurance packages (lucky bastards), and Broke-Asses who would argue that they have nothing in common with those afore mentioned “lucky bastards.”  I even know Broke-Asses who hate being broke.  But one thing unites us.  Broke-Asses choose to measure their life in the quality of their experience rather than the weight of their gold.

A wise man once told me, “A life un-traveled is not worth living.”  It’s always stuck with me.  I have to admit that I’m pretty happy being a Broke-Ass in New York City, but every once in a while, I get that desperate itch to drop everything, buy a plane ticket, and just go live in Marrakech or Goa or Amsterdam, hell, even Winnipeg sounds nice sometimes.  Airfare being a bit out of my budget right now, though, I’ve had to find other ways to escape my reality.  So I read travel books: novels, stories, non-fiction, memoirs, adventures, anything that lets my mind unravel and fills me up with the tastes and colors of a different time or culture.  Here are ten out of my list of 20.

Note:  I am in no way trying to say that these are the “best” travel books or that this is a comprehensive listing.  Check out these websites for some lists that claim that: Conde Nast Traveler’s 86 Greatest Travel Books of All Time, Telegraph’s 20 Best Travel Books of All Time, and World Hums Top 30 Travel Books.  However, I like the listed books because they’ve in some way offered a new world-view to me, helped me understand history, or surprised me.  Oh yeah, and at the library, they’re all FREE.

1. Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Cape Town by Paul Theroux (also The Great Railway Bazaar, Riding the Iron Rooster)
A man returns to Africa for the first time since his Peace Corps years in the 60s, and this time he takes on the entire continent.  Theroux’s riveting account of his journey takes us through war zones, over local roads, and into homes of old friends.  If you are someone who is turned off by the inadvertent exoticism of travel writing, you will love the unapologetically honest opinions and stories in this book.

2. Palestine by Joe Sacco (also Safe Area Gorazde, The Fixer: A Story from Sarajevo)
Joe Sacco is one of my favorite graphic novelists.  He draws himself into his stories the same way he experiences them, and in Palestine, many times the images and frantic writing come at you from all angles.  This book is a real work of art and communicates a visceral telling of one man’s experience in the Middle East.

3. Nine Hills to Nambonkaha by Sarah Erdman
Erdman’s heartfelt book, set in the late ‘90s about her two Peace Corps years in an Ivory Coast village, makes me have even more respect for those of you who have done it.  Equipped with just the basics, she works through health stigmas and cultural miscommunication, and eventually grows to understand the friends and people in Nambonkaha in a new way.  Read it if you are remotely considering the Peace Corps or international development.

4. Dessert Solitaire by Edward Abbey
This book is like a watercolor painting.  Reflective with a sense of humor, Edward Abbey shares his experiences living and working alone in Arches National Park near Moab, Utah.  Amazon.com’s spot-on review says that it is “a meditation on the stark landscapes of the red-rock West, a passionate vote for wilderness, and a howling lament for the commercialization of the American outback.”  Makes you want to read it, huh?

5. A Death in Brazil: A Book of Omissions by Peter Robb
Such a cool blend of history, facts, and personal account, A Death in Brazil, yes, is about Brazil.  Without boring us or making leaden detours, Robb takes us all the way back to the 1400s and up through today.  Exposing historical and political scandals while exploring his own relationship with Brazil, I am actually just about to finish this book.  Such an engrossing and informative read!  (And once I finish this article, I’ll be getting right back to it.)

6. Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer (also Into Thin Air, Into the Wild)
So we all know this guy.  He’s been on the top 10 New York Times Best Seller lists for like the past decade.  But, if you haven’t read Under the Banner of Heaven, stop reading and go to the library now!  Part murder-mystery and part cult history, this is the story of extremist Mormons in America.  But it’s even more than that.  Under the Banner of Heaven reveals and explores the effect extreme religions can have on communities, even communities in our own country.  I couldn’t stop talking about this book for months after I read it.

7. A Voyage for Madmen by Peter Nichols
In 1968, a time before satellite weather radar and modern communication equipment, nine sailors raced to do what had never been done before: a solo-nonstop circumnavigation around the world.  Only one man finished.  Madness, ego, solitude, the sea.  Enough said.

8. Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
If you are someone who likes long books, you’ll love this one!  And if you are completely freaked out by anything larger than 500 pages, please, please, please give this book a try.  Influenced by the true events of the author’s life, starting with his escape from an Australian jail, Lin becomes drawn into the slum world of Bombay.  Gundas (gangsters), lepers, love, drug trade, Afghani mafia, purity, and the seductive world of Bollywood color this truly unique adventure novel.

9. Don’t Lets Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller (also Scribbling the Cat)
Told from the author’s perspective as a young white African growing up in racist, war-torn Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in the 1970s, Don’t Lets Go to the Dogs Tonight drew me into a time and place in the world I had very little understanding of before.  The characters, though deeply flawed, are written so well, and with such love, that the reader becomes a part of their world.  It was one of those books I was sad to finish because I couldn’t read it for the first time again.

10. Travels with Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck
I read this book a long time ago, but I never forgot that it left me with a deep desire to road trip in a camper with a typewriter all over America.  Unfortunately, what I did forget was the plot.  Thankfully, it came back to me with a quick look at Wikipedia.  (I’m not cheating, right?  I mean I seriously remember adoring the book!)  Steinbeck travels with his dog over 10,000 mile, rediscovering America.  Describing and connecting with the different people he meets along the way, reading this you get a glimpse into the changing America of the 1960s.

So there you have ‘em.  Ten of my “secret escape routes.”  You’ll have to come back next week to check out the next ten. (Yes, there are more!)  Have you any favorite travel books to share?

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About the author

Danielle Levanas - Bargain Soul Huntress

Danielle was raised by a pack of coyotes in the Los Angeles hills. Since arriving in NY in 2001, she has had any number of strange jobs, including back-up singing for JELVIS (the Jewish Elvis), starting the non-profit LYDIA, and writing political cabarets. A huge advocate for travel as a way of life, you can find her at the Brooklyn Public Library when her bank account is empty, fantasizing about where to head off to next.
  • http://copingwithcollege.blogspot.com/ Amanda

    I like reading novels about different cultures. One of my favourite authors is Lisa See. They are about Chinese girls growing up in the 17/18 century. Snowflower and the Secret Fan covers a lot of culture (or what a young girl witnesses) such as footbinding and preparing for marriage. Peony in Love is about Chinese beliefs about death and the after life. And Shanghai girls is about 2 sisters fleeing to Sanfransico in the 1930′s where they work in Chinatown. These books are amazing.

  • http://www.laoca-thegoose.blogspot.com Danielle Levanas – Bargain Soul Huntress

    Yes!!! she’s awesome too. Thanks for adding to the list.