COLUMN: Armchair travel for restless readers

COLUMN: Armchair travel for restless readers

Frances Thomson recommends a few travel memoirs you can find at the George Mackie Library

Last month I wrote about the various travel guides that are available for planning a trip. However, some people prefer to travel vicariously through the experiences of others, from the comfort of their own homes. Travel memoirs or narratives are a sub-genre of travel literature that includes guidebooks. Although they are non-fiction, they usually read like fiction and are written in the first person, as the author thinks back on and describes a journey or series of journeys.

Popular travel memoir writers include Paul Theroux, Peter Mayle and Frances Mayes. Theroux is an American travel writer and novelist whose best known work is 1975’s The Great Railway Bazaar. It is the account of a journey he made from London through Europe, the Middle East, India and Southeast Asia and back in 1972.

Mayle is a British author known for his books about life in Provence, France. Mayes wrote Under the Tuscan Sun twenty years ago after purchasing and refurbishing an old villa in Italy. Other examples of this genre are Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love and Cheryl Strayed’s Wild.

Imagine embarking on a 21-day trip from Istanbul to London with no luggage, no plans and no reservations, accompanied by someone you have only known for a few days. Clara Benson did just that, traveling through eight countries in three weeks with just her toothbrush and credit card. She details the adventure in No Baggage: A Minimalist Tale of Love and Wandering, published in 2016.

Albert Podell is an ordinary man who set out to fulfill two dreams that many told him were impossible – to visit every country on earth, and to set a record for the longest journey around the world made by automobile. It took him several decades and he encountered everything from riots and civil wars to natural disasters and animal attacks. He recounts his quest in Around the World in 50 Years: My Adventure to Every Country on Earth.

Chris Stewart had an extensive list of jobs, including being the founder and original drummer for Genesis. In the 1980s a friend offered him the opportunity to skipper a yacht in the Greek isles. Despite some setbacks (such as accidentally setting the boat on fire), he caught the sailing bug and jumped at the chance to be part of a crew retracing Viking Leif Eriksson’s historic journey across the Atlantic Ocean.

Five months on a small sailboat with seven other people in the freezing waters of the Atlantic may not sound like fun to most people, but Stewart describes the adventure with optimism and humor in Three Ways to Capsize a Boat.

In his collection of nine essays titled White Sands, Geoff Dyer blends travel writing with philosophy as he tries to figure out why we travel. To find the answer, he journeys to several contrasting places, including Beijing, Tahiti and New Mexico.

If you are afraid of flying, suffer from seasickness, and/or prefer to sleep in your own bed at night, perhaps a travel memoir is just the ticket.

Frances Thomson is the community librarian at the George Mackie Library. For more information about books and events at the library, visit

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