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10 Best Travel Books to Add to Your Summer Reading List

Luke Armstrong | Jul 6, 2016

Article first published on sevencorners.com by travel blogger and world nomad, Luke Armstrong, of Travel Write Sing.

Finding the book for your bag: Luke's 10 best travel books to add to your summer reading list.

For literary travelers who explore the world through books as well as places, our packs are always a few pounds heavier. If you are at all like me, you have asked yourself, “Why for the love of the French Enlightenment am I carrying ten books with me? I cannot carry my ridiculously heavy pack one step further! My body hurts. Ouch! I must lie down. I don’t care if this is a busy highway, I will lie down here and rest.”

Just get a kindle Luke, right? That will solve all your pack weight problems? Well, I already did two years back, and somehow I'm still hauling six paperbacks with me at the moment. I've banned myself from bookstores until I read these and pass them back to the world from whence they came. One of the books I'm carrying was given to me in Thailand last year and is collecting quite a few stamps on its passport — it's been to six countries, and I still need to read it.

Books as doorways to new worlds

We discover new places and ideas in books and in new places we discover books. At book exchanges we dig through mounds of bland, unreadable romance novels and 1990 computer operation manuals looking for hidden gems left by the last person passing through. The worn pages of the "treasure books" sometimes contain little notes or enigmatic messages left by their previous owners.

On rare instances, they contain more of their previous owners than we want. I am still left to wonder why page 116 of my copy of Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast that I picked up in San Pedro, Chile, was covered in blood. Nose bleed? Literary discussion turned violent? Battle to the death between a pushy English teacher and pig-headed student? I probably don’t want to know.

But there is also that scrap of of paper I found in a book in a hotel in Belize which said, "I am living my dream because of you!" It left me with a beautiful mystery as to who wrote it and to whom.

10 books for your bag

To add to your packing list, I have amassed ten "must read" books for intrepid souls. These books are worth weighing down an already overweight pack.

Something beautiful about this brave new world of Kindles and Nooks is that where there is internet, there is access to these books. But for the record please put me down as saying, “When I was your age, The Brothers Karamazov weighed 10 pounds! And we had to climb Machu Picchu with it in our pack!”

1. The Directions of Happiness - by Bruce Northam

You know that Johnny Cash song, "I've been Everywhere?" It should’ve been sung by Bruce Northram, who truly has been everywhere. In his book, The Directions to Happiness, he reflects through short vignettes on the 135 countries he has traveled to in his three decades on the road.

What I like most about this book is the traveling wisdom it teaches. There are some lessons we can only learn while exploring different places, cultures, traditions, religions, and perspectives. Bruce has dedicated his life to exploring the world and the people who populate it. His book is a window to wisdom taught by the world.

There is a humbleness with which Bruce recounts his tales. This isn't a "look at me," type travelogue, but one that invites the reader into the author's train of thought.

What resonated most with me were the bits of lovely nostalgia the book touches upon. When Bruce first started traveling and travel writing, there was no Internet. Being on the road truly meant being away from access to the familiar world. Bruce is now an old school travel writer in an industry that posts selfies upon arrival. He still firmly believes good travel writing isn't an evening blog post that recounts the day's activities, but writing that comes from a mind that has had enough moments of quiet pause for experiences to truly settle in.

2. Marco Polo Didn't Go There - by Rolf Potts

Arguably one of the most influential travel books of the new millennium is Rolf Pott's Vagabonding. Everywhere I go in the world, you find travelers reading this guide to crafting a life that allows for extended time on the road.

His lesser known tome, Marco Polo Didn’t Go There is the story's from Rolf's own time on the road living out his "vagabonding" travel philosophy. The stories are not just well crafted, but provide insight into Rolf's craft of writing. For aspiring travel writers, Rolf includes an appendix that offers a window into the art of how he composed his tales.

I found this an invaluable tool when I read it as an aspiring travel writer in my early twenties.

3. Seven Years in Tibet - by Heinrich Harrer

Unless Brad Pitt really does it for you, the book Seven Years in Tibet contains much more than the movie. From detailed accounts of nearly freezing to death, hunger, mountain climbing, road bandits, imprisonment, escape, imprisonment again, escape again; read this book. It is an account of the Tibet that used to be.

Harrer’s account is at times heartbreaking to realize what's been lost, but it's heartening that so much of what was is preserved in this book. And while changed, Tibet isn’t as lost as Atlantis. If this book hits you as hard as it did me, as soon as you close it you will check Expedia for tickets to Tibet, but the most economic (and epic!) way to get there is to fly into Shanghai and take the train from there.

4. On the Road - by Jack Kerouac

On the Road has been inspiring decades of intrepid hearts to break free from gray cubicle walls to head to, well, anywhere. With thumbs pointed towards the sky, Jack Kerouac writes fiction that from most biographical accounts, pretty much was all true. The advantage of writing in this way is that a writer never risks getting kicked out of Oprah’s book club when reality is brushed with a touch of imagination (I'm talking bout you Fry!).

On the Road takes readers from the East Coast to the West Coast and everywhere in between. Through vivid characters it approaches philosophical questions seeking answers to the meaning of life and how best to live it.

5. The American Best Travel Writing Anthology - by Jason Wilson (series editor)

This annually released anthology contains pieces from the mass-market travel writing to the little guy’s blog. Though the word “best” always leaves me wanting proof of objectivity, the editor strives to be fair, and the result is always a good read for the road.

6. The Beach - by Alex Garland

I've heard The Beach called the backpacker's Bible. It's a read any youngish traveler headed to Southeast Asia should pick up or download. Starting in questionable hostels with an eclectic cast of international characters, this is the book for backpackers searching for paradise. It explores the basic traveler oxymoron: tourists trying to avoid places filled with tourists. We all want to find paradise, but paradise, once it is found, quickly becomes every other place, or worse.

7. Do Travel Writers Go To Hell?: A Swashbuckling Tale of High Adventures, Questionable Ethics, and Professional Hedonism - by Thomas Kohnstamm

For my sake, I hope the answer to the title’s question is no. Do Travel Writers Go To Hell portrays the struggles of travel writing at the entry level of guidebook writing. This should be required reading for anyone calling their Lonely Planet, “The Bible.” It's an important read for travelers because it gives some context to just how fallible a guide book is liable to be.

Battling through self doubt, waning finances, wanton temptations, and professional ethics, Thomas shows, often in hilarious detail, just how the information goes from a Cuba Libre stained Moleskine notebook to the pages of your guidebook. He admits to writing portions of guidebooks to places he hadn't even been to, which should cause us to look at our guidebooks as not the end all be all of insider knowledge, but the guidance of a broke 20-something traveler trying to make ends meet.

8. Shadows in the Sun - by Wade David

Wade Davis is a well-known anthropologist whose career has been a ceaseless mission to preserve species and cultures. In Shadows in the Sun, he writes in a way that really takes you face to face with the disappearing cultures and creatures of the world and shows what is and what could be lost. His writing is riveting and empowering. He connects himself with culture in such a way that he opens a window for you to explore it from the inside with his ceaselessly thought-provoking prose.

Shadows in the Sun is also entertaining and takes the reader around the world to learn from endangered cultures who still maintain a strong connection to the earth being lost to modernity.

9. You Shall Know Our Velocity - by Dave Eggers

Written before his books started becoming bland and mediocre (A Hologram for a King, The Circle), You Shall Know Our Velocity is fiction that draws from reality. The protagonists travel around the world at a breakneck pace handing out thousands of dollars to locals using an arbitrary selection process. Why I think it belongs in travelers' hands is that it opens the doors of discussion on the issue of privilege and how it's wielded in our globally connected world.

10. The Nomad's Nomad - by the most shameless self promoter of all time

In high school, the author of The Nomad’s Nomad once got in big trouble for putting a live lobster in the toilet. Okay so this is my book, and obviously I'm biased about it, but feedback has been humblingly heartening. I'm just happy to have thrown in my own little contribution to the wide world of travel literature and would be honored to have you take a peek at my work. And with over 30 pictures in it, this travelogue can be enjoyed by people who don't even read English! To buy it, simply click the below! ↓↓

Buy Luke's book The Nomad's Nomad on Amazon!

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