Booklist: The Travel Books

The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page. ~St. Augustine.

Ours is a family of gypsies. We LOVE to travel. Early in our marriage, Mike and I decided that experiences and memories would always have priority over stuff as we made choices regarding allocation of time and of money. So, while I buy most of my clothing at Goodwill and consignment stores, clip coupons, and never buy anything that is not on sale, ours is a family that has seen a good bit of the world.

It is not necessarily at home that we best encounter our true selves. The furniture insists that we cannot change because it does not; the domestic setting keeps us tethered to the person we are in ordinary life, who may not be who we essentially are. ~Alain de Botton

Traveling to far-off places has a tendency to help us find bits of ourselves, and of one another, that have lain hidden. It challenges and inspires us. And, it gives us a treasure trove of memories that are part of the cement that binds us as a family.

When we are not traveling, I am frequently reading about the travels of others, or combing through guide books and dreaming about our next trip. Here are a few of my favorites. Be sure and tell me yours.

Travel Guides

Rick Steves’ Europe Through the Back Door  Rick Steves has been my best friend in planning the several trips we have made to Europe. He and I share a common philosophy about travel: While in a foreign country, one should soak up as much of the authentic culture as possible. Eat where they eat. Sleep in their neighborhoods. Shop in their markets. Why would I want to travel to Istanbul to sleep in an American chain hotel and eat at McDonalds? I can do that here.

Steves puts his decades of experience to work for me, and helps me find those quirky, off-the-beaten-path places that put me in direct contact with the people I am visiting. Our family is eternally grateful to him for introducing us to one of our favorite destinations EVER: Vernazza in the Cinque Terra (along the Italian Riviera). Europe Through the Backdoor gives a great overview and some general travel tips that are helpful wherever you might find yourself in Europe. His guides for individual countries give more specific information.

I especially like his walking guides, both for cities and for museums, highlighting attractions on the way. And, not surprisingly, I appreciate the historical information as well as curiosities and trivia.

DK Eyewitness Travel Top 10 Concise. Full color illustrations. Small enough to slide into your back pocket. They always include helpful street and metro maps. Usually specific to a city or a region (like Provence). We have them for New York, Chicago, Paris, Dublin, and London. They begin by giving their top ten things to see in the city. Then they give top ten lists for categories: museums, pubs, restaurants, hotels, children’s attractions, sporting events, etc… They usually include a list of excursions outside the city as well. For example, the Dublin guide gave us information about the whole of Ireland. While Rick Steves takes you in through the back door, these guides will make sure you know about all the major don’t miss attractions.

If I still need info after consulting these two sources, I consult guides from Frommer’s and Fodor’s. I love that they too are now adding color photographs to many of their guides. I like the traveling philosophy of the Lonely Planet guides and have, at times, found valuable information therein. But, I find their organizational system cumbersome.

Travelogues

The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton  I make an unusual exception here in that this is the first book I have ever included on a booklist before having read the whole of it. The portions I have read convince me that, if the rest were rubbish (most unlikely) it would still be a valuable read. The author is a contemplative. He takes as his companions on his exploits artists and writers who give him new eyes with which to see the world. He rolls around ideas and observations that are most intriguing. Thoughts about anticipation, curiosity, beauty, art, and seeing our own everyday world as a destination worthy of reflection.

To the Field of Stars by Father Kevin A. Codd  A compelling personal story of pilgrimage, of discovery, of communion…along the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. This pilgrimage is on my own bucket list. Father Codd’s beautiful account of struggle and pain, generosity and joy is stoking my desire.

Jesus spent a lot of time on the road…I wanted to know what it was like to live as he lived, depending on his feet to keep him bound to the earth and moving forward towards his destiny. Know his feet, know him.

A Thousand Days in Tuscany by Marlena De Blasi  De Blasi’s background as a food writer is obvious every time she describes the ridiculous food she enjoys in Tuscany. My mouth waters. And I start looking for apartments in Tuscany… This is a beautiful book about a roughly 3 year period she and her husband spend becoming part of a small, close knit Tuscan village. Great community meals, grape harvests, crusty old seasoned characters. Marvelous.

A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle

We had talked about it during the long gray winters and the damp green summers…looked with an addict’s longing at photographs of village markets and vineyards, dreamed of being woken up by the sun slanting through the bedroom window…

Mmm hmmm. Me too, Peter, me too. Thing is, even though Mayle is completely honest about the challenges…cracked pipes, the brutal Mistral winds, falling roof tiles, etc…I find myself, on the last page, wanting more than ever to spend a long season in France. Mayle’s evocative descriptions take me there. And nourishes the dream….

Round Ireland With a Fridge by Tony Hawks  A drunken wager gives way to an ironic adventure.  An endeavor so ludicrous, so perplexing, so…intriguing…that folks can’t help joining in. Offering rides, food, lodging. Soon, his reputation precedes him. And his folly becomes a national phenomenon. An unlikely, yet completely true story. An inside look at the ordinary people you and I might have missed. Great fun.

Addendum:  Keep in mind that plenty of books having nothing to do with travel can deepen and enrich your travel experience. For example, planning a visit to Ireland? Take a look at How the Irish Saved Civilization, Beauty: the Invisible Embrace, Angela’s Ashes, Dubliners, the poetry of W.B. Yeats or Seamus Heaney. These books will help you understand everything you see; the architecture, the art, the churches, the markets, the faces, the ethos, the very essence of the people.