5 Books That Inspired Me To Travel

Second only to my love of travel is my love of reading.  Nothing gives me more pleasure than combining both and I’ve read a lot of fantastic travel books over the years.  My very first travel tome was the… wait for it… Children’s Junior Atlas. I used to read it over and over, stare at the maps, plot routes and absorb the random facts.  I’m almost certain my parents still have it at their house. In the meantime, my Philip’s Modern School Atlas (published 1989!) has pride of place in the loo. It is fascinating to see how much of the world has changed, my Europe map shows Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia and the enormous USSR.

The first time I was exposed to humour in travel writing was in my early teens. I remember spying an interesting looking book on my dad’s nightstand entitled ‘When You Look Like Your Passport Photo, It’s Time to Go Home‘.  The author, Erma Bombeck, was an American humorist who did in 1996.  A divergence from the Stephen King/Dean R Koontz horror stories I was devouring at the time, this book was HILARIOUS.  I can’t recall the stories exactly but I do remember lots of references to bad food, bad driving and bad airlines.  Following this book, I then moved onto the whole Bill Bryson series (thanks again to my dad’s bedside table reading), a hugely witty and entertaining author.

Whilst studying at University (studying what else but Geography), I read, The Age Of Kali by William Dalrymple.  The book is a collection of essays following the author’s travels around the Indian subcontinent and features controversial subjects such as the caste system, corruption and terrorism. I still remember how shocked I was after reading the essay on sati, the Hindu custom whereby a widow will burn herself alive on her husband’s funeral pyre.  I also believe this book aroused a curiosity in me about India and subsequently set off on my travels there in 2001.

I was in Waterstones in Hampstead when I purchased Alec Le Sueur’s ‘Running A Hotel On The Roof Of The World‘. I had just landed a graduate job and finally had the funds to splurge on books.  I love peaking behind the scenes of a hotel and this is a hilarious account of Alec’s life running the Holiday Inn, Lhasa, Tibet. I have read this book over and over again and still try to imagine the taste of yak butter tea.  

As for recent travel writing inspiration, there have been a lot of goodies.  Top of the heap is ‘Alone In Antarctica‘ by the British explorer Felicity Aston. I could not put this down (albeit snuggled up with a cup of tea).  Felicity was the first woman to cross Antarctica alone.  A legendary feat that makes for compulsive reading.  I am now obsessed with exploring the Antarctic by cruise (not quite as exciting as what Felicity did). I just need to save up the pennies and figure out how I’m going to offload my kids for two weeks 🙂


For more travel writing inspiration, check out this selection from last year. I would love to hear more about your favourite travel inspired books. Please write all your recommendations in the Comments section and I will check them out.


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  1. afamilydayout

    Great idea for a post. I avidly read all of the Paul Theroux books when I was younger. However the book that most sticks in my mind most was Into the Heart of Borneo by Redmond O’Hanlon. For me it was very much an armchair traveller book, lots of leeches and jungle afflictions so for once I was quite happy to read about other people’s journeys and not actually experience the discomfort myself!

    1. Nicola

      I am adding Heart of Borneo to my list, thanks!

  2. Ladies What Travel (@LadiesWTravel)

    Do love good book recommendations and I really want to read more travel books, so cheers! #FarawayFiles

  3. Amanda Afield

    I really enjoyed Bill Bryson’s books as well, especially as an American living in Britain. Great idea for a post!

  4. Cultural Wednesday

    Great idea for a post, I have several shelves of travel writing. I’m with you on the school atlas and would like to throw in To the End of the Rhine by Bernard Levy, From the Holy Mountain by William Dalrymple and A Time of Gifts and Between Woods and Water by Patrick Leigh Fermour #FarawayFiles

  5. tracycollins2016

    I love reading and I love anything to do with travel so I have a huge reading list – I have 3 posts listing books on my blog too as trying to get a go-to resource when I am looking for my next book. I loved atlases too and my dad used to sit with me when I was little and we would look at different countries and geographical features! I also love bill Bryson and I am reading one of his at the moment!

  6. katy@untoldmorsels

    I also used to pore over our huge atlas at home. My favourite travel writer is Bill Bryson. He has deadly accurate observations on cultures that make me laugh out loud. Thanks for sharing with us on #FarawayFiles Nicola

  7. Clare Thomson

    I love looking through maps and atlases too. Sometimes just the names of places can inspire you to travel there. I do enjoy Bill Bryson and V.S. Naipaul but I particularly love travelling to a country in the pages of a novel. If it’s beautifully described, its characters can take me there in a moment. Thanks for sharing this on #FarawayFiles

  8. Erin Gustafson (@oregongirlworld)

    I agree with Clare and often pick up books to remind me of a place I’ve been rather than inspire a place to visit. I love when I can picture a place where the characters are, transports me back. Most recently I have loved The Chronology of Water | A Memoir by Lidia Yuknavitch because much of it is set in my Oregon. I also loved All the Light We Cannot See for depictions of Paris and France. Currently reading Americaneh and I can picture New Jersey, but when the main character goes back to Nigeria – it is opening my eyes to a new place and culture, I’m mesmerized! Great list – thank you for sharing! Cheers from Copenhagen (Have you read the Danish girl? 😉 #FarawayFiles

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