The Best Books For May: Globetrotting

We’re in a globetrotting frame of mind this month; the warmer weather has us shedding our cashmeres and itching to pack our suitcases in search of new shores. To help with our wanderlust, we’ve rounded up our favourite travel books of all time to help inspire and excite our readers as we concoct summer adventures.

Travels With Charley
by John Steinbeck

Journeys across America are both a trope and a staple at this point; songs like Simon and Garfunkel’s America (is any road trip complete without singing along to So we bought a pack of cigarettes and Mrs. Wagner’s pies/And we walked off to look for America”?) and books like Jack Kerouac’s On The Road have become deeply ingrained in the fabric of American culture. In Travels With Charley, writer John Steinbeck takes his beloved poodle on an adventure across America to gain a deeper understanding of the country that he made his living writing about. This slim volume offers a rich look at the United States on a personal, sociopolitical level in 1960.

Letters From Iceland 
by W.H. Auden and Louis MacNeice

Auden and MacNeice, poets by trade, travelled to Iceland in 1936 and collaborated on this charming collection of poetry, letters, and travel notes, which beautifully and wittily observe the unique culture of this remote European island. Film buffs might recognize this book from the 2007 Oscar-nominated film Away From Her; several passages are read aloud throughout.

In Patagonia 
by Bruce Chatwin

When Bruce Chatwin was a child, he and his mother stayed with his grandparents during WWII. A piece of dinosaur, found by his cousin in a cave in Chilean Patagonia, was kept in a cabinet there. Fascinated by this, Chatwin would eventually visit the region decades later on a physical and metaphorical journey that he described in a collection of his letters, Under The Sun, as “an actual journey and a symbolic one…The narrator goes to a far country in search of a strange animal.” This highly experimental book is bound to delight those who hunger for rugged adventures and breathtaking terrain.

The Geography of Bliss 
by Eric Weiner

A former business reporter for The New York Times and foreign correspondent for NPR, Eric Weiner has seen much of the world and much of its suffering; while in India, he covered stories on the bubonic plague and the country’s economic reforms before he was relocated to Jerusalem. The Geography of Bliss is a New York Times bestselling book about Weiner’s travels around the globe, through which he seeks to understand the definition of happiness in different cultures. Experiences in Iceland, Bhutan, Moldova, and Qatar are all recounted with a measured wit and insightful observations on human nature.

Travels In A Thin Country 
by Sara Wheeler

Sara Wheeler is a young travel writer with a charming voice; she’s the sort of person you would want as a travel companion in the absurd, uncomfortable, disorienting circumstances that can crop up when one attempts a backpacking journey. In Travels in a Thin Country, Wheeler sets out for Chile—a country no more than one hundred and ten miles wide at any point—and traverses the whole of this long landscape, from the driest desert in the world to the sepulchral wastes of Antarctica. Her clever and funny observations of religion and Chile’s complex political history will have you itching to explore this unique country for yourself.

Paris Was Ours 
by Penelope Rowland

This collection, compiled by journalist and author Penelope Rowlands, is the love letter to Paris you’ve been craving; it’s the perfect companion to the 2004 indie cult classic Before Sunset. This curated volume includes thirty-two personal essays from writers who moved to Paris after falling in love with the city of love and lights. Experiences in learning to cook, to love, to study, to raise families, and to live a quintessentially Parisian life are related by different writers from different countries around the world. This is the perfect read for anyone who thinks that Rachel definitely shouldn’t have gotten off the plane.

Havana: A Subtropical Delirium 
by Mark Kurlansky

Havana: A Subtropical Delirium is the latest non-fiction work from Mark Kurlansky, an American journalist who has worked as a foreign correspondent and writer in Western Europe, Paris, and Mexico. This book takes an in-depth look at Havana, a city with which Kurlansky has become deeply acquainted over the past thirty years. Balancing cultural history with travelogue, recipes, photographs, and the author’s own pen-and-ink drawings, Kurlansky examines the city through the lens of its native writers. In a time of change for Cuba, this book captures an important slice of the capital’s history.

As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning 
by Laurie Lee

British poet Laurie Lee takes us on a lyrical, epic journey through London via the Cotswolds; with only a violin and a willingness for manual labour, he hacks out a living in the bustling city and eventually makes his way to Spain. There he often sleeps outdoors and makes money by playing music in cafes, until the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War leaves him trapped on the south coast. Lee’s distinct, poetic eye will no doubt stir your wandering soul.

Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere 
by Jan Morris

Welsh historian Jan Morris is perhaps one of the most important travel writers of our time. A trans woman, she initially published under her birth name, James, until undergoing sex reassignment surgery in the early ’70s. Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere is a passionate and nuanced look at the Italian city that captured her heart over the course of half a century. This poetic travelogue uses the framework of a city—one Morris cites as moody and changeable—to examine her own life, with all of its loves, disillusionments, and memories.

Travels with Myself and Another 
by Martha Gellhorn

Martha Gellhorn was long an enigmatic figure in the literary community. A journalist, she covered some of the most violent military conflicts of our time, including the Spanish Civil War, Vietnam, and Nicaragua. And while she never names the “other” in this insightful travel memoir, it is almost certainly Ernest Hemingway, to whom she was married for five years during WWII. This funny book recounts her journeys to various parts of the globe—days spent among dissidents in Moscow, among hippies near the Red Sea, and a treacherous journey to the interior of China during the Sino-Japanese War, for instance—and will leave you good and ready to carpe diem.