If you’re bitten by the travel bug, it doesn’t take much to fuel the desire to take off and see the world. Just on the train from London to my home city recently I was listening to Bruce Springsteen and thinking to myself “I could definitely just take off on a motorbike”, before reminding myself that a) I don’t have a licence, let alone a motorbike, and b) I am terrified of them.
And as literature is basically an adventure without leaving your sofa, some wonderful writers across history have written pieces of work that make you want to get off the sofa, abandon all current responsibilities and see the world.
Dom Joly – The Dark Tourist
In this travelogue the comedian Dom Joly describes a dark tourist to be someone who likes to visit places that tend to be associate with death and tragedy. Sounds hilarious. But Joly makes it that, visiting places such as North Korea, Chernobyl and the scene of JFK’s assassination and making his accounts slightly nerve-wracking, but with a black humour most of us have and some admit to. It makes you realise travelling isn’t just about journeys of self discovery or instagram worthy snaps – but seeing the worlds that otherwise escapes your notice, whether its a culture completely different to yours, or somewhere that is cemented into the history books.
Jack Kerouac – On the Road
Really an obvious one here, and I’ve written about Kerouac before, but this is a novel that inspired many to go out onto the open road, and I suspect will continue to do so for a long time. It has the carefree vibe of adventure that anybody feeling a little stuck in one place will want to seize for their own, and the appeal of grabbing a car (legally ofc) and grabbing some friends with the same lust for life and travel will be stronger once you’ve finished this book.
Alex Garland – The Beach
My copy is now a rather old one, partially eaten by a dog and has the last few pages missing (damn dog). It almost seems like a right of passage these days to go travelling around Thailand, something I am yet to do. This novel is an enticing prose that shows how traveller’s lust for paradise away from the harsh world of reality can become a nightmare. Because if literature has ever taught me anything, is that humans tend to screw things up (and that dogs don’t respect great novels). I would avoid the film, which in comparison to the novel….is not great in my opinion.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez – 100 Years of Solitude
I debated about adding this novel, seeing as it is not one about travel but instead is an historical account of one fictional place. The clue that it is not about someone who goes off travelling is in the title. But to me I think it’s worth reading if you’re itching to see the world. Even though it is magical realism and does not depict a real place, I think that Marquez’s creation and depiction of the history of one place and the people who lived in the 100 years makes you realise that the word is pretty large and varied. And although we are unlikely to meet someone who is followed by yellow butterflies, there is always more of the world to discover as individuals and embrace the communities that make up bigger systems.
John Steinbeck – The Grapes of Wrath
Another author previously mentioned, and always worth mentioning because The Grapes of Wrath is one of my favourite novels ever. And perhaps another strange addition, as it is a document of a very difficult time in American history. But the Dust Bowl Migration is now the famous Route 66 trail (and definitely worth a road trip). Steinbeck’s account of one family among many trying to begin a new life shows that packing up and heading towards the unknown on the optimistic promise of greener pastures can be difficult and daunting, but can be endured if you are surrounded by good people. Ah, corny.
So what do you think? Researching for other lists of wanderlust novels has me keen to read some more, novels like Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer and The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner seem intriguing places to start!