Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck
‘I did not know my own country’ could be your, my, anybody’s lament; only, Steinbeck chose to do something about it, and set off ‘in search of America’ in a campervan called Rocinante, with ‘an old French gentleman poodle known as Charley’ for company. Born out of this journey is one of the finest travel books; get your mitts on it at once.
Around The World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne
Yes, it’s a fictional tale, and yes, it’s a translated account, but there’s simply no ignoring this very grand, old-fashioned journey, employing ‘every means of conveyance – steamers, railways, carriages, yachts, trading vessels, sledges, elephants’. Read for a jolly peek into times when the Suez Canal was a novelty and train-journeys were stately affairs.
The Road to Oxiana by Robert Byron
If you’re bored of namby-pamby ‘lifestyle travel’ writing, then go for this classic by Byron. Tracing his journey in diary-form, from Venice to Peshawar, this ‘sacred text’ (as Chatwin fondly called it) is a refreshing take on ‘Asia without an inferiority complex’ and its many architectural wonders and feisty people who inhabit the region. One for the serious collector.
City of Djinns by William Dalrymple
You know this is a raw, real (not to mention amusing) slice of Delhi when Dalrymple’s landlady cuts off his water-supply because his guests flush the loo once too often and her husband proposes marriage twice to his wife. But this is hardly a series of anecdotes; there’s a thick vein of history running through the book. Read for a thorough, original view of the capital city.
Two in the Bush by Gerald Durrell
It does not matter where on earth Gerald Durrell goes – he finds some exotic animal to save from extinction and in the process he takes you to see bits of the country that no guidebook or travelogue will touch. And this book, tracing his 6 month long journey to New Zealand, Australia and Malaya, is the perfect armchair escape.
AA Gill is Away by AA Gill
Gill is the Clarkson of travel writing – gloriously rude and bitingly funny. He’s famously known to treat places as celebrities and his razor-sharp essays bring to life regions as diverse as Kalahari and Cuba, Iceland and India. A book to be savoured, word by wonderful word.
In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin
Chatwin famously quit his job with a telegram saying ‘Have gone to Patagonia’, spent six months in the region, and wrote what is easily the Ramayana of travel literature – an epic journey and encounters all set in the timeless landscape of windswept Patagonia. A must-read.
A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle
The book starts with a six-course lunch, pink champagne and a chef who performs a ‘gastronomic aria’ at each table. Can there be a better introduction to foodie France, or for that matter, a better guide to its Southern bits than Mayle? Read, and you will surely want to visit Provence.
The Pillars of Hercules by Paul Theroux
Biting a big chunk off the Mediterranean is something only Theroux can do and do well. Travel with him from Gibraltar to Morocco, the wrong (long) way or pick your way through its sparkling pages, one town at a time.
Just don’t forget to live vicariously through Theroux’s Herculean attempt.
Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome
Perhaps the funniest travel book ever, this light-as-a-soufflé story, set in 19th century England is a snap-shot of the Thames and a peek into the lives of three young men (and their dog) about town. Join them as they brave flopping tents, savage swans, and dogs howling along to the Banjo. Spread some cheer, gift to all the unsmiling people you know.
Midnight in The Garden Of Good And Evil by John Berendt
Berendt is a writer who sucks you deep into his books, right from the first page. This hugely popular book on the Savannah is no different – with sensual, handpicked words he takes you on a journey to see not just the place, but also the people, the weirder the better!
Travels With a Donkey in The Cevennes by R.L. Stevenson
This classic travelogue traces the 12 days-120 mile journey that the often ‘tired donkey and tired donkey-driver’ undertake in the untamed mountains of central France. Bolstered with lyrical prose and Stevenson’s keen eye for detail, it’s not for nothing that this still remains a very popular 19th century travel-book.