Good Books to Read When You Need a Vacation, But Can’t Get Away
These books allow you wander the world from the comfort of your coziest chair.
When life gets hectic, sometimes you just want to get away. But with family needs to fulfill, a job to do, and bills to pay, you can’t always travel when you want to. Luckily, there are plenty of good books to read that let you wander the world from the comfort of your coziest chair.
For as long as explorers have been crossing the world, travel narratives have captured the attention of those left at home. In the 1300s, Islamic scholar Ibn Battuta sailed from Morocco to far off destinations throughout Asia, and you can still read an account of his explorations in The Travels of Ibn Battuta. Another medieval explorer you have probably heard of is Marco Polo, who traveled in the same time as Battuta and brought tales of his adventures in Asia back to Europe to delight the Venetian Republic. By the 1500s, sailors and colonists began sending stories of the Americas back to Europe. Adventures in the Unknown Interior of America by Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca was originally a report to the king of Spain in 1542.
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Many travel narratives have a history in this kind of colonialism, so it’s important to read them with that in mind. For a long time, even well into the 20th century, publishers printed travelogues that dehumanized the people native to their destinations, treating them as set pieces or impoverished societies in need of saving rather than as distinct cultures worthy of appreciation and respect. This history has influenced a new push among travel writers and publishers to shift the focus of more recent travel narratives. Though there are plenty of great, successful modern travel narratives (like runaway bestseller Wild), rather than hiring outsiders to travel to new places where they have never been, more people are writing about rediscovering their homes, and travel writing has benefited from these insider perspectives.
A more enlightened kind of travel narrative lives on. In these good books to read, you can escape to a new country without leaving your living room.
Flâneuse, by Lauren Elkin
Each of us holds a desire to wander, but for Lauren Elkin, the urge is irresistible. In Flâneuse, Elkin meanders through the great cities of the world, including New York, Paris, Venice, and London, ruminating on the culture of strolling through cities and what it means to explore as a woman.
To buy: $11, amazon.com.
My Paris Dream, by Kate Betts
Have you ever wanted to drop everything and set off for Paris? Kate Betts did just that. After college, she rented a room in a young Parisian family’s apartment, immersing herself in French culture and diving head-first into the language and joie de vivre of the City of Lights. After much searching, Betts landed a coveted job reporting on Paris’s glamorous fashion industry. This memoir gives readers a peek into her lavish life.
To buy: $12, amazon.com.
My Invented Country, by Isabel Allende
If you’re looking for a different kind of travel memoir, follow award-winning novelist Isabel Allende explore her homeland and its turbulent past. In My Invented Country, she weaves nostalgia for the Chile she knew, a country that is both beautiful and haunted, with the political realities of history. In 1973, a violent coup toppled the Chilean government, and in its wake, the brutal dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet took hold. Allende fled Chile the same year. She believes this forced exile is what made her a writer.
To buy: $21, amazon.com.
Cutting Back, by Leslie Buck
Leslie Buck had an extraordinary passion, and she left her safe job and perfectly cultivated life to follow it. In this memoir, Buck recounts how she became the first American woman to learn the meticulous horticultural traditions practiced in the gardens of Kyoto, Japan. An exploration of serenity and attention, Buck’s narrative explores what she discovered in Kyoto’s gardens, marveling at how a landscape that looked so unspoiled could be the product of so much diligent consideration.
To buy: $17, amazon.com.
Mud, Sweat and Gears, by Ellie Bennett
At the age of 50, Ellie Bennett thought she might never achieve her dreams of success—or much of anything. But when her friend proposed a cross-country cycling adventure that will take them through the entire length of Great Britain, Bennett accepted. What started out as a fun journey of biking and drinking beer turns into a meaningful adventure with plenty of laughs along the way.
To buy: $13, amazon.com.
Wild by Nature, by Sarah Marquis
If you loved Wild, by Cheryl Strayed, mark this one down as your next read. In Wild by Nature, Sarah Marquis embarked on an astounding 10,000-mile hike alone from Siberia to Thailand, finally completing her trek in Australia after a trip by boat. Along the way, Marquis encountered every kind of obstacle imaginable. From thieves on horseback to dengue fever, Marquis survived it all. You can follow her harrowing adventure without having to pack a single bag.
To buy: $16, amazon.com.