Odyssey Book Club: 5 Travel Narratives to Inspire Wanderlust

By Brett

Every avid traveler knows the one essential that's as crucial as a sturdy backpack, a map, or comfy shoes is reading material that fuels the spirit of adventure. Travel writing legend, Paul Theroux advises in his book The Essential Tao of Travel: "Read a novel that has no relation to the place you're in."

Yet, I found myself flirting with the idea of breaking this rule with the following selection of books. Each went with me in preparation and during a journey late last year which stretched across the United States and eventually into the heart of South America—from the expanses of Paraguay to the southernmost tip of Tierra del Fuego in the coastal city of Ushuaia, and finally the Café Tortoni in Buenos Aires. Here, I crossed off a bucket list item of having a café con leche in the same place my literary hero Jorge Luis Borges sipped his own with fellow great thinkers. 

Join me as we dive into these travel narratives that kept me company on the road and promise to stir the wanderlust within you.

The Longest Way Home
One Man's Quest for the Courage to Settle Down
by Andrew McCarthy

In this evocative memoir, actor turned travel writer Andrew McCarthy, takes us on a deeply personal journey in The Longest Way Home. We follow McCarthy on assignment to Patagonian glaciers, down the streets of Vienna, and up to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. He leads us along as he confronts his fears of commitment and the source of his underlying desire for solitude. The latter of which has put him at odds with the family he has built with his longtime partner. McCarthy’s narrative evokes a sense of daring exploration that can awaken the nomad in all of us, while also getting us to ask deeply personal questions of ourselves and how we might better connect with our own loved ones at home.

What type of traveler is this book for?

Solo travelers or the aspiring solo adventurer who likes to embrace moments of solitude while traveling and want the transformative experiences that come with introspection and encourage growth.

Blue Highways
by William Least Heat-Moon

On the road less traveled, Blue Highways from William Least Heat-Moon seeks America's hidden nooks and the stories the hold. After a series of personal setbacks, Heat-Moon embarks on a circular journey around the United States, steering himself away from interstates and major cities. Instead, he chooses to traverse the “blue highways,” the forgotten, smaller roads marked in blue on old maps.

Through encounters with America's landscapes and its people, Heat-Moon’s narrative is a tribute to the heartland of the country. The book celebrates the characters from various walks of life contributing to the fabric of a diverse cultural tapestry. This book is a testament to the beauty of the backroads of America and the surprising encounters that await when one veers off the beaten path.

What type of traveler is this book for?

The traveler who likes to seek out hidden gems and yearns for an authentic experience of the place they are visiting.

Travels with Charley
by John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck’s classic travelogue, Travels with Charley, is an insightful exploration of the American identity. Accompanied by his companion poodle, Charley, Steinbeck sets off in a camper truck to rediscover the country he has been writing about for years. From small towns to growing cities, Steinbeck’s observations offer a poignant and at times humorous look at American in the early 1960s. This journey is not just about the landscapes and people he and Charley encounter, but also about introspection and understanding the "new America."

What makes Travels with Charley a compelling travel narrative is Steinbeck's ability to transport readers across the American landscape, and ironically bring with it some of the frustrating realities of travel. How much was based on real experience and how much was made up has been speculated upon since its publication in 1962. His vivid descriptions, insightful observations, and engaging encounters make the reader feel as if they are on the journey with him. As he confronts the realities of the America he had lost touch with, readers too are invited to reflect on their understanding.

What type of traveler is this book for?

The intrepid explorer who wants to learn and connect deeply, and linger in a particular location, with meaningful interactions with those in the community.

A Field Guide to Getting Lost
by Rebecca Solnit

Rebecca Solnit’s collection of essays in A Field Guide to Getting Lost is an ode to the art of being lost. Through a meditative exploration of the unknown presents the idea that purpose can often be found in the act of losing oneself. Solnit's narrative explores the transformative power of letting go and embracing the uncertainties of nature, solitude, and the unforeseeable path.

Blending autobiography, philosophy, and history, Solnit's essays explore what it means to lose oneself in the unknown. From wandering in the wilderness to losing oneself in memories and stories, this book is a celebration of the unpredictable journeys that shape our lives. It’s a guide for those who find beauty in uncertainty and a reminder that sometimes, getting lost is the best way to find yourself.

What type of traveler is this book for?

The traveler who wants to ditch the plans and rigid itineraries is open to the unexpected detour.

The Histories
by Herodotus

Often regarded as the "Father of History," Herodotus offers a different kind of travelogue in The Histories. This ancient text is more than a recounting of historical events; it's an odyssey that brings to life various cultures and civilizations. Through his eyes, we venture on timeless travels that resonate with an innate human curiosity about the world.

It's a pioneering work and considered one of the first pieces of travel literature. Through vivid storytelling, readers meet diverse cultures, rituals, myths, and philosophies. The tome is a journey through time and space, offering a glimpse into the diversity and wonder of shared human history.

What type of traveler is this book for?

The historian who is fascinated with the landscape’s past and looks to destinations rich in historical or cultural significance. The historian will likely have a handy guide on the background of a particular location and seeking out museums while on vacation.

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