Our top 5 reads for the road
Whether you’re looking for timeless travel prose or progressive adventure stories, we have bookmarked a few suggestions for you:
1. On the Road – Jack Kerouac
A predictable start, but in the immortal words of Jack Kerouac “one day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.” On the Road is a longstanding favourite for those who are in transit as the title suggests: it chronicles Kerouac’s years of road tripping in North America with his friend Neal Cassady, “a side-burned hero of the snowy west.” This quest for knowledge and self-actualisation is a great snapshot of early US travel culture (jazz, poetry and drugs), at a time when the world was on the brink of becoming one’s oyster.
Roam the city of San Francisco to visit some Kerouac landmarks, haunts and soak up On the Road’s cultural echoes. After a day of poring through American literature, put your feet up at our stylish boutique hostel, HI San Francisco – City Center.
2. Shantaram – Gregory David Roberts
Shantaram is the semi-autobiographical story of Australia’s most wanted escaped prisoner, who flees to the slums of India’s Mumbai to forge a new life for himself as a member of the Bombay mafia, a gunrunner, smuggler, drug baron, counterfeiter and eventually an Afghan insurgent. He also falls in love, not only with the city of Mumbai – with its energy and relentless assault on the senses – but with the enigmatic Karla. Shantaram is 936 pages, but it is a compulsive page-turner of almost implausible survival against the odds… definitely worth the 2kg of precious luggage allowance!
The Great Railway Bazaar – Paul Theroux
A travelogue and Paul Theroux’s first – and arguably best – book, The Great Railway Bazaar covers a big geography, chugging its way across the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia, before turning tail and returning via the Trans-Siberian railway in just four months. This is, above all the cities and tourist attractions, a book about people, or more specifically the passengers Theroux meets – a richly described cross-section of bizarre humanity in all its glory. It will also make you want to ditch the flights and go inter-railing.
4. The Beach – Alex Garland
This tale not only inspired the popular film starring Leonardo DiCaprio, but it also inspired a whole generation of gap year students to head over to Southeast Asia. In Thailand, our protagonist Richard sets out on a nomadic search of a Utopian beach untouched by tourists – but there is trouble in paradise. What unfolds is an intoxicating social commentary which pinpoints the all-consuming escapism that travel can provide.
Fancy visiting the spot where The Beach was filmed? Head to Phuket Karon Beach, South Thailand and take a boat trip out to Phi Phi Island to rediscover the stunning hidden cove of Maya Bay.
5. Wild Coast – John Gimlette
Finally, a slice of South America: this is a witty and well-informed memoir about what crawls out of the Guyana jungle and onto Gimlette’s path. Like many intrepid explorers, he is in search of an uncomfortable truth – in this instance, his own family history and the secrets of a lost ancestor’s fate. Taking us through the horrors of colonial history and some earth-shattering revelations, this 2011 novel is entertaining, intensely felt and a real eye opener.
What are your favourite travel reads? Tell us about them in the comments box below, or drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org