Favorite Travel Books

Even when my life was at its most boring (or frustrating), I could mentally jet off to a glamorous world of adventure and travel just by burying my nose in a great book. I attribute my current lifestyle in large part to cool ideas and inspirations I discovered lurking in the pages of the hundreds of books I’ve devoured over the years.

None of the following are literary giants, but they’re a few of my favorite recent pleasures:

A Year In The Merde – by Stephen Clarke
I laughed, hooted, snorted, & chortled my way through the escapades of Paul West, a 30-something British dude who is hired by a French company for a year to assist in opening a chain of tea rooms in Paris. A French person would probably read this and say “so? what’s so funny?”, but the rest of us are mightily entertained. While being a great insight into the French culture, it’s also a bit racy so I might not recommend it as a birthday gift for Grandma Ethel or Pastor Bob.

Almost French: Love And A New Life In Paris – Sarah Turnbull
This is the proper, nice-girl version of Merde (good for Grandma Ethel). It’s also a true story, written by an Australian journalist who meets a Frenchman while on assignment, travels to Paris to visit him, and never leaves. As romantic as it sounds, the book gives you a very enlightening (and descriptive) scoop on what it’s like to break into Parisian society and French culture. (It ain’t easy, ladies). I admire this gal for her stick-to-it-iveness and many small victories – in her shoes, I might have flipped a few Frenchies the oiseau and left a lot earlier!

Honeymoon With My Brother – Franz Wisner
Written by a totally California dude who literally worked next door to me in Newport Beach, California, the author gets brutally dumped by his love a week before his wedding (ahem, he kind of deserved it) and salvages the defeat by dragging his brother along on his planned honeymoon. The adventure quickly evolves (devolves?) from a first-class honeymoon to a lifestyle of international vagabonding and exploration, including backpacks and youth hostels. The guy’s a hilarious writer, they’re both remarkably resourceful, and his brother continually amazed me with his third-world diplomacy skills. So Cal natives will especially appreciate the funny local references.

Spanish Lessons: Beginning A New Life In Spain – Derek Lambert
In real life, this author is a suspense writer; in this autobiographical novel he tells the true story of his family’s move to rural Spain. It is easy to lose yourself in the touching day-to-day scenes of learning to communicate with the locals, renovate an old house, deal with administrivia, and assimilate into village life. Lambert eloquently paints each picture and each character with care, so that I felt like I intimately knew him, his family, and everyone around them.

Seven Summits – by Frank Wells, Dick Bass, and Steve Ridgeway
Perhaps I have a bias towards this book because it was co-written by one of my clients (now deceased), but I was totally amazed by these three corporate-world heavy-hitters who set out to conquer the highest peak on each of the seven continents. You get a peek (no pun intended!) into every aspect of this adventure: the thrill of crafting the idea, the monumental training involved, the logistics of finding one’s way up big mountains in foreign countries, the support and fears of the families involved, and the agony and the ecstasy felt in each victory and defeat.

To The Heart Of The Nile – by Pat Shipman
Set in the 1800s, this is an awesome armchair adventure: English explorer rescues Hungarian girl from Ottoman harem, they soon fall in love and set out to central Africa to find the source of the Nile. As I sat ever-so-comfy in my business class seat on a flight over the Atlantic, I was regaled with tales of the horrible fever and disease, ruthless natives, disgusting bugs, scary animals, and other miseries they encountered on their multi-year journey – yet they persevered with astonishing optimism and fortitude. I am totally NOT that kind of “˜outdoor’ girl, but it’s all really fun to read about.

THE UNDISPUTED, ALL-TIME BEST TRAVEL BOOK EVER (according to me):

Richard Halliburton’s Complete Book of Marvels – by Richard Halliburton
There is simply no comparison. I want to be this guy! A trust fund baby with tons of free time and an overblown sense of adventure, he does everything that we secretly would love to do. No corner of the world was left unexplored, and no experience was too wacky. He worked as an organ grinder (complete with monkey) at the Rock of Gibraltar, rode an elephant over the Alps (just like Hannibal), and disguised himself as an Arab and tried to sneak into Mecca. The book also has old black-and-white photos to add to the effect. I was deeply impacted by this book (obviously!) – inspired and educated – and I will read it to my daughter as soon as she’s old enough!

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