I love love love travel. I love the details: stamps in my passport, picking the book I’m going to read on the plane, and planning my itinerary and abandoning it completely for spontaneous adventures. I love practising the art of travel: getting lost in a city, discovering its charms, learning more about myself as I explore, and thinking big thoughts as vast landscapes roll by.
I was catching up with a good friend recently and we started talking about the process of getting to know a city: walking its streets for hours to discover how different areas connect with one another, spending an extended period meeting locals and learning how they interact with their city, and in general exerting oneself to travel authentically and live in other places, without Othering those who live there in the process. We talked about how it’s the only way to really get to know a place.
And as we talked, I realised I really miss travelling. I don’t miss feeling stressed that ‘omigosh I’ve packed 101 ml of liquids in my bag’, or that it’s time for security to play ‘ask every question under the sun’, but minus the airport rigmarole, I miss its joys and challenges. Normally I try and get away fairly regularly, but it’s almost a year since I’ve seen a lovely safety video, and that feels unusual.
Last summer I spent a month travelling around Saudi Arabia (the most amazing, beautiful, extraordinary, unforgettable, soul nourishing, mind strengthening month ever) with a study group. One of my favourite memories from the trip is of one of our teachers speaking to us about learning to see. We just travelled to a new city, and he spoke about the importance of separating ourselves from our assumptions, focusing on being still and learning to observe beauty in the ordinary. About how bringing a critical eye to everything we experience as we travel can literally interfere with how much we are able to absorb. About the importance of quietening our internal chatter, creating space to hear others, and becoming open to the experiences that come. It was a class about the ethics of travel, of interacting and sharing space with others, and it was powerful.
Thinking back to it now, I’ve realised that when someone is able to travel in the way our teacher described, the result is what constitutes (good) travel literature. And second to travelling oneself is hearing about and learning from the experiences of others. Which is why travelogues are one of my favourite types of books, but truly good interesting sensitive reads can be hard to come across.
Earlier this week I came across this article in The Guardian about great travel reads recommended by a shop in London called “The Travel Bookshop” ( I love that word, bookshop) and I’m intrigued to check out their suggestions.
But in addition, terry* readers I’m curious, what books do you count among your favourites in the travel section?
I’ll start first. A book called “Honeymoon in Purdah” is one of my absolute favourites. It’s warm, so so funny, and written by a Canadian writer named Alison Wearing who travelled to Iran for 5 months. I don’t agree with everything she says, but I love her perspective and her openness and the way she expresses herself. It’s from 2001, but still a wonderful read, even though the new cover has one of those silly ‘all in black exotic/seductive can only see your eyes’ niqab photos that publishers love to slap on the front of books. (The old version just had geometric designs and was very pretty).
And anything by Paul Theroux is usually terrific.
Your turn. Looking forward to a list of wonderful reads to check out in the weeks and months ahead!