Travel has endured as a universal theme of literature for thousands of years, from the earliest epic poems to the trendiest current bestsellers. Good travel writing can stir the inner explorer in even the most content armchair dweller, and for this reason, has captured the attention of generations of readers seeking a glimpse into faraway lands. Here are a few great reads to help set your students off on exciting imaginary adventures, while picking up plenty of history and geography lessons in the meantime!
1. Valley of the Assassins by Freya Stark
British explorer and author Freya Stark (1893-1993), during her decades-long career, challenged the longstanding assumption that exploration and travel literature were strictly a man’s domain, and stands today as one of the greatest travel writers of all time. Published in 1934 and considered an instant classic, Valley of the Assassins recounts Stark’s arduous visit to the rugged Luristan desert between Iraq and Iran, and her experience as the first Westerner to visit this isolated area and engage with the local people.
2. Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck
In 1960, bestselling author John Steinbeck drove all over the United States, accompanied only by his trusted poodle Charley and a desire to discover the true nature of modern America. It’s hard to say whether Steinbeck discovered some deeper truth about the United States, but his travelogue certainly proves that the best travel companions aren’t always human!
3. The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux
A pure treat for railway enthusiasts and amateurs alike, Paul Theroux’s sweeping memoir of his 1973 train journey from England to Japan (and all the way back!) includes jaunts on the Trans-Siberian Railway during the Soviet era, a stop in Vietnam during a tense stalemate before the end of the Vietnam War, and a whole cast of wonderfully strange and hugely entertaining strangers along the way.
4. Lion: A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierly
Raised in Australia by adopted parents, Saroo Brierly had always longed to reunite with his family in India, who he had not seen since his separation from them at the age of 5 during a chaotic train ride to Burhanpur. Lion, now an Oscar-nominated film, details Brierly’s exhaustive search to rediscover his long-lost home, and his unlikely, profoundly moving reunion with his mother and sister after 25 years.
5. The Motorcycle Diaries: Notes on a Latin American Journey by Che Guevara
Years before his transformation into the famous, controversial communist guerilla, Ernesto “Che” Guevara and a friend took a year off from their medical studies to explore South America by motorcycle. This 8,000-mile journey took the men from northern Colombia to Southern Chile, exposing them to the plight of common people across Latin America and forcing them to consider deep questions about the nature of society and the possibility of a more just world.
6. The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner
Described by the author as a “philosophical humorous travel memoir,” The Geography of Bliss begins with Eric Weiner, a former NPR correspondent, setting off on a quest to find “the ingredients of a good life.” During his travels in countries as varied as Iceland and Bhutan, Weiner explores the happiest and unhappiest places on Earth, finding that the path to a contented life takes many forms.
What books inspire you to travel? Let us know in the comments section below!
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