Glen Mutel // Deputy Editor
The Great Shark Hunt, by Hunter S Thompson (1979)
“When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” So wrote the inimitable Dr Thompson, whose style gets under your skin like nothing else. This collection of excerpts and essays invariably finds Hunter S in the field, be it the deserts of Vegas or a remote South American island, making it a great accompaniment to your own excursions.
Best for: Intrepid escapades.
A Time of Gifts, by Patrick Leigh Fermor (1977)
Documenting the first third of Fermor’s epic trek from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople, this travelogue (written 40 years later) is a fascinating, poetic and highly literate look at 1930s Europe. It can be a bit dense in parts, but it’s well worth the effort.
Best for: Inspiration for a grand travel feat.
Diamonds are Forever, by Ian Fleming (1956)
Forget the girls, glamour and guns — for me the appeal of Fleming’s writing lies in the detail, and the way the reader is invited to share Bond’s passions and preferences. Diamonds are Forever is the best example of this, as we join Bond on a perilous journey across the US.
Best for: An American adventure.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by JK Rowling (2007)
I started this on the Eurostar, broke the back of it while wondering around Paris, and finished it during an all-night read-a-thon in a Venetian hostel. As such, I will forever associate it with travel. As close to un-put-downable is it’s possible for a book to get.
Best for: The solo traveller with time on their hands.
Whicker’s War, by Alan Whicker (2006)
A beautifully written memoir about the great broadcaster’s experiences in war-torn Italy as an officer in the Army Film and Photo Unit, this is Whicker at his poignant, poetic best. It’s well worth getting the audiobook if, like me, you’re fond of the great man’s dulcet tones.
Best for: Historical tours.
Stephanie Cavagnaro // Senior Editor
The Great Railway Bazaar: By Train Through Asia, by Paul Theroux (1975)
This slow-paced travelogue is a satisfying homage to rail travel, chronicling Theroux’s four-month trip across Europe and Asia. An evocative read that inspired many of my train journeys, it elevates the fleeting moments in travel: cursory conversations and landscapes glimpsed from a train window.
Best for: Slow travel.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith (1943)
Williamsburg wasn’t always beards and bikes. Explore the once-impoverished NYC neighbourhood through Francie, a second-generation Irish-American girl growing up in the early 20th-century. This weighty tome has been a favourite of mine since I was young — it’s an aspirational tale of hardship that captures the idealism of ‘The American Dream’.
Best for: Transformative trips.
Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere, by Jan Morris (2001)
I fell in love with Morris’ writing while living in Italy. She first visited this northern Italian city as a soldier in the Second World War (prior to gender reassignment surgery) and, on her return home, finds a place of visceral nowhereness. She spins a tangled history into a meditation on the relationship of geography and self.
Best for: Italophiles.
A Walk in the Woods, by Bill Bryson (1997)
In this wry autobiographical book, the humorous Bryson tackles the remote mountain wildernesses of the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trial. With his fickle friend, Stephen Katz, he faces savage weather, nagging pains and even more irritating trail walkers — a sobering and satirical read for anyone planning a trip on foot.
Best for: Hopeless adventurers.
Time Out Country Walks Near London (latest edition 2011)
All you need is this book and a sturdy pair of boots to discover scenic corners of South East England. I’ve ticked off nearly half of its 52 walks, which are all between seven and 15 miles long and graded for difficulty. They each feature meticulous directions and handy suggestions for well-earned pub lunches.
Best for: Thirsty ramblers.
Amelia Duggan // Assistant Editor
Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts (2003)
This is a semi-autobiographical love story with lashings of violence and intrigue, played out in Mumbai’s criminal underworld and the foothills of Afghanistan. It’s the quintessential tome to backpacking through India: the Aussie anti-hero, Lin, knows how to get beneath the skin of this colourful, complex culture.
Best for: Bus rides in the Kush.
Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2013)
Two young lovers leave military-ruled ’90s Lagos — Ifemelu for college in the US, Obinze to work illegally in the UK. They each struggle with issues of identity and race, in what culminates in a nuanced portrait of the modern immigrant experience. The chapters describing Lagos are my favourite: the city and culture appear as delicious and rich as the local mangos Ifemelu loves.
Best for: Romantic breaks. The moral: seize and treasure love!
The Age of Kali, by William Dalrymple (1998)
This book tackles religious and political unrest across the Indian subcontinent in a collection of investigative essays. The characters the writer meets and the local mythologies he recounts paint India as pure magic.
Best for: Falling in love with the sub-continent.
A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson (2003)
Modern travel literature’s curmudgeonly uncle, Brill Bryson, goes on a different sort of journey to his usual rambles: an exploration of the history of the universe as we know it, from supernovas to subatomic particles. Science has never been more engaging. I couldn’t get enough of history’s motley scientists and their various, improbable eureka moments.
Best for: Sparking debates and sharing facts on family holidays.
A Fraction of a Whole, by Steve Toltz (2008)
This is Marmite fiction: I’ve recommended it to friends who now swear it’s the finest thing ever written, while others have barely been able to get past page 50. It’s a sprawling, darkly absurd family saga set in Australia, Paris and Thailand, with outrageously quotable one-liners on every other page. I read it for the first time on coach rides across Bolivia and doubtless missed epic scenery out the window — for the right person, it’s a powerful read!
Best for: poetic-souls circling an existential crisis.
Connor McGovern // Editorial Assistant
Notes from a Small Island, by Bill Bryson (1995)
Homesick? Bryson’s witty and accurate observations on our people, places and way of life are the perfect antidote. The tales of his ‘victory tour’ around Britain in the ’90s never get old, and my dog-eared, battered copy is always a go-to read when I want something easy — and nostalgic — to pore over.
Best for: An amusing and easy read.
Apricots on the Nile, by Colette Rossant (1999)
Rossant’s tales of her time growing up in Cairo are as heartwarming as they are entertaining, and her poignant story behind the book could be straight from a Hollywood film. I love the recipes littered throughout the book and the mystique of a colonial Egypt
Best for: Travelling foodies seeking a dash of inspiration.
111 Places guidebooks
I rarely visit a new city without checking to see if one of these guides is available first. With their help, I’ve scouted out the best pistachio ice cream in Milan and taken a stroll around a secret park in Berlin. These guidebooks are a must for travellers looking to unearth any hidden gems.
Best for: Inspiration for your next city break.
South from Granada: Seven Years in an Andalusian Village, by Gerald Brenan (first published 1957)
An expat’s account of living in Spain, with a rustic, old-world twist. I first came across this after gallivanting around Southern Spain myself, and it’s remarkable how well you can connect with this 60-year-old book when you see, hear, and smell the places it recounts. Even now, the title whisks me away to orange groves and sun-baked hills, and Brenan’s tales of walks with the no-nonsense Virginia Woolf, are a highlight.
Best for: Wistful nostalgia and ideas for retirement.
The Languedoc Trilogy, by Kate Mosse (2005-2012)
This gripping historical trilogy (Labyrinth, Sepulchre and Citadel) relies just as much on its location in France’s rural Occitania region as it does its plot and characters. I love Mosse’s way with words when it comes to setting a scene — she can easily switch from medieval towns to picturesque riversides or bleak mountains, but not once does she lose sight of the unique history that gives this corner of France its allure.
Best for: Unadulterated novel-guzzling on the beach.
Jo Fletcher-Cross // Contributing Editor
Golden Hill, by Francis Spufford (2016)
An intriguing English stranger lands in New York in 1746. Packed with plot twists, this novel rattles along at a hugely enjoyable pace but what I loved most was the vivid picture it painted of a young New York. Tracing the protagonist’s journey through the small, gossipy town full of venerable Dutch families would be tremendous fun in the metropolis of today.
Best for: Finding depth in a New York break.
Quiet London, by Siobhan Wall (2010)
When you need an escape from the frantic pace of the capital, Quiet London is full of lovely recommendations for gardens to sit in or pretty walks by the river, with restful places to read a book, swim or eat. It has useful travel details and beautiful black-and-white photographs — I feel calmer just looking at it.
Best for: Burnt-out city dwellers.
Burial Rites, by Hannah Kent (2013)
A novel based around the true story of a woman condemned to death for murdering her lover in 1820s Iceland doesn’t sound much like it’ll inspire you to travel, but quite apart from the fascinating and wonderfully written story, the descriptions of the bleak but awe-inspiring Northern Icelandic landscape will make you want to drop everything and go there immediately.
Best for: Discovering an eerie side to Iceland.
1,000 Places to See Before You Die, by Patricia Schultz (2003)
It’s one of the naffest possible travel book concepts and yet… I find myself drawn back to it again and again, simply because of the satisfaction of ticking off another sight seen or event experienced. I tell myself that travel is not all about lists or winning some kind of race, but here I am, at over 400 ‘ticks’ and desperate for more.
Best for: Competitive travellers.
Playing The Moldovans at Tennis, by Tony Hawks (2000)
He may be famous for trundling round Ireland with a fridge, but I prefer this tale of Hawks’s crazy wager to beat the entire Moldovan football team at tennis. It’s a funny and oddly moving tale, which effectively conjures up the atmosphere of the Eastern Bloc in the 1990s, and kicked off my own fascination with the region.
Best for: Inspiring a ridiculous journey.
Published in the Jul/Aug 2017 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)