Cover of Around the World in 80 Days

Six travel books to read during lockdown

I’m sure I speak for a lot of people when I say that now more than ever I’m finding myself wanting to escape from the everyday world.

As a journalist I’ve always kept up with the news and regularly spend hours reading stories and opinion pieces from around the world. But right now, it all feels too much. I cannot deal with the heartbreaking stories of loss. I cannot cope with the anger I feel towards incompetent and immoral politicians. I cannot help but feel totally inadequate as I watch the daily madness unfolding.

In short: stop the world, I want to get off.

As always, books have provided the escapism I need. At the beginning of the year I made a conscious decision to read more and started switching my phone off an hour before bed in order to turn pages rather than scroll. The difference it has made to the amount I read is huge.

And now, more than ever, I’m appreciating those moments of calm and escapism books provide.

I usually find myself diving into fictional prose. However, recently my go-to books to read during lockdown have been more about travel and nature. I think this is, in part, to stem the loss I’m feeling at not being able to move around freely.

What I miss…

While we’re trying to make the most of our time together during lockdown, especially ahead of our new arrival, I must admit that I miss travelling hugely.

And, for me, it’s not just the physical feeling of getting on a plane and arriving in a different place. I miss so many of the other aspects that make up a trip.

I miss wide open spaces. We live close to the centre of town, so our daily walks are confined to the neighbourhood around us. As lockdown continues I find myself longing for the countryside. I miss marching up hills and clambering over stiles. I miss chasing my little adventurer across the beach and paddling in the sea.

I miss interactions with strangers, those tiny fleeting conversations that you remember for years to come.

I miss eating out in restaurants, trying local foods and asking for recommendations from the waiter.

The list goes on…

Books to read during lockdown

However, seeing as much of that unfortunately won’t be happening any time soon, I’ve turned to books to whisk me away to those far flung places. 

I’ve even rebooted the #travelbookclub so that I have somewhere to discuss my daydreams with other travel enthusiasts.

If you’re feeling the same and you want to take a minute to sit and dream, here are some of my top travel books to read during lockdown:

Around the World in 80 Trains – Monisha Rajesh

If you’re yearning for an epic adventure, they don’t come much more epic than this. As the title suggests, the book follows Monisha and her fiancé Jem as they travel from their home city of London through Europe and on to Russia, Mongolia, North Korea, Canada, America, Kazakhstan and beyond.

Along the way she portrays the people she meets, the landscapes they travel through and, of course, the train journeys.

It’s also important to note that this is a rare travel book written by a woman of colour. Therefore her experiences and perceptions provide a different insight to those of a white person making the same journey. 

As a white woman, who obviously travels with a lot of privilege, Rajesh’s comments on the casual racism she encountered were really eye-opening. This came in both remarks made by fellow passengers, as well as locals in some of the countries they visited. It’s important that those of us who travel with privilege recognise and acknowledge this.

Like many people out there, I love a train journey and Around the World in 80 Trains had me reminiscing about the hundreds I’ve taken over the years. From the spectacularly easy and proficient train journeys in Japan, to a dreaded 36 hour ordeal in China. 

It even managed to make me look back fondly on my commuting days!

(You can read my full review of Around The World in 80 Trains here.)

Cover of Around the World in 80 Days
Around the World in 80 Days has been the perfect escape

Revolutionary Ride – Lois Pryce

One of the things I love most about travelling is going to places I have very few preconceived ideas about. I love discovering countries for myself.

Meeting the people and discovering what it is that makes it so special. One of my favourite countries I’ve ever travelled in is Myanmar and one of the reasons was because I had so few expectations about what it would be like.

So I think this is why I enjoyed Revoluntionary Ride so much. 

Lois’ inquisitive nature and brilliant observation instantly allows you to experience the warmth and hospitality of the Iranian people, who she meets as she travels around the country on her motorbike.

What I particularly loved about this book is that Lois herself is constantly trying to get her head around the many contradictions in day-to-day life in Iran. The fact that there are so many sanctions, but people still manage to get the things they need or want. The fact that women have far fewer rights then men, but are still highly intelligent, fashionable and, surprisingly, seemingly unbitter about their lot.

It is a truly eye-opening read.

(You can read my full review of Revolutionary Ride here.)

The Pants of Perspective – Anna McNuff

I wasn’t sure whether a book which chronicles Anna’s account of running 3,000km through the wilds of New Zealand would appeal to me, as a life of daily runs seems very removed from my reality at the moment.

However, what I enjoyed from the get-go of this book was Anna’s honesty. At the start of it I was surprised at how unprepared she seemed for the challenge. But I appreciated her openness and her determination to persevere.

Anna’s sense of humour and ability to keep going, no matter what, are what makes this such a likeable book.

Set against the the beautiful backdrop of New Zealand, this impressive challenge may have you reaching for your running shoes!

(You can read my full review of The Pants of Perspective here.)

The White Masai and Africa, My Passion – Corinne Hofmann

The true story of Corinne Hofmann who gave up her life in Switzerland to marry a Masai warrior in Kenya in the 1980s is truly remarkable. I think nowadays we’re often used to reading about people setting off on crazy adventures. But The White Masai takes it to the next level.

Living in a community with very basic living conditions and no technology, Hofmann put her life on the line more than once in order to follow her heart.

Since leaving Kenya in 1990, Hofmann has written a number of books and Africa, My Passion is her fourth. The book, which expresses her love of the continent, is made up of three quite separate parts. The first is a 500 mile trek though the Namibian desert to discover the lives of the nomadic Himba people; the second is visiting the slums of Nairobi and the final part is about her return to the Masai village of Barsaloi to introduce her daughter Napirai to her father for the first time since she was a baby.

I particularly found the final section of the book very moving. It considered a lot about different cultures and traditions and what it means to be a family.

(You can read my full review of Africa, My Passion here.)

The Outrun – Amy Liptrot 

This is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time and I recommend it to everyone! 

It follows Amy’s journey as she returns home to the island of Orkney after a ten year battle with addiction.

Focusing on the wildlife and nature of the island, The Outrun really shows the healing power of the natural world. The way that quiet, calm routines and cycles can ground us.

Above all, it shows the beauty of Orkney and how the place that we call home can sometimes save us from ourselves.

The Salt Path – Raynor Winn

I’ve just finished this beautiful, heartbreaking book and it had me wanting to throw all of my belongings into a backpack and head for the coast.

It follows the journey of Raynor and her husband Moth who, after losing everything they have and receiving devastating health news, set out to walk the South West Coast Path from Somerset to Dorset.

What I loved about this book was that while Raynor did spend time contemplating her life, both the past and the future, she was also forced by her circumstances to live in the moment. Homeless and living completely hand-to-mouth, the couple became focused on just putting one foot in front of the other. 

As someone who grew up on the coast, Raynor’s descriptions of the wild, unpredictable ways of the sea; balanced out by the calm, serene, life-enhancing moments, made me long to fill my lungs with fresh sea air.

What have you been reading lately? I’d love to hear about your recommendations of books to read during lockdown.

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