Food for the wandering mind
March 20, 2006 6:54 AM   Subscribe

In a while I will be going on a round the world trip to do a bit of soul searching (and to have a lot of fun of course). I'm looking for books on the subject of travel, not the pragmatically oriented genre, but philosophically and spiritually inclined ones. I'd like to read true stories about open-minded people backpacking around the globe and learning something about themselves and the world. I'd like to taste their joys as well as their disappointments, their insights as well as their confusion experienced during long-term world-wide travel.

I'd appreciate it if you could include a one-line summary with your recommendations, for example:
The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton: lighthearted, philosophically-inclined book about the peculiarities of travel.
Be Here Now by Ram Dass: successful Harvard psychologist ends up in India after experimenting with acid.
posted by koenie to Travel & Transportation (20 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
anything pico iyer.
posted by kooop at 7:02 AM on March 20, 2006

The classic Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. That may not necessarily fit your criteria completely but it is a very excellent read. Also there is the Micael Crichton's Travels. Again, much of the book revolves around different aspects of his bizarre life but there may be some things of interest there. For the record, he does come across as an ass through most of the book.
posted by JJ86 at 7:09 AM on March 20, 2006

Kipling. Seriously, almost anything the man ever wrote. I know he's unfashionable these days, being an imperialist pig and all, but his stories are full of humanity and justice and wonderful life-changing adventures, and damn but the man knew how to put words together.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:20 AM on March 20, 2006

Hokkaido Highway Blues is pretty good. About a white Canadian guy who hitchhikes from the bottom to the top of Japan, following the spring cherry blossom front. A reoccuring theme tends to be how friendly the locals are to him but how they always consider him an outsider no matter how involved he gets in the culture. And despite their friendliness, xenophobia and ignorance follows him wherever he goes.
posted by Jase_B at 7:24 AM on March 20, 2006

Peter Matthiessen's "The Snow Leopard". Part nature writing, part travel writing, part Buddhist writing.

Absolutely brilliant stuff.
posted by willmize at 7:29 AM on March 20, 2006

I adore Jupiter's Travels. It's another motorcycle journey in the company of someone who can really lay claim to wisdom as a result. Gentle, funny and always well-observed. The only book in the world that will make you want to visit the Sudan.

I wish I liked Bill Bryson more, but I struggle. A good alternative is the more thoughtful Jonathan Raban. His book on Arabia - through the looking glass, is a classic.
posted by grahamwell at 7:29 AM on March 20, 2006

Rolf Pott's Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel is a must read. He's also got a pretty good blog.
posted by nitsuj at 7:34 AM on March 20, 2006

Oh, and for a one-line summary: " outlook on life that emphasizes creativity, discovery, and the growth of the spirit."
posted by nitsuj at 7:35 AM on March 20, 2006

You might also have a look at anything by Jan Morris. She is probably the most talented travel writer of our time. Particularly recommended is the idiosyncratic The Matter of Wales, hardly a travel book at all, more an extended love-poem to a state of mind. Wales is the part of Britain that keeps itself artfully concealed. Jan understands it as no-one else.
posted by grahamwell at 7:54 AM on March 20, 2006

The Spirit of Mediterranean Places, by Michel Butor. "A collection of essays covering Butor's travels in Cordova, Istanbul, Salonica, Delphi, Ferrara, and Egypt, conveying a deep sense of the places and the people who have inhabited them."
posted by Dean King at 8:07 AM on March 20, 2006

A Walk Across America is a wonderful story of one man's self-discovery as it corresponds to his (quite literally walking across the country) discovering the country he grew up in. Not World travel, but a huge journey nonetheless. Definitely fills the bill for Joys and Disappointments too.
posted by iurodivii at 8:12 AM on March 20, 2006

Kite Strings of the Southern Cross by Laurie Gough.
posted by mikepop at 8:24 AM on March 20, 2006

Tim Cahill's stuff is excellent.
posted by tkolar at 9:43 AM on March 20, 2006

I highly recommend any of Paul Theroux's travelogues.
posted by lazywhinerkid at 11:01 AM on March 20, 2006

Soft City by Jonathan Raban: a quiet meditation on 1970s London. As much about the architecture and labrynth of the city as it is a personal autobiography. (Actually much by Raban is recommended: Passage to Juneau, Old Glory: A Voyage Down the Mississippi, etc.)

Catfish and Mandala by Andrew X. Pham - his family escaped the Vietnam war when he was 10 in a boat; at age 30, he returns to bike the length of the country. Spurred by his sister's transformation and death, he is biking towards a knowledge of himself and his history, as well as trying to escape the pain he already knows too well. Read before going to Vietnam.
posted by fionab at 11:11 AM on March 20, 2006

Dang! I forgot to recommend Bruce Chatwin's "The Songlines". Would definitely include that with Matthiesens's above.
posted by willmize at 12:15 PM on March 20, 2006

"Eat, Pray, Love : One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia" by Elizabeth Gilbert might fit your bill. I haven't read it, but I liked her earlier novel "Stern Men".
posted by of strange foe at 12:26 PM on March 20, 2006

Definitely Ernesto "Che" Guevara's "The Motorcycle Diaries."
posted by thebabelfish at 12:54 PM on March 20, 2006

Take Me With You by Brad Newsham.
posted by vagabond at 5:21 PM on March 20, 2006

Tom Fremantle's books about his family history-inspired travels; in Johnny Ginger's Last Ride he cycles from Swanbourne, England to Swanbourne, Australia (apart from the wet bits, obviously) and in Moonshine Mule he walks from Mexico to New York with a mule.
posted by mtonks at 12:52 AM on March 21, 2006

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