By Damien Martin
There is a seemingly endless number of travelogues to choose from to inspire your journeys. Let’s be honest, it’s the best topic to write on. Travel transforms people, so it’s no wonder that it makes for such good stories. Plus, from time immemorial, tales of faraway lands have captivated the human imagination. Here a few we love to read on your next flight.
The Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain
Chronicling Twain’s trip around the Mediterranean in 1867 with a group of Americans aboard the chartered ship Quaker City, the book is cobbled together from newspaper columns Twain wrote about the journey. Twain contrasts the attitude of America, where everything is new and history is being written in real time with the focus on the past he encountered in Europe and the Holy Land. He also critiques tour guides, recognizing what makes a good one and what doesn’t, something we all can learn from. He does it all with the humorous insight only he possessed.
Travels with Myself and Another, Martha Gellhorn
Perhaps most well-known as the third wife of Ernest Hemingway, Gellhorn was a talented travel writer and war correspondent in her own right and has a journalism award named after her. She and Hemingway (the titular other) fell in love while covering the Spanish Civil War, and Gellhorn covered conflict from then to the U.S. invasion of Panama in 1989. This memoir highlights some of the not-so-great aspects of travel — the tediousness of getting from Point A to Point B, the havoc travel can wreak on the digestive tract — along with the awe: “I saw, drugged with sleep and shivering, the great African sky which I have been seeking — a riot of stars, velvet black, felt as an arch, and the air seeming to glint with starshine,” she recounts.
A Year in Provence, Peter Mayle
Mayle and his wife moved to Provence, and this book details the first year. For every beautiful meal washed down with the perfect wine pairing, there is a cold wind or a harsh lesson in the relatively lax work ethic of handymen. All in all, it’s a lighthearted fish-out-of-water account that conveys the lesson that life is better when you take it easy, even if your projects might never get completed. There are more important things than working your fingers to the bone to meet the constant deadlines of the modern workaday world.
West With the Night, Beryl Markham
Markham grew up in colonial Kenya (then British East Africa), where she began her flying career as a bush pilot and befriended Karen Blixen, author of Out of Africa. In 1936, she became the first woman to fly solo westward across the Atlantic, after several predecessors had died in the attempt. The westward transatlantic flight is harder because the wind is against you. When her fuel tank vents iced over, she crash-landed in Nova Scotia. West With the Night details these experiences in lively prose. A telltale anecdote about Markham’s rebellion against social norms, an ex-husband of hers tried to claim he wrote most of the book, despite evidence that Markham submitted a partial manuscript to a publisher before meeting him.
The Travels of Marco Polo, Rustichello da Pisa
If you have to be imprisoned, hearing some good stories to pass the time is as good as you can hope for. As cellmates go, Marco Polo might have been the best. While they were locked up together in Genoa, Polo shared tales of his travels with the author Rustichello, who wrote them down. While there is likely some embellishment, the book is a vivid account of Polo’s journeys through Asia, including service at the court of Kublai Khan. It went as viral as anything could in the days before the printing press, inspiring countless explorers.