5 Inspirational Travel Memoirs to Satisfy Your Wanderlust

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Will Ferguson is the author of four novels, including his most recent novel The Finder. A three-time winner of the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour, he has been nominated for both a Commonwealth Prize and an International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.

In 1995 I sold my first travel piece, an article on visiting a Japanese Shinto retreat on Kinkazan Island, to the Daily Yomiuri. Which is to say, I have been working as a travel writer for twenty-five years. Although the industry has changed dramatically, the core of the experience has not: to go out into the world; to remove yourself from the familiar; to lose yourself in a larger context. To be a travel writer is to live in an observer-affected universe, to realize that we are all too far from home, incomplete and searching for something more. Travel writing has its locus in lonely places. When I wrote The Finder, I set out to explore this world through fiction, but it is all based on real people and real places. The following authors, through their travel memoirs, inspired me to keep going. So, if nothing else, they should at least share some of the blame. 

Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere
by Jan Morris

Jan Morris has attained an almost mythic status among travel writers, and deservedly so. Her collected essays on various islands, cities, and nations are a library all on their own. How to choose just one? It’s not easy, but for me TRIESTE AND THE MEANING OF NOWHERE encapsulates everything that is so compelling and propulsive in Morris’s writing: a perfect blend of the personal and historical, of the abstract and the here and now, and all of it in beautifully rendered prose. Be warned, though! Once you start reading Jan Morris, it’s hard to stop. 

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Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere
Jan Morris

One hundred years ago, Trieste was the chief seaport of the entire Austro-Hungarian empire, but today many people have no idea where it is. This fascinating Italian city on the Adriatic, bordering the former Yugoslavia, has always tantalized Jan Morris with its moodiness and melancholy. She has chosen it as the subject of this, her final work, because it was the first city she knew as an adult -- initially as a young soldier at the end of World War II, and later as an elderly woman. This is not only her last book, but in many ways her most complex as well, for Trieste has come to represent her own life with all its hopes, disillusionments, loves and memories.

Jan Morris evokes Trieste's modern history -- from the long period of wealth and stability under the Habsburgs, through the ambiguities of Fas-cism and the hardships of the Cold War. She has been going to Trieste for more than half a century and has come to see herself reflected in it: not just her interests and preoccupations -- cities, empires, ships and animals -- but her intimate convictions about such matters as patriotism, sex, civility and kindness. Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere is the culmination of a singular career.

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MENTIONED IN:

5 Inspirational Travel Memoirs to Satisfy Your Wanderlust

By Will Ferguson | September 24, 2020

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Video Night in Kathmandu
by Pico Iyer

The globe-trotting Iyer—arguably our first postmodern travel writer—is, strangely enough, a homebody, making a quiet life in Kyoto, even as he skirts the edges of other destinations. This early collectionsteeped in postcolonial irony, takes readers through the juggernaut of American pop culture as seen, and reinvented, in such locales as Bali, India, and Nepal. It’s aeclectic and fascinating concoction. (Bonus title: Iyer also wrote one of the best meditations on Graham Greene, THE MAN WITHIN MY HEAD.) 

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Video Night in Kathmandu
Pico Iyer

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The Lost Continent
by Bill Bryson

Where travel memoirs can veer toward the sentimental, Bryson remains unapologetically honest—and very, very funny. Like Jan Morris, he presents a wealth of various works to choose from. My personal favorite? His early account of retracing the sort of road trip his father had taken him on as a child, if only because underneath the many laughs and the richly layered humor lies a certain poignancy. I reread it after my own father—an aficionado of “big objects by the side of the highwaypassed away.  

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The Lost Continent
Bill Bryson

Following his father’s death, Bill Bryson takes to the highway with the goal of traversing the continental United States. Along the way, he reflects on his childhood as he explores small towns off the beaten path to achieve an authentic local experience in the heartland of America.

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Terra Incognita
by Sara Wheeler

There are some authors you admire, some you envy, and others you stand in awe of. Sara Wheeler is of that last category. That she could take such a vast and (ostensibly) empty canvas as the Antarctic and render it in such nuanced and richly peopled terms speaks to her talent—and to her eye for detail. I grew up in the northern backwoods of Canada; I hate being cold. Yet I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed an armchair exploration more than I did TERRA INCOGNITA. 

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Terra Incognita
Sara Wheeler

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MENTIONED IN:

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The Joys of Travel
by Thomas Swick

An entertaining overview. A venerable travel writer looks back on the full scope of what it means to travel, both as an idea and an ideal. Rich with anecdotes (and advice!), Swick breaks down the experiences and joys found in travel into seven key elements: anticipation, motion, a break from routine, novelty, discovery, emotional connections, and heightened appreciation of your own home. With due respect, though, he missed one: reading about it. 

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The Joys of Travel
Thomas Swick

"A perceptive, old-school travel writer whose prose brings celebrated and obscure destinations to life." —The New York Times

"The Joys of Travel is itself a joy." —Paul Theroux, New York Times bestselling author of Deep South

In The Joys of Travel: And Stories That Illuminate Them, veteran travel writer Thomas Swick reflects on what he has identified as “the seven joys of travel”: anticipation, movement, break from routine, novelty, discovery, emotional connection, and heightened appreciation of home. Coupled with the personal essays are seven true stories that illustrate these joys. Each details the author’s experience visiting destinations across the globe, including Munich, Bangkok, Sicily, Iowa, and Key West.

The Joys of Travel awakens readers to pleasures that, as travelers, they may be taking for granted, and shows non-travelers what they’ve been missing. It offers tips on how people can get the most out of their trips, including strategies for meeting locals, and examines how various modes of transportation affect a traveler’s experience. Throughout this enlightening memoir, Swick also supplies readers with the titles of travel classics that will not only prepare them for the places they visit, but make those places more meaningful once they arrive.

Before your next trip, be it a family vacation or a backpacking tour of Europe, read The Joys of Travel. It will inspire you to get the most out of your time away from home—and to get away more often.

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