Oh the glory of travel books

October 14, 2010

I am a person who absolutely loves to travel.  Whether it be regional travel to a new city or worldwide travel to a new country, I love experiencing a new place.  Ever since my first travel experience to the Black Hills with my family as a young child, I caught the bug.  I admittedly did not have much travel exposure growing up.  I grew up on a farm in southeastern Minnesota and the summers were often busy with fieldwork…very difficult to get away.  However we did go on a few family trips, usually to see aunts and uncles who lived in exotic locations like Bozeman, Montana or Spokane and Seattle Washington.

I did my first ‘real’ traveling (by real I mean leaving the comfortable boarders the the U.S.) when I was in college.  My first international travel experience was not Mexico or Canada, but halfway around the globe to Australia.  I was lucky enough to have been in the concert band for this trip.  I had never had such a long flight, nor been to a foreign country before and I LOVED IT!  I have longed to go back, but have not had the opportunity.

I have since been to many different countries (The United Kingdom, Ireland, Greece, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Bahamas, Mexico, Canada) and other various locations on the globe.  I can claim that I have been in 3 of the 4 quadraspheres (I just need to get to South America now!).

But this post is not really about the travel that I have experienced myself.  One of my favorite book genres is the travel memoir.  My favorite author being Bill Bryson.  I am currently re-reading his book “A Sunburned Country” about his travels in Australia.  I enjoy this book because I am reminded of all of the little differences and the interesting sites that I saw during my visit to that country.  I am also amazed at the things I did not know and should have known before going to that country (the dangerous tides, the multitude of organisms that could kill you, etc.).  I have learned now that I appreciate my travels more when I do a bit of research beforehand – I did not do this as a college student, I wish I had.  I think I would have gotten more out of my Australia trip had I done so.

Bryson has also written several books about travel within the US.  His book “A Walk in the Woods” has made me eager to attempt a long hike somewhere and to at least experience part of the Appalachian Trail.  What I enjoy most about his books is the humor he uses and the tone he sets.  He is certainly not what one might call a ‘travel snob.’  He approaches his travels as a typical person might – attempting to find the best pubs, chatting with locals, complaining about the traffic, etc.  I find it very easy to identify with him as a traveler.  He tries to find the sites to be seen and actually attempts to learn more about the location rather than just attempting a photo shoot  to prove he was there.  He enjoys the little differences in the places he visits and would probably not comment “well back in America its not like this” though he’s not past complaining about bad food – especially in the hotels that cater to tourists.  He also does his research and conveys this to the reader so that if one were to visit the same sites as he does, one will have more of an appreciation of the context.

Other books by Bryson to check out: The Lost Continent, I’m a Stranger Here Myself, Neither Here Nor There.  Trust me you will laugh out loud at times reading his books, and likely even more so if you have actually been to the locations he writes about.

I also enjoy other authors.  One that I read recently about his extensive travel in China was J. Maarten Troost’s “Lost on Planet China” an interesting look at one Westerner’s perspective on the diverse country of China.  I learned quite a lot about China from this book (at least Maartin’s perspective  of China).  I was quite surprised by many of the things I read that appears to be unique to the Chinese culture.   It made me wonder if I would ever want to attempt to visit this country or not. I must admit that traveling to China was certainly stretch my comfort level, but not beyond what I would be willing to do.

I see reading travel books as a great way to vicariously experience another place from a person who is a good story teller and a knowledgeable traveler.  I have sometimes wondered how I could have students read these books before May Term travels.  I think they would get more out of the travel by having read the books.  If anyone knows of a good travel memoir to any location, please let me know.  I am always looking for an inexpensive way to ‘get away!’