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Books to read for escapism and armchair travel during the pandemic

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Understandably, people aren’t doing much research into travel at the moment! With so much uncertainty around lockdown rules and restrictions, border closures and many countries worldwide cancelling en masse all flights to/from the UK, the readership of this blog has changed over the past 9 months. While my most loved and most popular blog posts used to be travel itineraries, travel isn’t top of people’s to-do lists at the moment, and who knows when that will change. Instead, people have been reading a much higher number of books than usual! In 2020 I managed to read 23 books (high for me!), via a mix of physical books, audiobooks via Audible, and I was even given my first Kindle for Christmas. Books are a brilliant way to travel vicariously and remind yourself of the outside world, so here are my top go-to books for armchair travellers and those of us who are forced to become so due to the pandemic!

NB. Some of these are originally written in a foreign language, and where possible, I include the title in that language. If you speak the relevant language, then I highly recommend you read or (even better) listen to the original book for some additional language practice. These books will still however be equally enjoyable if read in English!

Spain:

France:

Italy:

Russia:

  • Dostoyevsky: ‘Crime & Punishment
  • Leo Tolstoy: ‘War and Peace
  • Frederick Forsyth: ‘Icon‘ (fiction about a Putin-like figure)
  • Kate Furnivall: ‘Jewel of St Petersburg‘ (chic-lit novel recounting the tale of an aristocratic family in St Petersburg before and during the Russian Revolution)

Skiing:

Mediterranean:

International:

  • Norman Lewis: ‘The World The World‘ (non-fiction, the experiences of a renowned travel writer)
  • Terry Hayes: ‘I Am Pilgrim
  • Many more Frederick Forsyth novels

Asia and Middle East:

  • Gregory David Roberts: ‘Shantaram‘ (remarkable true story about an Australian in Bombay)
  • Aravind Adiga: ‘The White Tiger‘ (about the rich-poor gap in Delhi)
  • Michael Ondaatje’s: ‘Anil’s Ghost‘ (set during the Civil War in Sri Lanka)
  • Arabian Nights‘ (best listened to as an all-cast audiobook)
  • Christy Lefteri: ‘The Beekeeper of Aleppo‘ (this is a particularly sad book FYI)

Africa:

Latin America:

Long journeys and extraordinary challenges:

  • Geordie Stewart: ‘In Search of Sisu‘ (about climbing the 7 Summits) and ‘A Rolling Stone‘ (part of his cycle around the world)
  • Rory Stewart: ‘The Places in Between‘ (about his solo walk across Afghanistan during winter)
  • Michael Palin: ‘Around the world in 80 days‘ (recommended in audio format for sound effects and the author’s superb narration) and Palin’s other travel journals
  • Bill Bryson: ‘Neither Here nor There‘ for a hilarious tour of Europe (or any of Bryson’s other travel journals)

Non-fiction about Geopolitics, Diplomacy and Tourism:

Travel guide books:

  • Patricia Schultz: ‘1000 Places to See Before You Die‘ (organised by country, and it’s fun to tick off the ones you’ve visited)
  • Lonely Planet: ‘The Travel Book‘ (each country in the world has a double-page spread with photos and key facts. A great exercise is to annotate the pages of countries you’ve visited with when / where / key memories)
  • Lonely Planet: ‘Epic Hikes / Epic Runs / Epic Cycles of the World‘ (coffee table books, for inspiration on new challenges to tackle)
  • Yann Arthus-Bertrand: ‘Earth from the Air: 365 Days‘ (a breath-taking coffee table book of aerial photography)

Have you already read and enjoyed any of these? Or which books would you add to this list for escapism?

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