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Travel Books – Ideas for Presents

 

One of the many delights of Christmas is when someone gives you a gift that’s a little unexpected. In particular, I love it when you receive a book you’ve never read and it turns out to be a really brilliant one. Gifts like those are the best.

But it’s hard to buy presents for people who might have different tastes and interests to you.

So I thought I’d try to offer a few suggestions of books for any people you know who are interested in travel and adventure (to supplement my Compulsory Adventure Reading List).

I’ve avoided books that you’ll see in the front window of your local bookshop this December in favour of some lesser-known or old books. I love all these books and I reckon you can give them as gifts safe in the knowledge that they’ll be enjoyed and treasured. You can blame me if they don’t!

Feel free to add any other suggestions in the comments section below.

Paddling North – Audrey Sutherland

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  • What is it?

A 60-year old lady from Hawaii reflecting on her kayaking expeditions up the coast of Alaska. She’s hard-core, quirky, philosophical and enjoys cooking. Life lessons and travel tales abound.

  • Sample Quote

“Go simple, go solo, go now.”

  • Who to Buy it for

Paddlers, travellers, adventurers, adventurous Mums, hippies, those yearning for a simpler life.

The Ascent of Rum Doodle – W.E. Bowman

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  • What is it?

A farcical fiction book gently mocking all the great mountaineering expeditions, in this case an attempt to climb the fearsome Rum Doodle (elev 40,000.5 feet). It’s very funny.

  • Sample Quote

Hmmm…. Trying to quote in order to prove “funniness” is a bad idea. So please just trust me that it’s funny!

  • Who to Buy it for

Climbers, people who have read a million books about climbing (including, but not limited to “that one about the Everest disaster” and “that one where he cuts the rope”).

Soviet Bus Stops – Chris Herwig

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  • What is it?

A hardback photography book showcasing the weird, wacky, beautiful bus stops of the old Soviet Union. It’s more than architecture or photography though, it’s a beautiful travel book and a tale of so many countries and cultures.

  • Sample Quote

You need pictures, not words for a photography book. Here’s some.

  • Who to Buy it for

Travellers, photographers, artists, architects.

Independent People – Halldór Laxness

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  • What is it?

Whenever I visit a new country I try to read an iconic book from that culture and language. Laxness won the Nobel Prize in Literature, and I can understand why. It’s a beautiful, harsh novel of struggle, ambition, pride and stubbornness. Think Grapes of Wrath set in Iceland…

  • Sample Quote

“They were his mother’s brothers, who had sailed away to far-off countries and found everything they wanted, long before he was born.”

  • Who to Buy it for

Lovers of literature and novels, Iceland-o-philes, Steinbeck fans.

Feet in the Clouds – Richard Askwith

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  • What is it?

A tubby London-soft journalist becomes obsessed with the culture of fell running and the brilliant Bob Graham Round.

  • Sample Quote

The Disclaimer at the start of the book reads, ” WARNING: The activities described in this book are dangerous and may result in injury or death. Don’t try them. Go to a gym instead, or stay at home and watch television.

  • Who to Buy it for

Runners, Dads, fat people who need to start running, mid-life crisis people, Londoners.

Lonesome Traveler – Jack Kerouac

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  • What is it?

A young man roaming the open road.

  • Sample Quote

“And since I’m well and on the bum again and ain’t got nothin’ else to do, but roam, long-faced, the real America, with my unreal heart, here I am eager and ready to be a big busted nose scullion or a dishwasher on the old scoff scow s’long as I can buy my next fancy shirt in a Hong Kong haberdashery or wave a polo mallet in some old Singapore bar or play the horses in Australian, it’s all the same to me as long as it can be exciting and goes around the world.”

  • Who to Buy it for

People who’ve read On the Road a million times, young people dreaming of adventure and travel, vagabonds, bums, lovers of fine writing, fans of travelling in America and Mexico.

As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning – Laurie Lee

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  • What is it?

My favourite ever travel book. A young man walks across Spain, busking as he goes, and writing ridiculously beautiful descriptions about his first great adventure. Cheap wine, dark-eyed girls, and sleeping under the stars. The life of a happy vagabond.

  • Sample Quote

“It was for this I had come: to look out on a world for which I had no words; to start at the beginning, speechless and without plan, in a place that still held no memories for me.”

  • Who to Buy it for

Travellers, Musicians, lovers of Spain, young people dreaming of adventure and travel, vagabonds, bums, poets lovers of fine writing.

Space Below My Feet – Gwen Moffat

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  • What is it?

A young woman’s discovery of the mountains, freedom and climbing in the years after the Second World War. It’s more about living a full life, crammed with wanderlust and optimism and enthusiasm than it is about climbing.

  • Sample Quote

“From there you look down at the route with the eyes of a lover, and across the gully you catch a movement. You hear a cry again and there is the kestrel slipping through the sun shafts in the amphitheatre.”

  • Who to Buy it for

Young women, mums, men who like climbing books, vagabonds, bums, dreamers.

Carrying the Fire – Michael Collins

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  • What is it?

Man’s journey to the moon is the greatest ever adventure. This book tells the tale of that great project, but does so without getting too bogged down in boring technical detail. The human characters shine through. It’s fast-paced, fun, and really makes me want to go to the moon!

  • Sample Quote

“I am also planning to leave a lot of things undone. Part of life’s mystery depends on future possibilities, and mystery is an elusive quality which evaporates when sampled frequently.”

  • Who to Buy it for

Dads, adventurers, tech-type people, ambitious folks, those who need to temper their ambition somewhat.

Adventure Cycle-Touring Handbook – Neil & Harriet Pike

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  • What is it?

If you’re planning a big bike trip, then you need this book. I nearly didn’t include it as it is a guidebook. But I reply to so many emails each year telling would-be cycle tourers to buy it that I thought it would make a good stocking filler.

  • Sample Quote

“Whenever someone asks my advice about a long-distance bike journey, I always direct them to the ACTH” – Alastair Humphreys. 😉

  • Who to Buy it for

People planning or dreaming about big bike journeys.

Staying Alive – Neil Astley

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  • What is it?

A compendium of old and new poetry. I included it because it’s got some unusual stuff in here that will be new to most poetry fans. The gaffa-tape on the spine of my copy is testament to it being well-thumbed on many long journeys.

  • Sample Quote

“And the days are not full enough
And the nights are not full enough
And life slips by like a field mouse
Not shaking the grass.” – Ezra Pound

  • Who to Buy it for

Poetry fans.

Let My People Go Surfing – Yvon Chouinard

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  • What is it?

Business thoughts from the founder of Patagonia. Lots of advice for self-employed folks or entrepreneurs, as well as sound common sense thoughts on how to live a good life.

  • Sample Quote

“I reach about an 80 per cent proficiency level. To go beyond that requires an obsession and degree of specialization that doesn’t appeal to me. Once I reach that 80 per cent level I like to go off and do something totally different.”

  • Who to Buy it for

Students thinking about what to do in life. Anyone running a business or dreaming of being an entrepreneur.

The Worst Journey in the World – Apsley Cherry-Garrard

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  • What is it?

The narrative from Captain Scott’s final expedition. Often cited as “the greatest ever travel book”. A thoughtful, well-written, philosophical account of a bloody epic project.

  • Sample Quote

“And I tell you, if you have the desire for knowledge and the power to give it physical expression, go out and explore.
If you are a brave man you will do nothing: if you are fearful you may do much, for none but cowards have need to prove their bravery. Some will tell you that you are mad, and nearly all will say, “What is the use?” for we are a nation of shopkeepers, and no shopkeeper will look at research which does not promise him a financial return within a year.
And so you will sledge nearly alone, but those with whom you sledge will not be shopkeepers: that is worth a good deal. If you march your Winter Journeys you will have your reward, so long as all you want is a penguin’s egg.”

  • Who to Buy it for

Adventurers, travellers, lovers of travel literature (though maybe check if they’ve read it first as it is quite a classic).

Waterlog – Roger Deakin

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  • What is it?

A lyrical tale of a year spent wild swimming round the rivers, lakes, lochs, ponds, and seas of Britain.

  • Sample Quote

“Most of us live in a world where more and more places and things are signposted, labelled and officially ‘interpreted’. ? turning the reality of things into virtual reality. It is the reason why walking, cycling and swimming will always be subversive activities. They allow us to regain a sense of what is old and wild in these islands by getting off the beaten track and breaking free of the official versions of things.”

  • Who to Buy it for

Lovers of nature, hiking, the outdoors, wild swimming.

Travels with Charley – John Steinbeck

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  • What is it?

One man and his dog load up their campervan and set out to explore their country – America. The genius of Steinbeck overlaps the world of travel writing.

  • Sample Quote

“I have always lived violently, drunk hugely, eaten too much or not at all, slept around the clock or missed two nights of sleeping, worked too hard and too long in glory, or slobbed for a time in utter laziness. I’ve lifted, pulled, chopped, climbed, made love with joy and taken my hangovers as a consequence, not as a punishment.”

  • Who to Buy it for

Travellers, fans of American culture and literature.

The Kon-Tiki Expedition – Thor Heyerdahl

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  • What is it?

A rag-tag bunch of young men set out to try to cross the Pacific Ocean on a homemade raft. When they get a bit bored they pull sharks from the water by their tails…

  • Sample Quote

Telegram from Heyerdahl to his friend, Torstein: “Am going to cross Pacific on a wooden raft to support a theory that the South Sea islands were peopled from Peru. Will you come? I guarantee nothing but a free trip to Peru and the South Sea islands and back, but you will find good use for your technical abilities on the voyage. Reply at once.’

Next day the following telegram arrived from Torstein: “COMING. TORSTEIN.”

  • Who to Buy it for

Sailors, travellers, adventurers, hippies, young people wondering what might be possible.

Hopefully that has sorted your Christmas shopping out for you!

If not, I’ve listed lots of other essential books to read here.

And, finally, if you’re still reading, I hope you don’t mind me suggesting these four books as options that merit considering.

Microadventures

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  • What is it?

If you are too busy, too stressed, too broke, too tired or too unfit for an adventure, then you definitely would benefit from a microadventure. Climb a hill, jump in a river, sleep under the stars.

  • Who to Buy it for

Hikers, bikers, campers, families, students, bored city folk who need a kick up the backside.

The Boy Who Biked the World

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  • What is it?

The story of my own 4-year journey round the world by bike, told through the eyes of Tom, a boy who somehow gets permission from his Mum and Dad to cycle round the world all by himself!

  • Who to Buy it for

Children between the ages of 5 and 11 who like cycling, adventure or learning about the world.

There Are Other Rivers

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  • What is it?

It’s sort of the story of my 600-mile walk across southern India. But mostly it’s a book about why people travel.

  • Who to Buy it for

Travellers, hippies, people dreaming of adventure, restless folk searching for something in life.

Moods of Future Joys

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  • What is it?

My first book. The story of me deciding to set off round the world and cycling to South Africa. It was originally self-published and it’s noticeable that there was no editing team involved in the book. But at least that means that it is true, raw, real, and me.

  • Who to Buy it for

Travellers, cyclists, those dreaming of big bike trips, young people trying to figure out their direction in life.

Read Comments

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Comments

  1. I’m led here recovering from my (very painful) middle aged hernia repair, thinking “I want an adventure”……while I still can!!!
    I plan on doing some reading…….allow me to dream

    Reply
  2. Great books Alastair! There’s a few in there to add to my collection. I shall put them on my Christmas wish list.

    Reply
  3. I particularly enjoyed “The Sheltering Desert” by Henno Martin. It is the true story of 2 german geologists who escaped into the wilds of Namibia on the eve of world war 2, to avoid being conscripted or interned. I catalogues their struggle to survive. I don’t think it is very well known outside Namibia.

    Reply
  4. Abode of the Gods by Kev Reynolds is a wonderful book – and all the profits are going to the Nepal Earthquake Appeal.

    Reply
  5. Great list! I know that this is a list of books that I should be buying for others, but I really want to get them all for myself! One book that wasn’t listed is a favorite of mine. It’s an obscure old adventure book called Queequeg’s Odyssey. Around the World in a Trimaran. Have you read it Alastair? If not, let me know and I’ll see if I can send you a copy. It’s the story of a rural farm kid in Illinois (roughly where I live) that sets out to sail around the world in a homemade boat. Very inspirational.

    Reply
  6. I love this list.

    Sorry for an off-topic post – any idea who I need to contact if I’ve bought books from your shop but not received them yet? Struggling to find this info on the site. Thanks!

    Reply
    • You need to contact my bloody shoddy sales department manager…
      (Alas, that is me!) I’ll get this sorted for you immediately.

      Reply
  7. Ah, “…Rum Doodle”. First encountered ten years ago, when a friend shoved it in my face and yelled “Read this or throw your sense of humour away. Your choice.” He was right, and so’s Bill Bryson – it’s one of the funniest books on the planet, and one of the cleverest, because of that deliciously clueless unreliable narrator…aaaaaand now I have to read it again, don’t I? Yep. I do.

    Reply
  8. Definitely should read Brave or Stupid … Great inspiring sailing adventure that makes you dream and a fun interesting story to read

    Reply
  9. John Orton Posted

    I have my Dad’s old 1950 copy of The Kon Tiki expedition. The quote from Torstein Raabi is perhaps my all-time favourite quote. Glad you picked that one. I suppose that I’d better read it again now.

    Reply
  10. The two books I will be gifting are: (1) There are other rivers and (2) Microadventures by a lesser adventurer and writer 🙂

    Reply

 
 

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