A List of Travel Books That Are Never On Anyone’s List

List of Travel Books

*This is a guest post from a reader of Wandering Earl, a writer, fellow traveler and friend.

Hi Folks.

My name is Gordon Hopkins. I’m a writer for a small town newspaper in rural Nebraska, The Fairbury Journal-News.

A few years ago, I took one of Earl’s tours to India (I’m in the above photo!). It was my first ever journey to Asia and I think one of Earl’s earliest tours as well, so we were both finding our feet a bit.

Naturally, I wrote about the trip for the paper and the story has now found a second life in a new anthology called Beyond Our Borders: Unexpected Travel Writing, edited by myself.

Earl was nice enough to write a foreword to the book and even nicer to let me write a guest post on his blog. However, I promised him this wouldn’t be a commercial for my book. So I need to find something to write about that you folks might actually be interested in reading.

I have a great love for travel writing, as I suspect do you, otherwise you wouldn’t be here. So how about a list of travel books, a list of my favorite travel books? Travel book lists can be found all over the internet of course. The internet loves lists, after all. There is even a term for it: listicle (which sounds like something you see a doctor to get lanced).

Perusing these lists, you will certainly see a lot of the same titles over and over again. You will likely see some books you’ve never read or never heard of. However, there are some books you will never, ever see, despite containing some truly great travel writing.

So here is my list of the top five travel books never on anyone’s list of travel books.

1: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

“The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call “out there.” Some seventy miles east of the Colorado border, the countryside, with its hard blue skies and desert-clear air, has an atmosphere that is rather more Far West than Middle West. The local accent is barbed with a prairie twang, a ranch-hand nasalness, and the men, many of them, wear narrow frontier trousers, Stetsons, and high-heeled boots with pointed toes. The land is flat, and the views are awesomely extensive; horses, herds of cattle, a white cluster of grain elevators rising as gracefully as Greek temples are visible long before a traveler reaches them.”

Creative Writing 101 should always begin with this opening paragraph of Capote’s “non-fiction novel.” “This is a true crime book, not travel book,” you say? Perhaps, but to Capote, who was raised in the South before becoming the doyen of New York literati, Kansas was every bit as alien as Mars, and he wrote about it as such, observing the “natives” much as he might a primitive tribe on some remote island.

There is more than Capote’s view of the plains of the Midwest that fascinates the reader, however. As Dick Hickock and Perry Smith, the brutal killers of the Clutter family, hit the road, trying to evade capture, the book becomes a sort of homicidal variation of On the Road, with Hickok and Smith as evil twins of Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady.

2: The Mole People by Jennifer Toth

Published in 1993, this book is, in a sense, a pretty standard travelogue. The writer took trips to an exotic locale not many have visited, interviewed the locals, learned the customs, and generally tried to give the reader an impression of what life is like in this place that most will never see.

The reason nobody thinks of this book as a travel book is because this “exotic locale” is the grim, underground tunnels of New York City, and the natives are mostly the homeless, the misfits, the outsiders of “polite society.”

More recently, a fellow named Matthew O’Brien wrote a similar book called Beneath the Neon, about those living in the tunnels under Las Vegas. Perhaps this is the start of a new genre.

3: The Curse of Lono by Dr. Hunter S. Thompson

Fairly or not, many fans of the late father of Gonzo journalism were disappointed with the good doctor’s account of the Honolulu Marathon. What they wanted was Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in Hawaii. What they got was somewhat different.

Oh, there is still plenty of alcohol and drug fueled lunacy. The book opens on a plane and a passenger exits the lavatory with a blue arm, having apparently dropped his stash down the toilet and then reached in to retrieve it.

However, Thompson’s view of the islands proved to be somewhat more thoughtful and introspective on occasion. The big difference between Fear and Loathing and this book is that Thompson despised Las Vegas and everything it stands for, whereas he clearly had respect and, in his own outrageous way, even love for the Hawaiian life.

It should also be noted that editing the book was something of an ordeal. It is liberally peppered with passages from Richard Hough’s The Last Voyage of Captain James Cook, which is in the public domain and clearly added to pad the book’s length.

4: Escape from Kathmandu by Kim Stanley Robinson

Why is a science fiction book on this list? It is true that many science fiction stories tell of explorers and undiscovered lands, but those places are usually made up.

This novel is actually made up of four novellas, three of which were published in Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine in the 1980’s. That is what those in the publishing game call a “fix-up.”

These stories are about a pair of American expats in Nepal, George Ferguson, a mountaineer and tour guide; and George Fredericks, apprentice to a Tibetan monk. Together they encounter a yeti, Shangri-la and the whole mythological milieu of that part of the world. But they also have to deal with the realities of beggars in the streets and bureaucrats in the offices and villagers scrambling for a living and demanding tourists and bugs and mud and rain and all the things one has to deal with when traveling in a foreign country. Despite the fantastic elements, it gives a surprisingly realistic look at Nepal.

Plus, the book is funny as hell.

5: Love, Poverty and War: Journeys and Essays by Christopher Hitchens

Hitchens is best known today as one of the founding fathers of “New Atheism,”  but he was first and foremost one of the best journalists ever to hold the job. His writing included not just politics but literary criticism, interviews and, yes, travel writing.

It is a pity he never published a book exclusively of travel writing, but of all the collections of his journalism, Love, Poverty and War probably comes closest.

Hitchens was British and, even though he lived much of his adult life in the U.S, his origins informed his views on Americana. He gives readers his impressions of traveling down Route 66 and Sunset Strip, as well as his thoughts on the cultural impacts of such American icons as Bob Dylan and William Faulkner.


This list easily could have gone on (and on and on and on). So you see, if you love reading about other worlds and other peoples, sometimes you don’t want to stick to the obvious routes. Not unlike actual travel. There is plenty of unexpected travel writing out there if you are open to it.

Gordon Hopkins
Writer; Editor of Beyond Our Borders: Unexpected Travel Writing

(I want to thank Gordon for inviting me to write the foreword for Beyond Our Borders. It was my first foreword and it was an honor to write it. And Gordon, I definitely look forward to traveling with you again somewhere, hopefully soon! – Earl)

Do you have any interesting travel books to recommend that are not normally on lists of recommended travel books?


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The Bookbinder of Cascais (The One Thing You Need To Do In Cascais)

Highlight of Cascais - Arte No Livro

If you ever find yourself in Cascais, Portugal, please walk past the beaches.

Head into the heart of the old town, but do not stop. Ignore the line at Santini’s ice cream shop, pay no attention to the imposing fortress and whatever you do, stay far away from the small market in front of the Marechal Carmona Park.

You’ll have time for this stuff later.

For now, keep your eyes straight ahead and walk away from all the activity and crowds. Follow your map towards those picturesque homes and traffic-less streets of the quiet neighborhood just west of the town center. Keep walking, even when you think you’ve gone too far. You’re on your way to the real highlight of Cascais.

Your destination is 310A Avenida Emidio Navarro.

——

You’ll know when you’ve arrived. While the sign on the sidewalk is small and simple, the massive, unmissable hanging plant, with its bold pink flowers, covering the entire front facade, makes this address stand out among the others.

And now, all that’s left to do is enter.

——

Welcome to Arte No Livro Bookbinding and Restoration.

Yes, bookbinders.

During our random stroll through the part of Cascais that apparently few other travelers stroll around, we found ourselves attracted by the word “livro” (book) on the sign. Had we been walking on the other side of the street we would have easily missed it.

Once inside, and expecting a bookshop, we stepped into a world not so much like a bookshop at all but very much unlike any other world we’ve wandered through before.

We knew nothing about the art of bookbinding. I probably never gave it more than a few seconds thought, if that, in my entire life. But that was all about to change.

——

We were greeted by Fernando, the 68 year old owner of Arte No Livro. His father, Vitor, started the business back in 1917, becoming one of the most well known bookbinders in all of Portugal. Once he passed away, Fernando took over.

We then met his daughter, Andreia, who gave up her career in 2010 to dedicate her life to the family tradition.

After hearing the initial story of the business, we had a couple of questions, and before we knew it, the answers were provided by a complete tour of the peaceful and intriguing two-room operation.

Andreia seemed more than happy to take a break from her work in order to show two foreigners around, and to explain every aspect of what they do, even though we clearly were not going to bring them any books to be re-bound.

Highlight of Cascais - Arte No Livro Bookbinders

Highlight of Cascais - Arte No Livro workshop

The variety of strange-looking and well worn machines and tools they use today to restore books are all original, most of them dating back 60 years. They all still function exactly as they should.

There are book parts scattered everywhere, along tables small and large, shreds of paper, book covers, spines…there are pieces of book parts galore as well.

The dying books dropped off by customers from around Portugal rest silently on the tables and shelves until it is their turn to be brought back to life. These are the books so precious to someone that those people are willing to spend good money to have the binding stripped, pages unsewn and covers removed, all so that they can be replaced with finer, more stunning and sturdier versions.

Fernando uses a narrow tool to carve off an old book cover while his daughter shows us the delicate sticks she uses to create beautiful engravings on the front covers of newly restored books.

In the far back corner a lone and comfortable lounge chair waits patiently for anyone looking for an ideal spot to read. A reading lamp next to it is more than ready to provide the light.

While the main room of Arte No Livro is dimly lit and the wooden furniture heavy and serious, the overall atmosphere remains light and cheery. It’s the atmosphere of a hidden place lost in time, yet containing so much joyous wisdom, limitless love and delightful devotion.

——

If you told me a bookbinding business would be the highlight of Cascais for us, you know how it goes. A chuckle perhaps? Or a wave of the hand in that ‘you’re silly!’ kind of way?

But it’s true. It was the highlight of Cascais. And it’s also why I love travel.

We remained inside for a mere half an hour, however, this is far more than you would think given the size and focus of the place.

Our final ten minutes were spent flipping through the books on the public bookshelves. There was an attractive pocket sized book about an island in Amsterdam, elaborately bound, certainly with a history that most likely nobody knows. A couple of books on those shelves we’d heard of, most we hadn’t, yet there we were touching and opening them all, as Andreia had instructed us to do.

It was impossible to not feel a child-like happiness while inside. It was also impossible to not feel a deep appreciation for the power and potential of all books and even more, for the dedicated, yet seldom-considered, craftsmen and craftswomen who keep these books alive.

To those involved in the respectable art of bookbinding, I offer a genuine salute to you.

Highlight of Cascais - inside Arte No Livro

As we finally turned to leave, we noticed what appeared to be a remarkably tiny book in a display case. It was the size of the finger nail on my pinky finger.

We asked Andreia if it was a real book.

She smiled widely, opened the display case and took out this magnificent thing, with its highly detailed cover and pages full of actual text inside. You’d need a very strong magnifying glass to read it but this naturally made the book even more impressive.

All we could do is shake our heads in wondrous disbelief.

With that we said our goodbyes and thank you’s, thank you’s which were as sincere as could be.

We came to Cascais for the beaches and the old town. And sure, we spent time at, and thoroughly enjoyed, both.

But if you ask me about this quaint fishing village outside of Lisbon and my eyes light up with a trace of some fondly remembered secret, you now know where that light comes from.

Luckily, that secret place is open to everyone. And it’s well worth discovering.

Are you ready? Do you have any ‘highlight of Cascais’ experiences to share from your own travels?

(Previous post on Wandering Earl: How to Get Massive Hotel Discounts)

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The Roadblocks Airbnb Must Tackle on Its Way to Possible IPO: Skift’s Latest Research

Skift Take: What is hurting Airbnb’s ability to see true success? Increasing regulation, the company’s potential impact on local housing markets and the traditional hotel sector, and the company’s increasing role in hospitality and accommodation distribution. In this report, we attack all three.

— Rebecca Stone

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How Travel Agent Trade Group Fought Its Way Back From Near-Extinction

American Society of Travel Advisors  / flickr.com

American Society of Travel Advisors CEO Zane Kerby addressed the association’s Advocacy Dinner August 22, 2018. Kerby has been instrumental in the association’s comeback. American Society of Travel Advisors / flickr.com

Skift Take: These travel advisors have a certain swagger about them these days. Their U.S. trade association, the newly named American Society of Travel Advisors, is now back among the living, and has the challenge of keeping things moving in the right direction.

— Dennis Schaal

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The Promise of Voice and 8 Other Hospitality Trends This Week

VRBO

A Maui vacation rental on VRBO is shown. Voice has tremendous potential to transform the vacation rental or private accommodation experience. VRBO

Skift Take: This week in hospitality, don’t miss a long read on the potential of voice technology for vacation rentals and private accommodations, plus stories on Hyatt’s Two Roads Hospitality deal and Wyndham’s La Quinta deal.

— Sarah Enelow-Snyder

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Millennium & Copthorne Blames Struggles on Rising Costs in Hospitality

Millennium and Copthorne Hotels

The Hard Days Night Hotel in Liverpool claims to be the world’s only Beatles inspired hotel. Parent company Millennium and Copthorne Hotels reported a fall in third quarter profits. Millennium and Copthorne Hotels

Skift Take: The abrupt departure of a CEO and falling profit set off plenty of alarm bells. Will Millennium & Copthorne be able to turn things around, or do its struggles represent the start of a wider industry slowdown?

— Patrick Whyte

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Don’t Accuse This Hotel Musical Director of Being the Muzak Guy

Aria Hotel Budapest

Kornél Magyar (left) sharing some of his musical insights with guests at the Aria Hotel in Budapest. Aria Hotel Budapest

Skift Take: It’s likely that the musical experience of most hotel employees doesn’t extend far beyond karaoke. Not the case for a certain Hungarian concierge, whose vast musical background strikes a special chord with guests.

— Laura Powell

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Hyatt’s High Hopes for Two Roads Revealed

Two Roads Hospitality

Hyatt intends to close its $480 million purchase of Two Roads Hospitality within the next two to three weeks. Pictured here is the Motif Seattle, which is part of Two Roads. Two Roads Hospitality

Skift Take: We all knew Hyatt was in the mood for a major acquisition. (NH Hotel Group or Starwood, anyone?) And now we have a much better idea of what its plans are for Two Roads, as well as other acquisitions down the line.

— Deanna Ting

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