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Last Updated on 08/05/2021
There’s nothing quite like curling up with a good book and letting it transport you through its pages to another world. Books are powerful objects. They can send your imagination over great distances and reveal more about yourself than you could ever imagine. A good book can teach you about the world and how you can make it better.
I’m always an avid reader when I travel. I enjoy the quietness of lying on the beach with a novel in hand or getting lost between the pages of a memoir when dining out alone. It can give more depth and understanding to your travels, particularly if it happens to be set in the destination you’re visiting.
As a travel-lover, I believe it’s important to read books that build my social and cultural awareness of the world so that I can become a better and more responsible traveller. So, if like me, you want to get better at responsible travel, here are my top 10 responsible travel books to inspire your wanderlust:
Author: Tania James
What: Awarded Book of the Year by the Guardian in 2016, Tania James’ heartwrenching novel is a tale of the conflicts between humans and the natural world. Set deep in the heart of Kerala, India, the narrative switches between three perspectives to create an interwoven story of observers, hunters, mythical gods and current politics.
Emma is working on a wildlife documentary with her best friend. She soon uncovers the thin line between corruption and conservation. Manu, the son of a rice farmer loses his cousin to the wrath of the Gravedigger and enters the lucrative world of trophy hunting. A young elephant is brutally orphaned by poachers and it’s only a matter of time before he terrorises the countryside, earning himself the name Gravedigger after the humans he kills and tenderly covers with leaves.
Whether you’re planning to go on safari or get involved with the wildlife on your travels, this novel gives a compelling argument for the ethical treatment of nature and each other.
Published by Vintage Publishing, 2015. Buy here for £8.99.
Author: Alex Garland
What: You may already be acquainted with the cult film adaptation starring Leonardo DiCaprio but the book is definitely worth a read. Written by Alex Garland, The Beach leads you on a quest to find an earthly paradise that soon becomes paradise lost.
In search of utopia, Richard arrives in Bangkok and is given a map leading to an untouched island and a new way of life. There he finds a world more breathtaking than he could possibly have imagined but all is not what it seems.
Set against the backdrop of Thailand’s pristine islands, The Beach is a novel that teaches you to appreciate the power of nature and that utopia isn’t always worth searching for.
Published by Viking Press, 1996 (original). Buy Penguin Book’s 20th-anniversary edition here for £6.47.
Author: Paolo Coelho
What: A global phenomenon and read by over 62 million people worldwide, Paolo Coelho’s The Alchemist is said to be one of the top travel books to read of all time.
Set in Spain, Santiago, a young shepherd boy living in the hills of Andalucia, finds himself wanting more than his humble life. One day, he strikes up the courage to follow his dreams and sets off on an adventure to explore the buried treasure of Eygpt. The people he meets and the things he sees along the way change his life forever.
A parable about the importance of following one’s dreams, The Alchemist is a story of how responsible travel can impact the way we see the world and what we can learn along the way.
Published by HarperCollins, 1995. Buy here for £5.00
Author: Loung Ung
What: First They Killed My Father is a true story of a woman who lived through the terrifying reign of the Khmer Rouge as a young girl. It’s not a travel book but I decided to include it on the list because part of responsible travel is being sensitive to the history of the destinations we visit.
Until the age of five, Loung Ung lived in Phnom Penh, as one of seven children of a high-ranking government official. In 1975 Pol Pot’s army took over and the reign of Khmer Rouge began. Luong Ung’s family fled but were forced to separate if they had any hope of surviving.
An unforgettable book about a child’s determination to survive despite the odds, First They Killed My Father is a must-read for anyone planning a trip to Cambodia.
Published by HarperCollins, 2000. Buy here for £6.47.
Author: Eric Weiner
What: The Geography of Bliss follows Eric Weiner’s quest to find the world’s happiest nation. After years of visiting warzones, the veteran foreign correspondent decided to travel and evaluate the country’s different interpretation of happiness and what it takes to be truly happy.
From eating rotten shark in Iceland to discovering the relationship between happiness and money in Qatar, Weiner’s The Geography of Bliss is a witty study of culture and what it reveals about ourselves.
Published by Black Swan, 2008. Buy here for £7.19.
Author: Paul Theroux
What: Paul Theroux’s The Great Railway Bazaar is a memoir which invokes the beauty of slow travel as we follow him on his journey across Asia by train.
Paul Theroux conjures up a vivid depiction of his travels on some of the world’s most legendary train routes – The Direct-Orient Express, the Khyber Pass Local, the Delhi Mail from Jaipur, the Golden Arrow to Kuala Lumpur, the Hikari Super Express to Kyoto and the Trans-Siberian Express – and the unusual food and fascinating people he meets along the way.
The Great Railway Bazaar shows us what we often miss by flying and celebrates the richness of travel overground. Written in 1970, it’s an apt source of responsible travel inspiration for those looking to travel more and fly less.
Published by Penguin Modern Classics (New Edition), 2008. Buy here for £7.91.
Author: Alain de Botton
What: The Art of Travel is not your typical travelogue. Written by one of the greatest voices in modern philosophy, the book discusses the very reason why we travel and why we might be happiest when we’re somewhere far from home.
A book for anyone who has found themselves being bitten by the travel bug, it provides invaluable insight into the act of travel itself from the mundane moments immediately forgotten to holiday romances, hotel minibars, airports and sightseeing.
Taking a philosophical approach as to why we travel and the relationship between our own fantasies of a place and reality, Alain de Botton reveals startling truths about ourselves and suggests where we could be happier on our journeys.
Published by Penguin Books, 2014. Buy here for £7.91.
Author: Kate Harris
What: Lands of Lost Borders is a book about the drive to seek out the unknown. Winner of the 2018 Banff Adventure Travel Award and a 2018 Nautilus Award, it captures the yearning to explore and the importance of breaking self-imposed boundaries.
Taking a year out from her studies, Kate Harris decides to follow the fabled Silk Road trail by bicycle with her childhood friend Mel. Pedalling deep into some of the remotest places on earth, Kate Harris questions what it means to be an explorer and where to go when it feels like every place on earth has been visited by millions of people before you.
Weaving together adventure and philosophy with the history of science and exploration, Lands of Lost Borders is the ultimate responsible travel book. It explores our deep human connection to the natural world and above all, each other, no matter how many borders or stories seek to divide us.
Published by HarperCollins, 2018. Buy here for £7.91.
9. Pocket Atlas of Remote Islands: Fifty Islands I Have Not Visited and Never Will by Judith Schalansky
Author: Judith Schalansky
What: Judith Schalansky’s Pocket Atlas of Remote Islands is just the right size to slip into a handbag before heading off on your next trip. A beautifully illustrated piece of work, this book is sure to entice you into exploring the less-travelled corners of the world.
Born in Berlin, Judith Schalansky’s only way to travel was through the pages of an atlas. Now she has created her own filled with detailed maps of fifty remote islands complete with stories of rare animals, sailors, castaways and lonely scientists.
Pocket Atlas of Remote Islands teaches us to dive deep into a destination’s culture, history and wildlife to create a more meaningful approach to travel. It’s a book that humbles as much as it inspires by depicting a world which benefits from responsible travel.
Published by Penguin Books, 2012. Buy here for £14.98.
10. A Woman Alone: Tales from Around the Globe edited by Faith Conlon, Ingrid Emerick and Christina Henry de Tessan
Author: Faith Conlon, Ingrid Emerick and Christina Henry de Tessan
What: A Woman Alone is for anyone who dreams of solo travel but feels too nervous to try it. This collection of stories from courageous female pioneers is guaranteed to give you the push you need to start your solo adventure.
Discover the stories of Marybeth Bond and her camel-riding adventures on an ancient Indian trading route. Meet Adiele, a Black Buddhist nun who braves a deserted train station at 3 a.m in a Thai village controlled by armed bandits. Follow Ena Singh as she negotiates with Russian police to visit the blue-domed city of Samarkand.
Funny, thrilling and occasionally terrifying, A Woman Alone is your guide to mastering the art of solo travel and to understanding the cultural and social impact you have on the destinations you visit as a responsible solo traveller.
Published by Seal Press, 2001. Buy here for £9.99.