“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” – St Augstine
Travel, like books, tea and the theatre, is food for the soul. Without it, we see only a tiny nook or cranny of the wide, wonderful world in which we live and thereby remain limitedly aware of the abundance of culinary, artistic, cultural and theological diversity that exists. Raised in Zimbabwe and Australia, I’ve had a taste of both the third and first worlds and now foster an overwhelming desire to paint the world with my footprints. I’ve been to Zimbabwe, Zambia, South Africa, Mauritius, France, United Arab Emirates, New Zealand and Australia and am now pining for an Italian coffee, a day spent among the ruins of Machu Pichu, a road trip down Route 66 and a paint powder fight during India’s Holi Festival. Yes, travel is one of those wonderful things in life and if you haven’t yet ventured beyond the perimeter of your home town, do so for the sake of opening your mind, nourishing your soul, discovering new life and challenging your boundaries.
I do know however, that the up-and-go-without-a-care-in-the-world scenario is often only really accessible to the young and responsibility-free. Travel requires a significant investment of finances and time and is not always easy to squeeze into a calendar predominated by work, family and social obligations. And although there is no excuse great enough to account for a lifetime spent entirely void of foreign adventure, I can concede that there may be certain time frames within which travel and life can simply not coincide. Never fear however, for this is where we venture into the room of a thousand worlds: the travel book section!
The travel section of any book store is a colourful and delicious cornucopia of worldly wonders. Usually populated by country and city guides, travel novels, photography books, memoirs and cultural reference books, these few shelves (or entire corners in the larger book stores) present a literary microcosm of the earth and its many smells, sights and sounds.
Want to see New York but simply cannot find the time or monetary resources right now? Grab a copy of Lonely Planet’s New York City guide and read of the customs, gastronomical delights, diverse boroughs and cultural life. It may not be the same as walking through Time’s Square but it sure as hell beats pining for the Big Apple without even stroking your intellectual appetite for the city that never sleeps.
Crave a month in the life a French chef, tasting the delicacies and speaking the language of romance? I’m not sure if you’ve read the book, ‘Julie and Julia’, but the very same Julia Child wrote her memoir, ‘My Life in France’, based on her wonderfully heart-warming experiences as an American woman in the city famous for its cuisine, love and art.
There are also travel novels: intimate journeys through foreign nations, tasting the smells and feeling the sights through the eyes of characters as opposed to guide writers. ‘ The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul‘, by Deborah Rodriguez, is an example of a novel set in the midst of war-torn Afghanistan while David Byrne’s ‘Bicycle Diaries’ takes you on a pedalled adventure through some of the world’s major cities: Istanbul, San Fran Cisco, Buenos Aires, London and beyond. The true beauty of travel novels, as opposed to travel guides, is that they take you on a sensory, human adventure. You learn about the people, how they feel, how they would make you feel. You learn about how the food actually tastes instead of about which are the finest restaurants. Travel novels tell us about people, about humanity, about love and about perspective. You needn’t even leave the comfort of your bedroom while walking in the shoes of a Spanish girl on the streets of Brazil or a gypsy on the circus circuit of Europe.
However, if you’re in need of something a little more logistically informative, you can’t go past the magazine rack of your local newsagent. Brimming with information, inspiration and innovation, the majority of travel magazines offer excellent safety tips, mind-bogglingly cheap accommodation deals, fun itinerary ideas and fascinating articles about places you never even knew existed. My personal favourites are ‘Get Lost’ and ‘Lonely Planet’ but I’m almost certain that Conde Nast’s ‘Traveller’ would be just as worth your time and money.
Yes, travel is a delicious facet of the human experience and while it may not always be possible to pack your suitcase and jump on the next plane to anywhere, there is always within a reach a good book in which to disappear for a while and experience the wonders of wandering.