Best travel books 2022: Top titles to fuel your wanderlust – The Independent

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From eco-minded ventures, to holidays by train – explore these wanderlust-fuelling titles
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We left guidebooks and novels out of the final cut
A good book is always transportive. Especially a good travel book – which can have you scaling mountains, traversing deserts or exploring tropical islands with the turn of every page. The best travel reads not only make us feel like we’re there with the author, but they make us feel like the journey is our own.
After a couple of years of travel starvation, we are hungrier than ever for globetrotting reading. Even though we’re starting to explore in real life once more, packing up for beach breaks and city weekends, that hunger is difficult to satisfy.
The reality is that, for most of us, there are only so many calendar days in the year for real-life travelling – especially if you’re on a 28-day holiday allowance.
And so, we’ve brought you the list of our current favourite travel reads to inspire your next adventure and satiate your burning wanderlust.
Some are snapshots of a single place, presented in first-person by an enthusiastic author. Others are compendiums of individual essays, perfect if you need more general inspiration. Some employ the idea of travel a bit more broadly, speaking about ways of movement – the journey itself – rather than the destination.
Read more:
What our best travel books are not, are guidebooks. While there are many stellar examples of guidebooks around, when choosing our favourite travel books we were looking primarily for inspirational reads, not how-to information. Our best travel books are also not novels. While many fictitious reads are full of colour and insights, we don’t quite consider them “travel books”, as such.
Finally, we looked for a mix of reads that would appeal to different travellers. Not every book on this list will be for you, of course, but that’s OK. Not every destination will be either. That’s part of the joy of discovery.
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Best: Overall
Rating: 9/10
If you want a proper adventure from your armchair, this compendium of travel articles by some of the country’s best storytellers will fit the bill. When travel writer Jessica Vincent was grounded during the pandemic she had the brainwave to pull together some of the most inspiring essays published in British media in the past two decades, with extracts from the likes of Conde Nast Traveller, National Geographic Traveller and Suitcase Magazine.
The 30 reads are short – just a few pages each – but big in scope, rushing you along the tracks of a train in Baghdad, tracking snow leopards in Ladakh or sleeping under the stars in Malawi. Destinations are deliberately skewed in favour of the world’s lesser-known destinations and champion some emerging writers, providing bitesized nibbles of places you may never have dreamed of going – until now.
This book is as transportive as they come and yet compact enough for soaking up over a few spare moments on the tube, in the bath or when you’re tucked under the covers before bed.
Best: Eco-travel read
Rating: 8.5/10
Penned by The Independent’s very own travel editor, Helen Coffey, this is a personal account of how one frequent flyer became convinced to go cold-turkey on the holiday industry’s biggest convenience: air travel. After years of zooming around on a near-weekly basis, Coffey had a revelation in 2019 when researching a story on flygskam (the Scandi concept of “flight shame”). In short, she realised quite how bad flying is for the environment.
This read traces her (not always easy) journey to becoming a frequent traveller at “zero altitude”, detailing what she’s learned so far and how she’s managed trips as diverse as the Scilly Isles and Croatia. Coffey manages to weave in the hard-hitting detail in a light manner, which means even when the book is delivering its most serious of arguments – such as the fact that polluting air travel is predicted to double by 2037 – it never feels preachy. Rather, you’ll feel inspired to make a change of your own.
Best: For family inspiration
Rating: 8/10
If you think zigzagging in a Cambodian rickshaw or sourcing dinner in Borneo sounds tricky, just imagine doing it with three young boys in tow. Kate Wicker’s funny and moving account of living her mantra, “have baby, will travel”, shows that being a parent doesn’t have to hold you back from exploring the world – in fact, it can even make your experiences richer. Kicking off with a visit to Israel and Jordan in 2000 while pregnant, then rambling through the years and destinations like Mallorca and Thailand with her growing brood of sons – Josh, Ben and Freddie – Wicker details the lessons that they learn from each place, and each other. It makes travelling the world as a family something to get excited about.
Best: For off the beaten track discovery
Rating: 8/10
Most travel books are about places people want to go. This one is different. It’s about those other, forgotten kinds of places. Places people have fled from, due to catastrophe (for example, Chernobyl), unrest (the Buffer Zone in Cyprus) or shifting politics (communist Harju fields in Estonia); places that have fallen from glory, such as industrial Detroit; and ones that nature has reclaimed, such as Amani botanical gardens in Tanzania.
Author Cal Flyn has meticulously researched the destinations and brings their stories to life through evocative writing. It can make for dark reading at times, but this book makes you realise travel and discovery is as much about the places we choose to avoid as much as it is about those we embrace.
Best: For walkers
Rating: 8/10
If you think great travel writing is all about moving through places in another person’s shoes, then you need this collection of essays from 20 writers about the pleasure of putting one foot in front of another. From bustling walks through Karachi with Kamila Shamsie, to rain-soaked treks in Germany with Jessica J Lee, every entry comes with its own unique flavour and makes you realise that this most rudimentary form of transport can be one of the most evocative. Editor Duncan Minshull, who pulled the collection together, has written three books about walking, so he knows a thing or two about it.
Best: For rail junkies
Rating: 8.5/10
Does anything really sum up the thrill of travel like a rail journey? Whether you’ve fantasised about chugging your way across Europe or boarding a carriage further afield – say, the Trans-Siberian Express towards Beijing – this account by award-winning travel writer Monisha Rajesh will bring the dream to life. Rajesh’s easy, witty writing style is a big part of the joy, including her descriptions of the (sometimes quirky) characters she meets along the way. If you like this read, you may also want to give Rajesh’s preceding book, Around India in 80 Trains, a read.
Best: Non-guidebook guidebook
Rating: 7.5/10
While we generally chose to omit guidebooks from this list, we’ve made an exception here – because it’s more of a photography book than anything else. The latest by bestselling travel writer Peter Irvine brings the islands of Scotland, big and small, to life through a collection of unexpected images. Some are snapshots of the big sights, such as the Callanish Stones – a rock formation on the Hebrides older than Stonehenge. Others are far less expected, such as a group of peat cutters or The Butty Bus – a fish and chips takeaway van on Harris.
Chapters are divided by geography. At the end of each one, Irvine lists a handful of his top recommendations of where to eat, stay and walk. But ultimately this is a book that inspires you to discover Scotland’s beautiful corners through your own lens.
If you want one book to transport you with every turn of the page, it has to be The Best British Travel Writing of the 21st Century. The fact that the writing is great is only one benefit – the digestible nature and mix of lesser-known destinations makes reading it feel like a proper adventure.
For any travellers who are conscious of our carbon impact – and that should be all of us – Zero Altitude is an eye-opener. Not only is Coffey’s writing style fun and engaging, but it packs in plenty of urgent detail on the impact of our addiction to air travel.
For the latest discounts on audiobooks, try the link below:
For an eco-friendly read, get stuck into the best plastic-free books that will help you lead a greener life
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