• Nivedita

Armchair travel for tough times: Best books to indulge your wanderlust

Updated: May 15, 2020

Do you love to travel but are unable to do so?

If the answer is yes, then "Armchair Travel" is the solution to your problem...

The phrase "armchair travel" has been on the rise of late.

To paraphrase the definition of armchair traveller given in Collins Dictionary

to find out more about a particular place without ever getting out of your house (I'd go so far as to say, learning about a place from the comfort of your own chair!) through media (TV shows, radio, podcasts) or through books articles

(Pic Courtesy: Wix.com)

So how does one go about armchair travelling?

As mentioned, there are numerous ways to do so. For a book nerd like myself, it is through books.

There is no dearth of books about travel (and no I'm not talking about travelogues like the Lonely Plant guides or other such books [nothing wrong with them though]), so choosing and narrowing down the list to 3 of my favourites was no easy task. But here goes...

(Pic Courtesy; Wix.com)

1. Eat, Pray, Love (Elizabeth Gilbert)

No list of armchair travel books is complete without this book being on the list. Its popularity is such that every Tom, Dick and Harry (or in this case Elizabeth, Catherine and Deborah) has heard of it and speaks about it extensively. It is a comprehensive travelogue about discovering places while also reinventing oneself. This books is one woman's story about finding herself (re-finding herself) after a midlife crisis. It takes readers on a wonderful voyage through the three "I"s - Italy (Eat), India (Pray) and Indonesia (Love).

This is one of those books that does not just tell you to leave everything at the drop of a hat and travel on a whim, without a destination in mind or without a reason to.

The author's descriptions of the amazingly mouth-watering, delicious dishes in Italy had me (a Meh! sort of person when it comes to food) imagining the taste and scent and colour of the glorious pastas and pizzas. Oh! And also of sitting in the garden of a Tuscan villa sipping some Italian cappuccino and watching the sun go down!

Her descriptions of India, though accurate to a certain extent, did seem to stereotype certain aspects of the culture. But in such a beautifully crafted masterpiece, little things can be left alone. The author's struggles with meditation are so true and will resonate with many of the like-minded among us (not everyone has the spiritual mindset to sit down and breathe in deeply and begin meditating).

And finally, we come to Indonesia. It is here where things start to wrap up in the story, amid the beautiful paddy fields and beaches. The journey of self-discovery is the end of the chapter for now, with things handled nicely and packaged neatly (to a certain extent).

But does one ever stop learning or rediscovering themselves?

I leave you to ponder on that, but this book is one for the travel fanatics and enthusiasts and even the everyday traveller and occasional holidaygoer.

(Pic Courtesy: Wix.com)

2. Paris To The Moon (Adam Gopnik)

A hilarious, witty, well-thought out look at the life of an American family in Paris.

Ah Paris! The name itself conjures up images of the Eiffel Tower, The Louvre and the countless pretty gardens and, of course, haute-couture. But there is another side to this city of lights - it is a normal city that is home to many ordinary people.

So what makes this book special? It is the various links drawn stating the similarities and differences between the move to a new city as well as learning an entirely new way of life and the process of having a baby and starting a new family. The parallels drawn are hilarious and offer many insights into life in Paris as well as the lives of new parents.

The activities of everyday life and the going about with one's own business seem like a new adventure by virtue of the way the words have been woven into sentences on the page. The simple act of visiting a tiny store in a not-so-famous arrondissement sheds a whole new and interesting light on the way of life in the City of Lights.

The only reason this specific book about Paris (despite the myriad others out there) makes it onto this list is the fact that the style of writing is par excellence and transports one to the rues and quartiers of Paris from the comfort of one's home. You can feel the sun shining on your face, see the Christmas garland lights strung up and hear the French spoken by the locals going about their daily business - all by just flipping through the pages of this wonderful book while sitting in your comfortable chair.

Who does not dream of travelling to the City of Lights?

After reading this book, you will want to visit (re-visit) this glorious city as soon as possible since this gives you insights into living like a tourist and takes you through the process of finally living like a local.

(Pic Courtesy: Wix.com)

3. The 8:55 To Baghdad (Andrew Eames)

This wonderful book details one man's journey from London to Baghdad to trace the footsteps of one of the greatest female literary giants to walk the planet - Agatha Christie. It all begins when the author finds an elderly lady who had actually known this great crime literary novelist. Inspired by her stories, the journey begins from London (just as the Iraq war is underway) and follows the same route taken by Agatha Christie in the 1920s.

The entire travel episode also recalls the magic felt on a train journey and draws numerous parallels between travel now and the eponymous Orient Express (the train featured in Agatha's Christie most well-known novel to date). Travelling though some normal and some war-ravaged areas, the author recounts his experiences and the tales of some of the locals in every area. What stands out amid all the travel details is the in-depth look into the kindness and undying spirit of the people who call some of the harshest environments of the world home.

The basic idea behind this tale is to find similarities between Christie's journey and the current-day scenario - a task the author seems to do with ease despite there being quite a lot of differences in all aspects and spheres of life and activity. This books provides a contemporary outlook on the secret life and travels of the world's greatest female crime novelist while also painting a picture of the difficulties faced in travelling the same route today owing to the conflicts and the shadow of war looming large.

Following in the footsteps of one so great as Agatha Christie could not have been an easy task.

Yet the author does so with relative (at least in terms of the writing, if not the travelling) ease. The melding of a travelogue/travel adventure with a literary adventure is what sets this book apart from the rest. Adding in the fact that it also recounts historical and current events and manages to seamlessly integrate it all into one smoothly flowing river of words makes this work nothing short of miraculous.

It was honestly a very difficult task trying to whittle down the list of travel-related books to just 3.

But I somehow managed it (Phew!).

As the saying goes...

The world is a book, and those who do not travel only read a page.

St. Augustine

However, there may be extenuating circumstances that prevent one from travelling, and so the best thing to do then (rather than lament about not being able to go anywhere) is to open a good book on travel and disappear for a while into the magical journey. Doing so, one not only gains new insight into previously unknown facts about a new culture and place but also gains a new place to add to their travel itinerary...

So, what books would go on your list of armchair travel guides. And what would be your favourite destinations to add to your travel itinerary?

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