Jen Rose Smith
THE WASHINGTON POST – A great travel read is a great companion for warm weather vacations, whether you’re at the beach or staying home. After all, books are on-demand travel companions: in their company you can experience thrills without changing your preferred mix of sun and shade. And this year has brought a new crop of travel writing worth exploring, tales that include illustrated Siberian voyages, brooding mysteries and memoirs that span continents.
Want distant horizons? Scratch the itch with some of the best travel books of 2022 – so far.
THE SLOW ROAD TO TEHRAN: AN REVELATING BIKE RIDE THROUGH EUROPE AND THE MIDDLE EAST BY REBECCA LOWE
While reporting on Lebanon’s simmering refugee crisis in 2014 – a trip that included a bicycle trip against all recommendations – London-based writer Rebecca Lowe drew an important conclusion: “Never trust people who say things can’t be done. Such a spirit of dynamism pervades his new book about a 2015 solo cycling trip from London to Tehran, which takes place across 20 countries and nearly 7,000 miles.
“We think you’re probably going to die,” a friend told Lowe the day before he left. She didn’t, and Lowe, whose winning self-deprecating tone persists through adventures and misadventures, is not naive. A seasoned human rights journalist, Lowe is lucid about the turbulent history of Western adventurers in the Middle East, with a journalist’s knack for portraying the living characters she encounters. Available as a travel-friendly e-book, the hardcover edition of the book will be released on September 6.
BORDER CROSSINGS: A JOURNEY ON THE TRANS-SIBERIAN RAILWAY BY EMMA FICK
The ubiquity of travel photography in the age of Instagram can lend a curious similarity to shots of strangers at hotel breakfasts and tropical beaches. Watercolor sketches depicting artist Emma Fick’s 2017 trip on the Trans-Siberian Railway offer a refreshing alternative, with paintings of bathroom fixtures, local officials and Russian cafeteria food that completely eschew the cliched tropes of the genre.
Handwritten notes accompany the images, which are sometimes framed with a traveler’s view of train windows and passenger compartments. Others serve as fanciful compendiums: Fick lists the five domestic animals of Mongolia; documents the train’s wear and tear with fuzzy slippers from other passengers; and ranks the quality of second-class dining cars by country. The high is lovely, yes, but it’s also uplifting.
STROKE FROM THE MAP: TRAVELS IN BOLIVIA BY SHAFIK MEGHJI
As a prologue to this aptly reported book, British travel writer Shafik Meghji narrates a revealing bit of apocrypha. Following a diplomatic kerfuffle, Queen Victoria reportedly took a pen and crossed out Bolivia on her map of South America, insisting the country therefore could not exist.
Despite an increase in tourism in the 21st century, much of Bolivia remains largely unknown to outsiders, says Meghji, who has been writing guidebooks for more than a decade. For better knowledge, this book is the best thing to do after a slow journey through the incredibly varied topography of the country. Readers can accompany Meghji by Amazon riverboat, follow in the footsteps of the jungle Jesuits, or hike to the high-altitude Potosí silver mines that enriched an empire.
RIVERMAN: AN AMERICAN ODYSSEY BY BEN MCGRAT
Americans have long loved stories of traveling folk heroes, such as Johnny Appleseed and Chris McCandless. When New York writer Ben McGrath first met Dick Conant – a bearded, overalls-clad drifter then traveling by plastic canoe from New York to Florida – he seemed to have stumbled upon the real deal floating ahead. her Hudson’s backyard.
After Conant’s boat was found abandoned in North Carolina, McGrath embarked on a quest to learn more about the life of a man he calls a “modern-day Huck Finn.” There’s plenty to romance about: Conant traveled thousands of miles on America’s rivers, and many people he met along the way remember him years later with startling clarity. But darker sides of Conant’s life emerge in McGrath’s reporting, which illuminates but does not solve the book’s central mystery.
A HARD PLACE TO LEAVE: STORIES OF AN ACTUAL LIFE BY MARCIA DESANCTIS
In writing that spans continents and nearly four decades, Marcia DeSanctis harnesses a lifetime of travels for this new collection of essays. This time gives a depth that first impressions cannot touch. She traces portions of travels through the Soviet Union and Russia, layering memory on place to rich effect.
Some pieces originally appeared as stand-alone stories in publications such as The New York Times Magazine and Vogue, but together they gain momentum on a journey. Along the way, DeSanctis encounters spies and love affairs, but it’s his lush writing that makes this book a joy to read.