Book Corner: Escape to New Places with Travel Books

When you’ve been staring at the same people in your house and on Zoom for nigh on two years, as much as you love your people, a change of scenery would be great. Since an actual change of scenery is not always possible, how about the second-best thing?

You got it: reading travel books. Okay, it might be a pretty distant second, but when you can’t escape literally, you can at least escape “literarily.” (That’s not a real word, but it should be.)

I love indulging my wanderlust by reading about others’ experiences with world and domestic travel. Especially since sometimes said travel includes tarantula encounters and crossing bridges about as stable as cooked spaghetti. Thanks, but no thanks.

Here are my picks to soothe the wandering soul:

World Travel by Anthony Bourdain and Laurie Woolever
Whether you’re planning a trip or cruising by armchair, late celebrity chef Bourdain and his assistant Woolever will delight and inspire you. Each chapter covers a different world city and includes a brief history, tips on getting around, and hotel and food recommendations. You can practically taste the dumpling dish, Xiao Long Bao, from Shanghai, as Bourdain describes it as “the world’s most perfect food.” Charming illustrations round out this treat of a book.

Maiden Voyages by Siân Evans
Perhaps more a social history than a travel memoir, but an extraordinary read nonetheless. In the early 20th century, the Golden Age of transatlantic travel was dominated by great ocean liners, transforming the lives of many women making the journey between the Old World and the New. Women traveled for pleasure, work, or to reinvent themselves. The ocean liners represented society in miniature, divided by class, from upper-deck luxury to the claustrophobia of steerage or third-class travel. You’ll be fascinated by snapshots of indomitable women, from Marlene Dietrich and Josephine Baker to émigré Maria Riffelmacher, as she escapes poverty in Europe, to the female workers toiling between decks.

Winter Pasture by Li Juan
In northwestern China, award-winning writer Juan and her mother own a small convenience store that caters to Kazakh nomads. Juan had always wished to join a Kazakh family to document their lives and did so in 2010, accompanying a herder named Cumo and his family for a season herding 500 sheep, 40 camels, and over 100 camels and horses. This “winter pasture” happens in a remote region stretching between the borders of China and Kazakhstan. In her journey, Juan helps herd the animals, build an underground shelter using sheep manure, walk long distances to gather snow for water, and much more. While people are surprised by Juan’s presence (a Han Chinese among Kazakh Muslims), she is able to form close bonds with Cumo and his family, immersing herself in the struggles of nomadic life while painting a dazzling picture of a rugged but beautiful landscape.

Nala's World by Dean Nicholson
As I live with cats that turn tail at the slight jingle of their carrier’s latch, it’s amazing to watch Nala’s world-traveling adventures on Instagram (@1bike1world, if you’re curious). Nicholson, a manual laborer in Scotland, set off in 2018 to cycle the globe. While in Bosnia, he came across a scrappy kitten that was trying to keep pace with his bike. Christened Nala, the kitten became Nicholson’s friend and travel partner, as Nala has accompanied her cat dad through Bosnia, Greece, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey, logging thousands of miles.

Driving While Black by Gretchen Sorin
Though the automobile has represented independence and possibility since first created, cars have held distinct significance for African Americans, allowing Black families to evade the dangers of navigating a racist society and to enjoy, at least somewhat, the freedom of taking the open road. Inspired by Victor and Alma Green’s famous Green Book, begun in 1936, and enriched by her own personal history, Sorin presents a forgotten history of Black motorists and details the creation of a parallel world of travel guides, Black-only hotels, and communication networks that kept Black drivers safe. The Green Book and similar endeavors not only helped make family vacations possible, it also encouraged a new method of resisting oppression, showing why travel was integral to the civil rights movement.

Gastro Obscura by Cecily Wong
Like the “Atlas Obscura,” which is basically a compendium of unusual things you should see around the world, Gastro Obscura accomplishes the same thing for food. Covering all seven continents (what do you eat in Antarctica, anyway?), this gastronomical delight will have you vicariously experiencing beer made from fog in Chile and “Threads of God” pasta in Sardinia. Not to mention scaling China’s Mount Hua to reach a tea house and sampling a full-size pecan pie from a vending machine in Texas. Dig into this delectable collection of food adventures from around the world.

Since you’re reading anyway, be sure to sign up for Adult Winter Reading at Central Rappahannock Regional Library. Read five books before March 31 to earn a limited-edition mug. Sign up at, opens a new window.

Tracy McPeck is the adult services coordinator at Central Rappahannock Regional Library. This column first appeared in the Free Lance-Star newspaper.