Some days I fantasize about pulling up roots and traveling America in an RV to explore all of its gems, from major cities to rugged geographical landmarks. Other times, I envision myself backpacking across Europe on foot, absorbing the history and culture and staying in simple hostels across the continent. In both scenarios, I earn a living as a famous travel writer or Gen-X social media influencer (is that a thing?), and I’ve eschewed my high-maintenance, scented-lotion-loving lifestyle in order to rough it out in the world. Then I shake off my daydream, make a cup of coffee, and plop down in air-conditioned comfort to travel vicariously through others who actually do this in real life. Never say never, though!
Here are some travel memoirs and novels to fuel your own armchair escapes:
Driving the Green Book, opens a new window by Alvin Hall
With his friend Janée Woods Weber and a copy of The Negro Motorist Green Book, opens a new window in hand, award-winning broadcaster Alvin Hall embarks on an epic journey to explore America’s tumultuous racial past. For so many Americans, travel has been fraught with danger, especially during the era of Jim Crow. Black travelers used the Green Book to identify places in both the North and South where they could safely sleep, get gas, shop, or eat. Hall and Weber use the Green Book to explore landmarks from New York to New Orleans, and everything in between, that welcomed Black Americans. During their journey, they collect stories from some of the last living witnesses for whom traveling with the Green Book was necessary for survival, and Hall contributes his own experiences.
The Couples Trip, opens a new window by Ulf Kvensler
Thanks to an overactive imagination and reading too many thrillers set in the wilderness, you’re more likely to find me on the beach than backpacking in the mountains. In Kvensler’s award-winning debut, Anna, Henrik, and Milena are about to set off on their annual hiking trip to commune with nature. When Milena asks if her boyfriend Jacob can tag along, the others can hardly say no. They don’t know Jacob, and it quickly becomes evident that Jacob doesn’t quite fit in. Suddenly their relaxing vacation becomes a game of psychological suspense.
The Catch Me If You Can, opens a new window by Jessica Nabongo
Nabongo, whose blog The Catch Me If You Can aims to inspire a love of travel, was the first Black woman on record to travel all to all 195 countries of the world as of October 2019. In this tantalizing travelog filled with many of Nabongo’s own photographs, you can sit back and feel as if you’re living her experiences of traveling the world. She crashes a scooter in the least-visited country Nauru in Micronesia, goes dog-sledding in Norway, swims with humpback whales in Tonga, and experiences the community surrounding the Hazrat Ali Mazar mosque in Afghanistan. Through Nabongo’s adventures, you’ll meet people and experience a diversity of cultures from around the globe.
Silver Alert, opens a new window by Lee Smith
This road-trip novel with a twist is the perfect summertime read. An exuberant woman named Renee is hired by wealthy retiree Herb Atlas to provide pedicures to his wife Susan, who has Alzheimer’s. With her optimism and enthusiasm, Renee can connect with Susan in a way others are no longer able to. But Herb is also struggling with his health, and soon Herb and Susan’s children descend on their home to insist they move into assisted living. Suddenly Renee, who is really called Dee Dee, is without a job and has her own hidden reasons to skip town. When Herb suggests one last spin in his Porsche before saying goodbye, the unlikely pair keeps going north, setting off a Silver Alert.
In the Shadow of the Mountain, opens a new window by Silvia Vasquez-Lavado
Fans of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, opens a new window will appreciate Vasquez-Lavado’s memoir of rising above an abusive childhood to confront her difficult past through the physical and mental rigor of mountain climbing. As an adult, Vasquez-Lavado is a shining star in Silicon Valley, yet she privately struggles with alcohol abuse, hiding her sexuality from her family, and repressing childhood sexual and emotional abuse. When she’s called home to Peru, Vasquez-Lavado knew she needed a change and started mountain climbing as a way to process her trauma. She then gathers a group of female abuse survivors to tackle Mount Everest, “The Mother of the World,” as it’s known in Nepal. Along with her companions, Vasquez-Lavado dared to brave the brutal trek and confront her past.
National Dish: Around the World in Search of Food, History, and the Meaning Of Home, opens a new window by Anya von Bremzen
James Beard award-winning von Bremzen, author of several books on various world cuisines, travels to six famed culinary capitals to explore the connection between food and identity. Von Bremzen visits France, Italy, Japan, Spain, Mexico, and Turkey, seeking to discover the truth behind the old cliché “we are what we eat.” She meets with everyone from world-famous chefs to strangers in bars, starting with Paris and ending in Istanbul, wanting to understand how food becomes national heritage. With a sense of humor and fascinating detail, von Bremzen tells the story of the best-known cuisines and their relationships to history and politics.
Have you signed up for Summer Reading at Central Rappahannock Regional Library yet? Visit librarypoint.org/summer, opens a new window to get started logging your reading and completing fun activities for the chance to win prizes.
Tracy McPeck is the adult services coordinator at Central Rappahannock Regional Library. This column first appeared in the Free Lance-Star newspaper.