Armchair travel books that will make you glad to be at home

Adrian Liang on April 02, 2020

Armchair travel books that will make you glad to be at home

My family loves to travel, whether it’s a weekend camping trip in the nearby mountains or something longer and more far-flung. Sadly, with COVID-19 touching nearly all corners of the globe and some locales in lockdown, our travel plans are on hiatus indefinitely.

But that’s OK. Not all travel is the kind of glorious escapade you want to post about constantly on Instagram. Venomous snakes, capsizing boats, frostbite, and hostile locals can turn any adventure upside down.

For those who yearn to get out of the house, we present a handful of books that might convince you that it’s better to stay in.

The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston

A “fer-de-lance” sounds to me like the name of a hip cocktail, but Douglas Preston makes clear that it’s one of the many deadly denizens of the Honduran jungle. In 2012, Preston joined a group of scientists and explorers who had used laser-imaging to discover the possible location of the fabled White City, long lost to the jungles of Honduras. Snakes (including the aforementioned fer-de-lance), insects, criminals, and a flip-flopping government all increase the danger of their weeks spent deep in the wilderness, while a more insidious threat takes a foothold among them. A perfect read for those who enjoyed David Grann’s The Lost City of Z or had to cancel their spring break plans in Central America.

The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey by Candice Millard

After Theodore Roosevelt lost reelection in 1912, he needed a way to take his mind off his defeat. Proud of his daring and his physical fitness, Roosevelt decided he would lead an expedition to map a mysterious tributary of the Amazon. Rapids, piranhas, a murder among the explorers, and hostile residents of the jungle would take their toll, and no one would leave the Amazon river basin as the same person they entered it. This shocking adventure lays bare the frailties of even the most hardy of explorers, and is an excellent pick for those who like to match history with adventure, or who dream of canoe trips in the wilderness.

The Impossible First by Colin O’Brady

Not a disaster story but still a tale of adventure, Colin O’Brady’s memoir of his record-breaking solo trek across the landmass of Antarctica is actually inspiring. But it in no way makes you want to visit Antarctica (except, perhaps, in one of the fancy heated tents that the continent’s more robust residents look down upon). An endurance athlete, O’Brady pulls a sled that carries all his survival supplies across the ice at the exact same time that another explorer is attempting the same record-breaking feat. But as the isolation and bitter cold wear down O’Brady, he needs to figure out how to keep his body and mind in one piece. If you’re starting to get antsy because you can no longer go to the gym or had to cancel your yoga retreat, this stirring memoir will push you to dig deeper and find new solutions for expanding your potential with what you have with you right now.

In the Kingdom of Ice by Hampton Sides

Unfortunately, ship upon ship and crew after crew became victims of polar expeditions. Alfred Lansing’s Endurance, about Shackleton’s expedition to cross Antarctica on foot, is among the best-known tales, but one should not forget that the Arctic had its fair share of disasters as well. With In the Kingdom of Ice, Hampton Sides looks northward and brings both riveting pacing and vibrant writing to the already sensational story of the USS Jeannette and its expedition to the North Pole. Said my fellow editor Chris Schluep, when he picked this book as a best book of the month in 2014, “How could a book about this much snow and ice be this good?” Pick up this story if you were thinking about booking a getaway at an ice hotel.

Adrift: Seventy-six Days Lost at Sea by Steven Callahan

Those looking for a more modern (and warmer) seafaring adventure should pick up Adrift. In 1981, Steven Callahan was engaged in a solo race across the Atlantic when he discovered that his sailboat was sinking. He escaped into his life raft with a few basic items. Rubber Ducky III became his home for the next 76 days as he drifted where the weather and currents took him, and as he struggled to stay alive. If your family or roommate is getting on your nerves and you’re starting to think longingly of “me-time,” Adrift might be a good match.

Find a Way by Diana Nyad

Like Steven Callahan, Diana Nyad spent a lot of time with the ocean. But she was doing it very much on purpose. At age 67—and 35 years after her first attempt at breaking the record—Nyad became the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage in an awe-inspiring achievement. Nyad details her previous failed attempts—which include an absolutely terrifying attack by jellyfish—and how her support team kept her going and kept her training even during the moments when she doubted herself. The story of Nyad’s 53-hour-long swim that took her to the shore of Key West is a great reading pick for those who wish they were on the beach but might not be as enthusiastic about sharks and jellyfish.

Long Way Round by Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman

Also a documentary (which I recommend as well), the adventures of actor Ewan McGregor and his friend Charley Boorman as they travel around the world on motorcycles are both harrowing and hilarious. McGregor and Boorman decide to circle the globe via Europe, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Russia, and Canada and the U.S. on well-equipped BMW motorcycles, and to be filmed while doing it. But the heavy motorcycles can be unwieldy on the terrible roads, the gun-toting locals can be unpredictable, the mosquitoes are nonstop ferocious, and the two friends start to get on each other’s nerves. A lot. The diary entries from McGregor and Boorman will not only give you a glimpse into the wilder parts of Asia but make you rethink how much you’ll really miss that girls’ weekend or guys’ weekend you’ve had to postpone.

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