Eight new travel books you should read

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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 one of the best travel books of 2022 – so far.

The slow road to Tehran: an eye-opening bike ride through Europe and the Middle Eastby 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 permeates 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 she 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 Railwayby 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.

Why You Should Pack Physical Books When Traveling

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.

Crossed out from the map: Trips to Boliviaby 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 Odysseyby Ben McGrath

Americans have long loved stories of traveling folk heroes, such as Johnny Appleseed and Chris McCandless. When the New Yorker Writer Ben McGrath first met Dick Conant – a bearded, jumpsuit-clad drifter who then traveled by rubber dinghy from New York to Florida – he seemed to have stumbled upon the real deal floating in front of the stern -yard of his Hudson River home.

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 from a Troubled Lifeby 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.

Lost in Death Valley: A Story of Obsession and Danger in the Himalayas“, by Harley Rustad

After an Instagram famous traveler disappeared in Parvati Valley, northern India, his followers and family wondered: is he gone for good or is it something worse? In one of his final posts, Justin Alexander Shetler announced his intention to “walk these majestic Himalayas alone,” adding, “I should be back soon.”

Travel guides are not dead, but they will never be the same again. Maybe that’s a good thing.

Rustad’s gripping investigation of Shetler’s life presents a brand of late-model enlightenment seeker very much in line. Think: flowy clothes, lots of meditation, and shirtless photos captioned with inspiring platitudes. But there’s more to Shetler than such snaps might suggest – and more to this story than an ad hoc vision quest gone awry. The Parvati Valley has a grim reputation as India’s “backpacker’s Bermuda Triangle”, Rustad reports, and dozens of travelers have gone missing there.

Catch Me If You Can: One Woman’s Journey Around the Worldby Jessica Nabongo

When Ugandan American blogger Jessica Nabongo landed in Seychelles in October 2019, she became the first black woman to visit every country on Earth. Long-time followers will recognize the talkative, lucid tone that makes this country-by-country book so fun to leaf through. (It’s even more enlivened by images of Nabongo that look impossibly glamorous, with distant locations as enviable backdrops.)

Yet Nabongo’s love of travel shines brightest when encountering the countries she has been most strongly warned against. She finds warm hospitality in Iran, a cheerful welcome in Haiti and crowds seeking selfies in Afghanistan. In passages chronicling racism at home and abroad, she also writes candidly about the challenges of traveling in black. Available June 14.

Imagine a City: A Pilot’s Journey Through the Urban Worldby Mark Vanhoenacker

If you’re not fighting over legroom and overhead compartment, it’s easier to remember that flying is a spectacular way to see our planet. Belgian-American pilot Mark Vanhoenacker combines insider cockpit views with travelogue and memoir in his new book, which reads like a love letter to the cities he has returned to time and time again.

The names of the chapters – “City of Signs”, “City of Gates” – recall those of the sublime metaphysical travelogue by Italo Calvino “Invisible citiesnotes Vanhoenacker, but the places that fill this volume are more concrete. Viewed from a cockpit at sunset, Salt Lake City is “the city of blushing peaks.” As passengers doze on pre-dawn flights to Kuwait, pilots watch gas flares illuminate the desert. As in a previous book,Skyfaring: a journey with a pilot,” Vanhoenacker captivates by describing the silent beauty of a world glimpsed from above. Available July 5.

Smith is a Vermont-based writer. His website is jenrosesmith.com. Find it on Twitter and instagram: @jenrosesmithvt.

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