Five of the Best Summer Travel Books

Few things go together quite like travel and a good book. Here, the ELLE Team have picked out five of the best travel books that really capture the essence of a place (or a time) for them…

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On the Road, Jack Kerouac – Amy Lawrenson, Beauty Writer

On the Road is apparently a rite of passage for American teenagers but as a Brit it passed me by. With the film due out this year and with Kristen Stewart and Kirsten Dunst both making appearances, I thought it was high time I read it. Part autobiography, author Jack Kerouac (narrator Sol Moriarty) and Dean, his wild and immoral, yet loveable pal (based on his real-life friend Neal Cassady), travel from New York to San Francisco and onto Mexico, on various trips alone and together.

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Believing they’re part of a new ‘Beat Generation’, an emerging youth culture on the search for the true meaning of life, they travel America searching for answers... to pretty much everything. The book captures the differing generations, cultures and lifestyles in each place they visit with such colour and realism that you feel as if you’re on the adventure with them.

A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway – Emily Cronin, News Editor

When I return to Paris after an absence of any considerable length, I indulge in the following ritual: check out a musty, well-loved, library copy of a certain book; find a chic cafe with a happening street view, order glass after glass of the coldest white wine on offer, and read until the words swim. The book? A Moveable Feast. It’s a cliché, but Hemingway’s memories of Paris are so evocative that I can almost taste the metallic tinge of oysters on the tongue as I turn the page. And isn’t that just Paris?

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Shantaram, Gregory David Roberts – Tim Knowles, Acting Picture Editor

Although Gregory David Roberts was obviously being a little bit liberal with the truth when writing his supposedly autobiographical novel Shantaram (heroin addict escapes prison in Australia, makes it to Mumbai, sets up a free health clinic in a Mumbai slum, becomes a gang warlord's captain, fights with the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan, yadda yadda yadda…), the vivid descriptions of India, and Mumbai in particular, can't help but make you want to up sticks and experience it for yourself. Even the notorious slums sound like an exotic heaven.

The London Scene, Virginia Woolf – Sara D’Souza, Online Travel Assistant

A recent visit to the brilliant Writing Britain: Wastelands to Wonderlands exhibition at the British Library, inspired me to read Virginia Woolf’s The London Scene. It’s a collection of detailed essays of her walks around the capital, from the docks of East London along the Thames, to St Paul’s and the shoppers on Oxford Street. They’re so beautifully written and a wonderful snapshot of London at the time. Needless to say it’s made me fall in love with the city I live in all over again.

The New Granta Book of Travel, edited by Liz Jobey - Patricia Campbell, Commercial Editor

When I'm craving a short, sharp jolt of adventure, I dip into this intelligently edited Granta anthology. Bringing together the work of travel writers both new and established - including Paul Theroux, Lavinia Greenlaw and Albino Ochero-Okello - it reminds me that good travel writing should always seek to challenge, as well as tantalise the reader. After all, the pursuit of travel is not just about getting a tan on a far-flung beach, it's about broadening the mind and getting under the skin of a culture that might be quite alien to your own. Away from the luxury hotels and manicured beaches is the ebb and flow of ordinary life, just waiting to be discovered.

And one more travel book for luck...

Tales of the Alhambra, Washington Irving – Ben Cooper, Online Travel Editor

I don’t know whether Washington Irving’s Tales of the Alhambra can truly be classed as a 'travel book'. A series of stories, anecdotes, local legends and folklore, compiled over the course of an extended stay in the semi-ruined Alhambra Palace in Granada in the 18th century, it arguably was one of the works that got the whole genre started in the first place, though.

One thing’s for certain: it’s a wonderful, lyrical account of a wonderfully romantic city. Plus, it reminds me of my time at university in Granada, and long, hot afternoons spent sitting around in a bar or a leafy plaza reading. And that can only be a good thing.

Like our pick of summer travel books? Check out what the ELLE team are reading this summer.

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