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Vicarious travel
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Vicarious Travel

Colleen Marshall —

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness" wrote Mark Twain.

New Zealanders are avid international travellers, and the prospect of no affordable overseas travel for the foreseeable future may be one of the more keenly-felt losses from our close encounter with Covid 19. One of your lockdown activities may have been to go through all your travel photos that you hadn't got around to organising. If you managed to do this, you either gained a sense of accomplishment or you were left yearning for more travel. We will be able to visit Australia and of course become tourists in our own beautiful country, but we won't be venturing further afield until we feel the world is a safer place.

A safe way to travel is vicariously, through other people's travel experiences, and the best way to find out about these experiences is to visit the libraries' travel section. Travel literature as a genre includes travel memoir, nature writing, adventure literature and travel guides. Our travel guides include those published by Lonely Planet, Rough Guides, DK Eyewitness and Insight Guides. These provide factual information about how to get to your chosen destination and travel around, which sights to see, and where to stay and eat. 

Another feature of our travel section are the many travel memoirs and narratives, written by well known authors such as Bill Bryson, Paul Theroux, Jan Morris, Dervla Murphy, Tim Moore, Colin Thubron and Pico Iyer, to name just a few. Writing styles vary across authors from comedic and entertaining to documentary and literary. They describe journeys taken through countries or continents, or around a single city. They observe and develop relationships with the people they meet, and explore the culture, history, art and natural world of these locations. For many their travel becomes a transformative experience. Other travel narratives explore a single theme or feature of the landscape such as rivers, winds, ice, coasts, or even underground. Suggested titles are To the River: A Journey beneath the Surface by Olivia Laing; Where the Wild Winds Are: Walking Europe's Winds from the Pennines to Provence by Nick Hunt; The Library of Ice: Readings from a Cold Climate by Nancy Campbell; The Frayed Atlantic Edge: A Historian's Journey from Shetland to the Channel by David Gange; and Underland: A Deep Time Journey by Robert Macfarlane. 

Books about the transformative experiences of walking on pilgrimages and other long distance trails are very popular with readers. A classic title is Tracks: A Woman's Solo Trek Across 1700 Miles of Australian Outback by Robyn Davidson. Some more recent tiles are The Salt Path by Raynor Winn, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed and To A Mountain in Tibet by Colin Thubron. 

Another popular theme of travel writing is the experience of moving to another country and making a new life amongst the locals. A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle and Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes are well known books of this type. Some other suggestions are A Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World's Happiest Country by Helen Russell; The Caliph's House: A Year in Casablanca by Tahir Shah; and Four Seasons in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World by Anthony Doerr.

Travel non-fiction is not the only way to travel vicariously. Reading works of fiction often sparks an interest in place. For me this is particularly true of crime fiction: examples are Ian Rankin's Edinburgh, Andrea Camilleri's Sicily, Louise Penny's small town Quebec, Martin Cruz's Moscow, Ann Cleeve's Shetland and Henning Mankell's Skåne. Contemporary novels such as Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan series and The Shipping News by Annie Proulx similarly evoke a fascination with a place, Naples and Newfoundland respectively. Some notable examples from classic literature are Thomas Hardy's Wessex, the Brontë sisters' Yorkshire, Jane Austen's Bath, and James Joyce's Dublin. The popularity of these novels has given rise to a tourist industry which specialises in travel itineraries and tours to these literary locations. 

So, settle back in your armchair - and work on your next itinerary or read for sheer enjoyment and the magic of being transported to another place!

Some suggested resources to get you started:

Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards

Ondaatje Prize, for a distinguished work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry, evoking the spirit of a place.

Literary Landscapes: Charting the Real-life Settings of the World's Favourite Fiction by John Sutherland

The Guardian Literary Trips

Abe Books 50 essential travel books list

PressReader for travel magazines Lonely Planet, Wanderlust, National Geographic Travel and more.