Exotic vacations are not easy to come by right now. Even if a vaccine has been announced, it will be a few months yet before travel is a thing any sane person really wants to do. Most nations have closed borders or have imposed tight restrictions, usually a stick up the nose and 14 days in solitary.
Luckily, if you’ve read this far it’s a sign that you have the gift of literacy, which means that the world is essentially your beach bungalow. That’s right, I’m talking about books. I am here to help you holiday interiorly with some travel-writing classics (or at least interesting old travel-writing oddities), which I have lovingly handpicked from the Dolan e-Reader Library.
1 Travels in Persia
Born in 1634 to a wealthy merchant and jeweller to the Place Dauphin, Sir Jean Chardin is best known for writing ten volumes documenting life in Persia and the Near East. Collectively published as The Travels of Sir John Chardin, the whole set has never been translated into English but you can get Travels in Persia 1672-1677 from Dover Publications (2012). Chardin set off on his first journey to Persia in 1664, travelling via Constantinople and the Black Sea. In his account of this first trip he describes meeting and enjoying the patronage of Shah Abbas II of Persia and witnessing the coronation of Soleymān. In 1676 he returned to Persia and India and then went back to France via the Cape of Good Hope in 1677. Soon afterwards he fled French prosecution of Protestants and settled in England.
2. The Naturalist on the River Amazons
Not only did Henry Walter Bates (1825-1892) write the first scientific account of mimicry in animals, he also wrote this classic of natural history, a description of his expedition to the Amazon jungle with Alfred Russel Wallace. Seeing as he was a nineteenth-century scientist, there is an awful lot about killing animals to get ‘specimens’, which is off-putting for the squeamish, ie me. But skipping over those bits, there are some lovely descriptions of plants and animals and his enthusiasm for his vocation is infectious.
3. The Peregrinations of a Pariah (Pérégrinations d’une paria)
I confess that I haven’t read this one yet but I really want to because Flora Tristan is a pretty fascinating figure. She was born in 1803 to a Peruvian-Spanish dad (a colonel in the Spanish Navy) and a French mother. Her father died when she was very young and the family fell on hard times. When she was in her twenties she travelled to Peru to claim her inheritance from her uncle, Viceroy of Peru, who failed to cough up. She was there from 1833 to 1834, after Independence ,when the country was erupting in territorial disputes. While she didn’t get her inheritance, she did keep a travel diary, which was published in France in 1838. Oh yeah, and then she became the mother of feminism and of popular communitarian socialism, insisting that feminism was an essential step in liberating the working class. Plus she was Gaugin’s granny.
4. Travels in the Interior of Africa
Mungo Park (1771-1806) was a Scottish surgeon and botanist who hied off to Africa in his twenties to explore the upper Niger River. In 1779 he published a detailed narrative of his exploration, titled Travels in the Interior of Africa in which he hypothesizes that the Niger and Congo join to become the same river, a subject of ancient debate. After a short time practising medicine in Peebles, the British government invited him to lead another expedition to Niger and he jumped at the chance. Unfortunately he died during the second expedition, drowning after jumping into the Bussa Rapids to evade an attack.
5. Hashish: A Smuggler’s Tale (Le Crosière)
Henri De Monfreid (1879-1974) was a bit of a rogue, but was he really as much of a rogue as he would have us believe? That is what I kept wondering reading this entertaining account of smuggling hashish from Greece to Egypt. Apart from that he builds dhows, runs guns, dives for pearls, sails hither and yon and converts to Islam…and who knows what all. After all these adventures on the Red Sea he settled down to write about 70 books. One of them is this one: Hashish: A Smuggler’s Tale, translated here by Helen Buchanan Bell.
6. 1786-1857: Travels through Russia, Siberia, Poland, Austria, Saxony, Prussia, Hanover, &c, &c, Undertaken During the Years 1822, 1823, and 1824, While Suffering From Total Blindness, and Comprising an Account of the Author Being Conducted a State Prisoner From the Eastern Parts of Siberia (2 volumes; London: G. B. Whittaker, 1825)
They went in for long titles back then, OK? James Holman (1786-1857) began life in Exeter, joined the British Royal Navy, contracted a mystery illness off the coast of the Americas and ended up completely blind at the age of 25. After that he decided to go off travelling everywhere. He was the first blind man to circumnavigate the globe and visited every inhabited continent. If you have trouble trawling through the original account of James Holman, there is a modern biography of him that is highly recommended by my brother: A Sense of the World: How a Blind Man Became History’s Greatest Traveler by Jason Roberts.
7. Travels in West Africa
This one is available for free thanks to some kind volunteers. It was written by Mary Henrietta Kingsley (1862-1900), who led a fairly secluded life before upping sticks and charging about western and equatorial Africa. Her motivation, it seems, was to gather research on African religion to finish a book started by her late father George Kingsley, who himself had traveled quite a lot. This trip produced two books: Travels in West Africa (1897) and West African Studies (1899). In the Second Boer War she volunteered as a nurse, caught typhoid and died. According to her wishes she was buried at the bottom of the sea underneath the continent she loved.
This is a miniscule sample of travel stories but hopefully it has whet your appetite. If you’d like to travel further afield, why not check out this list of great women’s travel books or join me on a trip to Saudi Arabia as I describe life in the cloistered Kingdom in my book Teacher, We Girls! Grab a book, sit back and relax. You even have plenty of leg room. Bon voyage!