Sunday, March 17, 2013

Inspirational travel stories

I like to be inspired by reading about other people's travel exploits. It's one of the reasons I read travel blogs. Only, a lot of them just don't inspire me.

Now I'd like to say right here and now that my travel aspirations differ markedly from a lot of what I read on blogs. Which is perhaps why I'm so disappointed with so many. I'm not that interested in reading about people's travel budgets, even if I have been guilty of writing about just that myself. I'm not particularly thrilled by the blogs that churn out the "how to..." and "10 things you should know about...." posts, perhaps because I'm not a novice traveller. But I don't mind having a read and deciding how much of it I agree with and how much is just total crap!

Those sort of blogs don't interest me.

What I do like is reading people's stories. About the places they go to, or the people they meet. That make the effort getting to know the people in the places that they travel in, even if just for a day. And share that in a way that makes me want to do something similar. I'm particularly fond of those who do things in a more adventurous way, like hiking, cycling or boating their way around the world. Birders blogs can be quite interesting too, because they often go to some pretty out of the way places to find some rare species, and then draw a map on how to get there.

Like the chap in Yunnan China who travels around trying to meet and photograph all the different ethnic minority peoples, documenting their culture and festivals.

Or Edwin and Ivonne, who I've been following for a few years now as they travel gently and ethically around the world. Or my friend Roman, who went hitchhiking for 7 years and is such a talented photographer.

Or this guy who decided to walk, yes walk!, the whole way back to Germany from Beijing. He chose not to cut his hair or shave, and took a photo of himself every day, then combined them into an awesome timelapse video. He met some pretty interesting people along the way, and..... well you'll have to check out the blog to see whether he made it.

It was a birding report, complete with hand drawn maps, that got me interested in visiting Kerinci Seblat National Park in Sumatra, and climbing the mountain. I still have the maps, but have lost the link.

Another source of travel inspiration has been the writings of past travellers. Some are still in print, but many would have been lost. A huge repository of travel literature has resurfaced thanks to Project Gutenberg, which has digitalised the travel tales of some mighty fine adventurers from over 50 years ago. And they put the hard core adventure traveller of today to shame. Never mind the average punter.

The Malay Archipelago by Alfred Russell Wallace, was an early favourite, but I've also been struck by the adventures of Peter Fleming and Eva Maillart in the 1920s and 1930s in China and North Asia/USSR. A Wayfarer in China, by Elizabeth Kendall, follows an American lady and her dog through Western China and Mongolia, travelling in a way few westerners would be capable of today. The insights these early travel writers give about the places they visit is sometimes amusing, sometimes plain derogatory and patronising, but often spot on. It's interesting to compare what they muse as to the future for the people and countries they visit, see what has happened, and marvel at their clairvoyance.

My current read is a 2 book memoir by Thomas Stevens. He was the first person to circumnavigate the world on a bicycle. From 1885-1887, when bicycles had not long been invented, and his bicycle was a penny farthing. He carried very few supplies and somehow managed to survive everything the elements and the difficult political climate in Asia threw at him. Fascinating to read about the political shenanigans of the time, and realise very little has changed.

I don't mind reading modern day travel stories either. Bill Bryson is always a laugh and I've been a great admirer of Dervla Murphy's many adventures on bicycle, donkey and foot. I identified with Rolf Potts' Vagabonding (am yet to read his latest book), and I'm a big fan of Tim Hannigan's travel writing as well. I've read his first book and am looking forward to immersing myself in his second.

So much reading, thank goodness for my Kindle hey?

What travel writing inspires you?

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