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What makes a good travel book?

Our summer adventure travel book reading list.


At the winter Armchair Adventure Festival 2020 we got four adventure travel authors together to discuss 'What makes a good travel book?'


To celebrate a year of armchair adventures we've made that panel chat available to re-watch so just click the video below to find out what exactly makes a good travel book. The chat produced a belter of a reading list so if you're on the hunt for a good book, scroll down and take your pick from the list of books the panel recommended.


The panel chat featured Paddy Tyson editor of Overland Magazine, Sam Manicom author of 'Into Africa', Helen Lloyd author of 'A Siberian Winter's Tale' and Gordon May author of 'Overland to India'. Check out their suggestions and a couple of bonus ones from us too:


Where possible the below links take you to bookshop.org which supports independent book shops. The Armchair Adventure Festival earns a small percentage on every book you buy using these links - thanks for the support!


Sam's suggestions:


The Old Patagonian Express, Paul Theroux

The Old Patagonian Express tells of Paul Theroux's train journey down the length of North and South America. Beginning on Boston's subway, he depicts a voyage from ice-bound Massachusetts to the arid plateau of Argentina's most southerly tip, via pretty Central American towns and the ancient Incan city of Machu Picchu.


One Man Caravan, Robert Edison Fulton

This adventurous work records Robert Edison Fulton's solo round-the-world tour on a two-cylinder Douglas motorcycle between July, 1932 and December, 1933. First published in 1937.


Running With The Moon, Johny Bealby

Jonny Bealby was devastated when his fiancee Melanie died unexpectedly while they were travelling in Kashmir. Two years later, still heartbroken and utterly disillusioned, he took on the challenge of a lifetime. Setting out with only his motorbike for company, he began a daring and dangerous journey around the African continent in a desperate attempt to unearth some meaning in his life. Bittersweet, bold and beautifully told, Running with the Moon is a tale of true love and loss, of exploration, adventure and courage.

Gordon's suggestions:


Just a Little Run Around The World, Rosie Swalepope

After her husband died of cancer, 57-year-old Rosie set off to run around the world, raising money in memory of the man she loved. Followed by wolves, knocked down by a bus, confronted by bears, chased by a naked man with a gun and stranded with severe frostbite, Rosie's breath-taking 20,000-mile solo journey is as gripping as it is inspiring.


Cape Cold to Cape Hot, Richard Pape

Cape Cold To Cape Hot is an epic story of sheer resolution and achievement. In 1955, at the age of 39, Richard Pape made world history when, in an ordinary British car he became the first man alive to drive from Latitude 71 degrees North, 600 miles above the Arctic Circle, across two-thirds of the world's surface to the southern tip of Africa.


A Ride in the Sun, Peggy Iris Thomas

The story of a lady and her dog who travelled 14000 miles through Canada, The United States and Mexico on a 125cc BSA between 1950 and 1952.


Helen's suggestions:


Tracks, Robyn Davidson

Enduring sweltering heat, fending off poisonous snakes and lecherous men, chasing her camels when they get skittish and nursing them when they are injured, Davidson emerges as an extraordinarily courageous heroine driven by a love of Australia's landscape, an empathy for its indigenous people, and a willingness to cast away the trappings of her former identity. Tracks is the compelling, candid story of her odyssey of discovery and transformation.


South, Ernest Shackleton

In 1914, as the shadow of war falls across Europe, a party led by veteran explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton sets out to become the first to traverse the Antarctic continent. Their initial optimism is short-lived, however, as the ice field slowly thickens, encasing the ship Endurance in a death-grip, crushing their craft, and marooning 28 men on a polar ice floe.


Consolations of the Forest, Sylvain Tesson

Sylvain Tesson, found a radical solution to his need for freedom, one as ancient as the experiences of the hermits of old Russia: he decided to lock himself alone in a cabin in the middle taiga, on the shores of Baikal, for six months. Noting carefully his impressions of the silence, Sylvain Tesson shares with us an extraordinary experience.


Paddy's suggestions:


These Are The Days that Must Happen to You, Dan Walsh

"Riding a bike removes the need for clutter, toys, rubbish that other men have to take on holiday. If I want adrenaline, I'll rush a giddy overtake, not rent a jet ski." The world through the eyes of Dan Walsh is never less than technicolor, and always uninhibited, rebellious and on the edge.


Road Fever, Tim Cahill

Driving 15,000 miles from Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, in a record-breaking twenty-three and a half days, Tim Cahill's Road Fever is a hilarious account of a preposterous journey, a breath-taking tour of North and South America, as well as a veritable how-to for pulling off cheeky scams to get ahead. All in the spirit of getting his name written into the record books.


That's the 11 books mentioned by our panellists but because they're too modest to mention their own books here's some suggestions from us:


Into Africa, Sam Manicom

This is the story of an enlightening, yet daunting (and sometimes downright harrowing) journey across fourteen African countries by motorcycle. Sam, a novice biker, decides to break free from the doldrums of everyday life in search of adventure, and finds it. Each chapter is filled with one great story after another. Into Africa is upfront with adventure, mishaps, dust, heat and the thrill of overlanding.

Other books from Sam: Under Asian Skies, Tortillas to Totems and Distant Suns.


A Siberian Winter's Tale, Helen Lloyd

A Journey of Discovery driven by the Call of the Wild. In the depth of winter, Helen Lloyd spent three months cycling solo across one of the most remote, coldest inhabited regions of the planet - Siberia.

Other books from Helen: Desert Snow and Iceland Serow Saga


Overland to India, Gordon May

A total of 8,400 miles from Manchester, UK to Chennai, India, in just under seven weeks. A challenge for most vehicles, but on an antiquated 1953 Royal Enfield...

Other books from Gordon: Overland to Egypt and Overland to Vietnam


The Hunt for Puerto del Faglioli, Paddy Tyson

A Motorcycle Adventure In Search Of The Improbable. It’s 2008. The world enters economic meltdown. A global flu pandemic looms. An historical US presidential election is taking place and, somewhere in the Americas, a lone Irishman is coaxing his temperamental Italian motorcycle through another electrical breakdown…


And finally we couldn't put together a list of travel books with out mentioning Armchair Adventure Festival founder's recently released book about their around the world journey by scooter and sidecar.


Our Ridiculous World (Trip), Matt Bishop and Reece Gilkes

This fast-paced, often-humorous travel book tells the truly ridiculous story of how two British friends, Matt Bishop and Reece Gilkes, became the first people to circumnavigate the globe on a scooter with a sidecar. Their world-record-breaking 34,000-mile-long journey took them through thirty-five countries and across five continents. With no experience of mechanics, overlanding, or even riding motorbikes, the pair took their Honda scooter and barn-built sidecar through some of the world’s toughest environments, including a scorching Sahara Desert and the frozen wilds of a Siberian winter.


So that's our recommended reading list for this summer! To meet some of the authors of the above books and many more, you can join us for Armchair Adventure Festival from 24th -26th September.


If you're up for travelling to Cornwall, UK, you can join us in person or if you'd rather continue your adventures from your armchair you can join us for free for the virtual festival. Just sign up for your free front row seat her

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