July BAND Discussion: Ye Olde Travel Writers

Today’s the day for the first discussion for Bloggers’ Alliance of Nonfiction Devotees, a thing where any blogger who likes any sort of non-fiction can join in and discuss awesome books! Huzzah! You can learn more about BAND at Kim’s blog. And don’t forget to join in if you’d like!

This month’s discussion is being hosted by Kim and it is on the following topic:

What is one of your favorite types of nonfiction to read? OR What is one of your favorite nonfiction topics to read about?

Okay, so: my favorite kind of nonfiction is, you may be unsurprised to learn, travel memoirs. I love travel memoirs mostly because while I want to travel around the world I can’t afford to do that just yet. At the moment I’m living vicariously through other travelers, which kind of sucks but vicariously is, I guess, better than nothing.

I actually love Ye Olde Travel Memoirs even more than modern ones, probably because it mixes my love of history with my love of travel. For me, reading about what a country or place used to be like is almost more exciting than reading about what it’s like now. I attribute that whole thing to my (kind of silly) romanticism for explorers and archeology, but I also blame the Indiana Jones sort of people who make history really fun. (Not that I’m saying history can’t be fun on its own, but Indiana Jones-type people actually talk about the fun bits and make the whole thing really exciting, whereas my high school history teacher made us color in maps. Seriously.)

I also find the ways people traveled Back Then to be kind of romantic (and exciting). Ye Olde Travelers had to travel slowly which means they got to do all sorts of fun things like ride across Asia on bicycles or go on really long train rides or spend a month on a boat just to get somewhere that would only take five hours by plane nowadays. Slow travel just always seems more interesting than fast travel, and of course going slowly across a country gives you plenty of time to visit places that maybe other travelers would pass up. And to think about Life and Stuff, I guess.


One of the best Ye Olde Travel Writers was Isabella L. Bird, a Victorian/Edwardian English lady who went everywhere. And then she wrote about it! In her lifetime she visited the United States (including Hawaii and Colorado), Australia, Canada, Scotland, Japan, China, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, India, Tibet, Persia, Kurdistan, Turkey, China, Korea, and Morocco– and more than half of those were visited when she was middle aged and older. She was also the first woman inducted into the Royal Geographical Society, and all in all I think she was a pretty neat lady.

Also, she writes like this:

I have found a dream of beauty at which one might look all one’s life and sigh. Not lovable, like the Sandwich Islands, but beautiful in its own way! A strictly North American beauty–snow-splotched mountains, huge pines, red-woods, sugar pines, silver spruce; a crystalline atmosphere, waves of the richest color; and a pine-hung lake which mirrors all beauty on its surface. Lake Tahoe is before me, a sheet of water twenty-two miles long by ten broad, and in some places 1,700 feet deep. It lies at a height of 6,000 feet, and the snow-crowned summits which wall it in are from 8,000 to 11,000 feet in altitude. The air is keen and elastic. There is no sound but the distant and slightly musical ring of the lumberer’s axe. (A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains, Letter I)

Who’s your favorite Ye Olde Travel Writer? Got any recommendations for me?

I’m interested in learning more about Freya Stark‘s travels next, but as her books aren’t public domain I’ll have to get them from the library which is putting a cramp on my reading plans.


    • Anastasia

      I’ve been wanting to read My Life in France for a few years now! Although now I’m worried I’d have to be constantly eating while reading it, because all the paragraphs about food would make me hungry…

    • Anastasia

      It really is a lot of fun, especially since a lot of travel memoirs nowadays seem to be more focused on the personal experiences over everything else. I like having a bit of history/sociology/etc. in my travel memoirs as well as the personal impact stuff.

  1. My answer was travel memoirs too, though with a different slant. I definitely know what you mean about liking to read about what a place used to be like, except the book that pops to mind is a fiction book, The Historian, because of Kostova’s descriptions of Eastern European places from decades ago. I haven’t read Patrick Leigh Fermor’s books yet, and I don’t know if he would be considered “ye olde” but “A Time of Gifts” chronicles his journeys in the 1930’s.

  2. Mome Rath

    After reading the biography of James Holman, a blind British naval officer who traveled all around the world on his own in the early 1800’s, I’m tempted to read his memoirs. Unfortunately “A Voyage Round the World, Volume 1” isn’t in my library system, so I’d have to purchase it. But if you haven’t read his biography — “A Sense of the World” — I’d highly recommend it!

  3. Pingback: August BAND Discussion: Detectives and memoirs and obsessions, oh my « Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog

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