I love road trips. And boat trips. And train trips. And, not coincidentally, some of my favorite books involve those very trips…
Around the World in 80 Days
This book has trains and boats (and an elephant and sledge to boot!). I will never forget the first time I picked up this book, and realized for the very first time that people like to travel to new places just for the rush and adventure of travel, itself, and not necessarily only to get somewhere specific.
In this book, the significance of the boat trip isn’t about the journey. The boat is a catalyst. It is onboard a boat that Alec meets Black, and befriends the feisty stallion with kindness. When the boat sinks after an explosion, Black and Alec fight for their lives.
I remember being riveted as a kid, and grasping immediately that the reason Black is drawn to Alec is his kindheartedness. And I remember staying up way past my bedtime, feverishly turning page after page to see how Alec and Black survive the open seas.
Of course, the oldest and most famous story of a boat trip is Homer’s epic. This was assigned reading in high school, and at the time, I didn’t think of it as a travel story. It was mythology, and history, and classic literature.
But, on my first voyage to Greece, during spring break of my senior year of university, it all came back to me. Having devoured the story of Odysseus’ journey home from Troy to Ithaca, that trip (and later trips, to Greece and Turkey) totally resonated. The funny thing about books is, when I read them, the story becomes personal; it becomes mine. I hear my voice in my head telling the story to me. So, it was my voice that I remember relaying Odysseus’ trials and tribulations, and it was intoxicating to feel personally connected with Greece (and Turkey), even though I had never physically set foot there before. I had been there in my head.
This was especially true during the two trips in the region that involved boats – I imagined that I was sailing in the same waters as Odysseus, strolling the same shores, exploring the same cities. And, I imagined I was doing it for the second time, because the first time I had accompanied him (at least in my head).
Hemingway’s classic about an old Cuban fisherman was a simple, yet deceiving story. Similar to Black Beauty, the boat is important because of a journey, but it sets the required tension for the story. In this case, it is a story about man’s powerlessness.
Wow, lots of books on my high school reading list took place on boats, now that I think about it! I haven’t even touched on Tom Sawyer or The Tempest. But, Moby Dick definitely makes my list. What a remarkable story about passion to the point of madness and determination to the point of obsession, all set on a whaling ship.
Every time I’ve gone whale watching, whether its off Nantucket like Ahab, or Hawaii, or somewhere abroad from America’s coast, I think back to the adventures of the Pequod.
This is the first book, (and subsequently all the Hercule Poirot and Agatha Crisitie novels), that my mom and I read together as adults. As such, more than being inspired by the romance of the train adventure, I realized books can be connections to family and friends as we each journey together (and separately) through the chapters of a story.
The idea of an epic train adventure stayed with me, and was the impetus for my (real-life!) journey with my sister on the Trans Siberian Railway.
When my friend Dawn and I were in Istanbul a couple years ago, we visited the hotel, The Pera, where Agatha Christie stayed while she penned this murder mystery. And, we saw the railroad station where Hercule Poirot boarded the Orient Express in (then) Constantinople. This is the book that just keeps on giving in my life!
On the Road
I had never read Kerouac’s classic novel of angst, freedom and the Beat Generation until a boyfriend and I took a couple road trips across the country. There was something addictive about being on the open road, seeing the country mile by mile, and entering and leaving state after state, and city after city. I was hooked.
When I told people about my love of the crossings, they universally recommended Kerouc’s book. I dove in and immediately related to his intangible search for himself, and for finding a way to truly experience life.
I was drawn to Che Guevara’s memoir of his motorcycle (steamship, raft, horse, bus and hitchhiking) journey from Argentina to Peru, solely to relish his magnificent descriptions of South American people and landscapes.
By the end of the book, Che and I were both changed forever. I had fallen in love with South America, and Che had thrown off his upper-middle-class identity for a dedication to the plight of the poor, and to the cause of a united Latin America.
In the diary, I saw Argentina, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Panama (and Florida). And since reading it, I have been lucky enough to visit Argentina, Chile, Peru, Colombia, (and Florida). But, like all “firsts”, my first time “visiting” those places, with Che, has colored all subsequent times. I am glad my first time was with him.