Books for the Armchair Traveler

In early January of 2017, when I sat down at my computer to begin my memoir, I knew it would be of interest to armchair travelers.  But I never imagined, as I typed the first words of the first chapter, that the book would be released in the middle of a pandemic when travel was limited. Now many who would otherwise be roaming the globe are stuck at home.

The AAA membership magazine Westways (September /October 2020) featured an article titled “Transported by Armchair.” The authors, Paul Lasley and Elizabeth Harryman, state, “Vicarious adventures can get us through tough times.” They point out that would-be travelers can adventure vicariously through movies, books, magazines, and on the internet.

I have always loved books and movies that take me to foreign places. Everything, from my favorite childhood book, Heidi, to the 2014 movie The Hundred Foot Journey about Indian food in a French village, has inspired my fascination with travel.  While I was still in high-school, my father took me to see The World of Apu, an acclaimed Bengali film that introduced me to an exotic land, an entirely different way of life, and the music of Ravi Shankar. My interest in China was sparked, at about the same time, when I read Pearl S. Buck’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Good Earth.  A love of all things European, an integral part of growing up with an immigrant father, accelerated during my first trip to Europe at the age of 17.

Since my earliest years, I have preferred books and movies that take me to distant lands and times.  They were the beginning of my wanderlust and, to this day, I am drawn to them over contemporary stories in US settings.

The process of writing and editing my travel memoir allowed me to relive the experience of a lifetime.   Luckily, I have a treasure-trove of memory enhancers to lead me back in time.   During the two years on the road, I wrote seventy-three journal-style letters home and dozens of postcards to friends and relatives, all with the request to keep them safe till my return.  To this day, I have those letters, most still accompanied by their stamped envelopes.  The handwritten letters on thin airmail paper often included sketches in the margins. As I reread my words from 50 years ago, pored over saved travel books and maps, and viewed long-unseen slides, I rediscovered forgotten incidents that sparked memories as fresh as the day they happened.

Now I have the joy of holding in my hands a copy of the finished book that tells the story of the best days of my life.  When I pick it up and allow the pages to fall open where they will, I am greeted by words that take me back to those days when love was new and the world we traveled was a different place.


Travels with Charlie meets Eat, Pray, Love. Mash these two well-known memoirs together and Voila! Wherever the Road Leads.  This movingly honest memoir tells the story of two lovers on a dream adventure in the early 1970s. The personal saga of a two-year long, 40,000 mile, international road trip in a VW van, Wherever the Road Leads describes culinary adventures, the inspiration of art and history, and lovemaking under the stars.  A pair of newlyweds (an artist and an engineer) meet the rigors of travel that includes an overland journey to India in a time before the internet or cell phones.  Each day brings challenges as the young couple experience the ups and downs of married life in a Volkswagen microbus that continually needs repair. Everything, from engine problems to personal sanitation, from running out of funds to primitive roads, affects their journey.  Will their relationship thrive or will it crumble under the pressure of living together 24/7 in a van?

As we spend more time at home during this year of Covid, we are all becoming armchair travelers. What books and movies have substituted for an actual journey for you?  Do travel stories comfort you or make you long to get on the road again?  Or both?

Here are 8 of my favorite travel memoirs. Several of them (with the *) also feature recipes.

Paris Letters, by Janice MacLeod

Without Reservations, by Alice Steinbach

A Pig in Provence, by Georgeanne Brennan*

West of Kabul, East of New York, by Tamim Ansary

Little Princes, by Connor Grennan

Apples Are from Kazakhstan: The Land that Disappeared, by Christopher Robbins

Lunch in Paris, by Elizabeth Bard*

An Embarrassment of Mangoes, by Ann Vanderhoof*


For interesting lists of travel books, check these two sites:

Armchair Travel Books to Transport You to a New Destination | Condé Nast Traveler (



One response to “Books for the Armchair Traveler”

  1. Wow. As much as I love to travel, I have never read any of these books. Thank you for opening up new adventures.

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