Books Help Us Travel When We Can’t Leave Home

Sometimes we can’t leave home, no matter how much we love to travel. When we need to stay home for long stretches of time, books come to the rescue! They can transport us to places we can only dream about, to real or imaginary, present-day or ancient lands, they help us revisit places we know well or new lands we never heard about.

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However, the books I recommend below are based on my personal preferences. 

Over the years my family accumulated a lot of books; mostly because I’m a book hoarder. I can’t help myself; so we have books in every room of the house. They sit organized on bookshelves, and unorganized in piles on nightstands, tables, dressers, in the closets, and in piles on the floor. So, when we can’t leave the house, we travel through these books. They take us to real and imaginary lands in different parts of the world.

Sailing Through the Mythological Realm of Ancient Greece with Odysseus

I was in elementary school when I first discovered the Odyssey. I read a few stories of Odysseus’s voyage in a Hungarian translation, and I was hooked. At the time I didn’t care who wrote it and when; I didn’t care that the shorter stories were part of a whole. It was a travel and adventure story I enjoyed. Eventually, I read them all, even as parts of a whole.

Although later I recognized and appreciated the story with all the intricacies of ancient Greek Gods, the aftermath of the Trojan war and so much more, the main storyline that captured my imagination is still a journey, a travel story.

Homer, The Odyssey

This journey, with many dangers and even more stops in the lands of the Gods, was my introduction to ancient Greek mythology. It was through the travels of Odysseus that I first heard of Athena, who was my favorite Greek goddess as a child. These stories introduced me to the gods and goddesses of ancient Greece, from Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades, to Hermes, Ares, and Aphrodite.

The ultimate travel story, a story of wanderings through real places and landsof gods and monsters, filled with colorful characters and places. Filled with dangers at every turn, Odysseus’ journey home is still one of the best epic journeys of all time.

If you don’t own it, you can buy a copy of Homer’s The Odyssey on Amazon.

One of he classics of world literature, I think it should be in everyone’s library. However, you can always just take it out of the library to read it.

Traveling Through Tolkien’s Imaginary Lands

As I look at The Hobbit, I realize that it is one of the best travel stories of all time. Written as a children’s phantasy novel, it is also a quest, a travel story through imaginary lands, taking the reader along with Bilbo Baggins.

I remember following the little hobbit from his village through the wild, to Rivendell, the land of the elves, through the Misty Mountains and underground, through Mirkwood, the black forest and Lake-Town, inhabited by men, to the Lonely Mountain, where the dragon Smaug lives. Quest over, the hobbit returns home, with stories to tell, and lives a quiet life.

J.R.R. Tolkien: The Hobbit - image of book
The Hobbit – book

Later on, the story continues with a new traveler, Bilbo’s nephew Frodo, through The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Frodo’s quest is more serious taking him and his gardener through more dangers, while traveling through Tolkien’s imaginary Middle-earth, the human-inhabited earth, corresponding to Midgard of the Norse mythology.

Imaginary or not, the journeys of both hobbits are a reminder that travel is a way to learn about unfamiliar lands, different people, unique cultures. The book is also a reminder that “not all those who wander are lost”.

You can buy them separately, but you can also find a 4-book boxed set of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy on Amazon.

A Virtual Visit of Medieval Spain with Cervantes’ Imaginary Character, Don Quixote

Cervantes, Don Quixote

The story of Don Quixote takes you to Medieval Spain, through both imaginary and real travels of the protagonist. Sometimes labeled as the first modern novel, I also think of Don Quixote as a travel story.

Mixing reality with his images from the books he read, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza travel through the countryside, meeting innkeepers, goat herders, soldiers, prostitutes, escaped convicts, giving us a colorful image of Medieval Spain.

You can find a copy of Don Quixote on Amazon as well.

Virtual Travels with Rudyard Kipling at the Turn of the 19th and 20th Centuries

Kipling is best known for The Jungle Book, taking the reader through the jungles of India. But it is his other major work, Kim, that takes us on a road, and gives us a better understanding of British India of his age. The novel follows Kim, an Irish orphan living in India, on his journeys. He walks the Grand Trunk Road, Asia’s oldest and longest major roads of about 1500 miles, with a Tibetan lama, then takes a trip to the Himalayas.

Following the imaginary character Kim, Kipling gives us a detailed portrait of places, people, religions, and culture of India at the turn of the 19th-20th centuries. Though travel is not the dominant theme of the work, it is present throughout.

Kipling's works

Kipling was a traveler since early childhood. Growing up in India as a Brit, he traveled between the two countries as a child.

Later in life, between 1892 and 1913, he also traveled through India, Burma, China, Japan, and the United States. Based on these travels, he wrote travel articles that he eventually turned into a book called From Sea to Sea and Other Sketches, Letters of Travel.

You can find the works separately, but you can also buy The Works of Rudyard Kipling on Amazon.

Virtually Following A 19th-Century Traveler From My Own Homeland, Kőrösi Csoma Sándor

A Hungarian-Székely from Kőrös, a tiny village in my native Transylvania, Csoma Sándor was a linguist and world traveler, the first European Orientalist, author of the first Tibetan-English dictionary. His biography, written by Elek Csetri follows him on his journeys through Europe and Asia.

Kőrösi book

After studying our people’s history, Csoma noticed the gaps in knowledge about our place of origin and took it upon himself to find it. So, after finishing his studies, which included learning several languages, he set out to find our origin country, believed to be somewhere in Asia.

He traveled, mostly on foot, from Transylvania to Germany, then through Asia, and ultimately ended up in Tibet. During his trip, he met an Englishman, who got him the commission to author the first-ever Tibetan-English dictionary.

A lifelong learner, and ultimate linguist, Csoma traveled the world learning about different cultures, languages, and people. Though he never found the place of origins of Hungarians, he accomplished so much more on a larger scale. He gave Europeans a glimpse into the world of Tibet and its surroundings; he gave them a sense of belonging to a larger world than their own countries.

His observations are still valid today. He showed us that boundaries and artificial borders don’t matter, that people are the same, no matter where they live, no matter what they believe in, no matter what language they speak.

Amazon has it all. If you want to read about Kőrösi Csoma Sándor, known in English and other languages as Alexander Csoma de Kőrös, you can find a book about him, too: A Short Biography of Alexander Csoma on Amazon.

Following Stevens and Catherwood to the Land of the Ancient Maya

The 19th century was a time of travelers for Europeans. It was the age of opening of boundaries, of trying to learn about different places and cultures. Travel was hard, and it took years to complete a trip, so few people did it and those who did were true explorers.

About the same time when Kőrösi set off to travel through Asia, two Englishmen, John Lloyd Stevens and Frederick Catherwood, set off to learn about the New World, as they sailed to Yucatan, the land of the Ancient Maya.

They explored Maya ruins in Guatemala, Chiapas, Honduras, and Yucatan, and published a book about their travels in 1841, under the title, Incidents of Travel through Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan. Written by Stevens, with illustrations by Catherwood, it was one of the first books that made the ancient Maya ruins known to a wide audience. Two years later they published Incidents of Travel in Yucatan. Our copies of these books are well-loved and read often. As we explore Maya ruins, we like to compare our notes with what these early explorers have seen.

Reading their travels through jungle paths, on mules, sleeping in ancient ruins, like when they visited Uxmal, makes me feel lucky to visit the same sites in a much more comfortable manner. Though, to be honest, I sometimes wish we were still traveling the same way they did, and coming across ruins no one other than locals know about.

Of course you can buy these books on Amazon as well:

Incidents of Travel in Yucatan.

Incidents of Travel in Central America Chiapas and Yucatan.

Sailing with Steinbeck around the Baja Peninsula and to the Sea of Cortez

The first book I read by Steinbeck was a Hungarian translation of The Grapes of Wrath. I was in middle school. I eventually read it in its original English version. It was the first book that took me to a realistic America.

Much later, I read The Log from the Sea of Cortez, one of Steinbeck’s travelogues. In 1940, Steinbeck joined biologist Edward F. Ricketts on a sardine boat on a voyage around the Baja Peninsula into the Sea of Cortez. Published a year later, The Log is an account of their journey, a day-to-day journal of Steinbeck’s observations and private thoughts, combining science, philosophy, and adventure.

Steinbeck's The Log from the Sea of Cortez - image of book

You can find the same edition as above on Amazon:

The Log from the Sea of Cortez

Spending Time in Present-Day Tuscany with Frances Mayes

Turning to present-day travelers and travel writers, I enjoyed Bella Tuscany by Frances Mayes. This, along with her other book about Tuscany, Under the Tuscan Sun, both make me wish I visited this part of Italy. Maybe someday I will.

Written as travel memoirs, the books are very personal and evocative, filled with warm characters, facts of the Italian countryside. And, those of us who like Italian cooking can find dozens of recipes scattered throughout.

Frances Mayes, Bella Tuscany

You an buy both books on Amazon:

Bella Tuscany

Under the Tuscan Sun

Virtual Travels in the Southwest through Books

Although I travel through the Southwest intensively, I also like to read books set here. And when I can’t leave the house, I enjoy virtually traveling through this landscape I fell in love with the first time I ever visited.

One of my favorite fiction books set in the Southwest is Barbara Kingsolver’s The Bean Trees set in Tucson, Arizona. Though the characters are imaginary, their struggles and lifestyles are real. Joining them on their journeys, I can feel the heat of the desert.

Kingsolver, The Bean Trees

You can buy the book on Amazon: The Bean Trees

And I can’t leave without mentioning another book I read set in the Southwest, in the 19th century’s, Patricia Grady Cox’s Chasm Creek. Though characters, living or stopping in the mining town called Chasm Creek, pull the story, but the details of the setting transported me to the familiar desert environment of Arizona of long-ago. Every detail draws you in, makes you smell, see, hear, and feel the desert with all its beauty and harshness.

We Don’t Always Need to Leave Home to Travel

As long as I have a book in the house, I can still travel, through space and time, through imaginary or real lands. Thanks to these books and many more, I have no problem sitting at home for days, weeks, or even months. I haven’t been out except at the grocery store and my son’s house for over a month, and have been pretty comfortable with the situation.

Besides reading, I’ve been knitting, and visiting art museums and National Parks virtually while sitting at home. But reading is the main thing that keeps me from going stir-crazy.

Having books in the house is certainly a plus. Still, I bought a few more online, on Kindle. I resisted virtual reading for years, but I finally see its value. It not only saves paper, but you don’t need to wait for the book to read it. As much as I love physical books that I can hold, there is something great about being able to download a book and start reading right away instead of waiting for it to come through the mail.

After the Pandemic

Books, the ones mentioned in this post, and many more, certainly helped get me through some of the rough times of quarantine. But no matter if you travel or not, books always help.

They help pass the time on long flights when traveling.

They help learn about a new place before visiting.

Or, you can use books in any form to learn a new language, or just get lost in imaginary lands and fictional or real stories.

Physical books are heavy. As much as I love them – and always prefer them to their virtual versions -, when I travel, I like to download several books on my phone.

You can even find some good ones for free, or much cheaper versions on Kindle.

Amazon offers a kindle version on any book published on this platform. Just look up the book you want and choose the kindle version.

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