This year has produced an exceptional bounty of beautiful travel books. These three are at the top of my wanderlust favorites, embracing insightful and life-affirming messages.
We all face crossroads, some thrust upon us, others of our own making. Often they intersect at key turning points in our lives—challenging our desires and sense of direction. If we’re fortunate, a refreshed navigation champions and cheers us onward. Thus unfurls Uncharted, the exquisitely written memoir by Kim Brown Seely (a 2016 Lowell Thomas Journalist of the Year), who dives into the intimacies of her decades-long marriage, as she and her husband, Jeff, living in Seattle, embark on a romantic, riveting and risky journey at sea.
“Our sons were leaving the nest, the economy was in free fall, our jobs were stagnant, and it seemed that my husband and I had come to the edge of something,” writes Seely. “We could live safe, small lives or try something totally new by launching into the unknown. And so, the year before our second son left for college, we bought a gently worn sailboat.”
The couple’s sailing qualifications? None. Yet they impetuously purchased a 55-foot, cutter-rigged sailboat. It was big, especially for two inexperienced skippers. Their destination quest—galvanized by an article Seely read in National Geographic magazine—was to explore British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest at the far edge of the North American continent, a 700-nautical-mile voyage for them through the Inside Passage, which was “about as remote as you can get in this world,” says Seely. “Our friends all thought we were nuts…. But our plan didn’t seem all that far-fetched to me.” So she and Jeff, a recent cancer survivor, took sailing lessons, determined to reach goals that they could not yet express or clarify. “We were in this dangerously vulnerable state then, looking for some sort of project, a new shared adventure,” she reveals.
Like momentous gusts of wind that fill the curve of a sailboat’s canvas, drawing it taut, Uncharted swiftly pulls you in and propels you forward. Woven with passion, candor and wisdom, Uncharted is an inviting page-turner, riding waves of poignant stories, detailing wilderness wonders and embracing love. It is, as she says: “A reminder that sometimes what is most promising in life is taking an enormous irrational leap of faith.”
1,000 Places to See Before You Die (Artisan Books)
The world’s bestselling travel book of all time—first published in 2003, with more than 3.5-million copies in print; written by intrepid journalist and New Yorker Patricia Schultz—has now been reimagined in an expanded new deluxe edition with 1,000 color photographs on 544 pages weighing five pounds.
This sumptuous round-up of wondrous sightseeing treasures—in Africa, Asia, Australia, the Bahamas, Bermuda, Canada, the Caribbean, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, New Zealand, the Pacific Islands, and the USA—is a writerly rhapsody to wayfaring, a welcome drumbeat to travel’s mind-expanding, emotion-rousing catapult. Like a trusted, internationally galavanting friend, 1,000 Places to See Before You Die will point you toward interesting pleasures. Then, pen your wish list. And check off the spots you’ve already been. To read an exclusive Q&A with Schultz, along with five stellar destinations highlighted from the book, go here.
Around the World in 60 Seconds: The Nas Daily Journey—1,000 Days. 64 Countries. 1 Beautiful Planet (HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers)
In yet another excellent example of horizon-stretching narrative, Nuseir “Nas” Yassin—a Palestinian-Israeli and 2014 Harvard grad with economics and computer science degrees—quit his first post-college job as a software coder for Venmo after only 20 months. Why the quick pivot? A brainstorm sparked a quest to find his life’s deeper meaning. With a positive mindset, tolerant purview and unbridled enthusiasm, Yassin collected his savings and commenced an ambitious feat: to travel for 1,000 consecutive days, often to way-off-the-beaten-path locations, while uploading a well-crafted 60-second video about his happenings every day on his Nas Daily Facebook page, which now has 14-million followers. His newer Instagram page currently attracts 1.4-million followers. For all his videos, go here.
The unique, unpredictable, uplifting appeal of Yassin’s moving mini-travelogues focuses on people he meets—in African villages, Australian deserts, Indian slums, Singaporean apartment towers, Thailand hotels. “Throughout it all, no matter the country, I continued to witness up-close the indestructibility of the human spirit and the overwhelming power of the human heart,” he says. This consummate storyteller shakes up scores of preconceived assumptions, questioning why and how, as well as raises windowed-looks into lives that we likely otherwise would never have the opportunity to see. Now a fascinating collection of some of his most eye-opening encounters have taken written form in an engaging and brightly designed book (with Bruce Kluger).
Chapters are intriguing and enticing, such as “How India Blew My Mind,” “Armenia—The Country I Couldn’t Find on a Map,” “How I Entered a Country I’m Banned From,” “I Visited a War Zone,” “The Mexico You Never See,” “Rwanda—Forgiveness, Justice and the Future,” “Singapore—Always a Step Ahead,” “Zimbabwe—Free at Last,” “China—From Fake News to Feng Shui,” “Iceland—There’s a Ninth Planet,” and “How Strong Is an American Passport?” In Myanmar, Yassin talks to an 11-year-old girl who taught herself seven languages in order to work as a tour guide, helping to support her family of eight people. In Japan, he tests residents’ reputation for honesty, leaving his backpack in a busy pedestrian area—while he surreptitiously watches from afar—and his possessions remain undisturbed. All over the world, strangers (unaware of his growing fame) have helped him out of tight spots, fed him, invited him into their homes. In the Philippines, having lost his wallet and feeling stranded, asking passersby for help, a Good Samaritan came to his aid, buying him a food-stand dinner and offering him a bed for the night. “I got teary-eyed thinking about the kindness and decency I’d been experiencing all day,” he writes. “It confirmed to me that, yes, there is still good in this world. But it also made me look inward… I had to admit that I don’t have that kind of giving mentality—or, at least, enough of it. Like the majority of people I know, I make more than eight-dollars a day. But have I ever chased someone down the street to ‘share my blessing’? Not even once.” The honesty with which Yassin writes about worldwide joy and pain, clarity and confusion, generosity and meagerness is palpable.
This travel book is so much more than the unfolding of Yassin’s globetrotting goings-on. As he explains, Around the World in 60 Seconds rejoices in the human experience and “humans who succeeded, humans who have failed, humans you fall in love with and humans you will be inspired by.” His nickname, Nas, means people in Arabic. “And on this wild adventure,” he continues, “it’s the people I’ve cared about the most.”