A comforting reminder that the soaring mountains of Nepal still stand proud whilst Brittany’s rugged waves continue to break on the Atlantic coast.
For now, we sit back, dream and plan for the future. There can be so much pleasure in planning a travel itinerary—piecing together postcodes, nondescript jazz bars and any details in between. Part of the pleasure is in having a safety net—sometimes an experimental outline, other times a point of reference. Part of it is in the ideation: creating Pinterest boards or storing photos of sun-kissed Parisian hotel balconies captioned “Petit déjeuner” on the ‘gram.
Many find the planning process a laborious task, which is why a collaborative doc on Google Drive can do wonders if this is you. Without sounding flouncy (or militant): assign categories, create sheets within spreadsheets and invite friends to collaborate wish lists. This doesn’t mean that there’s a lack of spontaneity to the itinerary; simply treat it as a skeletal structure rather than, say, a holy scripture. There will be the “musts”, like stopping off at the Guggenheim in New York or stealing a glance at the Lost City in Petra.
With this in mind, get plotting with these nifty books below. In the words of Murakami: “Vast, unknown stretches still lie before us, fertile territories just waiting for us to cultivate them.”
The Murakami Pilgrimage by Ken Lawrence
Murakami’s lyrical descriptions and extensive knowledge of Japan’s buzzy cities will have you making mental notes of real-life ramen hotspots in Ginza or fancy French restaurants in Aoyama inspired by Midori and Watanabe from Norwegian Wood. Even in his melancholic South of the Border, West of The Sun, Murakami manages to romanticise the clinking glasses and soft background music that fills the loaded silences in between conversations; his jazz bar scenes are immensely immersive. The Murakami Pilgrimage is a comprehensive guide to the author’s various nooks. Pinpoint actual locations and collate insider tips for your savvy Japan itinerary.
Sicily: A Literary Guide for Travellers by Suzanne and Andrew Edwards
Reading about Sicily’s vineyards and almond trees is enough to envision the island’s multifaceted charm through the words of Oscar Wilde, Coleridge, Ezra Pound and Tennessee Williams. Portraits of steep terraces ledged high above the sea conjure convivial memories of Italy’s beauty and warmth. Local writers such as Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa and Leonardo Sciascia also feature. Bookmark DH Lawrence’s most descriptive passages for later reference and feel them lilt.
Tender is The Night, F. Scott Fitzgerald
Several locations still exist from Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night, a novel set beneath the sweltering sun on the French Riviera. The opening begins with a rose-hued hotel on the adjacent beach in between Marseille and the Italian border, a fitting location for hedonistic dinner parties and romantic entanglements. Hôtel Belles Rives now sits where Fitzgerald resided in Juan-les-Pin and the small blinking green lighthouse can still be glimpsed just a hundred yards away. Fitzgerald’s lazy hazy summers and scenes of glitzy insouciance are also an antidote to daily life and will instantly inspire a sense of armchair escapism far removed from quarantine monotony.
Around the World in 80 Trains by Monisha Rajesh
Starting at London’s St Pancras, Monisha Rajesh travelled 45,000 miles—almost twice the circumference of the earth—to record her adventure. Rajesh coasted from one railway to the next, romancing journeys on the sticky but vibrant Trans-Mongolian from Moscow to Beijing and basking in the splendour of the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. The stories are visual and have a way of transporting readers to the mayhem of rickety rails and run-ins on the steps of a rusty carriage. Consider this your personal gateway to the world’s most scenic and vivid train routes through the vast expanses of Russia and Mongolia, Kazakhstan, North Korea, and beyond as you plan your future quest.
Flâneuse by Lauren Elkin
The flâneur, meaning ‘loafer’ or ‘stroller’, is playfully redefined in Elkin’s memoir-cum-cultural history as we follow her through New York, Paris, London, Venice and Tokyo. The word takes on the feminine form in celebration of women’s pleasure in aimlessly ambling around the city. In London, Elkin follows Virginia Woolf on her peregrinations around Bloomsbury, pausing at the Tavistock Hotel which now stands in place of Woolf’s home before it was hit during the Blitz. In Paris, she pursues Jean Rhys’s cafes of the Left Bank and George Sand’s cobblestoned cul-de-sacs. The art of wandering a city is effortless, the sort of itinerary that can be as flexible and spontaneous as you see fit.
A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin
Berlin’s posthumous book of colourful short stories offers a portrait of the mid-20th century West and the characters are as real as New York’s seedy side streets. Her Flaubertian detail and understated humour can make routine visits to the laundromat buzz with intrigue or feel intensely palpable, and she is just as soulful describing a pair of plastic yellow chairs as she is comparing the liquor stores in Boulder and Albuquerque, “where they have drive-through windows, so you don’t even have to get out of your pajamas”. These are America’s lost corners in high definition.