The best books on travel chosen by a long-term traveller and explorer

Christina Dodwell Author Of Madagascar Travels
By Christina Dodwell

Who am I?

If I needed an excuse to be an explorer, I’d say it was inherited wanderlust. My grandparents moved to China in the 1920s and my grandmother became an unconventional traveller by mule in the wilds. My mother spent her childhood there. And much of her married life in West Africa, where I was born and raised. The wildest places fill me with curiosity.

I wrote...

Madagascar Travels

By Christina Dodwell,

Book cover of Madagascar Travels

What is my book about?

Madagascar is an island of secrets, where new species of wildlife continue to be discovered and rumors of mysterious aboriginals and natural phenomena persist in the forest. Christina Dodwell explores its least accessible corners and makes friends with its people. Her four-month journey began in the highlands where, travelling by horse-drawn stagecoach, she encounters a healer, a village poet, and families who perform bone-turning rites for their ancestors. Taboos, fetishes, and astrology weave through her travels among wood-carvers and lead to a royal meeting. Christina’s great courage, open mind, and unbounded curiosity enable her to go to places few would dare visit, and she almost invariably finds kindness and hospitality wherever she travels.

The books I picked & why

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Travels in West Africa

By Mary H. Kingsley,

Book cover of Travels in West Africa

Why this book?

Among my favourite great women explorers of the past, her intrepid streak brings wild adventures which she handles with earthy common sense and humour – her writing makes me smile. I recommend it because it’s a superb escape into the once-real world of a woman explorer in the 1890s.

I particularly loved her voyage by dugout canoe downriver in the Ogowe rapids, and her bartering of lacy shirts with Fang tribesmen when her trade goods ran out. It all seemed so normal. It taught me not to fear the outside world, and that the wildest rainforests are safe compared to our big city jungles. As a woman alone, one is more of a novelty than a threat.

Among the Russians

By Colin Thubron,

Book cover of Among the Russians

Why this book?

To me, it was an enthralling journey written with unusual literary craftsmanship. Such a pleasure to read, but it made me feel inadequate because my travel writings are rough and raw in comparison. It doesn’t stop me from admiring Colin’s skill with words. 

Reading the book, I was immersed in another world - the final years of the Soviet Union seen through the eyes of a poetic traveller who weaves history and love of art, architecture, and culture into his tale. I loved the insights – mostly into the people and their struggle to interpret the outside world, and his own insights through the experiences of the journey, written so beautifully it’s a joy to read.

Seven Years in Tibet

By Heinrich Harrer,

Book cover of Seven Years in Tibet

Why this book?

This book opened a window into another world for me. Heinrich stopped his journey and became part of that extraordinary world as tutor and friend to the Dalai Lama. His writing of his years there created a spell of exotic mystery. That world is no longer in existence, but the city continues to be a magnet for travellers. I tried to get to Lhasa in 1984 but got arrested by Chinese police. Instead of jail, they made me write outlines 200 times that I’d turn over a leaf and not go to Lhasa. So still in search of new worlds, I went off to Yunnan’s mountain top hidden monasteries. And I treasure the memory of Heinrich’s book as an insight into a world that has gone forever.

My Journey to Lhasa: The Classic Story of the Only Western Woman Who Succeeded in Entering the Forbidden City

By Madame Alexandra David-Neel,

Book cover of My Journey to Lhasa: The Classic Story of the Only Western Woman Who Succeeded in Entering the Forbidden City

Why this book?

One of the most remarkable and inspirational of all travellers' tales. Disguised as a beggar, Alexandra David-Neel had to exercise the utmost ingenuity to survive her long walk to Lhasa. Her courage and fortitude were equalled by her spiritual strength. Earlier she’d spent a winter in a cave as a hermit, through Buddhism she controlled her body heat to bear the cold. An extraordinary person, it is fitting that she became the first Western woman to enter the Forbidden City of Lhasa.

Tschiffely's Ride: Ten Thousand Miles in the Saddle from Southern Cross to Pole Star

By Aimé Tschiffely,

Book cover of Tschiffely's Ride: Ten Thousand Miles in the Saddle from Southern Cross to Pole Star

Why this book?

It’s an extraordinary journey, people said it was absurd and impossible. I read it as a teenager, and even then it struck a chord with me. And it showed that what people call impossible is merely a sign of challenge. It also shows what deep reserves of stamina we all have in us, only found if we dig deep enough. It stayed with me as an inspiration, and as a dream of adventure

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