Best Travel Books and Movies For When You Need to Escape

Without any specific order:

Adrift (Steven Callahan) [book, travel memoir]

If you think you’re having a bad time trapped at home imagine being stuck in a tiny rubber dinghy for 76 days. This really happened to Steven Callahan in 1981.

The beginning is a little slow or just maybe a little philosophical about why the sea is so great. But after the poor man is shipwrecked (we wont tell you how or when) you won’t be able to put it down. He has great descriptions of the feelings, smells and sights for more sensory readers. But for more technical readers he explains the engineering behind repairing and maintaining a boat only meant to last a few weeks with minimal supplies. He also illustrated all his own pictures so if you don’t understand what he’s talking about he probably has a picture showing what he did.

If you liked this book

… for the survival story try Between a Rock and a Hard Place Aaron Ralston

… for the technical descriptions try The Martian Andy Weir (fiction)

… for the sensory descriptions of sea/adventure try Treasure Island Robert Louis Stevenson

Passengers (2016) [movie, scifi]

This isn’t a real travel movie but it’s likely about the future of travel. Space travel will probably involve going into some form of cryosleep. Well what happens if you wake up 90 years before you’re supposed to? You’re certainly going to die on the ship. Alone while everyone else sleeps. Unless….

Maybe this film may hit a little too hard with quarantine but for us it was a movie that stuck with us for days. Asking questions about the need for companionship, the future of travel, morality/telling the truth, and if you could really leave Earth behind, would you? (right now this is tempting).

Trailer here.

If you liked this movie

… for the isolation of two people try The Light Between Oceans (book M. L. Stedman)

… for a story about morality and tough space decisions try The 100 (TV)

… for depictions of life on a space ship try Wall-E or Interstellar 

… for the future of human colonization of space try The Expanse (TV) or Firefly (TV)

The Sex Lives of Cannibals / Getting Stoned with Savages J. Maarten Troost [books, travel memoirs]

“The Sex Lives of Cannibals” is the first book but I enjoyed the sequel a little more. The author tells of his accounts living on an island in the middle of nowhere (Vanuatu). His wife tries to teach people not to throw diapers in the sea or fails at trying to get locals to grow things on a coral-based island with no dirt. He is a house-husband who has to be first at the store to get any decent groceries. He chronicles his time on an isolated island discussing politics, history, economy and much more in an entertaining way. So it is both his story and the history and current events of where he’s living. A passage for your consideration:

Now this was the South Pacific of my dreams. Stunning natural beauty … Sharks! Extreme heat! The pounding surf! Noble natives going about their daily lives with a quiet heroism. I would thrive here, I felt. And then I saw what confronted me. It rested directly between myself and shore. …It was an enormous brown bottom. The possessor, a giant of a man, was squatting in the shallows, holding on to a ledge of coral rock. He emitted. He emitted some more. He was like a stricken oil tanker, oozing brown sludge. When he was done, he wiped himself with sticks. Not leaves. Sticks. Small branches. Twigs. And they were coming my way. Riding the ebbing tide, the sticks homed in on me. I became the North Star for shit-encrusted sticks. Whichever way I moved, and I was moving very quickly, these sticks seemed to follow. They were closing in.” -The Sex Lives of Cannibals

If you liked this book

… for the interesting history of one place told through traveling try In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson

… for the humor of the writer try Everything Is Going to Be Great: An Underfunded and Overexposed European Grand Tour by Rachel Shukert

… for the story of embracing a new culture through living in it try Dispatches from Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta by Richard Grant

Top Gear [TV- car/travel show]

I dismissed Top Gear for years thinking it was some kind of car-fixer-upper show. It’s not. Three men might review cars at times (sarcastically) but usually they get into trouble with cars as the literal and metaphorical vehicle enabling them to get into trouble.

If you can’t take a roadtrip with your friends take a road trip with a bumbling narcissist, a smart old guy, and Richard. The specials are exceptionally interesting. They go to a new country, buy some secondhand cars (decorate the interiors) then set off to go do some random challenge. For example, drive the most dangerous road in the world, build a bridge over the River Kwai or find the source of the Nile River.

Our most recommended travel episodes (in order of our favorites)

  • Africa Special (Season 19, Episode 5) a race to find the source of the Nile River
  • Burma Special (Season 21, Episode 6) They try to build a bridge over the River Kwai
  • Vietnam Motorcycles  (Season 12, Episode 8)  bespoke suits, strapping a statue to a motorcycle and playing Born in the USA loudly and inappropriately
  • Botswana Special (Season 10, Episode 4) they must buy cars for under 1,500 pounds then drive across Botswana, border to border. they meet the Vice President and get stuck in second gear for the whole drive.
  • Bolivia Special (Season 14, Episode 6) – the trio is dropped off in the middle of the rain forest and have to drive out and across the most deadly road in the world.
  • Middle East Special (Season 16, Episode 8) They retrace the steps of the three wise men to Bethlehem to bring a gift to a baby Stig (for those who don’t know Stig is their race car test driver who never speaks).
  • India Special (Season 17, Episode 7) they are challenged to improve British-Indian relations. They must buy British cars and jokingly promote British products.
  • The North Pole (Season 9, Episode 8) A race to the North Pole, who is faster -a team of huskies or a Toyota Hillux?

If you like this

for the trio…. try their other  non-travel episodes as well

for the humor of traveling… try Conan (TV, see below)

The Son by Philipp Meyer

“An epic, multigenerational saga of power, blood, and land that follows the rise of one unforgettable Texas family from the Comanche raids of the 1800s to the border raids of the early 1900s to the oil booms of the 20th century.”

This was a book that made Texas feel like another character. The story is told through alternating chapters from 3 characters in the same family. Eli (1840s) who was raised by Indians, his son Peter, and Peter’s granddaughter, a woman who has to fight to make it in a Texas man’s world.

“I don’t have to tell you what this land used to look like,” he said. “And you don’t have to tell me that I am the one who ruined it. Which I did, with my own hands, and ruined forever. You’re old enough to remember when the grass between here and Canada was balls high to a Belgian, and yes it is possible that in a thousand years it will go back to what it once was, though it seems unlikely.”

If you liked this book

… for the story of a hot, dry place try The Dry Jane Harper

… for the sense of place as character/the story of a family in different chapters try The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

… for the Texas element try No Country for Old Men Cormac McCarthy

Conan Without Borders [TV – talk show]

Conan O’Brian travels to different countries to make an ass of himself while also showing the world more about the country. Conan relies on pretty self-depreciating humor which borders on cringe-humor. You usually laugh rather than feel awkward on his behalf. He gives a brief background on the culture, food, history or economics then makes things weird and funny to balance it out.

If you liked this show

… for the travel try No Reservations or Top Gear (see above)

… for the insane energy of the host try Nailed It (Netflix)

The Little House in the Prairie Series (Laura Ingalls Wilder)

If you are just having a hard time why not escape to the magic of being a child again while also escaping back to a time when you had to light a fire just to do laundry. You’ll appreciate being stuck in the house and will be inspired to bake bread and/or sew something. The characters are comforting, you can feel her parent’s love and taste all the wonderful foods her mother makes. Each book only take a couple hours to read. Listed in order:

  • Little House in the Big Woods – Laura’s early childhood in a single cabin. No real isolation-trigger warnings as it feels so cozy and magical.
  • Farmer Boy – her husband’s childhood. His childlike wonder of school, inventions and sledding (plus inspiration to make donuts and pies)
  • Little House on the Prairie – the family moves from the Big Woods and builds their first house. Feel the neighborly love and the freedom of living in isolation
  • On the Banks of Plum Creek – the family moves to an underground house then Pa builds a new house
  • By the Shores of Silver Lake – the series begins to get a bit dark, everyone is sick and the dog dies (sorry spoiler!!!) at the beginning so if you’re not in a healthy place mentally stop with Plum Creek
  • The Long Winter – isolation trigger warning. The family is literally inside the house the whole time nearly starving to death because of blizzards. If you’re having a hard time in isolation right now don’t read this book.
  • Little Town on the Prairie – Laura is older now (15) and working as a teacher

If you liked this book

… for the nostalgia of a simpler time try Miracles of Maple Hill (Virginia Sorensen), Danny the Champion of the World (Rhode Dahl) or The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner

… for the westward expansion/history through a child’s eyes try Dear America books (specifically Across the Wide and Lonesome Prairie: The Oregon Trail Diary of Hattie Campbell)

… because it was a children’s book and I was totally absorbed in reading it try Holes Louis Sachar or Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

Avatar- The Last Airbender [TV- animated]Coming to Netflix May 15

Don’t watch the live action movie “Avatar the Last Airbender” version -it’s crap. And don’t confuse it for Avatar 2009 (with the blue people).

Is this a travel show? Ehhh…  it’s an animated TV show that involves travelling around a well fleshed out imaginary world. While it was originally made for children it has a cult following of all ages.  It has a nearly perfect score online, IMDB gave it 9.2/10 and Rotten Tomatoes gave it 100% fresh. People literally study this show for character development and writing in film school. Don’t ignore it because it’s technically for kids. It does have some advanced adult concepts like war, genocide, if torture is justified…

Yet there is something so pure and wonderful about this show that it’s hard to not recommend it. If you need an escape, if you need to feel like things are going to be okay, and you want to see incredible character development unheard of in most TV shows then this is it. It is travel, in a way, as the culture is Asian based with many nods to Japan, China, Korea and more.

The world involves earth, air, fire and water “benders” – people who can manipulate the elements. Each element has a nation with their own rules, culture and costume. The “avatar” is the only person who can manipulate all 4 elements. The nations all live together in harmony until the Fire Nation attacks and kills all of the airbenders. A hundred years later the Avatar is found, a young boy who hasn’t trained as the avatar but needs to save the world from the fire nation.

Have patience with some of the earlier episodes as they’re just trying to introduce everything. They iron out who is who and then the real plot gets going. After you watch this there is a much darker sequel with murder-suicides and such called “The Legend of Korra.”

If you liked this show

… because it was surprisingly good for a children’s show try Gravity Falls (highly recommended) or Over the Garden Wall

… for the character development and a feel-good watch try Futurama

… because you just needed to binge something funny try Brooklyn 99

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