In this new era of COVID-19, there are plenty of us staying at home suffering from a different kind of illness: cabin fever. Quarantine and isolation are entering their third month for many of us, and the spring season gaining traction isn’t helping at all. Spring typically motivates people to start new projects, clean out their homes and garages, start their gardens, and get outside. Unfortunately, for many people this still isn’t a safe option and may not be for a long time yet. For others, caution would still need to consistently exercised, but as local parks and trails begin to reopen, the opportunity to exercise some old fashioned social distancing by venturing out into nature might just be what the doctor ordered. Regardless of your options or what the future holds, a great way to scratch that itch for exploration is through the following books, each of which is able to spark that sense of wanderlust in their readers. The benefit of being a book-lover is that there are always worlds to explore inside the pages of a book, but, these books have the added benefit of offering a mental escape whilst reading that inspires real-life travel and adventure. So, let’s see if we can fight a little of that cabin fever with these seven books of wanderlust literature.
On the Road by Jack Kerouac—I’ve always been a sucker for the Beat Generation, and On the Road is one of those iconic pieces of work that has come to represent the genre. The novel follows characters that can’t seem to sit still, and as such can never settle down and stay in one place for too long. They definitely make some questionable choices along the way, but there is something to be said about their sense of recklessness in association with their constant search for meaning and adventure in their lives. This novel has a sense of restlessness that all of us can feel sometimes deep down—especially now that we are confined in our homes and hometowns. While this book probably won’t inspire you to engage in the same sort of shenanigans the characters are engaging in (hopefully), it just might inspire you to do a little soul-searching like they have, whether its while you are lost in the pages or on the open road yourself.
A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson—Bill Bryson has become a famous voice in the world of travel writing, probably because he writes with the tone of the uncle who seems to have a funny anecdote for everything. What is really appealing about him, though, is just how relatable he can be—he’s a regular guy who decided to undertake a challenge usually only completed by people who have trained their whole life to do. Spoiler alert: it’s a lot harder than he anticipated. But, it’s his persistence and his observations that make his account so enjoyable. Sometimes, it just takes an itch for adventure and discovery to push us out the door, and despite the challenges that this might present, the journey, not the destination, ends up being the best part of the story.
Walden: Life in the Woods by Henry David Thoreau—A book quoted by naturalists for the last hundred years or more, Walden is the ultimate memoir for the nature lover. Thoreau’s spiritual quest to connect with mother nature is recounted in great and quotable detail in this book. What’s so important about this novel in the current climate is the idea that isolation and solitude are not always negative things to undergo in one’s lifetime, and in fact can sometimes be good for the human spirit. Reconnecting with one’s self, beliefs, and nature itself is important for the mind, body, and soul—and what better time to attempt it? Meanwhile, enjoy this classic piece of influential literature and the enlightenment that it can offer.
Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer—This is a book that has been mentioned on this blog before, and for good reason—it’s a powerful and tragic true story of a boy who wanted to attempt something greater than himself. Idols such as Jack London, John Muir, and the aforementioned Thoreau inspired the love of nature and travel which sent Chris McCandless on his ill-fated journey. And though most of us know about his sad, lonely end, his drive to push on into the wilderness still inspires a sense of romance and wanderlust in the readers of his story.
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed—Second only to the infamous Appalachian Trail is the Pacific Crest trail on the other side of the country. Reflecting on a painful divorce, the illness and subsequent death of her mother, and the influence of drug use, Strayed makes the decision to set out on the trail with no prior experience or knowledge if only to get moving to try to find something missing from her life. It’s also a familiar feeling, to feel powerless as one’s life spirals out of control, to want to run or move to try to escape your problems. On the trail, instead of running away, Strayed confronts her past and finds a sort of spiritual awakening in the different kind of difficulties she encounters there. While not the safest guidebook on attempting a hike of this magnitude, Strayed’s memoir is a truly a “lost to found” kind of story.
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert—In this well-known memoir about self-discovery, Gilbert travels across Italy, India, and Indonesia after a difficult divorce and a failed rebound relationship. At a certain point, we sometimes have to contemplate if we are happy with the way our lives are going. The bravery to make a change and to pursue your own happiness is a powerful message in Gilbert’s novel, and is something many people never had the chance to consider when we’re rushing through our work weeks and trying to make ends meet. This time to slow down can be used to take a closer look at our own happiness and to make the changes we need.
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien—I seriously considered leaving this book off this list, but, I simply could not do it. The Hobbit is so near and dear to my heart that a list about wanderlust and finding yourself seemed incomplete without it. While it stands apart as a work of fantasy compared to the memoirs on this list, it is no less the story of Bilbo Baggins taking that first step out his door (with a little bit of a nudge from Gandalf) and discovering a whole new side to himself along an epic and dangerous journey. If we are confined to literature and fantasy to satisfy our cabin fever, then so be it, a trip from the Shire to the Lonely Mountain might just be the cure we need. And if it’s future real-life adventure you’re craving, The Hobbit, and all the other books on this list, are testament to what can be gained from taking that first step.