10 Best Travel Books of the 20th Century

Patrick Leigh Fermor’s A Time for Gifts proclaimed best travel book of the twentieth century by members of the International Society of Travel Writing

Patrick Leigh Fermor’s A Time of Gifts was named as the best travel book of the past century by the members of the International Society of Travel Writing at their conference in Denver this past October (2006). Fermor’s narrative about walking from London to Istanbul as an eighteen year old in the 1930s received the most votes in a survey asking participants at the society’s biannual conference to name their choices for the ten best travel books of the twentieth century.

Finishing second in the voting was William Least Heat Moon’s Blue Highways, a narrative of one man’s journey by van across the United States, followed by Eric Newby’s A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush and V.S. Naipaul’s An Area of Darkness, a travel novel about India. Popular American writer Bill Bryon’s travelogue of small-town America, The Lost Continent, rounded out the top five vote getters.

Also appearing on the list was Mary Morris’s memoirs Nothing to Declare: Memoirs of a Woman Traveling Alone, finishing in sixth place, just ahead of American beatnik icon Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. Rounding out the top ten were Peter Fleming’s Brazilian Adventure, Bruce Chatwin’s In Patagonia, and The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux.

Voters were asked to rank these books on overall excellence and to consider all narratives dealing with travel not just travelogues or books on specific areas or subjects. The results of these guidelines are a very diverse list that includes novels written throughout the twentieth century by European, American, and international authors. This diversity reflects the makeup of the society itself, which includes members from over thirty countries.

The International Society of Travel Writing is an organization devoted to encouraging and fostering the work of scholars, publishers, and creators of travel writing. This list was released in an effort to create a standard of excellence to which all travel writers can aspire too when completing their own works.