Whether it’s something to read for the plane over, a book to pick up between cocktail sips by the side of the pool, or something to keep you sane on that 18hour bus journey, we’ve got you covered!
This is, in our highly bias opinion the Top 5 Best Travel Books, written by British authors, about travelling the world!
While our Rally Director, Paul Clayton, might know some of the authors personally, and has spoken at length about how he feels the leaderboard should be arranged, we want to make it clear that Africa Rally Group is getting no financial gain from this chart, and it’s purely our opinions on which books you might enjoy, about travel, while travelling, or for inspiration before you leave.
If there’s a book you think we’ve missed, please do email us on firstname.lastname@example.org as we’d love to hear your opinions, and even give it a read if it’s something we’ve not stumbled upon ourselves.
Ok, let’s kick off the Top 5 Best Travel Books list, in ascending order.
5. Long Way Round by Charlie Boorman & Ewan McGregor
In fifth place, is the book documenting the original motorbike trip by Charlie Boorman & Ewan McGregor, from London to New York, the long way round.
This is probably the most well known of the books in our Top 5 Best Travel Books list, and will probably come as a surprise to some that it’s in fifth, but all we ask is that you reserve judgement until you’ve read the rest. What we will say though, is that we absolutely loved this book, and have gone back to read it on multiple occasions including prior to our own trip between England and Mongolia in 2010.
The genuine friendship between Charlie and Ewan is apparent from the very start, and the audience soon feels very invested in their trip, with the strong desire that it succeed. As additional characters join the crew, most notably Russ Malkin leading the TV Production in the backup vehicles, and Claudio von Planta leading the on the road filming while also on a motorbike himself, readers are given a wonderful perspective on all the work which goes on behind the scenes. This includes before the trip itself even sets off.
The book has spurred a number of follow up trips, including Long Way Down, and Long Way Up, as well as an epic challenge by Charlie Boorman to complete the infamous Pari-Dakar Rally, along with Simon Pavey and Matt Hall when it was still situated in west Africa. Again, this no doubt influenced our own Rally Director’s successful attempt at the original route through west Africa (on a considerably lower budget) back in 2016.
Each trip (including the Race to Dakar Book) is accompanied by a TV Series, but we would always recommend picking up the book for the complete insight, and experience, of the trip itself.
4. Free Country by George Mahood
Coming in at number 4 is the book following the fantastic journey of two friends determined to prove that the kindness of strangers still exists, in the UK no doubt!
George and Ben are dropped off at Land’s End, the furthest point south westerly on the British mainland, and must make it to John O’Groats, the furthest point to the north east. The length of Britain in three weeks, but the catch being they are not allowed to spend a single penny. No purchasing of accommodation, transport, or even food, and no help from any of their friends while they make their way north.
To make it even more difficult for themselves, they decided to start at Land’s End wearing nothing but a pair of union jack boxer shorts.
This book follows a truly delightful and heartwarming tail of their trip north, the struggles and victories, and gives a fantastic insight into the lives of all the wonderful individuals who helped them along the way. It highlights natural human connection in a way which all so often seems lost these days, and shows that putting your faith in your fellow man (or woman), need not be doomed to fail.
A book highly recommended for those wishing to be inspired, or even just keen to find out about the stories of the people who inhabit the lesser known areas of the British Isles.
3. Adventureholic by Neil Laughton
In third place is the book definitely freshest in our minds, having only been released last month! (October 2023) It’s a collection of stories from some of Neil’s most amazing, and certainly toughest adventures. Covering all 7 continents, and travelling by land, sea, and air (in a flying car no doubt), this book has something for everyone.
It’s not simply a collection of stories though, it’s very much an invitation to the reader to live life without boundaries, and always look to inspire our fellow man (or woman) to pursue the extraordinary.
For anyone who has ever dreamt of climbing Mount Everest, making it to the South Pole, or crossing the Sahara Desert, we recommend you give this a read first. It will definitely help in the realisation that these dream trips can be achieved, and that the seemingly impossible is very much possible.
Finally, there’s also a slight mad dogs and Englishmen vibe, which we fully endorse. After all, the author is also infamous for inventing Penny Farthing Polo. Now if only one could motorise the Penny Farthing and enter it in The Africa Rally, we might have a contender for most ridiculous vehicle ever entered!
- It’s On the Meter by Johno Ellison and Paul Archer
Almost in first place, it’s the story of how one drunken idea can spawn a 43,000 mile trip around the world in an old London Taxi. Brilliantly written in parallel by Johno and Paul, their individual perspectives (highlighted by different fonts) on the same trip highlight how important it can be to have a good mate by your side when out on the road.
On a personal note, if it wasn’t for one drunken idea, The Africa Rally would never have been created, and so we appreciate and empathise with the madness involved in following through with their idea. The only difference being we weren’t dressed as characters from Thunderbirds when the idea landed!
Picking up the world record for highest altitude ever achieved in a Black Cab at the same time, this book showcases British travel at it’s best, and will definitely get those adventurous tastebuds going. We’ve placed it at number 2 partly because it’s motoring madness at a global level, which we are all about, but also because at its heart, it’s the story of two mates very much out of their comfort zone having the trip of a lifetime. It probably would have made the top spot if there had just been a little more Africa in there.
On that note, we’ve never had a Taxi (of any type!) enter The Africa Rally, so if you are the proud owner of an iconic Hackney Carriage, New York Yellow Cab, or Indian Hindustan Ambassador, get in touch with the team on email@example.com and we can sort you out with our Random Entry Category.
- Our Ridiculous World Trip by Matt Bishop (with Reece Gilkes)
…and finally! In first place, is the utterly ridiculous world record breaking trip conducted by Matt and Reece, around the world in a scooter… with sidecar! We didn’t really have much choice here, as not only is the book a fantastic read, but they basically completed the route of The Africa Rally while undertaking the journey… call us bias… but it’s the African leg that pushed this one to the top spot for us.
Ironically sponsored by Flight Centre this book is the story of a 34,000 mile trip through 35 countries, and five continents, by two chaps with no mechanical, overlanding, or (at the start at least) motorbiking experience… starting to sound familiar? Importantly as well, it lifts the lid on the issue of modern slavery, with the pair meeting multiple organisations throughout the world who are battling to stop it.
Ultimately it’s a heartwarming tale of friendship, humanity, and the kindness of strangers. It proves what can be achieved as long as you keep moving forward, even through some of the toughest environments – see the Sahara Desert versus a Siberian Winter – and time after time restores your faith in humanity. We highly recommend giving it a read, while on a trip yourselves, or while looking for inspiration from your sofa.
These are our Top 5 Best British Travel Books.
A last comment on the books themselves. It’s important to note that these books also travel, as anyone who’s ever made use of a book exchange in a hostel or backpackers out in some far flung area of the world will know. Historically whenever we exchanged one of these fantastic books, we would put a small heart on the last page so if it ever found it’s way home, we would know it was our copy, however looking in inside covers, we’ve found everything from birthday messages to apologies!
Have you ever picked up a book while travelling, or from a second hand shop with a message inside? What did it say? Let us know in the comments!