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Literature

The joy of armchair travelling: our travel anthologies

The perfect antidote if you’ve not been able to get away this summer.

I want to talk about our five travel anthologies because I was involved in them from the start, loved helping to compile them, contributed to four of them, and still enjoy dipping into them from time to time. They are the perfect antidote if you’ve not been able to get away this summer, describing the joy of travel even when disguised in calamity.

The Irresponsible Traveller, To Oldly Go, Roam Alone, Beastly Journeys and Kidding Around were published between 2014 and 2019 with the aim of providing 40 or so different experiences from a wide variety of writers, many of them previously unpublished, with a range of travel stories aimed to inspire, entertain and reassure.

The first one, The Irresponsible Traveller: tales of scrapes and narrow escapes, is a bit different because we were looking for professional writers who had made bad decisions on their travels or simply got into hot water inadvertently.

At Bradt we had espoused responsible travel since the early 1990s – indeed, we were probably the first publishers to do so – but this isn’t always what we wanted to chat about informally.

As I explained in the introduction, ‘When travel writers get together they tend not to talk about how well they’ve behaved or the latest eco-initiative. The tales that come first are those of uncomfortable moments on the road, unpublishable stories of times when things went wrong, sometimes because of their own irresponsibility.

‘I remember one such conversation: drinks in hand a group of us were batting around book ideas, getting sillier as the evening wore on, when Mike Unwin recounted his irresponsible and hilarious experience of trying to smuggle hard currency out of Zimbabwe in a train toilet. A year or so later Alex Robinson told me his spine-chilling tale of coming within seconds of being murdered by bandits in Brazil, and I knew the time was ripe for a collection of such stories.’

I had such fun helping to compile these tales with Adrian and our long-term editor, Jennifer Barclay, that I was sure we weren’t going to stop at one.

From first-hand experience I knew that the over 60s were the most intrepid of all travellers, so a collection of their inspirational stories was the obvious next choice. Or certainly it was for me, already in my 70s and still hitchhiking.

To Oldly Go: Tales of intrepid travel by the over-60s inspired some splendid accounts, some spine-chilling, some hilarious, but mostly awe-inspiring at what we oldies could get up to on the road.

As Dervla Murphy put succinctly in her foreword: ‘Wanderlust, unlike other lusts, does not diminish with age’.

Roam Alone was inspired by a mixture of conversations with keen travellers who found themselves suddenly without their usual travel companion and were nervous about going it alone, and travellers who had found themselves in the same position and conquered their fears. Subtitled ‘Inspiring tales by reluctant solo travellers’, it was just that.

Each story told of the initial anxiety or fear (‘At Heathrow I went into the Ladies and sobbed.’) and ended in the joy of discovering that solo travel was not only easy but opened a whole lot of doors that are closed to couples or groups.

‘That moment for me was pure freedom, freedom like I’d never experienced it before, and it’s this feeling of life being lived that still pushes me to do things that scare me. On my own.’

Then came a variation of travelling alone – having an animal companion. I suspect that I championed this to give me another opportunity to write about my journey with a pony in Ireland.

Just You’s top 5 tips for reluctant solo travellers

Finding Freedom

My Daughter’s Laugh

As a Gerald Durrell and David Attenborough fan I knew there were some hilarious book extracts we could probably include, and I knew enough travellers who’d been adopted by dogs, and found themselves in charge of other creatures while travelling that there would be no shortage of stories. Indeed not.

Beastly Journeys was perhaps the most enjoyable of all to compile because of the variety of tales that came in and my own researches – such as the account of a giraffe’s journey from Sudan to Paris in the 19th century.

The unpredictability of animals produced an unusual number of amusing tales.

And if you think that the animal kingdom only embraces larger, furry creatures, wait until you read Adrian’s hilarious account of his uninvited companion.

Adrian goes on to provide the funniest story in our collection of tales of travelling, not with animals but children (the challenges are much the same, actually. Keeping the blighters happy while enjoying the trip yourself).

It was possibly hearing Adrian’s tales of journeys with his twins that helped us decide to compile Kidding Around. And to encourage people that parenthood needn’t be the end of their travels.

Using Basketball Skills in a Chinese Hospital

Thomas and the Great Japanese Farewell

The Voyage to Wild Cat Island

So there you have it. Altogether over 200 stories to keep you inspired, amused, reassured, and optimistic. And enough variety that there really is something for absolutely everyone here.

More information

Get your copy of one of our anthologies here: