The couch potato's getaway

Settle down over summer with some of the most outstanding travelogues of the year, recommended by Belinda Jackson.

Is That Thing Diesel?, Paul Carter (Allen & Unwin, $24.99)

Some people cure boredom by going shopping; Carter does it by taking a bio-diesel motorbike around Australia. The book really doesn't get going on the journey until about halfway through, so don't expect road maps or tips on the best place to doss in Tennant Creek. He writes more about his suburban angst and the mechanics of organising a round-Australia trip (or "blat") and is possibly funniest when describing the relationship between his baby girl, Lola, and beat-up, dementia-plagued cat, Oswald. Carter writes to shock, so don't buy this book if you're offended by seriously bad language: we're talking direct quotes from hardened oil riggers.

A Food Lover's Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, Dee Nolan (Penguin Lantern, $100)

A divine fabric-bound, hardcover tome of a South Australian writer's journey along the ancient pilgrim route through southern France and northern Spain. Married with the lush photography of Melbourne's Earl Carter, the mediaeval towns yield evocative scenes of cobbled courtyards and ancient recipes for limoncello, spring suckling lamb and loaves hot from the oven. Nolan describes her encounters with those harvesting the rich land for white asparagus, roasting razor clams or skimming ewe's milk for cheese, then delves a level deeper to the connection with the centuries of pilgrims before her and the peace found when simply walking. A delicious tale that's a feast for the eyes, mind and heart.

Destination Saigon, Walter Mason (Allen & Unwin, $24.99)

Love with a Vietnamese man eventually led to a love of Vietnam - but this is no rosy affair. Inspired by several prolonged stays, including stints in rural monasteries and language studies in Ho Chi Minh City, Cabramatta local Mason is a large Caucasian man and therefore a source of wonder and affectionate groping among the dense crowds of smaller-statured Vietnamese. Perched on the back of a motorbike behind a tiny monk friend, he's also a rich source for Vietnamese humour ("Check out skinny Minnie on the back of that bike!") or the ministrations of cafe owners, who bring out extra-strong chairs when he darkens their doorsteps.

A Carpet Ride to Khiva: Seven Years on the Silk Road, Christopher Aslan Alexander (Icon Books, Allen & Unwin, $22.99)

This is the real deal when it comes to travelogues: dense and beautifully written with a healthy dose of dry English humour. The author lived in the central Asian republic of Uzbekistan for seven years, in time establishing a carpet-weaving business, and his tale is insightful and often poignant. In a story of arabesque swirls and Soviet corruption, Alexander travels the region searching for ancient dyes and designs until, inevitably, his refusal to play the bribery game catches up and he is deported from the land he loves.


Grounded: A Down to Earth Journey Around the World, Seth Stevenson (HarperCollins, $35)

As their settled, thirtysomething friends' dinner-party talk turns to prenatal vitamins and real estate, Seth and Rebecca start a running gag: "Let's quit our jobs and just hop on a cargo freighter." And they do it, circumnavigating the world without catching a plane. Parts of the four-month journey become a mad dash between infrequent freighters and include a stint on an ageing cruise ship filled with British retirees, Russia's Trans-Siberian Railway, cycling in Vietnam and picking the dead-animal matter from their hire car's grille after driving from Darwin to Sydney.

Three in a Bed in the Med, Ann Rickard (Radge Publishing, $24.95)

In her sixth book, Sunshine Coast writer Rickard cavorts around the Greek isles, Italy and France with her husband and vampish friend Amanda, fuelled by too much retsina and plans to become the best tour guides in Europe. Struggling to get off the beaten track, the trio "of a certain age" end up sharing a bed in creaky Greek pensions. "I sleep naked. And I snore," Amanda announces and the evenings become a rally of nasal chorusing, loo dramas and the suspicious hum of battery activity (later discovered to be a rogue motorised toothbrush). Funny, unpretentious and pacey.

A Moveable Feast, editor Don George (Lonely Planet, $29.99)

Short stories by some of the world's leading writers, yet aside from Simon Winchester scoffing dog medallions in Seoul, the best tales are spun not by the big names - Jan Morris, Pico Iyer - but by writers not so well known on these shores. Standouts include Liz MacDonald's pot-smoking pilgrimage for Paradise Pepper Sauce on Hawaii's Big Island and Mark Kurlansky's dinner of skinned iguana, supplied by a bushman of French Guiana's Boni tribe ("Like most exotic animals, it had that predictable resemblance to chicken.")

Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India, William Dalrymple (Allen & Unwin, $35)

This is not reading for summer plane travel; this is a book you put aside to savour as the Scotsman, now recognised as one of the great voices writing about the subcontinent, traces nine religious lives in modern India. The stories include that of a Kerala man who works as a lowly prison warden for nine months of the year and is revered as a god during the remaining three; one of the last true singers of epics from Rajasthan; a Tibetan monk-turned-soldier who fought the Chinese invasion in 1950; and a nun preparing to renounce her earthly body for the next incarnation. It's luminous.

Letters from the Caribbean, Andrea & Ian Treleaven (New Holland, $29.95)

If you're envious of the good life, don't pick up this book: it's full of bikinis, beaches and beautiful boats. This Kiwi husband-and-wife team describe their sailing adventures in the West Indies on their new yacht, Cape Finisterre, and journeys to the Virgin Islands, Cuba and Guatemala. But first, they must sail from the 50-foot yacht's birthplace in France, across the Atlantic to the warm waters of St Lucia. Ian's excellent cruising notes give expert advice on yacht power management, internet access and flag etiquette. The book is also embellished with a chapter of Caribbean recipes.

From Here to There: A Father and Son Roadtrip Adventure from Melbourne to London, Jon Faine & Jack Faine (ABC Books, $39.99)

ABC Melbourne's Jon Faine and his 19-year-old son pack up and drive Ping, the Toyota Prado, almost 40,000 kilometres in six months from suburban Melbourne to Timor-Leste, China, the Silk Road into Iran and Turkey and, finally, from Greece to their end point, London's Trafalgar Square. Illustrated with Jack's photos, the travelogue draws on their blog, with their voices ranging from Jon's desire to be amazed and bewildered to Jack's occasional teen ennui and "Oh, dad" cringes.