Our Reading Lives

Traveling Through Travel Guides

Jaime Herndon


Jaime Herndon finished her MFA in nonfiction writing at Columbia, after leaving a life of psychosocial oncology and maternal-child health work. She is a writer, editor, and book reviewer who drinks way too much coffee. She is a new-ish mom, so the coffee comes in extra handy. Twitter: @IvyTarHeelJaime

lonely_planetOn the shelf in my room, there are a variety of travel guides: Italy, Israel, Prague, Croatia, North Carolina. Fodors, DK, Moon, Lonely Planet – take your pick. I have been to only two of these places (Israel and North Carolina). As much as I’d like to go to the other places, I have no plans to do so in the near future. So why do I have these books?

I confess: sometimes I buy travel books because it’s the only way I will ever go to a place. When I lived in North Carolina, though I loved it, I would read travel books about many other places – the West Coast, Europe – I would devour travel books and read about the best restaurants to eat in, the best sights to see, and the cultures of other places. If I was homesick or generally felt a malaise about being where I was, I would escape the only way I knew how – through words on a page. I still do this.

Right now, I live in NYC. Travel books abound about this place. I’ve never really read any, though. I want to move back to Carolina eventually, hence the travel book on my bedside table right now. After I returned from my trip to Israel nine years ago, I missed it so much I read every travel guide I could find. I dream about traveling to Italy — Venice, Rome, Florence — but for now, the pictures in my books are as close as I’m going to get. The food, sights, smells, and people of these places come to me in books. They let me fill in the rest in my mind. Books have always been an escape, and travel books are, quite literally, an escape for me.

Does anyone else do this? What places would you want to explore, even if only through a  travel guide? Which series of travel guides is your favorite, and why?


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