Free Travel Ebooks
I have previously written about inspiring travel books and this list follows a similar vein. Yet this time I am concentrating not just on classic travel books but also the lost and previously unknown travel books. Internet giants Amazon and Apple are a huge resource for free travel ebooks, while it’s also worth checking out sites like Project Gutenberg which offer a huge range of free ebooks.
This list will highlight some of my favourite travel literature, looking through the authors it resembles a who’s who of writing. You may be surprised to learn some of the authors who are included, but I am a strong believer that travel writing can be a hugely diverse and broad field.
Names such as Charles Dickens and Rudyard Kipling may be more famous for Oliver Twist and The Jungle Book respectively but they also produced numerous volumes about their travels.
Dickens notably travelled extensively. Back when Dickens explore the world it wasn’t as connected as it is today. In Dickens’ time the world was still relatively unknown to the masses and often the first the general public would learn of a country would be through letters, correspondence and essays published by literary magazines. This was a particularly Victorian and Edwardian enterprise. As the rich and upper class went off to stake their claim for Queen, Country and the British Empire they often wrote in great detail about their destinations and subsequent adventures. They would write long and often dry descriptive pieces but they, especially Dickens, would punctuate this with humour and human interaction. Dickens may very well be one of the first modern day travel writers, even before the term was invented.
As many of you know I like to hike and write about hiking/However one thing I’ve noticed when blogging about hiking is if you simply write descriptive passages about the wonderful vistas then you’ll soon end up boring yourself let alone your reader. A writer needs to introduce narrative into his work to make it more wholesome, more interesting and more real to the reader. This is something Dickens manages superbly. His description of French train passengers becoming more comfortable as they near home and of the English shrinking as they get further and further away from their comfort zone is something we can all relate to.
The likes of Dickens and Kipling could be seen as a precursor to the modern day travel blogger. They wrote pieces about their experiences travelling. Is that not what a travel blogger does?
Before we delve into the list of excellent free travel ebooks I want to make one final point about Dickens, he, I believe, has come up with one of the most underrated travel quotes of all time.
“The more man knows of man, the better for the common brotherhood among men.” Charles Dickens
What Dickens is saying here is the more we travel and experience other cultures the better for the whole of humanity.
Free Travel Ebooks You Must Read
It would be remiss to start this list with any other author other than Charles Dickens. In American Notes, a travelogue, Dickens detailed a trip he took with his wife to North America. There he acted as an observer of North American society, of which he was critical. Dickens arrived in Boston and travelled to Lowell, Philadelphia, Richmond, St.Louis and Montreal. Whilst in North America, Dickens visited numerous prisons and mental institutions, becoming very vocal in his criticisms of the sanitary conditions he encountered in North American cities, as well as the ongoing existence of slavery in the former colonies.
Travel writing doesn’t necessarily have to be based in reality. Some of the best travel writing can be a parody of ‘travellers’ tales’. Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift fits firmly into this category. Originally called “Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World, in four parts, By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of Several Ships” but best known as Gulliver’s Travel. The basic premise of the story is Gulliver going on four voyages and getting shipwrecked. All four voyages allow Gulliver to experience new perspectives to his life and new opportunities for satirising the ways of England.
Kipling, like Dickens, is best known for his fiction work. Also like Dickens he shows somewhat of a contempt for Americans. In Letters of Travel it can deduced Kipling thought Americans were ignorant provincials. Letters of Travel, covering Kipling’s Japan, the US, Canada and Egypt adventures, is funny, profound, somewhat harsh but incredibly witty at the same time.
Meriwether Lewis and William Clark led the first ever American expedition to cross the western portion of the United States. The Lewis and Clark expedition, also known as the Corps of Discovery Expedition, departed St. Louis in 1804 and made its way west to the Pacific Coast.
The Journals of Lewis and Clark describe in detail their mission. Sent out by President Thomas Jefferson shortly after the Louisiana Purchase, Lewis and Clark and their command undertake a perilous journey which lasted 18 months.
Their primary objective was one of ensuring Britain and other European powers did not settle and explore the land first, secondly Lewis and Clark’s objectives were scientific and economical. It is this part of the book which makes for the most interesting read. They studied plant and life along with the geography of the area. Lewis and Clark also made contact with local Indian tribes. Their journals are a great source of maps, sketches and general musings about overland travel and exploration.
A dour Scottish missionary somehow became one of the most important characters in Africa’s history. The explorer David Livingstone’s book Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa is his account of his second expedition to Africa in 1853. The purpose of Livingstone’s expedition was to abolish the slave trade and open up Africa to Christian commerce and missionaries.
Livingstone travelled by foot over 4,000 miles from Cape Town, South Africa to the western coastal town of Loanda. He then turned east, following the Zambesi River before finishing in Mozambique. A true classic of exploration from the Victorian era, in a time when many explorers were egocentric, Livingstone comes across as genuinely caring for Africa.
Originally published as a three volume tome, Celebrated Travels and Travellers is Jules Verne’s homage to those who have travelled before us. The first volume covers travels and exploration from B.C. 505 to the Seventeenth Century, with the second and third volumes covering the period from the Seventeenth, Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries. Jules Verne is best known for his science-fiction work but like many other authors in this list he also had a fascination with the world in which we live. Celebrated Travels and Travellers is a comprehensive history of the world’s greatest explorers and includes many which history has since forgotten.
The Oregon Trails, originally serialised in 21 installments in Knickerbocker’s Magazine, is a first-person account of a two-month summer tour of Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado and Kansas by the then 23-year-old Francis Parkman. The basic premise of the book is the three-week period Parkman spent hunting bison with a group of Oglala Sioux. The title is slightly misleading as the book cover only one third of the actual Oregon Trail.
As with many female writers of the Victorian era Mary Kingsley led a secluded and somewhat unfulfilling life in England. That was until 1893, when she defied convention and travelled to West Africa to collect botanical samples for a book her father had left unfinished.
Adventures of this kind was practically unheard for women to undertake at the time, yet Kingsley travelled through Western and Equatorial Africa, becoming the first European to enter parts of the Gabon. Her book, Travels in West Africa, is a classic of adventure travel writing, she writes in an engaging and powerful way and it is obvious to the reader she was fearless in her pursuit despite tales of crocodiles, leopards, animal traps and dangerous river crossings.
John Muir once wrote to a friend “I am hopelessly and forever a mountaineer.” Muir is like an extreme version of your dad on a family holiday, wanting to climb every hill and see every lake. Yet in Muir’s case replace hill with mountains and lakes with glaciers. Travels in Alaska is Muir’s account of several journeys to the Alaskan wilderness he made between 1879 and 1890. Muir is a naturalist and his musings bring alive the beauty of Alaska and his vivid descriptions of the glaciers are second to none.
Sir Ernest Shackleton’s South is one of the great books of human exploration. The harrowing account of what Shackleton himself called ‘the last great journey on earth’ depicts the Antarctic expedition in which his ship, the Endurance, was crushed by ice. This forced Shackleton and his men to trek 600 miles across ice to find land, then travel in an open boat 700 miles to South Georgia, where they crossed the island over uncharted mountains and glaciers.
Shackleton’s account of this monstrous journey is superbly written and nearly 100 years after it was first published it still has the ability to thrill readers.