I grew up on a Japanese military base. Because of that, half of my childhood was spent on the snowy slopes of Japanese mountains or camping in their lush river valleys. Then, as a young adult attending university, it became increasingly difficult to get away and I began to think of these childhood adventures as a form of escapism.
I yearned for exploration, but couldn’t afford many trips. And so the day I was gifted Paul Theroux’s The Kingdom by the Sea (1983), was the day I discovered the power of travelogues to take me away from my reality. It took me on an unexpected adventure along the coast of the United Kingdom, and I devoured it faster than any book I’ve ever read.
Mesmerized by the author’s account of the United Kingdom, I was especially engrossed in his description of Northern Ireland. There’s a particular type of tribalism found among the Catholics and the Protestants there, yet despite their ideological and religious differences, the people seem to have a general sense of love and humaneness.
This is also the conclusion I came to after reading another one of Theroux’s books. This time it was his 2015 work, Deep South. The people Theroux met on the back roads of the Deep South refuse to be defined by their material realities, which are often bleak and/or impoverished, and were still very much full of compassion and humility.
“‘Kin Ah he’p you...in inny way?’ was the rule,” Theroux wrote towards the end of the book. “I was the quintessential stranger, but a welcome one. I made friends. With rare and farcical exceptions, I was treated with kindness by people I met by chance.”
I have to admit that reading someone else’s travelogues isn’t the same as embarking on actual travel. But, I can still greatly enjoy the escapism provided by travelogues like The Kingdom by the Sea and Deep South. Additionally, I’ve come to really appreciate more than ever before, how books can humanize people the readers have never met. Even if you can’t travel, I believe that picking up someone else’s account of their travels can give people an opportunity to live vicariously through them.