I love travel writing. I thoroughly enjoy learning about far flung places in the world, their cultures, history, and people. For me it's a real treat to settle into a comfortable chair and experience the travels of a travel writer. It's also an educational experience for an amatuer travel writer, like me.
So what makes a great travel writer? In my opinion, it's primarily the writer's awareness of their surroundings and the ability to express their observations of places, people and events in a way that makes the reader feel as though they are right there, along for the ride.
One travel writer whom I feel has these abilities is Paul Theroux. I've read nearly all of his travel books and have enjoyed each one, though my absolute favorite is The Old Patagonian Express.
The concept of The Old Patagonian Express is quite simple: can someone take a metro Boston commuter train from North America, all the way down to Patagonia on the southern tip of South America? Theroux manages to pull off his goal (sans a few dangerous parts of Central America) while weaving a great yarn about train travel, interesting people and the colorful places he experiences along the way.
What I especially enjoy are Theroux's detailed character descriptions of the people he meets on and off the train, like the Raw Foodist on an Amtrak train in the US Midwest and Thornberry, a fellow American traveller Theroux bumps into while wandering in Central America. The book is filled with many interesting characters that greatly enhance Theroux's story of train travel in Latin America.
I should also warn you that Paul Theroux is often a bit grumpy on his travels, which sometimes gets him into trouble. However I find this gruffness part of his charm. I also like that Theroux bares his grumpy side for the reader, because it shows that a travel writer's life is not always sunshine and ice cream.
So, If you have any interest in trains, travel to South America, or travel adventures but just can't strike our on your own at the moment, I highly recommend The Old Patagonian Express. If you've never read a travelogue before, I encourage you to find a good one and give it a try. Reading about travels makes for interesting reading and can even teach the worldly traveler a thing or two.