You could sit in the corner and bemoan the cancellation of that much-awaited holiday. You could drive yourself mildly insane thinking about the masterpieces you would have seen in the Vatican and all the selfies you would have taken in front of the Eiffel Tower. And, you could find a playlist of sad songs and listen to them while you read the New York itinerary you won’t get to live out next week. But will that soothe your sense of wanderlust? Will it calm your itchy feet? Probably not. So why not live vicariously through these travel stories instead?
The spread of COVID-19 has led to a great number of us being cooped up indoors and working from home. Whether you need a five-minute break from your desk (which is really a corner of the dining room table that you’re sharing with three other flatmates) or you’re looking for a way to wind down at the end of the day, these short stories about travel are just the ticket for an inner escape.
From fiction to nonfiction, hilarious to iconic, we’ve rounded up some quick and easy travel short stories to soothe those itchy feet. This list will give you and your imagination all the tools you need to break through the walls of your apartment and into worlds without confinement, without the coronavirus and without a shortage of toilet paper.
Nonfiction travel stories
1. An adventure travel story: The Lost City of Z by David Grann
Have you ever dreamt of visiting the Amazon rainforest? Just imagine trekking through leafy jungle scenes, stepping carefully to avoid deadly snakes and spiders, dressed in a khaki get-up straight from Indiana Jones. If the thrill seeker in you is leaping with joy, then this travel story by David Grann is for you.
The story tells of an expedition into the Amazon to find signs of an explorer who disappeared in the rainforest in the 1920s. But this expedition has a few interesting twists and turns in it, too. Put on your best safari hat, settle down on the couch and get ready for an adventure. This one’s a long one, so bookmark it for a long and laid-back evening in.
Reading time: two hours
2. A short travel story for foodies: In a Minivan With a Stranger by Michael Chabon
Think of a time you went on a trip and landed yourself in a potentially dangerous situation that, in the end, turned out just fine.
Perhaps you’re thinking of that roadtrip with your best friend. The one where you ran out of petrol in a completely deserted area and had to walk several miles to the nearest fuel station where you were rewarded for your efforts with a jerry can of petrol, an ice cream and a lift back to the car. Maybe you’re thinking of the day you lost your wallet in New York City; just as panic began to fill your lungs and well up in your eyes, someone tapped you on the shoulder and handed it back to you with a smile.
Well, this is one of those stories, and it’s told beautifully by Michael Chabon.
Reading time: 10 minutes
3. Another short travel story for foodies: Long Day’s Journey by Elizabeth Gilbert
If you read Eat, Pray, Love and have been an ardent fan of Elizabeth Gilbert ever since, here’s a travel story for you.
Join Elizabeth and her companion on a walking and eating tour through Provence in this stunning story. Foodies the world over will revel in her mouthwatering descriptions of French delicacies, including delightfully strong cheeses, crisp and delicious wines and flaky, buttery pastries.
Laced with her characteristic humour and imbued with a healthy dose of self-deprecation, this is everything you need to get out of your living room and into the French countryside (metaphorically, of course). Needless to say, by the end of this story, your mouth will be watering and you’ll probably have another trip on your bucket list.
Reading time: 30 minutes
4. A funny travel story: Do We Transcend Before or After We Purchase the Commemorative Eel Cakes? by Susan Orlean
Feel like your living room walls are closing in on you? Escape to the mountains with this hilarious tale about preparing to climb Japan’s Mount Fuji and an actual climb up the famous mountain.
Guaranteed to distract you, at least temporarily, from your quarantined status, this story is fun, silly and refreshingly real. Get ready to rejoice in the narrator’s moments of triumph, sigh in her moments of disappointment and guffaw at her many funny interactions.
Reading time: 30 minutes
Fictional travel short stories
5. A sci-fi travel short story: Any Way the Wind Blows by Seanan McGuire
If you’re not only sick and tired of your living room but also of the fierce current of negative news about the coronavirus and its impact, how about another world entirely? This is one of those sci-fi short travel stories that requires all your imagination, and thus your undivided attention (no room for thoughts of COVID-19 now!).
Captain Isabelle Langford and her crew are on a mission that requires travelling through parallel worlds, and they’ve just stumbled on a human-occupied Manhattan. With multi-headed navigators and carnivorous pigeons, this is one travel story you’ll thankfully never have to live through yourself – but will probably really enjoy reading about.
Reading time: 20 minutes
6. A classic short story: The Swimmer by John Cheever
Unconventional, classic and a sweet reminder of poolside summer days. John Cheever’s The Swimmer will transport you to a hot, lazy day by the pool to start and then take you on a thought-provoking adventure.
Lounge on the couch with a glass of something cold and let this story lead you out of your living room and into the American dream.
Reading time: 25 minutes
7. A time travel short story: A Sound of Thunder by Ray Bradbury
Ever wished you could actually travel back in time? If you could do such a thing, which period would you visit? Perhaps you’d park off in the 1700s and seek out Jane Austen. Maybe you’d go further back to find out if Julius Caesar really looks as noble as his statues suggest. In this time travel short story, you’re going right back to the era of dinosaurs.
Eckles is nervous about his trip back in time. You probably would be too, if you were going to meet the monsters that inspired Jurassic Park. But will he be able to keep his nerves in check on this trip back to the age of the T-Rex? There’s only one way to find out.
Reading time: 23 minutes
8. Another classic short story: The Golden Honeymoon by Ring Lardner
If travel stories were food, this short travel story by Ring Lardner would be a big ol’ serving of comfort food. It’s the kind of story you want to read snuggled under a blanket with a mug of tea in your hand. It’s sweet and gentle and an easy escape from the current reality.
The premise is simple: An old couple celebrate their golden anniversary with a trip to the town of St. Petersburg in Florida. Told from the perspective of the husband, the story is written in a grandfatherly drawl you can almost hear when you’re reading.
Reading time: 32 minutes
9. A short story set in New York: Emerald City by Jennifer Egan
Ever been to New York? Whether you’re a local, a frequent visitor or a maybe-some-day hopeful, this story is enough to give you all the New York feels. Glamorous, bittersweet and dotted with references to actual New York spots, this travel story offers a quick escape into one of the most iconic cities in the world.
A photographer assistant tries to support his model girlfriend who longs to travel the world. Girl, we can relate. But for now this snapshot of New York will be a soothing balm for a bad case of wanderlust.
Reading time: 22 minutes
10. A (very) short story set in London: Waterloo Sunrise in Londonist’s London Short Fiction Series
Without setting foot outside your living room, why not move from New York to London? If you’re after a five-minute break from your living room, this London short story should do the trick.
Join Faye on her sunrise walk from a night out clubbing. Imagine that it’s you striding across Waterloo Bridge in the early morning chill. Conjure up a view of London’s cityscape; Big Ben on one side of the Thames, the London Eye on the other. See the sunrise in your mind’s eye and use your trusty imagination to help you out of your home and out into the world.
This short travel story is part of a series of short stories about London, so if you like Waterloo Sunrise for its distinctive London feel and you’re keen to keep imagining yourself outside of your house, keep reading.
Reading time: 5 minutes