"No travel companion is likely to be richer, stranger, more alive and more eager to be intimate than a book."
Typically I travel solo, but I never go alone.
No, I always choose the best of traveling companions, engaging and unfailingly witty men and women with whom one need not compromise on what to do or where and when to do it. They do not insist that I rise at the crack of dawn or slip into slumber when the night life's just starting to hit its stride.
They do not demand I go shopping when I'm itching to hit the trail, explore a museum, take in a ball game or get pleasantly lost walking the streets of some unfamiliar city. And they can fit in a single bag. Or a Kindle or Nook, for that matter.
My steadfast compatriots on the road or in the skies are authors. Dead or alive, lofty or down to earth.
On a recent trip out West, I was joined by Paul Theroux and Diane Ackerman, John D. MacDonald and Peter Mayle. Annie Dillard also made the journey but got lost somewhere near West Thumb, Wyo.
The first rewarded me with a renewed sense of adventure, lending me his clear eye, keen observation and a crackling prose style. The second offered fresh vistas, reminding me of her prodigious knowledge of the natural world, not least the human animal, and, more importantly, her remarkable grasp of its nuances, all in an irresistibly poetic voice.
The third ushered me back aboard the Busted Flush, Slip F-18, Bahia Mar, Fort Lauderdale, from which the ageless Travis McGee, that cynical though soft-centered "salvage specialist" still rights wrongs like a wire-haired knight errant.
The fourth suggests, most entertainingly, that the region of Provence in France, specifically the bucolic Luberon, is a meld of Tuscany and the working class grit of Liverpool.
Not to say I spent every waking hour reading. Far from it, but these writers were always there when I wanted (or needed) the company, waiting patiently for my return, eager to talk to me, one to one. Sometimes, authors even speak to you across the centuries, their minds and voices still alive and vital, persuasive or captivating.
What could be better than reading E.M. Forster's "A Room With a View" while on a sojourn to Florence, Italy, where much of the story is set?
The beauty of it is that there is no end to the people you can ask to join you, year after year, nor any grumbling over last-minute substitutions. You don't even have to speak their language, since someone's already done you the service of translating.
Simply consult your bookshelves if you still have them.