New Travel Books Take Journeys on Foot, by Boat and Train, Even Dogsled

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What do you need to know about the places you’re going? A dozen new books answer this question in strikingly idiosyncratic ways, wreathing their authors’ wanderings in vivid back story — sometimes emotional, sometimes empirical, sometimes imperial — enveloping the reader in a kind of legible Sensurround. These books ought to come with 3-D glasses and a soundtrack.

Five years ago, the Manhattanites Erik and Emily Orton, beleaguered but buoyant parents of five children between the ages of 6 and 16, hadn’t even plotted an itinerary when they bought a 38-foot catamaran (sight unseen), flew to a Caribbean harbor and set sail on a Swiss-Family-Robinson-style adventure. “Based on our best budgeting,” Erik calculated, “we’d saved enough money to sail for a year. After that we’d be broke.” Like her husband, Emily wanted to “pursue a dream so big there was room for my whole family” before their eldest left for college. Their time on the boat would be that dream. Where would they go? They didn’t know, but their shipboard byword became, “It will emerge.” In SEVEN AT SEA: Why a New York City Family Cast Off Convention for a Life-Changing Year on a Sailboat (Shadow Mountain, $27.99), husband and wife take turns narrating the story of their voyage, chronicling the crests and troughs of their seaborne experience. Five months in, anchored in Virgin Gorda Sound, they woke to “the blue and green water rolling past, the sun coming up in the east, the trade-wind breeze cooling the morning, the flag flapping.” Where would they go next? Anegada? Tortola? Puerto Rico? It would emerge.

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