We mean no insult to the East Bay’s charms when we say that sometimes ya just need to get the hell away from it. There’s no ignoring the call of the open road when it comes, so if you’re smitten with the travel bug we suggest you start at the Morrison Room, a gorgeous high-ceilinged respite in the tradition of the great private libraries and reading rooms of old. Inside UC Berkeleys Doe Library (510-643-9999), the Morrison is open to the public. You can waltz in (it’s just to the right of the library’s main doors) and relax in an overstuffed armchair while you browse the university’s collection of travel books. Where shall it be — Chengdu? Vanuatu? Montepulciano? Indulge your whims here without shelling out a dime for these expensive and beautifully illustrated tomes.Once you finally fix your travel plans, you’ll probably want to stock up on a few trusty guidebooks to take along, and to lead you through the bazaars and back alleys. Easy Going (1385 Shattuck, Berkeley; 510-843-3533), a travelers’ bookstore with a branch in Walnut Creek, has the best selection around, offering not just guidebooks but also maps, language guides, literary travel memoirs, cultural guides, and samplings of the anthropology, history, art, and literature of far-flung locales to whet your appetite. Check their calendar for in-store talks by authors and experts.
Easy Going can also outfit you with handy travel doodads, luggage, and even a bit of travel clothing. The TravelSmith Outlet (875 Potter; 510-981-1345), a Berkeley brick-and-mortar version of the spendy travel catalogue, has a wider selection of high-tech travelers’ togs, but keep in mind that the TravelSmith logo is sewn in downtown-Oakland garment factories that received low marks in an informal survey conducted by Asian Immigrant Women Advocates. And even outlet prices are steep at TravelSmith. For true bargains, we recommend Wilderness Exchange (1407 San Pablo; 510-525-1255). Here, you can outfit yourself for adventure; the shop sells used and new backpacks, tents, boots, all-weather clothes, cookware, sleeping bags, and Swiss army knives, as well as factory seconds and closeouts. It’s been a Berkeley institution since 1987.
Another good source — especially for trips closer to home — is Oakland’s Sierra Club Bookstore (6014 College; 510-658-7470). Amid a wide array of books on getting outdoors in Northern California and beyond, bestsellers include such tempting titles as Touring California and Nevada Hot Springs. You can also pick up a copy of the San Francisco Bay Chapter’s calendar of events and activities — you don’t have to be a Sierra Club member to join these local outings.
Berkeley’s Global Exchange Fair Trade Craft Store (2840 College; 510-883-0347) is another source for progressive-minded travel. Head here for info on the nonprofit’s Reality Tours. These in-field learning seminars focus on globalization while leading participants to experience culture and natural beauty in Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, India, France, and California. Like all guided trips, these will cost you more than heading off on your own, but Global Exchange does promise to make some scholarships available. And hey — dreaming doesn’t cost a cent.
— Elizabeth Hollander