"MISHAPS AND disappointments only lend relief to the splendour of the voyage," declared Lawrence Durrell. Now that's the attitude I applaud when I curl up in a comfortable chair to cross Central Asia or plunge into the wilds of Borneo. I will go almost anywhere with travel writers who acknowledge that they travel for the sheer joy of it, dismissing obstacles with verve and hardships with wit. Most important of all, they infuse the reader with enthusiasm for the landscape and its history.

No one does this better than the British. They have a long tradition of eccentric and erudite travel writers who are splendid stylists steeped in history. Among my favorites are Freya Stark, Lawrence Durrell, Patrick Leigh Fermor, Jan Morris, Eric Newby and Bruce Chatwin. But with the recent surge of excellent travel books, I'm rapidly adding others to my list. And many old favorites are being reprinted in series such as Century Classics, Virago/Beacon Travelers and Paragon House Armchair Travel Series.

In the publishing world, travel literature is on a roll.

The pleasure of reading fine old travel writing is that it replenishes the imagination when one travels to once splendid scenes now turned tawdry. In 1717 Lady Mary Wortley Montagu described with admiration a Turkish ladies' bath where ladies "in the state of nature, that is in plain English, stark naked," lounged on marble sofas being served coffees and sherbets by pretty slave girls. By the time I got to a Turkish bath in Istanbul, the silver-gilt pots filled with perfume had been replaced by yellow plastic buckets. Instead of delicate slave girls, topless attendants in baggy pants and turbans, with muscles like Japanese wrestlers, twirled us ladies on wet marble slabs as if our bare bellies were ball-bearings. Happily, the elegance of the Ottoman Empire is preserved in Embassy to Constantinople (New Amsterdam Books; other editions of the letters available), a handsome illustrated edition of Lady Mary's much quoted letters.

Gerard de Nerval's Journey to the Orient (paperback, Consortium Book Sales/Moyer Bell) is another reissued classic, written a century later by the poet who influenced Proust and Baudelaire. Taking Lord Byron's advice that the best way to learn a foreign language is to live with a woman of the country, Nerval bought a slave girl in Cairo. His account of her revolt when he ordered her to cook for him is delicious.

A shyer sort of bachelor and the gentle author of the beloved Nonsense Verses, Edward Lear is not widely known as a travel writer. But his Indian Journal, 1875-1875 (out of print), with water-color and charming drawings, is a delight.

The distinction between tourists, who visit the standard sites, and travelers, who map their own routes, was never more clearly made than by Mark Twain. His first trip to Europe and the Holy Lands in 1867 was a highly touted Grand Tour with a group that he richly satirized in The Innocents Abroad (many editions). The book struck a deep chord in actual or would-be travelers, and brought him instant fame. "Perdition catch all the guides . . . they interrupt every dream, every pleasant train of thought," he wrote, railing further at their colossal stores of misinformation.

Two more of Twain's travel books, A Tramp Abroad (Hippocrene Books) and Following the Equator (AMS Press) are equally full of tall-tale American humor. In a grand old mansion in Delhi, two of the ubiquitous Indian monkeys came into his room, and "when I woke, one of them was before the glass brushing his hair, and the other one had my note-book, and was reading a page of humorous notes and crying." To escape obligatory sightseeing in Germany, Twain outfitted a raft (shades of Huck Finn) and drifted down the Neckar River.

Twain's contemporary, the adventurous traveler Isabella Bird Bishop, wrote a series of successful and highly informative books, including Unbeaten Tracks in Japan: An Account of Travels on Horseback in the Interior Including Visits to the Aborigines of Yezo and the Shrines of Mikko and Ise and The Golden Chersonese and the Way Thither (both out of print). In the great British tradition, Bishop could snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. When her horse made a desperate leap from a rising river in Ladakh and fell short, rolling over backward on Isabella (who was 58 and quide small), her rib was broken. "A struggle, a moment of suffocation," she wrote, but "I made light of it." After a day's rest she remounted and "leapt up the slippery rock ledges {as} the Tibetans shouted 'Shabaz! (well done!)' "

Like Bishop, the French explorer and scholar Alexandra David-Neel reported on people and places seldom if ever seen by Western eyes. Her epic walk across China and through Tibet in 1926 was an astonishing feat grippingly recounted in My Journey to Lhasa (Virago/Beacon Travelers). David-Neel was the first Western woman to enter that Forbidden City. Her equally amazing Tibetan Journey recounts her travels through wartorn West China and Eastern Tibet.

Two travelers who would have preferred to journey alone like Bishop and David-Neel, but were forced to team up, were Ella Maillart and Peter Fleming. She was Swiss and he English and they irritated each other exceedingly. Each wrote a fascinating account of their difficult six-month-long journey from Peking to Kashmir by way of Sinkiang in 1935: Maillart in Forbidden Journey (David and Charles/Century Classics) and Fleming in News From Tartary (Jeremy P. Tarcher/Library of Travel Classics).

It is often said that nothing is seen until the writer names it. No one saw and described the people and the landscape of the Near and Middle East more sensitively than Dame Freya Stark. "I am sure the first idea of a Turkish mosque came to someone who saw two cypress trees, one on either side of a small round hill," she wrote. "I look out {in Yemen} at such a landscape now."

In Yemen, Freya Stark's cook told her "All things in Arabia are done by the harem. Get them to wish what you wish, and you will get it." Following that advice and trusting in the Arab tribesmen's etiquette against shooting a woman, Stark journeyed alone by foot, horse, camel and caravan throughout the Moslem world without mishap for more than 50 years from the 1920s to the 1970s. She produced a shelf full of enthralling, erudite accounts of her travels: The Valley of the Assassins, A Winter in Arabia, Dust in the Lion's Paw and Alexander's Path (all titles available in multiple editions), among many others.

When Lawrence Durrell crowned Freya Stark "the poet of travel," he implicitly acknowledged his own romantic sensibility. Few writers evoke the sensuous beauty of the Mediterranean better than Durrell, whose long love affairs with Greece and Cyprus are delineated in The Spirit of Place: Letters and Essays (Leete's Island Books, paperback). "Travel," he writes in Bitter Lemons (out of print), "can be one of the most rewarding forms of introspection."

Durrell's friend, the polymathic Anglo-Irishman Patrick Leigh Fermor, set out to walk from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople in 1933 when he was 18. Remarkably, it was almost a half century before he distilled the narrative of his marvelous tramp through pre-World War II Europe. A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water (both in Penguin paperback) are two of the most enchantingly beautiful travel books I've ever read.

But if I had to choose just one book in this genre it would be Jan Morris's Last Letters From Hav (Vintage paperback), which actually is a work of fiction. Tired of being asked to describe her favorite city, Morris made one up: She "invented a peninsula for it and made it an independent city-state, and called it Hav." Hav is imbued with "the pungent mixture of vices and virtues that we call the Levantine" -- a dream city I long to see. Meanwhile, I'm grateful that Jan Morris has taken me to so many others. The most prolific and perhaps most gifted of travel writers today, she first brought me under her spell when she was James Morris and wrote Coronation Everest (out of print) as a correspondent for The Times of London.

If I had to pick a traveling companion from the ranks of travel authors, I suspect that Eric Newby might be the most fun. He has a wicked sense of humor and a sure sense of the absurd, and he never hesitates to voice his British chauvinism. A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush (Penguin paperback) established his reputation. When he can persuade her, his Yugoslavian wife Wanda accompanies him. Her literalness often makes her his unwitting foil, as when they crossed Russia on the Trans-Siberian railway, a journey subsequently recorded in The Big Red Train Ride (Penguin paperback).

Nobody rides more trains than Paul Theroux and he makes it clear that he prefers traveling alone. Wary as I am of his occasional testiness, I'm happy to wave him off at the station. But his sharp observations and riveting style make me a fan, particularly of The Great Railway Bazaar, The Old Patagonian Express and Riding the Iron Rooster (many editions), in which he rides the rails of Southeast Asia, Latin America and China. What a way to see the world!

Recently I discovered an Australia I would never have dreamed of were it not for the brilliant Bruce Chatwin's The Songlines (Penguin paperback). Until he died at the age of 47 in 1989, the charismatic Chatwin roamed the world, drawn to the bizarre and the beautiful and dedicated to the idea that life was "a journey to be walked on foot." He admired the nomadic life above all and would have agreed with Mark Twain's observation that "The nomadic instinct . . . has a charm which, once tasted, a man will yearn to taste again."

And so, increasingly, there is hardly nook or cranny of the globe that a travel literature buff cannot penetrate in the company of a gifted writer. Two perceptive young Asian Indians educated in the West make separate trips through the East with new international sensibilities: Vikram Seth, in From Heaven Lake (Vintage paperback), and Pico Iyer, in Video Night in Katmandu (Vintage paperback). Redmond O'Hanlon, with great brio, goes Into the Heart of Borneo (Vintage paperback). Caroline Alexander retraces in modern Africa the route of the famous Victorian explorer, Mary Kingsley, in One Dry Season (Random House). And Heather Wood chronicles in Third Class Ticket (Penguin paperback) a most unlikely journey made by 40 Bengali villagers when a rich landowner leaves money and instructions in her will so that her village can "see all of India."

In the great tradition of travel literature, this new breed of travel writers is filling in the blank spots and extending the boundaries of the geography of our imagination. Luree Miller is the president of the Society of Women Geographers and author of "On Top of the World: Five Women Explorers in Tibet."