“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies...The man who never reads lives only once.”
- George RR Martin
Reading in the Dead Sea!
Aside from travelling, one of the greatest ways to expand your mind and broaden your horizons is through reading great literature and fiction. A great novel teleports you into a time, place and circumstances very different from your own. It allows you to get into the head of a character and see the world through their eyes. Their struggles, joys and sorrows allow the imaginative reader to reach their own epiphanies and a deeper understanding of the world.
In particular, some travel fiction and memoirs provide the reader a deeper insight into the city, country or continent in which they are exploring. It provides a perspective of how things got to be where they are, and where things might be heading. Others simply provide a fictional, mythological backdrop in which the reader can measure themselves as the hero of their own epic adventure.
Aside from all those lofty goals, reading is just simply a fun way to pass the time. Between long plane rides, waits at the train station and relaxing afternoons at the beach, a good book transports you to another world while you’re in a foreign place.
Reading with the hostel cat!
Throughout the years, whether it’s being absorbed by Murder on the Nile by Agatha Christie while exploring Egypt or fascinated by Hiram Bingham’s The Lost City of the Incas on my own trek in the Peruvian mountain sides, books have accompanied me the world over as a constant companion.
Here are my Top 8 Best Travel Books to spark your wanderlust and which part of the world they're best read in if you really want to feel immersed. Keep in mind that they are my favourites and are by no means a definitive all-time great’s list.
#8 - Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
Country Best Suited for its Theme: India
This epic, 936-page novel is based on the life of the author, who was a convicted felon and bank robber sentenced to 19 years in an Australian prison. He managed to escape his captors and eventually ended up in the chaotic, colorful and crazy city of Mumbai, India. Through a series of chance encounters with some very colourful and memorable characters, he ends up living in its crowded and diverse slums and becomes its doctor.
From smuggling drugs and guns for the mafia, to starring in a Bollywood film, to travels in Africa and Afghanistan on behalf of his criminal bosses, the protagonist comes full circle to some pretty stark realizations about the role of fate, the power of choices and roller coaster that is the human experience.
I’ll be honest – I’ve never been to India and don’t have much desire to go anytime soon. Yet, Roberts was able to capture the vividness of its sights, smells and sounds so poignantly that I was tempted to book a ticket when reading this masterpiece. It is clear from reading his work that the author fell deeply in love with its people, culture and environment. If you’re heading to India anytime soon, this is the book for you.
#7 – Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall:
Country Best Suited for its Theme: Anywhere
Have you ever wondered why the Northern European countries have historically been so much more economically prosperous and successful than their southern counterparts? Or why Russia is so obsessed with the Crimea and the Ukraine? Or how the United States remains a global superpower decade after decade? In this work of non-fiction, Tim Marshall dives into the role of geography and how it shapes a people, culture and country.
I’ve also never given much thought before to the importance of geographical features like rivers, oceans and mountains in helping to grow or handicap a country. This book allowed me to view places and world politics we often read or hear about on the news in a completely different way. This includes our preconceived notions on China, the Middle East and Russia.
For those who are deeply curious about the state of world affairs and where they might be heading, this book will be a fascinating read as it explains places in geopolitical terms. It partly explained why some countries are so rich (IE Switzerland), while others are so poor (IE Bolivia). Although geopolitics alone does not explain everything that goes on in the world, it does offer a compelling lens to view current affairs.
#6 - The Motorcycle Diaries by Che Guevara:
Country Best Suited for its Theme: Latin America
This book is a memoir written by then 23-year old Ernesto Guevara from Argentina, who would go on to become the iconic Marxist revolutionary Che during the Cuban Revolution. However, at the time he was just a carefree medical student taking a motorcycle road trip with his buddy Alberto Grenado across Latin America.
I read this book while backpacking through Peru and it greatly enhanced my trip. During his 8-month motorcycle trip through South America, Che explored Inca ruins, volunteered as a fireman and displayed solidarity with blue collar workers during a strike. It is an excellent travel memoir that captures the spirit of Latin America as well as the transformation of an idealistic young man into a determined revolutionary.
For the perceptive traveller who has travelled in South America, the striking poverty, injustices and social class divide that is described will resonate. They will also experience that extraverted and passionate Latin American culture. To read Che’s account of his travels is to get a glimpse of his realizations into the Latin American identity. This is a must-read for anybody travelling through South America.
#5 - The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway:
Country Best Suited for its Theme: Spain
Hemingway is one of my favourite American authors. Aside from being a world-class and prolific writer, the man was just a badass and lived a very interesting life. From fighting in World War I, to working in Spain as a journalist during the Civil War, to living in Cuba where a famous bar was named after him, he was adventure and travel personified.
Some consider this book to be his greatest masterpiece and I am inclined to agree. Set in the 1920's, it begins with a group of American and British ex-pats in Paris who decide to go to Pamplona to watch the running of the bulls in Spain. The novels unfold brilliantly with his signature terse prose as the themes of disillusionment after the Great War, meaning and pleasure-seeking are explored through the eyes of the characters.
People travel for a variety of reasons. Some go from place to place, seemingly in search of novelty looking for something that they can’t quite grasp. Others use travel and adventure-seeking as a way to escape. Hemingway wrote about this search as someone from the “Lost Generation” of expats in the 1920’s. Regardless of the era, this timeless novel is a great companion book for anyone travelling through Europe.
#4 - How to Travel the World on $50 a Day
by Matt Kepnes AKA “Nomadic Matt”
Country Best Suited for its Theme: Anywhere
As its name implies, this work is less of a novel than a non-fiction, “how-to” book. The author lived a nomadic life and travelled the world for over seven years (!). This book distills a lot of his travel savvy into actionable information on how to maximize your travel dollar to get the greatest value.
In his own words, whether you are looking to honeymoon in the Seychelles, take your family to Disneyland or a trip to London, Matt pulls out all the stops and reveals many resources, tips and tricks to save money while still having an enjoyable experience. From how to save up for a big trip, to using credit card points to pay for flights and hotels, to the best travel insurance providers, he gives easy to follow step-by-step guide.
I found his book to be a great resource. Some information and websites are a bit dated and simplistic, but I still picked up many little golden nuggets along the way. Throughout the years, these little tips and tricks have added up to save me hundreds if not thousands of dollars.
Although it’s possible to travel on $50 USD shoe string budget per day, I personally found it much more realistic and enjoyable to be aiming for $75-$100 USD per day. Nonetheless, get this book if you want to step up your travel budget game!
#3 - On the Road by Jack Kerouac:
Country Best Suited for its Theme: The USA
This one is an oldie but a goodie as a classic novel by another American author. Set in the 1950's, the protagonist Sal sets out on a hitchhiking adventure across America with his seemingly irresponsible new buddy Dean. From New York to San Francisco, the journey is told in great detail before the characters end up in Mexico City. Through bus rides and hitchhikes, it captures the spirit of the Beatnik generation and the American landscape.
The novel resonated with me because it speaks of the yearning for freedom and endless possibilities that makes people want to see the world. It captures both the highs and lows of life on the road as he encounters friends, lovers and fellow travellers.
Despite all its debaucheries and questionable character choices, it’s an interesting read into the book that inspired a generation of Baby Boomers to “change the world.” If you’re road-tripping through America, look no further. This novel remains Kerouac's most famous work for good reason - it's just that good.
#2 - Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long Term World Travel by Rolf Potts:
Country Best Suited for its Theme: Everywhere
Simply put, this book changed my life. It's about how to take time off from your daily life and work to travel the world for an extended period of time; from six weeks, to six months to one year or more. It's about seeing the world on your own terms and valuing time and experiences over material things. It covers the philosophy behind extended world travel.
From actual preparation for such an endeavour to practical execution, Rolf covers all the bases and provides many useful tips. By reading this book, you’ll learn to view the money-travel relationship differently, find joy in simplicity and learn to value your time and freedom that much more.
One thing I really like about this book is how it’s filled with memorable travel quotes throughout. From famous authors, intrepid explorers to normal “every-day people” who just went for it, it’s packed with inspiration and motivation. Rolf also sprinkles in tips and resources on how to actually pull it off.
One section I found quite relatable was towards the end on how to reintegrate back into society after an extended stint abroad! Anyone who has lived or travelled for a long period of time can definitely relate to how jarring it can be to come home – often more difficult than the act of leaving.
This book may inspire you to explore new cultures and places for months or even years on end! I highly recommend you check it out.
#1 – The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho:
Country Best Suited for its Theme: Anywhere
Aside from being an excellent travel book, this book is simply one of the greatest books of all time. It is an international best-seller and been translated across many languages for good reason. The world renown Brazilian author wrote a masterpiece allegorical novel about an Andalusian Sheppard boy who travels far from his home in Spain to Egypt after a dream in search of his treasure.
It can be read on so many levels. As a travel tale, it is full of fantastic adventure, memorable characters and exotic backdrops. On a deeper level, it’s about learning to follow your heart, the power of overcoming fears to pursue your dreams and appreciating the journey. It's chalk full of profound wisdom that is bound to inspire and motivate to you to embark on your own grand adventure.
Where ever you are and whatever your circumstances, this book will change your life! It is a must-read as each one of us embarks on our own travels through this great big world and journey called life.
There you have it, a few of my favourite works to read while on the road or even at home. Do you think I left out a great book? What are your recommendations? Leave a comment and let me know.
Until next time,
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