My mother taught me from a very young age that wherever you go for whatever length of time you must take a book, if nothing else, with you. It has now become almost a ritual of choosing the right book to take with me. Of course, the length of time and nature of the travels are huge factors when considering what to take. Whether it’s a beach holiday, a weekend break, or a longer travel stint there is always book to be taken! Not only is reading a great entertainment, but also a way of inspiration and companionship-especially when you are away from home for a long time.
Starting with the classic beach holiday read: I find that when going away for a week’s break laying on the beach or by the pool, the best read to take is a trashy novel so that your mind can switch off from everything else. My favourite choice for this category would have to be a Jilly Cooper novel such as Polo. Nothing in the beach trash novel genre will beat these books!
I feel that when you are going somewhere for just the weekend, you will most likely be busy wandering around discovering and exploring wherever you happen to be. I think the best thing to read in these cases is books that are based in the area you are visiting. If you start it before you leave, it will get you excited to visit the area, and inspire you to move around and discover more then the immediate. So for example, by reading Peter Mayle’s A year in Provence, you are introduced to a personal experience of the area, bringing it more to life when you arrive and recognise names of places mentioned from the book. This, of course, is not necessarily limited to shorter trips. Take a Seat by Dominic Gill is the story of a guy who bikes on a tandem bicycle alone, picking up companions during his two-year trip from Alaska to Argentina. An inspiring read for any traveller!
However, when you go away for a longer period time-anywhere from three months, the decision of that book to take with you suddenly becomes much harder. Do you decide to take a travel book (not guide) which is fun and light-hearted and also possibly about the region, or a more thought-provoking book? I will only ever take one book with me with the intention of just picking up and swapping my books as I go along.
When you are away from home for longer periods of time and have all your possessions in one bag on your back, stripped of all contacts, pre-conceptions and expectations, your mind is much more alert and thirsty for knowledge. Even without necessarily noticing it, your mind is taking in so much new knowledge-whether it’s history, culture, friends, language-that this is the best time for you to read a book which challenges your mind and makes your think in a different way to how you would otherwise if you were at home. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, part memoir and part philosophy, not only triggers your mind to be more active in thought and perception but also inspires you to look at your situation from a different angle. A book mixing travel and philosophy is a perfect mix for a longer period when you might be trying to figure yourself out or explore a new side of you. By opening your mind through books, you are opening it so much more to what is happening around you.
All that said, one book that I can finish and start straight away again is Alex Garland’s The Beach. A travel cliché read, I know, but I read this many years before I had any desire to go to Thailand, and at the time did not urge me to travel there as it did to so many when the film was made. The film does it no justice whatsoever. I find the book so capturing and, having since been to Thailand, I feel it entirely captures that area of the world as seen by a westerner for the first time.
Other favourite travel books aren’t necessarily ones I would take travelling with me. Having an Ancient History degree means I have read Homer’s The Odyssey countless times, and just get pure wanderlust at the thought of him getting to travel home for 10 years! Books such as Three Cups of Tea are very inspiring to make you realise how much you can help in areas that need it — whether it’s helping to build schools or bamboo houses, or helping to clear vegetation to plant cash crops, or play with orphaned kids.
My lists can go on forever, but I’ll leave it at these for now and will continue on the hunt for other inspiring reads for whenever I next get away!
“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” Saint Augustine
Excellent article! When my sister and I were growing up our parents always used to give us one book each before a trip, and it had the same effect of relaxing and rejuvenating us (or getting us stoked to travel) as it’s had on you. Since I got a Kindle, I’ve been madly in love because there’s no limit (except financial) to what books I can carry- so long as I’m not worried about dropping/losing/damaging it!