25 travel inspired books to read on the road
I have been lucky enough in my short life to have embarked on many physical journeys around the world. However; before I had that power, I used to take long and intense journeys within my own mind. I used to read an insane amount of books as a little girl, growing up with no television. I used to spend hours and hours curled up with a book on the couch, on my bed, at the kitchen table, or anywhere I could find. My current favorite reading spot is a hammock. Wherever they are read, words are beautiful things and their powerful has taken me farther away from my home than any vehicle ever ever could.
On my budget backpacking adventures (averaging $20/day) books become an expense that rivals food, because at the rate I plow through one on the road (endless hours on buses, trains, spent waiting out the rain in hammocks), I end up needing a new one every two days or so. Welcome to my addiction. In Thailand where a meal is $1 and a used book is $6, the costs become equal. In my home of San Francisco I can roam the streets surrounding my Haight district home and find piles of used books free on the streets, or for $1.00-.50 in used stores (the one thing that will cost less in America than Southeast Asia, where I was told there are no English book printing presses). I learned long ago how to let go and be moved by words, and now I feel blessed to find enough power in mine to propel others to do the same.
Until my own book comes out, here are 25 of my favorite books that have either inspired me to travel, have taken me to another specific location, or have given me a profound appreciation of a destination when read before or during travel. I have done my best to create a wide variance in locations and type of book. While I understand the allure of the Kindle, Nook, and whatever electronic books are out there, I am a firm believer that there is no comparison to the smell of a fresh book, the joy of lending the perfect book to friend, or the magic of discovering a dog-earred copy in your language of that perfect book for the next country on your list in your hostel’s book exchange. No matter how heavy books may be, there is a magic that happens when you touch real pages with your hands, and when you are done reading, that magic and knowledge can be passed to the next recipient.
1. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho: Read in Egypt, North Africa, or anywhere. “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” is the theme of the book, and a great them to keep in mind when looking for inspiration to travel. Allegorical novel which follows a young shepard through various adventures on a search for treasure. Uplifting, classic, sweet, beautiful, and inspiring.
2. The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory: Read in England. This book is set in the 16th-century and is loosely based on the life of aristocrat Mary Boleyn, the sister of Anne Boleyn. Historical, dramatic, and romantic.
3. The Beach by Alex Garland: Read in the Thai islands. If you haven’t seen the movie, this is a story of a hunt for Backpacker mecca and questions if it in fact exists. Gritty, beautiful, dramatic, and violent.
4. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams: Read anywhere. Explains the rules for hitchhiking in space and will make any future trip you have planned seem tame. Funny, and science fiction influenced.
5. The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende: Read in Chili or South America. Beautifully written saga of the Trueba family, spanning four generations, and tracing the post-colonial social and political upheavals of Chile. I love everything I have ever read by her. I want desperately to be able to read her words. Romantic, mystical, beautiful, historical, violent, and heartbreaking.
6. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson: Read in Las Vegas. Drug-riddled account of the search for the American Dream. Dark, humorous, original, political, and eye-opening.
7. Sex and the City by Candace Bushnell: Read in NYC. Super girl-centered series of essays (that spawned the show) about being young, stylish, and self-centered in the city that never sleeps. This book won’t change your life, but it will make laugh. Stylish, girly, and humorous.
8. Memories of a Geisha by Arthur Golden: Read in Japan. Tells the story of the WWII era geisha Chiyo’s tragedies and triumphs. Historical, beautiful, page-turning, and dark.
9. Holy Cow! by Sarah Macdonald: Read in India. Hilarious chronicle of one woman’s adventures in a land of chaos and contradiction. Hilarious, adventurous, theological, and vibrant.
10. Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice: Read in Paris, France or New Orleans, USA. Account of the life of the vampire Louis. I started reading this in Paris, and left in my hotel room when I was only half way through. It haunted me through the rest of my European trip until I found another copy. Historical, dramatic, religious, and sexy.
11. Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer: Read in Alaska, USA, or anywhere along similar latitude lines. A non-fiction account of a young man who after graduating college, gave away $25,000, and began traveling, eventually dying alone in the Alaskan wilderness. Inspiring, biting, adventurous, gritty, and beautiful.
12. Saltwater Buddha: A Surfer’s Quest to Find Zen on the Sea by Jaimal Yogis:Read in Hawaii or California, USA. True account of a young man’s struggle to find himself and to simultaneously master surfing and buddhism. Bright, theological, uplifting, inspiring.
13. The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien: Read anywhere. Intricate children’s fantasy novel my father used to read to me about a the adventures of a traveling hobbit. Classic, fantastical, and adventurous.
14. Bangkok 8 by John Burdett: Read in Bangkok, Thailand. Murder-mystery centered around the Bangkok underworld. Anyone who thinks they understand Thailand because they’ve been to Koh San Road and Koh Phangan should read this. Gritty, fast-paced, dark, and mysterious.
15. On The Road by Jack Kerouac: Read anywhere in the contiguous United States or during a road trip. The bible of the Beat Generation, featuring Jack Kerouac and his friends search for meaning across the country in post WWII America. Classic, rambling, thought-provoking, theological, and adventurous.
16. Shantaram by Gregory Davis Roberts: Read in India. This is actually the only book on this list I haven’t read myself, but it was given amazing recommendations by trusted friends, so I felt obligated to include it. An fictionalized account of the Bombay underworld inspired by the author’s own life. Gritty, inspiring, and fast-paced.
17. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert: Read in Italy, India, Bali, or anywhere. Incredibly over-hyped recollection of a woman’s journey through three countries in search of meaning after a divorce. One of those annoying books that you have to read just so you can participate in debates about it. Sweet, theological, and adventurous, slightly feminist, and inspiring.
18. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown: Read in Rome or anywhere in Italy. Murder-mystery page turner that takes you through history via a trail of clues hidden in the works of Leonardo da Vinci. Generic paperback you can pick up at any airport and not be able to put down the whole plane ride. Fast-paced, historical-fictional, and adventurous.
19. The Motorcycle Diaries by Ernesto “Che” Guevara: Read anywhere in South or even Central America. Memoir of 23-year old Che Guevara’s journeys through South America. Adventurous, political, thought-provoking, inspiring.
20. The Binding Chair by Kathryn Harrison: Read in Shanghai, China. Beautiful story within a story of a woman recounting her life with traditional bound feet. Beautiful, vibrant, historical, dark, and uplifting.
21. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez: Read anywhere in Latin America. The novel tells the story of the rise and fall of the mythical town of Macondo through the history of family. Passionate, political, historical, dark, uplifting, and vibrant.
22. Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin: Read in the Middle East or anywhere. Chronicle of Greg Mortenson’s work as a humanitarian in Afghanistan and Pakistan and how he provided tens of thousands of children, many girls, with an education. Uplifting, inspiring, political, and historical.
23. The Devil’s Queen: A Novel of Catherine de Medici by Jeanne Kalogridis: Read in France or Italy. Riveting story of the mysterious and notorious Italian queen who ruled in 16th Century France. Historical, mystical, dark, and mysterious.
24. Zen and the art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig: Read in USA or during a road trip. Classic novel explores philosophy through motorcycle maintenance and riding. Adventurous, philosophical, thought-provoking, and dreamy.
25. No Touch Monkey by Ayun Halliday: Read anywhere where backpackers go. True life accounts of one woman’s adventures backpacking and traveling in various parts of the world through various stages of her life. Humorous, inspiring, and gritty.
Bonus! 26. Around the world in High Heels by the Travelettes:Read everywhere and anywhere that strong, intelligent, and funny women should go. I of course had to include the Travelette collection of our own short stories. My only regret is that it is in fact called “In High Heels um die Welt” and is only available in German at this time. Writing my own short story that was translated for this book (Legends of Shangri-Laos) a year ago has inspired me to begin creating my own series of short stories about my own adventures around the world. Without beginning writing for the Travelettes, my life goals could be very different now. If you speak German or have German friends please help support this book, and for all us English-speaking natives, please join me in crossing fingers that an English version appears on our bookshelves soon!
* post written by Kyra Bramble. To read more of Kyra’s, check out her website.