I’ve been devouring books since I was a little girl. My shelves were filled with hand-me-down English storybooks from my mum and her sisters instead of toys. Thanks to those major parts of my life spent reading, I was blessed with an active imagination. I didn’t need much to amuse myself.
I was one of those who could while time away reading, be it on a moving train, at a bus stop or in a park. Naturally, I also have the tendency to arm myself till the teeth to keep me sufficiently entertained on the road. There are just so many down times during travel–times spent waiting for a flight or a train, having a meal alone, taking one of those overnight bus rides, or simply when you’re tired of sightseeing. Reading helps make all those mundane moments of traveling bearable.
Here are 7 of my favourite travel-inspired books that I have either traveled vicariously through, or have helped stoked the flames of wanderlust or have offered me greater insights to places.
1. The Alchemist by Paolo Coehlo
The book follows Santiago, a young shepherd from Andalucia to Egypt, after he feels that there is more to life than his home in Spain. He finds the courage to leave home, to follow his dreams into distant lands. People he meets along the way, the things he sees and the lessons he learns on his journey change him. The signs that he finds point him the in the right direction.
This book is all about achieving your dreams and doing what is necessary to see them through. “And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”
2. Vagabonding by Rolf Potts
This is a must-have handbook for all aspiring long-term travelers! In this book, Potts offers timeless tips and advice on long-term world travel. It’s not just informative, but also inspiring.
He derives counsel from his personal and other travelers’ experiences to suggest ways to rethink about travel. I’d spent a good amount of time in bookshops reading this book just because then, I couldn’t afford it but those aching muscles were worth it. Those pages of advice got me started and around the world.
3. Shantaram by Gregory David Robert
I picked up a second-hand copy of Shantaram when I was down and under in Bangkok, and boy is this book thick! Robert has written it based on his real life experience as an Australian fugitive who escaped prison and was on a flight to Germany but ended up staying in Bombay, where he had initially merely thought of stopping over.
The adventure saga chronicles how Lin, the protagonist of the story, befriends a Bombay local, falls in love with a mysterious woman, works for the local mafia boss and becomes the slum’s Robin Hood through his amateur doctor skills.
I finished the book within a week despite it being more than 900 pages long – it was just that compelling and also heartening. I was down in the doldrums, when I read the book, suffering from a bout of feeling lost after months of tramping around Southeast Asia. The book cheered me up from the first few pages: “Every human heartbeat is a universe of possibilities.” For a wanted man on the run, every second of freedom counts.
4. A Fortune Teller Told Me by Tiziano Terzani
If you’re one for overland travel around Asia, then this is the book for you. Tiziano Terzani, a veteran correspondent based in Asia was warned by a Hong Kong fortune-teller not to risk flying for an entire year. He took the advice to heart and traveled through different corners of Asia, including Myanmar, Thailand, Indonesia, by foot, bus, car, train and boats.
Along the way, he also consulted all sorts of shamans, bomohs, and soothsayers to get a deeper understanding about his destiny and about the places he traversed. The lack of speed and convenience in his travels offered him a new set of perspective on the places that he’d been reporting on for decades, thus reinvigorating and inspiring him in the process.
5. Wild by Cheryl Strayed
At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything–her marriage, her mother, her family–and so she decided to set out into the wilderness with no hiking experience, too small boots and a gigantic backpack she nicknamed Monster.
Narrated lyrically with style and wisdom, this book captures the adventures of a young woman who forged ahead, against all odds on a 1,100-mile journey along the Pacific Crest Trail–alone. From her 93-day trek, she learned a thing or two about life, love and loss.
6. Lonely Planet’s Tales From Nowhere
Through this 30-over travel essays, some written by well-known travel writers like Pico Iyer, Simon Winchester and Tim Cahill, you’ll be taken to some really far-flung corners of the earth with interesting folk as your guide.
The stories range from adventures in a desert to a revelation in the middle of a bustling but impersonal city. The focus in each of the story is clear: if we embark on each adventure with an open heart and mind, our travels will take us to places we never planned to go and will enrich us in ways we wouldn’t have otherwise known. Each story is short enough to be read in one sitting, which makes it perfect as a travel companion for a solo traveler.
7. A Good Girl’s Guide To Getting Lost by Rachel Friedman
A typical goody-two shoes Rachel was leading a sheltered life until she decided to spend a few months in Ireland on a whim. There she met a free-spirited Australian girl who became her best friend and also convinced Rachel to travel to both South America and Australia.
Along the way, she discovered her passion for adventures and learned to simply live for the moment. I could definitely relate to the book as I recognised her desire to break out of one’s shell, to take the plunge and embrace the fear of uncertainty. The book is well-written, easy to read and will put a smile on your face!
This list is non-exhaustive of course, since I’ve read some really great books over the years-but here are the ones that I have bought, gave away and then bought again, just because I love them that much!