Eight Books That Will Inspire You to Travel
Get to know characters who are just as travel-bugged as you are.
Reading is one of the best ways to pass the time when you travel, and books (or ereaders) are especially useful on long-haul flights and drives, or at those times when wi-fi is scarce.
At the intersection of a love for reading and a love for travel are those stories that actually inspire you to take off – either by giving you new insight to a place, telling a story in which the destination is integral, or evoking images that you feel the pull to experience first-hand.
We’ve put together a list of books with characters who are just as travel-bugged as you are. If you’re wondering what to turn to to inspire your next trip, read on.
#1 The Beach – Alex Garland
Most young travellers want to find travel experiences off-the-beaten-track – just like Richard, the British backpacker who’s the protagonist of The Beach.
In search of a unique voyage in Thailand, he meets a man who gives him a map to a beach in the Gulf of Thailand that’s untouched by tourists. Richard’s quest for the hidden beach takes him through jungle and waterfalls – all of which are exciting in their own right.
When he gets to the beach, he finds a community shut off from the Thai mainland – and the rest of the world. His experiences on the beach are very Lord of the Flies-esque. But Richard’s desperation for new experiences in different cultures (in this case, invented cultures) makes it worth going along for the ride.
#2 Norwegian Wood – Haruki Murakami
Flick through this Murakami delight on the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Nagano over a lunch of katsu sando from a konbini. That’s the kind of thing Toru Watanabe, the narrator of Norwegian Wood, does. He’s a nomadic university student with a hunger for adventure.
Unlike most Murakami novels, Norwegian Wood is steeped in reality, without the surrealism that permeates most of his plots. It focuses on Watanabe’s relationships with two very different women – the troubled Naoko and the outgoing and unusual Midori. His solution for difficult circumstances (including trying to choose between the two women) is to escape and take a train somewhere far away, to give himself time and space to think.
As pensive and insightful as the Kyoto Imperial Palace Park itself, Norwegian Wood is perfect for travel. It won’t completely consume you, but it will entertain you and give you a literary peep into the strange and wonderful land that is Japan.
#3 Party Time: Who Runs China and How – Rowan Callick
You mightn’t think that “journalism” and “China” go hand in hand, but China correspondent for The Australian Rowan Callick uses very thorough and engaging journalism to explore China in this book.
Callick has interviewed party members from every demographic: officials, millionaires, students, people from rural areas and cities, the old and the young. These members are the main drivers behind almost every cog in the China machine.
Callick talks to critics, too. Nobel Peace Laureate-turned-political prisoner Liu Xiaobo and artist and activist Ai Weiwei both cameo on the flip side of discussion around the Party. These voices provide a multi-dimensional perspective of the Communist Party.
More informative than other works on this list, Party Time is probably best read for getting background info on the political sitch in China before you head over.
#4 Shantaram – Gregory David Roberts
Anyone who has been to India can tell you it will change the way you see homelessness and poverty forever. Slums abound and the gap between rich and poor increases every day.
But if you’ve ever wanted to get a taste of what it’s like to live in the slums, Roberts’ novel is the way to go. An Australian prison escapee, Roberts flees to India. There, he lives in the slums, befriends locals and observes and immerses himself in the culture. He learns how locals converse with one another and how conflicts are resolved. He witnesses outbreaks of cholera, firestorms and crime.
Roberts’ rich experiences in Mumbai are deeply woven into the fabric of the book. There’s some controversy over the book’s depiction of events and people. Regardless, the feelings evoked by seeing everyday slum life through Roberts’ eyes – both colourful and tragic – are real.
#5 Istanbul: Memories and the City – Orhan Pamuk
Orhan Pamuk is a hero in Turkey. His memoir perfectly captures Istanbul as a clash between two worlds: between the East and the West, and between the traditional and the modern. It has landmarks from Istanbul that you’ll want to visit, like the Bosphorus and Beyoglu districts. And you’ll learn a lot about Turkish history; the book is set when Turkey was trying to crack its way into the EU.
It’s also deeply personal, giving readers an insight into the life of a young man and the trajectory of his life between the ’60s and the ’80s. Pamuk intertwines stories from his own life – childhood dreams and family secrets – with the Ottoman villas and alleyways hidden in Istanbul.
#6 On The Road – Jack Kerouac
As a quintessential travel book, On The Road has inspired many a great American road trip (with detours a little south of the border).
It follows narrator Sal Paradise and his restless maverick friend Dean Moriarty as they traverse America – sometimes together, sometimes apart. Whenever they do cross paths, however, Dean’s spontaneity leads them to partying in ghost towns, sleeping with random women, and taking road trips in the middle of the night. Dean is the epitome of the travel bug. According to Sal, “The bug was on me again, and the bug’s name was Dean Moriarty”.
This book will make you want to road trip up and down the country by road, by rail and by thumb. Kerouac’s gritty tale will make you want to camp out in the south, party with fellow hitchhikers and drink whisky to stay warm overnight.
#7 In Patagonia – Bruce Chatwin
Destination: South America
Known as a bible to travellers through the lower half of South America, Bruce Chatwin’s In Patagonia will give you a historical insight into the continent. His language and frequent digressions (which mirror the meandering narrator’s ways) lure you into the depths of South America, where everything seems to be happening at once.
Most compelling is his voice, which seduces readers as much as Patagonia itself. The book is structured into 97 separate sections of varying length, diverting from the typical narrative and used to present a meditation on the nature of any traveller’s nomadic life.
#8 In A Sunburned Country/Down Under – Bill Bryson
Many young Australians haven’t travelled much in their backyard – it’s what you do after you’ve covered the rest of the world. But if you’ve ever wanted to read more about Australia, or hear about it from an outsider’s perspective, this is the book for you. Bryson is funny, observant and surprisingly accurate.
The first part of the book covers his rail journey from Perth to Sydney via the Indian Pacific Rail. As Bryson puts it so elegantly, “This is a country that is at once staggeringly empty and yet packed with stuff. Interesting stuff, ancient stuff, stuff not readily explained. Stuff yet to be found. Trust me, this is an interesting place.”
The book is an easy read that provides sound insight into Australia’s place in the world. Seeing our country as a place of fascination certainly provides inspiration to explore more of this beautiful place, even for those who call Australia home.