Best books to read when travelling

June 22, 2016 9:02 am

Be it a 14 hour bus ride or a long day lounging on the beach (travelling is SO tough), a good book is a permanent fixture for life on the road. And when the travel bug well and truly bites, what better to feast your eyes on than a travel narrative, set in a unique place or, even better, the place you’re headed? Here’s some of our favourite books to read in the run-up to or during a backpacking excursion.

Shantaram

Gregory David Roberts’s sprawling Indian masterpiece is a great book regardless of where in the world you are. Its vivid and loveable characters feel like close friends walking you through an honest account of Indian culture, wrapped up in one of the most astonishing true stories you’ll ever read. I was both entertained and inspired to be a better traveller while reading Shantaram. Although I don’t think I’d hack it as a slum doctor, to get anywhere near the extreme depths and total immersion that Roberts got during his years in Mumbai is the ultimate goal for many backpackers.

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On the Road

This classic exploration of the ‘Beats’ of the 50’s was hugely influential for a whole generation, inspiring them to leave behind what the knew so well and enter the unknown in the form of the hippie counter cultures of the 60’s. Regardless of its historical importance, it’s still hugely inspiring today. With his vivacious and sometimes frantic prose, Kerouac’s lust for new experiences while he undertakes a huge road trip across the US will make even the most settled person want to hit the road. It’s a book I always keep coming back to, usually when I’m bored in between trips, and every time the character Dean Moriarty always makes a lasting impact on me and leaves me excitable and hungry to meet new people and experience new things.

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The Kite Runner

Khaled Hosseini creates such a colourful and intense image of Kabul in both this book and A Thousand Splendid Suns, drawing on his childhood here to illuminate Middle Eastern culture and life to an audience who, like me, might know very little about Afghanistan and its society. Yet he somehow manages to make you feel as if you are there, walking the streets behind his characters, and feeling every bit of heartache they do. I read The Kite Runner when I was volunteering in Cambodia, and it gave me such a heightened love for travel and experiencing new cultures. The descriptions are vivid and inspiring, the characters beautiful and the narrative an emotional rollercoaster. A great book to read when lusting after a change of scenery and a foreign land.

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The Beach

Embarrassingly (or not so embarrassingly), this book was my Thailand preparation. And what a realistic, true-to-Asia story it was… (completely kidding). BUT, the descriptions of Khao San Road got me completely buzzing for my first experiences of Bangkok, and the Maya Beach plot made the moment I sailed to it with the All Saints film adaptation soundtrack blasting all the more potent. A chilling and slightly traumatic narrative but a great book with as many turns as a Laos mountain road. Read this!

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Eat Pray Love

This might sound cliche, but this book did put a lot of ideas in my head in the run-up to my Asia trip. For one, GOOD THINGS can come from ditching everything for the trip of a lifetime, whether you’re 20 or 40. It illuminated the world of ashrams to me, which I am now planning to do on my next trip. It might be full-on chick-lit in comparison to Shantaram but it’s real and I would love to think that I could head on a Eat-Pray-Love tour of the world if I found my life crashing down around me. An inspiring book that tells you to follow your heart.

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