What to Read While Traveling

Books are like wine. The right wine can make or break a meal, and it’s vital that they are paired correctly. In the same way, the right book can make or break a holiday. Why just grab whatever’s at the airport bookstore when you can choose something that can add to your experience? Here, I have recommended various books to accompany a few choice examples of the trips offered here on Brave Women Travel.

However – this is not a book list. While I do recommend all the books here wholeheartedly, I think that once you start thinking critically about which books will go best with your trip, you will come up with the best matches yourself. I have provided links if you want to check out any of my recommendations.

Matching Your Mood

Sometimes, when we think of “holiday reading” we think of fluff. You know the sort – you can see the happy ending from a mile away, disney-style mottos abound, etc. And you know what? It can be pretty great. Escapism is not a four-letter word. If you want to lose yourself for a while in a world where everybody gets their just deserts and the heroine rides off into the sunset, well, why on earth not? On a personal note, I would ask that you ensure the book itself is well-written, but feel-good fiction is not opposed to literary greatness.

For an adventurous, romantic holiday like Magical Morocco, maybe try an idealised fairytale like the Princess Bride. A counterpart to the 80s classic movie, and wonderfully well-written.

Sometimes, though, we don’t need fluff. Sometimes we need catharsis. Introspection. Sometimes, we want to cry. Even if we’re not necessarily sad, we may want to dig deep into that well of feelings and experience what’s there.

A book that always makes me cry is the amazing . Maybe on a trip with lots of leisure time like the MSC World Cruise, you can curl up enjoy the luxury of letting yourself go – then read something cheerful  afterwards.

Personal Goals

You might have a particular personal goal in mind for yourself as you travel. Are you seeking to be as relaxed as possible? Or to get jazzed up for the year to come? Perhaps your decision to travel marks a big change in your life, and you want to pay more attention to the way you view the world.

Reading something which involves these themes of self discovery and intention can be a fantastic boost in this regard. Of course, it is difficult to work out whether the protagonist will succeed in their endeavours (without spoilers, that is) before starting it. However, just reading about someone else’s efforts can be enough to get you focused on your own.

Let’s look at a trip where you are looking to experience the all-new and exciting, perhaps to broaden your world view. It will probably be somewhere you have never been before. For me, that might be the  Ultimate Galapagos trip, or theNorthern Lights Exploration. In this case, you might consider the traveller’s classic, Eat Pray Love.

If you are seeking inspiration to see you through something personal, look for a story of struggle and triumph. Not only will you feel inspired, but it could also help you gain some perspective on things that seem insurmountable. True stories are often the best here as well – perhaps Hidden Figures?

Peer Pressure

Once, in an ex-pat area in Thailand, I came across a second-hand bookshop which resold books people had taken with them on their travels and then decided not to keep. There were a few interesting ones – and an awful lot of repetition. It became very obvious, very quickly, which books people had bought simply because everyone else was reading them and then ditched. The two names I saw over and over were Fifty Shades Of Grey, and Friedrich Nietzsche (a famous German philosopher.) There must have been twenty to thirty of each.

Fifty Shades of Grey had presumably been purchased out of curiosity, and then abandoned when that curiosity was satisfied (or disturbed.) The Nietzsche books seemed to have been bought by people intending to use their trips to find themselves, and in doing so, somehow become the kind of person who reads philosophy for fun.

Try to choose books based on your tastes and loves. If you waste your time trying to be someone else, you’ll end up getting bored with your book choices halfway through and abandoning them in a second-hand bookstore.

If you want to engage your academic side, consider something enlightening and entertaining like Oliver Sacks’ The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.

Popular reads are all well and good, but make sure you actually like them first. Milk and Honey and the Black Book are recent bestsellers which suit my personal tastes.

Location Based

Reading a book based in the location(s) you will be visiting can be a wonderful gateway to a deeper appreciation of the culture and country. You could read a travel book, which would be written by a visitor like you – these are great at helping you get a handle on the differences you will be experiencing. Or, you could opt for something written by someone from the place itself. Perhaps a local classic that has been translated. There are many wonderful works by authors who grew up in one country and were educated in another, giving them their own unique perspective.

For the Cherry Blossom Festival trip, I would recommend the Favourites, by Mary Yukari Waters.

Perhaps you could also choose to read something based on your mode of transportation. At sea on the Eastern Caribbean Cruise? Why not liven things up with ? Or on the Spain and Morocco by Rail trip, you might enjoy immersing yourself in the classic Murder on the Orient Express.

History Based

Just as you can immerse yourself in your location via your reading, you can also explore its history. Sometimes it can be hard to grasp the full context of a city or site you are visiting. It is much easier to ground yourself by doing some reading first.

For the White Russian, you could go classic with a capital C and try one of the Russian epics such as War and Peace, or Dr Zhivago.

Or, you could go more factual – say the Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt by Toby Wilkinson for the Ancient History or King Tutankhamun trips.

Read While Traveling

Group Reading

Reading can serve as a wonderful ice breaker. There is a reason book clubs are so popular, after all! It could be a great idea to bring a book with a broad appeal, something you think would be easy to recommend to someone else. After you have finished reading it, see if you can do a swap with someone else on your trip. You can discuss things you liked or disliked about it. If it is a historical or location-based story, you could even use it as a jumping off point to start exploring your surroundings. (“Let’s go to the market they visit in Chapter 7!”)

I often find humor books easy to share – perhaps Miranda Hart’s Is It Just Me?

Or something with short stories, to make it easier to share around. For this, I might suggest a book I recently shared with a friend on holiday, Paris for One by Jojo Moyes. Admittedly, we were not in Paris at the time (try the Quintessential Burgundy tour) but by the end of the book discussion, we were drawing up plans to go!

Reading can be one of the best accompaniments to your travels. If you choose wisely and well, you can use the books you choose to enhance your unforgettable experience into a life-changing one.

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Kate Downes

Kate is a freelance writer and travel blogger. Some people say it’s a tough gig, but she has previously taught high school, worked retail, and been a bartender in London, and would take five thousand words on a deadline any day.
You can find more of her work at readlongshorts.com and signedkateelizabeth.com.

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