10 Great Books to Read While Travelling

By on August 10, 2015 in Arts, Travel Tips with 8 Comments

Great Books to Read While Travelling

Surely one of the best budget activities you can enjoy as a traveller is settling down for a good old read. It’s free, it’s easy and you can enjoy it in innumerable places. Not often is it that we are blessed with the time to read almost as much as we want, when we want, yet long term travel provides exactly this sort of opportunity.

Personally, one of the great joys about travelling for me is the time it allows me to catch up on all the books I’ve been meaning to read for ages. My simple year living on the remote Nicaraguan island of Little Corn, in particular, hugely developed my literary back catalogue, which despite being an English literature graduate was probably not as extensive at should have been! Following that and many other long-term travel hours devoted to worlds that live within pages, I bring you my list of 10 Great Books to Read While Travelling.

1. A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson (2004)

Often with plenty of time on your hands, travel is a great time to ponder many big questions, and what could be bigger than the nature of the universe?! Perfect for answering many of the science questions related to our existence and that of the world around us, Bill Bryson’s book explains many complex and current theories in delightfully simple and jovial terms. He brings to life many colourful historical characters from the world of science and cleverly shows us the interwoven nature between the human and the scientific. As such, he wonderfully illustrates science not as a great objective, immutable truth, but as an evolving field of exploration and theory, devised and constructed by humans. This leads his readers to wonderfully ask questions about the nature of knowledge itself, including how we know and why we know, as well as what we know.

2. Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2006)

A good friend lent me this book when I first heading off to Australia from the UK 2 years ago and told me to read it. It was the first thing I opened when I arrived  in Cairns one sweaty, summer September day and, under the shadow of serious jet lag, I barely put it down for the 4 days it took me to read. Half of a Yellow Sun is a spellbinding novel with all the hallmark features of what I define as a good book – wonderful, believable characters, delicious turns of phrase, a foreign landscape brought to life and sophisticated undertones of real life geopolitical or social complexity. Set within the Nigerian civil war of the late sixties, this novel introduced me to a whole horrific incident in history I knew nothing about. Brilliantly bringing into view the unfolding political events through the lens of the personal, the narrative of this novel is fictional, but the events on which are based are certainly real. If a novel doesn’t make you ask questions, then it’s not worth reading and Half of a Yellow Sun, instantly sent me running to learn more from Wikipedia. Sadly they’ve made a movie out of this novel, which is awfully done, so please don’t watch it or let it spoil your perception. Half of a Yellow Sun is brilliant.

3. Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer (1996)

An absolute classic within backpacker circles, this does not dampen or undermine of the brilliance of this true-life story as told by journalist Jon Krakauer. Piecing together the life of a young man from the US Christopher McCandless, who was found dead in an abandoned bus in Alaska after many years of living “on the road” without possessions, Into the Wild constructs a probable version of the last few years of his life. It also expounds on McCandless’ motivations for doing so, in particular, giving away his money and ceasing contact with his family. Putting into words what many would be unable to understand, this book touched a real nerve for me, as I’m sure it would with many young, western travellers. Without ever directly saying it, the book brilliantly pinpoints the almost indescribable urge for realness, grittiness, rawness and truth that many seek away from our plastic commercial lives in the west. It is both an inspiration and a warning, which is why it’s part of my 10 great books to read while travelling.

4. Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela (1995)

Nelson Mandela’s famous and lengthy autobiography tells the tale of this political leader’s journey out of imprisonment and onto victory. Without a doubt, this is a tale of patience, virtue and courage that few would have the strength and moral rigidity to compete with. An inspiring man and a figurehead against racial oppression, reading Mandela’s words cannot help but inspire. A great book if you are heading to Southern Africa, Long Walk to Freedom casts a engaging light on the cultural history and complexity of this region. It is also a great reminder of how many endure life’s hardships with dignity and grace and it really puts into perspective what the definition of hardship might be. Even on those travel days when you’re feeling blue, this book is sure to make you take stock, which is just one reason why it’s part of my 10 great book to read while travelling.

5. Potiki by Patricia Grace (1986)

This was actually a book that I read in the final year of my undergraduate degree, in a module called Postcolonial Literature, but don’t let that put you off! Based in New Zealand, this fascinating and original novel is heart-warming, deeply saddening and beautifully written. Set within a Maori community, fighting developers on their land, this story is complex and sophisticated yet wonderfully simple, all at the same time. Potiki eloquently explores many of the issues of identity, power and knowledge existent in places where first nation communities live. Certainly a great read if you are visiting New Zealand, Potiki also highlights many cultural topics that are relevant to other countries with indigenous populations including Australia, Canada and South America, to name but a few.

6. Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro (1989)

Interacting with, and reflecting on, different languages, cuisines and cultures as we travel around the globe, can also help us to reflect on our own. Very often, as part of this process, we begin to unravel what we see as “normal” as quite the opposite. For me as a Brit, never was the culture of my northwestern European land examined more intelligently than in the work of novelist Kazuo Ishiguro. Remains of the Day was this author’s 3rd novel and is probably his most successful to date, having won the Man Booker Prize in its year of publication. Born in Japan, but raised in the UK, Ishiguro’s position as a both outsider and insider give him a unique vantage point from which to describe and question Britain’s cultural complexities. This is done brilliantly in Remains of the Day, as the author  shines a light on the political and social world of post war Britain through the narrative of Stevens, a devoted butler in one of the country’s former aristocratic estates. I wept like a child at the end of this book and imagine I would do so every time I read it even if that was 100 times. Remains of the Day is touching, delicate, sophisticated and exquisitely formed. The story brings to life the tale of Stevens who is travelling to visit a former colleague. Within this physical narrative of movement and discovery, readers are also taken on a different journey, one back in time, as Stevens recounts his memories and former life. Regardless of whether you are British or not, this is an, endearing and enlightening story for anyone travelling anywhere!

7. The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle (1997)

Again, this is a rather predictable classic on any traveller reading list, but not without reason! A life-changer for many, this book brilliantly expounds a number of truths that are designed to help us and awaken us. It tells of Tolle’s own transformation out of depression and disillusionment and is a wonderfully upbeat, energetic and life affirming read. Less self-help and more insight, I read this book in Little Corn Island when I saw it lying on the bed of a friend. I’d wanted to read The Power of Now for ages by this point and came into my life at the perfect time. Highly recommended for seekers.

8. The Teachings of Don Juan by Carlos Castaneda (1986)

Written by anthropological Masters student, Carlos Castaneda, The Teachings of Don Juan, was initially submitted for his thesis at the University of California. This book would make particularly insightful reading for anyone travelling in Latin America, as set within the Mexican desert, it is the real life account of when Castaneda went to visit and study Don Juan, a self-proclaimed Yaqui Indian Sorcerer. Magic and shamanism combine in what is part study and part account of an alternative way of knowing and being. Eye opening, engaging and remarkable, this is a spiritual journey laid bare. It’s a fascinating and highly unique time of book, which I devoured, along with its subsequent books with great thirst. Like all the best reads, it calls much of what we know into question, both through Castaneda’ s own voice, aswell as our own, which is why it’s on my list of 10 great books to read while travelling. Getting hold of a copy while I was in Central America, and as such, being able to physically locate the happenings in my mind, grounded this book even further for me.

9. Way of the Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman (1980)

As things often do when you put them in alphabetical order, certain themes seem to lump themselves  together in one spot. So true to form, here is another “self-help” book making it into my list of 10 great books to read while travelling. The Way of the Spiritual Warrior is a very easy and accessible introduction to a story about gaining happiness and fulfilment, about questioning our existence and the world around us. Blurring the lines between reality and fiction, it’s another good one to get us thinking about some deeper things beyond our daily humdrum, which makes it a good travel book. Again, the film is awful and does this book a great injustice, so please don’t judge a book by its film! Instead, grab a copy and have a read. It might tell you things you already know, things you’ve forgotten or things you’ve been looking for. I do have to say I took up running straight after finishing this!

10. Wild: An Elemental Journey by Jay Griffiths (2007)

This book was bought online, as a beautiful gift for me by a great friend I met travelling, and then sent to me at home. It arrived there not long after I did and was such a joy to read with the post-travelling blues in full force around me. Wild: An Elemental Journey is a book like no other. Part autobiographical, part anthropological, part personal travel journal, part political talking journalist, this multi-genre epic is a stomping great celebration of the why, where, how and what we travel, particularly as women. Its author is an inspiring, brave and intelligent soul who pens, through poetic description and specific study, her experiences living in a multitude of variant climates with different indigenous groups of people across the world. It is a pioneering book that evades categorisation and description, as does its author, and her intention, in equal measure. Instead of setting out questions and answering them, Wild: An Elemental Journey is an exploration of wildness, of language, of the sublime, of being on the edge, of struggle, of fight and of survival. It is raw and rich. It is educational, environmental and highly, highly entertaining.

So that’s my list of 10 great books to read while travelling. What’s on yours?

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About the Author

About the Author: Creator of Big World Small Pockets, Stephanie Parker is a budget travel addict! Originally from Jersey in the Channel Islands, Stephanie backpacks the world collecting tips, advice and stories, to share with a smile .

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There Are 8 Brilliant Comments

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  1. And let’s not forget ‘Wild’ by Cheryl Strayed!

  2. I have Indian Authors in my list of reads usually. Yet, These days I am reading Mindsets by Carol Dweck and next up after it is Lust for Life – Irving Stone
    Infact I wrote a blog post on best reads for 2016 too – quite a while ago.

    Loved your collection 🙂 We could someday have a book exchange or a blog collaboration – please feel free to DM me or email on my address as listed in this comment 😉

    – Sane Tripper

  3. Sandra says:

    I really enjoyed Honeymoon with My Brother: A Memoir by Franz Wisner.It’s a great light read after you’re recovering from a heavy, emotional read. It had me laughing and enjoying the pure love and brutal honesty of the brothers. My husband enjoyed it too and passed it on to his own brother.

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