Reading Lonely Planets and Rough Guides and any other guidebook is great for information gathering about a country or destination. But what really brings these places to life for me is reading fiction. I can’t tell you how many destinations have been added to my travel list as a result of reading books.
In many ways, the appeal of reading is similar to the appeal of travelling. Losing myself in a good book provides an escape from reality – the author can literally take me anywhere in time and space without me even having to leave my house. The sights, smells, sounds, textures and rhythms of new places can be conjured into life through the authors words, so I feel as if I am part of the story and sharing the experiences of the characters.
A book will tend to awake my thirst to visit a particular destination as opposed to quenching it, but it is an accessible short term way to travel without travelling whilst saving up for new adventures.
Here are some of my favourite authors/books that make me want to travel:-
1. Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche
Adiche is a female Nigerian author, and her works are predominantly set in Nigeria, although she has a collection of short stories (The Thing Around Your Neck) which explores Nigerians moving away from their home to settle in the USA.
I don’t have any current plans or ambitions to travel to Nigeria, but one aspect of all of her writing that I love is her descriptions of food. I can taste the pepper soup and jollof rice and it makes my mouth water. At the very least, I would love to visit a Nigerian restaurant after reading these books.
2. East of the Sun by Julia Gregson
I never had any particular desire to visit India until I read this book. This tells the story of Viva, who is chaperoning 3 young adults on the voyage from the UK to India in 1928.Gregson does a brilliant job of bringing to life the vast sweeping landscapes of rural India, the chaos of the towns and the warmth of the Indian people. Since reading this, I have started to gather quite a few more books set in India, so I can only see my desire to visit this country growing more and more.
3. Labyrinth by Kate Mosse
This book is split into two linked stories, one set in modern day Carcassone, and one in the old city in 1209. After reading it, I became obsessed with visiting the old town of Carcassone, which is a UNESCO world heritage site.The historical story in this book is so rich and detailed that I want to visit Carcassone to grab a sense of that history for myself.
4. So Much For That by Lionel Shriver
This should be a depressing book as it deals with terminal illness. However, it is very uplifting. A married couple have dreamed all of their life about re-settling abroad where the cost of living is low and the quality of life is high. After spending years on “research trips” they eventually settle on Pemba, a tiny island off the coast of Tanzania.I defy anyone reading this book not to want to visit Pemba – it sounds like a little undiscovered slice of perfection.
5. The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O’Farrell
This is a bit of an odd choice as the location the story is not central to the story as with my above choices. However, parts of this story trace a childhood spent in Edinburgh and North Berwick.
There is so much nostalgia in reliving these childhood memories that it creates a really attractive picture of both destinations. I have been to Edinburgh several times, but this book made me really want to visit North Berwick too. Luckily, North Berwick is only a couple of hours drive from me, and so this will probably be a weekend trip with the tent next spring.
There are so many more books that I could mention. There is Memoirs of a Geisha for Japan, or several books by Daphne Du Maurier for Cornwall. There is The Hungry Ghosts for Hong Kong and Brixton Beach for Sri Lanka.
What all of these stories and more have in common is a real vibrant sense of the location and culture. It is true that reading them has added more places to my list of dream travels, which is already probably too long for one lifetime. If I can’t see everything and do everything all at once then I find reading a book that is full of adventure and freedom and newness is a much more tangible experience than daydreaming about travel. Even if I only manage to snatch 5 minutes to read during my lunch hour, for those 5 minutes I will be transported to somewhere completely different.
Do you have any favourite books that have inspired you to travel?