Though we seldom stop to think about it, traveling and reading are intimately linked activities. Those of us with wanderlust in our souls delight in learning about new places through travel blogs, articles, magazines, guidebooks—the list is endless. Oftentimes, reading substitutes for traveling, and helps us scratch the travel itch when jobs or families make wandering off difficult.
St. Augustine wrote that “The world is a great book…they who never stir from home read only a page.” I agree in principle, but I believe that reading can bring us to new places and experiences just as travel can. Hazel Rochman, an author, once said “Reading makes immigrants of us all. It takes us away from home, but more important, it finds homes for us everywhere.” If reading helps us find homes wherever we are, what better travel decision to make than to bring a book along for the ride?
I admit, I’ve tried pumping myself up for impending trips by watching movies or reading books from the country I’m planning to visit, but I never end up having the time or energy amongst everything else. I much prefer to pack my guidebook and a novel, and then crack them open on the plane or train. Travelling often involves a lot of sitting or waiting—flights, trains, buses, checking into hotels, etc. If you are a solo traveler, a book is even more invaluable for meal time or relaxation on your own.
Think of pairing destinations and books as you would carefully select a fine wine for dinner. At the best of times, your reading enhances your travel, and your travel enhances your reading. Both make each experience just a little bit more memorable.
I read Zorba the Greek during a recent trip to Greece and Cyprus. Kazantzakis describes the Greek spirit so perfectly, your trip takes on a meta-theatrical aspect—like all the world’s a stage, and you are merely a player. The author captures the quiet rhythm of Greek village life, and the inimitable spirit of a culture trying to support millennia of vibrant, rich culture.
Italy: The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone, or The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli
I only became really fascinated with sculpture after my first visit to Italy, and so I picked up The Agony and the Ecstasy at the behest of a teacher. This fictionalized biography of Michelangelo deals with all of his major pieces, sculpted and painted, and presents such a vivid picture that my second visit to Italy was completely different from the first. If you don’t have time for a longer book, pick up The Prince, which envelops you in Italian Renaissance politics.
Latin America: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
García Márquez deftly weaves together magical realism and historical fact in this story of a Latin American village’s growing pains. The story is slow, sensuous, and captivating, exactly like Latin America. You’ll start to imagine all the people around you performing a deliberate tango.
United States of America: Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
While a tome this size may appear intimidating, so is the prospect of traveling across the United States. Atlas Shrugged is imbued with the larger than life American spirit, moral struggles with capitalism, and the hope that one person can save the world. Moreover, it can deepen your sense of wonder with a place you think you know.
By all means, pack the extra pairs of socks, the portable water filter, and your bathing suit. If you forget anything else, don’t let it be your book, because if the eyes are the window to the soul, a book is a window to a culture.
Post in the comments—what books do you recommend reading while traveling?