These books will stir your inner wanderluster!
One of the first things I pack for a holiday is a good book (or two) to read during transit, or to savour over a cup of tea in bed in the morning – hallelujah for no alarms!
As a self-proclaimed bibliophile, I love all kinds of books, but I have a special affinity with those that inspire my inner wanderluster.
Here are my 7 favourite books about far-off lands that have piqued my curiosity in other cultures and sparked my desire to experience new places.
Shantaram – Gregory David Roberts
Set in India and loosely based on the author’s own experiences, Shantaram is a novel with heart that’s about a convicted Australian bank robber who escapes prison and flees to Mumbai. Roberts’ writing is descriptive, vivid and evocative and took me on one hell of an emotional roller coaster. I grew very attached to one of the protagonists and was inconsolable for days when he died (sorry for the spoiler).
It’s a big book, both in terms of length and plot, but it provides readers with a thorough and fascinating insight into life in one of India’s biggest cities. It’s an eye-opener when it comes to the disparity between the country’s rich and poor; life in the city’s slums; local culture and customs; and traditional Indian food!
The Year of Living Danishly – Helen Russell
All things Scandinavian – furniture, fashion, music, art, film – are, in my humble opinion, flawless. After reading The Year of Living Danishly, I became even more enviable of the legendary Scandi lifestyle. Denmark is the happiest country in the world and this humorous memoir by Helen Russell, former editor of Marie Claire UK, provides a light and interesting insight into why this is the case.
It journals her move from London to rural Jutland, where she used her background as a journalist to observe and interview locals, and write about the six lessons she learned:
- Trust more
- Don’t complain about taxes
- Make time for hygge (which I interpret very roughly to mean fun, cosy time with loved ones often over tea and a delicious treat)
- Make your home beautiful
- Find work-life balance
- Embrace law, order and politics
The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart – Holly Ringland
The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart – the debut novel by Australian author, Holly Ringland – is one of the most enchantingly crafted novels I’ve ever come across! There’s no way I can do her beautiful storytelling any justice, so I’m not going to bother providing a synopsis… just be prepared for some confronting topics and tear-jerking scenes but also for some exquisitely evocative language.
I barely drew a breath the entire time I was in the dangerous and delicate world of the main character, Alice Hart. Partly because what you watch her go through – right through from childhood until she’s a grown woman – is hard to bear; but also, because the descriptions of the Australian landscape are so reverent and rapturous. It made me even more appreciative of my country and aware of my role in preserving its natural history. If you’re even the tiniest bit of a flora or nature buff, this is an absolute must for you!
On the Road – Jack Kerouac
A ‘top travel books’ list wouldn’t be complete without Jack Kerouac’s whimsical novel On the Road. Often celebrated as one of America’s literary classics for its representation of the ‘true American dream’, it is a heady concoction of poetry, jazz, travel and drugs during the age of exploitation in America post World War Two.
The semi-autobiographical story follows Sal Paradise (who represents Jack) and his friends as they question the mainstream, reject societal norms and embrace a carefree, simple life, road tripping throughout the United States. If there’s one book in the world that will make you want to quit your job, forget your past worries, and find freedom and gratification in spontaneous, pleasurable experiences rather than material possessions, this is it.
Into the Wild – Jon Krakauer
Into the Wild is by far the most poignant book on this list. Based on the true story of 19- year-old Christopher McCandless who walked out of his privileged life and promising future to explore the beauty and wonder of the world, it’s a relatable tale of a yearning for freedom and purpose. His travels lead him into the wilderness of Alaska, and four months after embarking on his epic journey, his decomposed body is tragically found by a moose hunter.
While it’s heartbreaking, the book is also exceptionally moving in its glorious representation of nature and inspiring in the lessons that the character learns along the way, such as happiness is an emotion best shared.
Eat, Pray, Love – Elizabeth Gilbert
I first read the iconic Eat, Pray, Love when I was a teenager and it was the first book that made me want to really travel… that is, without my parents as chaperones and without a touristy itinerary. A memoir of soul-searching and self-discovery, the book’s title corresponds to its three sections, which in turn refer to consecutive periods in Gilbert’s life when she lived in three different countries. In Italy she discovered food, in India she discovered an ashram, and in Indonesia she discovered love.
The descriptions of the scenery in these vastly different yet equally beautiful countries were, to my young, relatively untravelled mind, mesmerising. Considering the novel and subsequent film adaptation have generated a global cult following, I don’t think I’m alone in my appreciation!
The Beach – Alex Garland
The Beach is the only book that I’ve read after seeing the film adaptation, and while I found them unexpectedly different, I enjoyed them both so much that they were the inspiration for my first ever international trip without my parents (disclaimer: it was the scenery I craved not the partying).
Set in Thailand, it’s about a group of friends who discover an idyllic private island where they live a life of hedonism and sublime simplicity. The plot becomes a lot darker as the novel progresses and some of the characters are downright horrible, but that never tainted the otherworldly depictions of paradise that sparked my wanderlust so ferociously.