Every year (amongst other goals) I like to set myself a reading challenge. Some years it’s numbers-based, others it’s to read more non-fiction or a genre that I wouldn’t normally read.
Last year, my challenge was to read 20 books. I managed to surpass this, and ended up reading a total of 30 books (time spent commuting to and from work is perfect for reading!). Amongst these books, there were a number of travel or internationally-set novels and autobiographies. Some of these books I found to be really informative and taught me new things about different parts of the world; while others made my feet itch to get moving and keep exploring.
If, like me, you love to read and are looking for some new travel inspiration in the way of words, here are 8 of my favourite books that changed my perspective on certain countries, continents and my understanding of how the world works.
Wild by Cheryl Strayed
Country: United States of America
Synopsis: After the sudden death of her mum and marriage ending, a 22-year-old Strayed embarks on an impulsive decision to hike the Pacific Crest Trail starting from the Mojave Desert in California and making her way through to Washington State – alone with no hiking experience. Wild is a powerful story that follows Strayed’s journey from grieving to gaining strength and ultimately healing.
Why you should read it: No travel-related book list would be complete without the addition of Cheryl Strayed’s popular story Wild. Cheryl wears her heart on her sleeve, and there is no beating around the bush when it comes to her descriptions of life, struggles and her ambitious hike of the Pacific Crest Trail.
He Died With a Falafel in His Hand by John Birmingham
Synopsis: He Died With a Falafel in His Hand is an autobiographical book, following John Birmingham’s experiences as a share house tenant around Brisbane and other Australian cities.
Why you should read it: While the book isn’t about travel, the sharing of rooms is definitely something that any traveller who has spent time in hostel dorms can relate to. Birmingham’s anecdotes are hilarious and the book makes for a good light-hearted read.
The Girl With Seven Names by Hyeonseo Lee
Countries: North Korea, South Korea and China
Synopsis: Having lived during the famine of the 1990’s, at 17 years of age, a young Hyeonseo Lee escaped from North Korea. The book follows her journey as she struggles to avoid being captured and guides her family to freedom.
Why you should read it: I first heard of Hyeonseo Lee when I attended a talk of hers at the Bali Readers and Writers Festival in 2016. Little did I realise how much impact her story would have on me (and I’m sure many others). We know so little about what life in North Korea is like, so the insight gained through Lee’s experience is eye-opening and indeed important. There are two reasons why you should read this book. First being to learn about the world’s most ruthless dictatorship and second, to be inspired by the strength of Hyeonseo Lee as she navigates through a series of life-changing and threatening events.
The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa
Synopsis: The Travelling Cat Chronicles is a heart-warming story about a road trip shared between Nana the cat and Satoru.
Why you should read it: Arikawa writes so beautifully about the special bond we so often share with animals, so if you’re an animal lover this is guaranteed to pull at your heart strings. The road trip that the two go on cover all corners of the country through many changing seasons and will have you dreaming about driving through Japan’s countryside alongside them.
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
Synopsis: Written by the author of The Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns is a novel set against three decades of Afghan History. The story follows two generations of characters whose lives are drawn together by war at a time where personal lives are impossible to escape from the history as it plays out in front of them.
Why you should read it: Hosseini has this magical ability to transport you with his writing. Reading this book you are transported to the city, neighbourhoods and houses of his characters. Afghanistan has a long history of war and occupations which has led to chasms between different ethnic groups, economic classes and gender. In this story, Hosseini tells the story of Afghan women and the hardships they face under each regime change.
The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking
Synopsis: In this book Meik Wiking, CEO of The Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen is your guide to all things hygge; the trait that Danes attribute to Denmark’s being described as the happiest country in the world.
Why you should read it: ‘Hygge has been translated as everything from the art of creating intimacy to cosiness of the soul to taking pleasure from the presence of soothing things’ (Meik Wiking, The Little Book of Hygge, 2016).
It’s impossible to read this book and feel anything but happiness and comfort. If the warm feeling you get while reading this book is anything at all like life in Denmark, you can count me in!
Ubuntu: One Woman’s Motorcycle Odyssey Across Africa by Heather Ellis
Country: Africa (many!)
Synopsis: While sitting in a friends backyard in a remote mining town in outback Australia, then 28 year-old Heather Ellis has an idea; she is going to ride a motorcycle across Africa. Despite having never done any long-distance motorcycle riding or having set foot in Africa, twelve months later Ellis is unloading her bike at the docks of Durban, South Africa, where her adventure begins.
Why you should read it: Having travelled on a motorcycle for a lengthy period of time, I found I was able to relate with and laugh along with Ellis in many of her motorcycle feats. Riding is such a unique way to travel; you’re feel like one with the world. Even if you haven’t (or aren’t interested in) motorcycle travel, this book is still sure to intrigue you as Ellis travels (alone for the most part) from South Africa, up the East Coast to Kenya and then across to Mauritania , before ferrying across to Europe. Ellis embarks on this trip seeking adventure, and adventure is certainly what she got as she travelled through war-torn countries, voyaged on a floating village and of course found ubuntu – the universal bond hat connects all of humanity as one.
The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons
Synopsis: Book one in a trilogy, The Bronze Horseman is set in World War II Russia. Before the war touches the city of Leningrad Tatiana meets Alexander, a soldier in the Red Army. The story follows the love shared between the two and how their lives are changed forever.
Why you should read this: I’m a sucker for a good love story, so I can’t not put a book list together without at least one romantic inclusion. If you’re interested in historical romance, you’ll love this trilogy and may even finish reading it with an interest in visiting the cities the story is based in.
What are some of your favourite travel-inspiring books? What did you think of this blog – would you like to see more like it?