What inspires you to travel to different places? Stunning photography? Glossy brochures? The local cuisine? For us, much of our inspiration has come from reading – and not simply guide books or travel magazines. I still remember reading Memoirs of a Geisha when I was a teenager and being mesmerised by Arthur Golden’s beautiful descriptions of Japan’s delicate blossom-filled gardens and mist-shrouded mountains. A few years later and I visited, with that narrative still in mind.
Today, we continue to love reading books based in far-flung destinations; with each location coming to life with the turn of a page. Below is a list of our six best travel reads – some light-hearted, some not so much – all of which have either inspired us to get exploring, or made us think a little harder.
Best Travel Reads
I read this book whilst on holiday in the Maldives and ironically it’s something I remember most from the trip! Set in Mexico, it’s the story of a boy growing up during the Mexican Revolution; working in a household occupied by Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo (I love her) and eventually Lev Trotsky. Perhaps a little far-fetched and a book predominantly concerned with the political upheavals of the time, it’s also beautifully written: describing wonderfully the vibrant Mexican culture that surrounds our main character, including shimmering, turquoise swimming holes; mouth-watering Mexican cakes and loud, colourful festivals.
The story begins on a canal boat in Paris, where Monsieur Perdu runs a book shop or ‘literary apothecary’, designed to treat the ailments of his customers. Unfortunately, Monsieur Perdu is unable to treat his own heartbreak, caused by the ending of a relationship 20 years. After finally reading the letter left to him by the woman who caused his heartbreak, he sets sail down the Siene river in search of Provence. This beautifully written, thoughtful and touching book has been one of my favourite reads of the year, transporting me to a summer in France.
We recently read this as part of our local book club (wine club). Although not predominantly about travel, the book is set in the golden age of 17th century Holland. The story follows Nella, a young country girl who leaves behind her family to marry a wealthy merchant living in a grand house on the cobbled streets of Amsterdam. Envisaging a life of luxury, parties and excitement, Nella struggles with the reality of life in the mysterious Brandt household and instead begins to obsess over the anonymous packages she begins to receive, filled with miniature creations that mirror her own life. I loved this book, not only for its plot, but for its descriptions of a cold, wintry Amsterdam. It made me instantly want to travel to Holland in the depths of winter, stay in a traditional canal house and tuck into some stroopwafel.
From the author of the now infamous Kite Runner, I read this book during my normally mindless commute into London. For anyone who has read Khaled Hosseini’s work, you’ll know that this definitely isn’t a piece of mindless holiday reading, but a both moving and disturbing book. It is however, brilliant. Set in Kabul, the book tells the story of Miriam and later Laila, as they face the seemingly endless challenges facing Afghan women, particularly under the rule of the Taliban. Hosseini’s honest writing depicts an unimaginably unjust society, but is a book that I’ve never forgotten.
I loved this book. A piece of non-fiction, written by journalist Helen Russell, it tells the story of Helen and her husband, as they leave stressed, urban life in London, for life in the Danish countryside (where her husband relocates for work). Regularly voted the happiest place on earth to live, Helen decides to immerse herself in Danish life, to see if she comes out the other side any happier. The result? She does. Hurray! From the concept of ‘hygge’ (meaning, to be cosy, or keep cosy) to less working hours, this book is a fascinating insight into Danish culture and made me think more than a little about packing my cases and moving there. Pronto.
Since visiting Russia last year, it’s fair to say we’ve become more than a little obsessed with the place. This book only fuelled that obsession. Written by journalist Jens Muhling – a man whose mission it was to travel Russia, uncovering stories ‘too unbelievable to be true’ – this book contains stories of the charismatic, enigmatic and often deluded characters he meets on the way. From the snowy Siberian forests to vast Russian cities we rarely hear of, this book is a fascinating insight into modern-day Russia.
Have you also been inspired by any of the books mentioned above? Or do you have any other best travel reads? Let us know in the comments below!