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The Top Five Books That Inspired Me To Travel

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I am about to head out on a beach getaway to Eilat, a resort town on the Red Sea in the far south of Israel. After my challenging trek through the Negev Desert, I am in urgent need of some rest and relaxation. I plan to do nothing but read and work on my tan. That got me looking at the dozens of books I have downloaded onto my Kindle, wondering which one I should read next. There are so many books that stir my wanderlust; it’s hard to make a decision. If you have a recommendation for me, please feel free to share it in the comments below. For now, I am sharing my favorite travel books with you – read on for the five books that inspired me the most to put on my backpack and travel the world:

dani preparing for south americaThe Beach by Alex Garland

When I read this book, it hadn’t yet evolved into the backpacker classic that it is these days – it’s rare not to find a copy of The Beach in a backpacker hostel in South East Asia.

The book accompanies young British backpacker Richard on his first backpacking trip to Thailand which randomly leads him to a secret community on a tropical island that looks like the perfect commune for young hippies from around the world – at least at first sight – and results in an agitating and later dramatic time at the beach. I don’t know anyone who has read this book without looking up airfare to Thailand after finishing it. Not only a plot that gets you daydreaming, but also written in a captivating style.

Makes you want to go to: Thailand

phi phi lei rock & boat
The paradisical setting of The Beach in Thailand

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

I read this book just before I arrived in India a couple of years ago and I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to this mind-blowing country. The book tells the story of a poor village boy who, through a number of lucky incidences, becomes a savvy entrepreneur in Bangalore. This book offered a fantastic insight into a side of India that people usually don’t talk about, and I recognized a lot of things from the book in India and having read The White Tiger really helped me understand the culture of the country better. The book is written in a funny tone that will make you laugh out loud on several occasions and even though Balram, the main character, turns pretty dark in the end, you will miss him when you’ve finished the book!

Makes you want to go to: India

The Motorcycle Diaries – Notes on a Latin American Journey by Ernesto Che Guevara

I had always been fascinated by Che Guevara, whose unmistakable face adorns millions of T-Shirts around the world, and who, as an Argentinian middle-class boy, ended up playing a key role in the revolution that turned Cuba into a socialist state in the 1950s. It was his South America travel diary that spurred my wanderlust though, making me long to follow into his footsteps and explore Latin America – ideally on a motorcycle, like he did. It was this journey, undertaken by him and his best friend when he was a medical student, on a motorbike, that radicalized his socialist thinking after witnessing poverty, injustice, hunger and disease throughout the continent. Even though the picture he paints of South America is often dark, he manages to create an image that makes you head out on an adventure like his, hoping to be able to change the world afterwards, just as he did. The disasters and discoveries Che describes in his diaries are so compelling and intriguing that you might end up packing your bags for an adventure of a lifetime like Che as soon as you put down the book. You can pick up The Motorcycle Diaries on Amazon.

Makes you want to go to: Latin America

17 argentina with andes
Following in Che’s footsteps in Argentina

The Long Way Around by Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman

This was the book that actually made me decide to travel the world – after reading the book in 2009, I kept thinking about traveling the world and mapping out routes in my head. A few months later, I hit the road. Not quite like McGregor and Boorman who set off on BMW motorbikes to travel from London to New York via Europe, Central Asia, Russia and finally Alaska, Canada and the U.S., but it put places like Mongolia on my travel wish list; places that hadn’t been on my radar before. The book, in which they share details of several obstacles, accidents and challenges along the way, is very gripping and I often felt as if I was right there with them on their 19,000 miles once-in-a-lifetime journey. You can order Long Way Round on Amazon.

Makes you want to: Go around the world on a motorbike

Portrait in Sepia by Isabel Allende

Even though Portrait in Sepia isn’t a travel book per se, the extremely talented Chilean writer manages to create such vivid images of the locations her stories take place in that after each and every book of hers I read, I have a new place I wish to explore, simply based on her colorful descriptions of it. The books takes you from Chile in the late 19th century to modern-day San Francisco Allendes book keep fascinating me with the rich details of every character in her comprehensive family sagas, no matter how small his or her role in the story may be. And while the imaginative characters play the main role, you still learn plenty about Chile’s history and feel transported right into San Francisco’s Chinatown.

Makes you want to travel to: San Francisco and Chile

chinatown san francisco
San Francisco’s Chinatown – seen in a different light after reading Portrait In Sepia

**What’s a book that induced your wanderlust? Share in the comments below!**

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14 Comments

  1. Hi Dani – thanks for this list! I have only read The Beach on your list, but have always wanted to read Motorcycle Diaries. After reading your list, I am also especially looking forward to reading The Long Way Around.

    I am currently 4 months out from departure planning my first backpacking trip – and so have been combing the internet for information, and reading to get my head in the zone. I’ve also been trying to decide what book or two to take with me while traveling. As far as I am concerned, it is a very important question.

    Your post made me ask which books make me feel the urge to travel. I came up with

    1) Memoirs of a Geisha, by Arthur Golden
    – makes you want to go to Japan, New York City

    2) Call of the Wild and Whitefang by Jack London
    – makes you want to head North, the Yukon

    3) Lord of the Rings Trilogy
    – I first read these as a kid. I always thought it was great how they lived on the road, out of their packs and from what they came across in their travel/mission. They are an adaptable breed of traveler, and made me want to attempt this type of lifestyle.

    1. Jordan – Right after reading The Long Way Around I bought The Long Way Down, the book in which they chronicle their second trip from London down to Cape Town. Also an amazing journey! I’ve been waiting for their third adventure (South America) which they’ve been talking about forever, for years now.. not sure if that’s still going to happen 😀

      As for your recommendations – Memoirs of a Geisha is a GREAT book, I completely forgot about it but I’ve been dying to go to Japan ever since I read it. Should have been on my list!!! I thought about including The Lord Of The Rings because I’d love to visit New Zealand but feel like the credit for that goes to the movies, not the books. I will have to check out the Jack London books you recommend, thanks so much!

      P.S. Enjoy your trip! A Kindle was a total game changer for me, allowing me to travel with thousands of books, but without taking up any room and weight in my luggage 😉

  2. Thanks for sharing the books that inspired you to travel. I haven’t read any of these books but after living in Chile for 3 years the first two books that I’m going to investigate are Motorcycle diaries and Portrait in Sepia.

    1. You won’t regret it 🙂 Most of Allende’s books are set in Chile, or at least partially. And she is such a fantastic wrtier… I love getting lost in the worlds she creates 🙂

  3. I love reading. And I’m a total sucker for books based in other countries. The Beach and The Motorcycle Diaries are two of my favorites. And I love, love Isabelle Allende…although I haven’t read Portrait in Sepia yet! Great suggestions 🙂

    1. Oh, I am sure you’ll love Portrait in Sepia, Justine, it’s a sequel to Daughter of Fortune if you have read that one. Isabel Allende is such a great story teller, I just picked up Maya’s Notebook which I haven’t read yet… can’t wait!

  4. Great list, I have read The Motorcycle Diaries and The Beach and I loved them. Isabel Allende is a wonderful Latin American writer though. I would include in your list a very good one that inspired me a lot and also gives a unique message about life:

    Into the wild by Jon Krakauer

    1. I thought about including Into The Wild but then I realized that while I loved the book, it didn’t really inspire me to go anywhere 😉 It left a deep impact on me though, loved that book!

    1. Sharantaram has been on my to-read list forever! Gotta finally read it!! Never heard of The Quiet American but will check it out 🙂

  5. Shantaram can be quite a daunting size (I struggled until p100 and then it took off for me). I might even have preferred Rohinton Mistry A Fine Balance for India. And while I think about it, a top book from a couple of years ago, Cambodia was Vaddey Ratner In the Shadow of the Banyan … but hey, could go on for ever and always new books with a potential to make the best travel reads ever list!

  6. Hej Dany,

    I’m silently reading your blog so far and enjoying it so much to read about you discovering all those great places! It’s inspiring.

    For me, The Art of Hearing the Heartbeat by Jan-Philipp Sendker is a great book that makes you wanting to explore Myanmar uregently.

    And Elias Canetti’s The Voices of Marrakesh made me longing for a trip to Morocco 🙂

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