“If I’d learnt one thing from travelling, it was that the way to get things done was to go ahead and do them. Don’t talk about going to Borneo. Book a ticket, get a visa, pack a bag, and it just happens.”
– Alex Garland, The Beach
Good books take us to faraway places, dreamy spaces, on adventurous chases. Sometimes they inspire chapters in our own lives, or to close the book on others. Wherever your book takes you, much like travel, you will go on a journey where you may not return the same. Here’s a list of our top five books that’ll inspire any traveller.
1. The Motorcycle Diaries by Ernesto Che Guevara
“Perhaps one day tired of circling the world I’ll return to Argentina and settle in the Andean lakes if not indefinitely then at least for a pause while I shift from one understanding of the world to another.”
― Ernesto Che Guevara, The Motorcycle Diaries: Notes on a Latin American Journey
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Before he became one of the most influential revolutionists of our time, Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara was a 23-year-old medical student taking a year off school. In his memoir, The Motorcycle Diaries, Che takes us on his journey through South America, exploring the world of the great unknown, a world he read all about in books while he was growing up.
In 1952, Che Guevara packed up his ‘39 Norton 500 cc, his best friend Alberto Granado, and a backpack and set off on an odyssey that would change his life – and eventually, the world.
In this great journey, the pair spends nine months travelling more than 8,000 kilometres starting in Buenos Aires, then across the rest of Argentina, Chile, Peru, Colombia, and Venezuela, introducing themselves as leprosy experts and meeting all kinds of people along the way – miners, homeless, American tourists, and leper patients, of course. In Lima, Che meets a doctor, Hugo Pesce, a Peruvian scientist, director of Peru’s leprosy program, and a local Marxist who Guevara who would one day credit with playing a large role in Che’s revolution against social injustices.
Each passage in this New York Times bestseller takes you along as a passenger. From a leper colony on the banks of the Amazon River in Peru, to a mining country in Valparaiso, Chile, from the Valley of the Incas, to Bogota, Colombia, before returning back to Argentina, Che Guevara’s homeland.
2. Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
I once had a girl
Or should I say, she once had me?
She showed me her room
“Isn’t it good, Norwegian wood?”
She asked me to stay and she told me to sit anywhere
So I looked around and I noticed there wasn’t a chair
I sat on the rug
Biding my time, drinking her wine
We talked until two
And then she said, “It’s time for bed”
She told me she worked in the morning and started to laugh
I told her I didn’t and crawled off to sleep in the bath
And when I awoke
I was alone, this bird had flown
So I lit a fire
Isn’t it good, Norwegian wood?
-Norwegian Wood by the Beatles
Toru Watanabe is a 37-year-old businessman who one day hears the Beatles hit and suddenly starts to recall his days as an 18-year-old college student living in late 1960s Tokyo. He had just started university and moved into an all-male dormitory that either resembled a jail converted into apartments – or apartments converted into a jail. While in university, Toru falls in love with two very different women. Naoko, his best friend Kizuki’s girlfriend until Kizuki killed himself, and Midori, a student Toru meets at school.
Toru vividly remembers going on strolls through a meadow with Naoko and the conversations they had. Once they passed a field well hidden by grass, with no markers. It’s “a deep well, but nobody knows where it is,” he says to Naoko. You could fall in and that’d be the end of you.” The conversation’s dark turns remind us that death is always present. “We go on living and breathing it into our lungs like fine dust,” Toru narrates. Until Toru falls in love with the beautiful Midori, who happily blows the dust away.
After Naoko loses Kizuki, she starts to lose herself and one day, we learn that she’s checked into a sanitarium in Kyoto. Toru waits for her.
Okay, while this story is one that may not necessarily inspire a trip to Japan for everyone, fans of the author Haruki Murakami may find inspiration in seeing the place where he draws his inspiration from. Japan is his poetic prose come to life. From the long walks Naoko and Toru shared in the rain on the streets in Tokyo to the mountains of Kyoto, where Naoko tries to find peace within herself, Murakami paints a picture of Japan that’s as hard to look away from as it is to put one of his books down.
3. Night Train to Lisbon by Pascal Mercier
“We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there.”
― Pascal Mercier, Night Train to Lisbon
Raimund ‘Mundus’ Gregorious is a 57-year-old Swiss professor of languages at a secondary school. He interprets ancient Latin and Greek scriptures, Hebrew from the Old Testament, and other text that is considered otherwise dead. On a chance meeting with a woman, Mundus learns that she can only speak Portuguese which intrigues him for some reason. Not before long, he brings home a book written in Portuguese and translates the book, learning a new language in the process. His escalating desire to find answers within this text inspires Mundus to leave his life behind and pursue the author who lives in Portugal.
4. Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert
You may already love it or loathe it, but like it or not (full disclosure: we hope you do), Eat, Pray, Love inspires travel. In fact, there are a number of Eat, Pray, Love inspired tours that have emerged since Oprah gave everyone in her audience a copy of the memoir.
Like many of the protagonists on this book list, Liz embarks on a journey of self-discovery after suffering a breakdown that follows her divorce. As someone who “has it all” – perfect home, husband, career – Liz realizes one day that she’s not living the life she wants. When she gathers up the courage to leave her husband and unhappy marriage behind, she braces herself for the fall. She faces depression and loneliness until she picks herself back up and decides to begin her new journey: she starts with eating her way through Italy, searching for divine spirituality in India, and finally, falling in love in Bali.
5. Beyond the Sky and the Earth, a Journey into Bhutan by Jamie Zeppa
“I wanted to throw myself into an experience that was too big for me and learn in a way that cost me something.”
― Jamie Zeppa, Beyond the Sky and the Earth: A Journey into Bhutan
When Jamie Zeppa was 24, she left her home, her fiance, and graduate school behind, and moved to a remote region on the other side of the world. Bhutan, to be exact.
Before this, Jamie had never travelled outside of North America. The Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario native takes a leap in a whole different part of the world, lands (clumsily, at first) and experiences the culture shock that comes with living in Bhutan, a Buddhist kingdom in the eastern Himalayas.
Everything is difficult at first. Almost everything requires getting used to, like living without electricity, learning how to walk up mudslides in flip flops, navigating a new transportation system, adjusting to new tastes, flavours and foods. In time, Jamie takes us along her journey as she makes personal realizations, slowly appreciates a new way of life in Bhutan, and falls in love with her new home along the way.
Getting to Bhutan takes a bit of legwork and pre-planning, but like we learn from Jamie, the effort is part of the journey.
Since our Places to Travel lists can get as long as our Books to Read lists, here are a few more of our all-time favourite reads to inspire your next trip:
- The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
- The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George
- American Gods by Neil Gaiman
- A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle
- Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
- Lost Girls by Jennifer Baggett, Holly Corbett & Amanda Pressner
- The Beach by Alex Garland
- In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson
- Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson
- A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
- Whale Rider by Witi Ihamaera
Is your favourite book on this list? What books would you add?