Remember back in school when you’d dress up as your favourite literary character for World Book Day? That’s us today. Darren in the Air Pricing team makes an excellent Cat in the Hat.
Nah, not really. But we are, would you believe it, a literate lot, and we have been sharing our favourite travel books with one another over the past few days. So to celebrate World Book Day, we thought we’d throw them your way too.
Time to step away from your social feed, and pause Netflix for a few hours. Here are 14 beach reads that will elevate your travel experience into the stratosphere, and deepen your understanding of a some of your favourite travel destinations. Read then in the run up to your big trip or taken them with you…
On The Road by Jack Kerouac
Where: The USA
“Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever on the road…”
This painfully cool account of a group of counterculture Beatniks journeying across the US during the fifties is nothing short of a classic. If you’ve ever dreamed of giving the middle finger to your job or studies, piling into a car and heading off… well, anywhere, you need to dust off a copy and join Sal Paradise on his adventures in dingy jazz bars, messy hotel rooms and under blankets of stars.
Off the Rails in Phnom Penh: Into the Dark Heart of Guns, Girls and Ganja by Amit Gilboa
Back in 2001, every single backpacker in Cambodia was reading this book. It was literally snatched out of hands and torn off book swap shelves. Mostly fact (and perhaps a bit of fiction), the book is a darkly humorous, downright dirty and at times disturbing first-hand tale of the lawlessness of life in Cambodia’s capital in the 1990s.
It’s a story of hard booze and cheap brothels, of a beautiful country emerging from decades of violence and conflict, and of a hardy band of expat journalists, war reporters and travellers who fell in love with this chaos and called it home.
I believe you only understand the present by learning about the past. This book, combined with at best a book, or at the very least a quick Wiki read-up on the Khmer Rouge, will give you a decent start in understanding this truly remarkable country and the history behind the resilient smiles of its incredible people.
Hannah, Global Brand Copywriter
The Motorcycle Diaries by Che Guevara
Where: South America
Before Che became a revolutionary, he was a wanderlusting medical student who roamed South America on a motorbike with his best mate. Cool, huh?
His memoir, cataloguing an overland trip all the way to California, is full of fortunate run-ins with kind strangers, tales of his gruelling work in a leper colony, and dismay at the unjust social and economic divides he finds along the road – which ultimately transforms him into the political soldier we know him as now.
It’s a typical coming of age story, with rolling Argentinean hills and quaint South American towns as the backdrop.
Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
Where: The USA and Alaska
“So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservation, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind. But in reality, nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.”
You’ve probably seen the film. Like, five times. But did you know that it’s based on a true story?
In 1990, after graduating from a good university, Christopher McCandless burned all of his money, rechristened himself ‘Alexander Supertramp’ and disappeared, without warning or belongings, into the wild. Over the next two years, he would catalogue his hitchhiking adventures in a series of scrawled journal entries, which were found years later, in the heart of the Alaskan wilderness.
McCandless’ penniless journey through the Western US and the Alaskan Badlands, however ill-advised, fascinated Krakauer (who went on to pen this book) and in turn, generations of wanderlusting young indie kids like us. Give it a read, and draw your own conclusions…
Pssst – Krakauer is one of the best adventure writers of our time, and one hell of a journalist; so we also recommend you also find yourself a copy of Into Thin Air, an edge-of-your-seat, step-by-ever-more-painful-step account of his doomed expedition up Mount Everest in 1997.
The Beach by Alex Garland
Yes, an obvious one. Bit when it comes to backpacker books, this one is the bible.
The novel this cult film was based on is a delicious adventure story for grown-ups, and although it’s pretty different from the screenplay, being set in the aftermath of the Vietnamese war and featuring a British protagonist, not an American Leo… its un-putdownable.
Bonus fact: Alex Garland actually wrote the movies Sunshine and 28 Days Later too, which, like The Beach, also went on to be directed by Danny Boyle. The ultimate duo!
Breathe by Tim Winton
Along with Bill Bryson’s Down Under, this one is essential for anyone preparing for their first trip to Oz. The story delves into the background of Aussie surf culture, as well as the rural Australia that travellers don’t always get to see.
Steph Mitchell, Content Manager
Prague by Arthur Phillips
This is a historical novel set in the wake of the Cold War. An American journalist and his expat friends, part of the ‘Lost Generation’ set out for Prague in search of a ‘life elsewhere’ full of romance and inspiration.
But instead, they fall in love with Budapest and decide to cosy down there. Full of eccentric characters, heaps of history, smoke-filled jazz bars and dreamy prose describing what is now one of the most exciting cities in the world, this will get you desperate to book a flight to Budapest. Sorry Prague. We still love you, too.
Under the Dragon: A Journey through Burma by Rory McLean
This is essential reading for anyone en-route to Myanmar.
Stories of Burmese citizens and their horrific struggles during the uprising are waved in with the narrator’s own explorations of the country and his interactions with these locals in the aftermath.
It gives you a good understanding of the last few decades of this country’s painful history, and will get you riled up for the overland adventure you’re about to embark on. More than that it’ll get you excited for the beautiful people you’ll interact with along the way.
The Island by Victoria Hislop
Paradise love-in, this is not. It’s a real tear-jerker of a book for anyone moved by hidden stories about forgotten places. The Island explores the original use of Spinalonga in Greece a leper island, and the stories of the people who lived there.
Laura Caveney, Social Media Executive
Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
If you’re travelling, this chunk of a book is best enjoyed on Kindle or iBook to save on backpack space. And despite how hard it is to pull your nose out of, it’ll still last you weeks.
Set in Mumbai’s sordid underworld, Shantaram is amazing story telling that will have your stomach turning and maybe even choke you up from time to time.
A mysterious Australian protagonist on the run from prison, an amazing array of characters he befriends in the infamous traveller hangout of Leopold Cafe, a setting bursting with life, and a roller coaster of a story line makes this book one of the best we’ve ever read. And everyone at STA Travel HQ has read it.
The Glass Palace by Amithav Ghosh
Where: India, Myanmar, Malaysia and beyond
Amithav Ghosh, in our eyes, is up there with Salman Rushdie when it comes to gaining an understanding the colourful and complex history of Asia.
The Glass Palace follows the stories, generation by generation, of a few families, and focuses primarily on an Indian orphan named Rajkumar who finds fortune working in the Burmese teak trade.
Despite spanning a chaotic, painful century, from the British invasion of Burma and the expulsion of the royal family from their palace in Mandalay, through to the shattering events of WW2, The Glass Palace reads like a fairy tale. The first few chapters, before things really kick off, are especially enchanting and enough to keep you hooked for the rest of the narrative.
A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit
Where: Anywhere and everywhere
Rebecca Solnit writes awesome essays exploring the age-old romantic idea of ‘getting lost’ and how it’s important for the development of identity. In this collection of essays, she explores dreams, space travel, how some people unintentionally get lost in the wilderness, and how some people go and get lost on purpose in order to find themselves. Sound like you? This book will inspire your wandering further.
Wild by Cheryl Strayed
Now also a major movie starring Reese Witherspoon, this one is for the empowered female.
The memoir of a 1,100-mile hike on the Pacific Crest Trail across California, Washington and Oregon, Cheryl describes her fall and eventual rise by self-discovery through the redemptive medicine of the journey she undertakes. This one is for anyone who wants to discover themselves through travel.
Short Walks from Bogota by Tom Feiling
This is one to read whether you’re planning a trip to Colombia, already back, or just interested in really great transformation stories. Colombia previously feel from a paradise to hellish narco-state, and is now on an impressive path to recovery, with backpackers and travellers flocking there to drink up its charm.
Tom Feiling saw the country at its worst, and now goes back to unpick the country’s complicated history by talking to former guerrilla fighters, millionaires and nomadic tribesmen. However much you think you know, we’re willing to bet this book can still manage to widen your eyes.
American Interior by Gruff Rhys
This is part of a multi-platform project by the Super Furry Animals frontman also consists of a film, a solo album and an app that follows his journey from Snowdonia to the Missouri River as he re-treads the path of a far-flung relative, John Evans.
Evans left Wales in the 1790s in pursuit of a Welsh-speaking tribe of Native Americans, which myth on both sides of the Atlantic had named the Madogwys. Crushing disappointment aside (sadly there is no such tribe), the book is an example of the awesome stories that lie in hidden pockets of history. Evans, for example, may have some claim to the current shape of the USA – no mean feat for farmhand from north west Wales.
Gwen Jones, Brochures Manager
In need of more page-turners? You can get a 30% discount on Lonely Planet guides when you sign up for an ISIC discount card.
Or just get more travel inspiration here.