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5 Books to Inspire Travel

Published 30 March 2016

Kirsty Stuart

Kirsty Stuart

A good travel guide book provides invaluable tips and advice about where to go, what to do and how to see your chosen travel destination. On the other hand, books that ignite your travel spirit and inspire you to stuff a few items into a bag and hit the open road are an altogether different type of beast. Whether you want inspiration before you set off or a loyal companion for when you’re on the road, here’s  Kirsty Stuart’s guide to the top five travel books to inspire, ignite and delight.

Santiago city skyline

1.       The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Paulo Coelho’s simple story follows Santiago, a poor shepherd boy who ventures on a journey of exploration and self-discovery in his search for hidden treasure located near the pyramids in Egypt. It’s a perfect read to stimulate and encourage not only travel, but all personal dreams and goals. It explores the notion of ‘living the dream’ and not being disheartened if those dreams don’t fit into an existing ideal. At the end of his journey, Santiago realises that he has learned more and acquired greater wisdom from the journey itself rather than the destination.

2.       Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

Into the Wild is the true story of Chris McCandless, who after graduating from university abandoned his family along with his savings, possessions and comfortable life in suburbia to hitchhike across America to seek out the wilderness of Alaska. The purpose (if he had one) was to escape the trappings of the material world and to instead experience just ‘being’ out in the wilderness of a nature that hadn’t been tampered with. In his search for meaning however, McCandless discovers that nature can be just as cold and uncaring as some of the people he had left behind in the modern world. Into the Wild is the perfect travel companion that explores the concepts of freedom and adventure as well as raising questions about the best ways to achieve them both.

3.       Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts

In Shantaram, Gregory David Roberts shares the extraordinary journey of his escape from an Australian prison and his subsequent new life in Mumbai, India. This is far from a flowery, idealistic depiction of his new life in India though as Roberts vividly describes slum life, prison torture, heroin addiction and even a spell fighting in Afghanistan. While at first glance this may not seem like inspiration for an epic trip abroad (and equally is not for the faint hearted), Shantaram is a triumph of personal spirit that leaves the reader with a sense of awe and adventure; awe not only for Roberts and the adversity that he faces (invariably brought about by his own actions) but also for the love, dignity and pride depicted in the ordinary people of India.

4.       On the Road by Jack Kerouac

On the Road is the ultimate story of personal pursuit of meaning and life experience. It follows the adventures of Kerouac (as Sal Paradise) and friends as they travel across America. From New York to Denver to San Francisco and LA, On the Road has it all – sex, drugs, alcohol and jazz. This book appeals to travellers the world over for its bohemian quest for self-discovery and its refusal to keep on moving without ever once looking back.

Bird Cave in Phi Phi, Thailand

5.       The Beach by Alex Garland

OK so when you hear the words ‘The Beach’ you may immediately think of a scantily clad Leonardo DiCaprio from the film version, but the book is a sure way to inspire travel. From the moment our central protagonist arrives in the bustling Khao San Road to his realisation that life in paradise might not be all it’s cracked up to be, this is a must-read travel book for all intrepid backpackers. When it comes down to it though, The Beach is more about humankind’s capacity to spoil and destroy nature’s perfection whenever it encounters it.

Expert tip

Because of the nature of these books they’re perfect for solo travellers, as well as those that plan to get off the beaten tourist track. Select a couple of them to whet your travel appetite before you leave and then go ahead and book swap your way around the world.

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