Traveling in Place (Through The Pages of A Good Book)
Updated: Nov 5, 2021
During a recent podcast interview I was asked the question,
"Where do you find inspiration for your travel?"
I didn't have to think twice before I answered, "From the books I read!"
Books have always been my inspiration. I learned at a very young age that a good book has the power to transport you to new worlds without ever having to actually go anywhere. So while we are all tucked away in the safety of our homes, pressing a momentary "pause" on our normal lives, I thought I would share some of those books that have piqued my interest in travel, inspired me to write, and otherwise influenced my life.
Novels To Inspire the Intrepid Traveler
The main source of inspiration for my travels actually comes from novels. While good travel writing and non-fiction can be fascinating, there's nothing like a good fictional story to capture the essence of a real place and make you want to experience it firsthand.
One Hundred Years of Solitude
by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
On my last trip to Colombia, I was crossing the Magdalena River, driving into the countryside south of Cartagena, and I felt a little flutter in my chest when I looked around and thought,
This is Macondo!
That timeless, surreal place where ghosts walk with the living, miracles appear mundane, and the outrageous is perfectly acceptable. Marquez describes his homeland with a sense of magical realism that has captivated my imagination since I was young. I thought of his writing often while exploring the Northern coast of Colombia.
A Thousand Splendid Suns
by Khaled Hasseini
"Learn this now and learn it well, my daughter: Like a compass needle that points north, a man's accusing finger always finds a woman. Always. You remember that, Mariam."
You are probably familiar with Hassein's world renowned debut novel, The Kite Runner. A Thousand Splendid Suns is his second work, and while it contains many of the same themes as Kite Runner, this time Hasseini focuses on female characters and their role in Afghan society. The book provides unique insight into the lives of Afghan women during the rise of the Taliban, and allows a window into a world that many of us have never seen before. Hasseini's words are poignant and beautiful, and his characters will stay with you long after you turn the last page.
All The Light We Cannot See
by Anthony Doerr
I first visited France after graduating college, and was fascinated by the many reminders of the Second World War I saw throughout the country. I drove through the countryside and stopped in tiny towns that had been destroyed and rebuilt from the ground up. I visited the American Cemetery in Normandy, sitting in silence as I took in the endless rows of white tombstones, many without names. I walked through Saint Malo and Mont Saint Michel, places once occupied by the Germans, and tried to imagine what it was like to live in such terrifying times.
I read Doerr's novel almost ten years after that first visit, and the story was so much more meaningful because I had been to the places he described. I felt as if I was there with the main character every step of the way-feeling, tasting, seeing everything with her.
There are countless novels out there about the Second World War (and many really good ones!) But if you had to pick one to read, pick this one.
The Distant Land of My Father
by Bo Caldwell
I haven't been to China yet, but I want to visit Shanghai because of this book. Another story centered around World War 2, this one focuses on a family living in Shanghai during Japanese occupation. Caldwell's writing made it easy for me to pretend that I was there, experiencing the story right along with its characters. Beautifully written, it's easily one of the best books I've read.
Where The Crawdads Sing
by Delia Owens
This was a perfect example of how a good story can make you feel that much more connected to a place you visit. I read Owen's book, about the lonely life of a young girl growing up in the marshes of the Outer Banks, during a road trip through the Carolinas with my mother last summer. I remember reading it and thinking,
I am here! This book, this story, I'm living it right now!
In The Time of Butterflies
by Julia Alvarez
A novel inspired by true events, this book follows the legend of Las Mariposas (The Butterflies), sisters who bravely resisted the Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic. This book pulled on my heartstrings and made me feel for this country’s tragic past. I haven't yet been to the Dominican Republic, but if and when I do, I'm sure Alvarez's story will be on my mind.
The Poisonwood Bible
by Barbara Kingsolver
"To live is to be marked. To live is to change, to acquire the words of a story , and that is the only celebration we mortals really know."
I wrote Kingsolver's words down in my diary years ago while reading her novel about a missionary family that moves to Africa. They arrive with big expectations and plans for drastic change. In the end, it is the country that changes them. This book was though-provoking, funny, and brilliantly written. It's a great example of why we should always keep our minds open when exploring unchartered territory.
House of Spirits
by Isabel Allende
“Barrabás came to us by the sea, the child Clara wrote in her delicate calligraphy.”
That is the first sentence of the best book I've ever read. The first time I picked up this book I was 11 years old, and I couldn't put it down...until I got to the chapter about a man having sex with a prostitute, and my mother decided that I was too young for this material.
I picked it up again and finished it about ten years later, right before visiting Chile. Whenever I look at this photograph of me sitting in Pichidangue, I hear Allende's words again in my mind.
The story, based on Allende's own family's incredible past, spans four generations and, though a work of fiction, contains many references to Chile's true history. I'll never forget visiting the presidential palace in Santiago, where the 1973 coup d’etat of Chile occurred, overthrowing President Salvador Allende (Isabel Allende's relative). All the pieces came together for me as I learned the history of Chile, and Isabel Allende’s unique perspective of the political uprisings. Her tale may be a novel, but it paints a clear picture of a very real time in Chilean history. In fact, the character General Hertado in her story correlates with Augosto Pinochet, who was to become the incredibly controversial right-wing President of Chile following Allende’s demise.
If you're going to Chile, read this book. Even if you're never going to Chile, read this book.
Non-Fiction To Inspire An Open Mind
Of course there is also plenty of non-fiction out there to inspire travel. I read a fair share of travel writing, but the most inspiring stories I've found are accounts told by locals, in the form of memoirs. I'll mention a few of my favorites here.
I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban
by Malala Yousafzai
Wow, what a story.
I read this from the comfort of my home in the suburbs of Ohio during the beginning of the COVID 19 pandemic, and all I could think was "I have no idea what it means to truly suffer."
Malala's story provided unique insight into the history of Pakistan and the many challenges that women in this country continue to face. But just as importantly, Malala gives a beautiful description of a country that, despite its many failings, is a place she still loves and considers home.
Born A Crime
by Trevor Noah
"Language brings with it an identity and a culture, or at least the perception of it...I soon learned that the quickest way to bridge the race gap was through language."
Yes, this is a memoir written by a comedian. But its so much more. I learned about South Africa from this book-it's highly structured racism, absurd apartheid laws, and all the ramifications these things had on the black community. Noah describes what it was like to be an interracial or "colored" man growing up in a place where his existence was literally a crime. His account of his childhood is all at once heart-breaking, funny, and eye-opening. Anyone considering traveling to South Africa should read this book.
The Motorcycle Diaries: A Journey Around South America
by Ernesto Che Guevara
This memoir traces the early experiences of the revolutionary Che Guevara as he explores South America, a place that he had previously only really known from the books he read. The diary ends with a declaration by the young Guevara, displaying his willingness to fight and die for the cause of the poor, and his dream of seeing a united Latin America. He makes me want to grab a bike and start exploring my own country with the same fervor.
Books to Inspire Your Own Writing and Creativity
I'm not one to read a ton of "how to" and "ways to succeed" books, but the books I'll mention are ones that have truly inspired me to pursue my own creative career.
Daily Rituals of Women at Work
by Mason Currey
I keep this on my nightstand, and if I'm ever feeling unmotivated, I'll open it to a random page and read about the rituals of successful creative women.
It is in this book that some of the most influential writers, painters, and performers in the world describe the pain-staking process from which their art originates. If there is one thing I learned from this book, its that I'm not the only one who struggles from time to time
(Miles the Chiweenie approves of this message).
by Stephen King
"You must not come lightly to the blank page."
I love a good Stephen King novel. But it's the memoir he wrote about his own life and creative process that first inspired me to start writing. King showed me that there is no excuse for not pursuing your dreams. He wrote his first novel in the laundry room of a cramped apartment while working full-time at a factory and struggling to support a family.
If he can do it, so can you!
Working: Researching, Interviewing, Writing
by Robert A. Caro
This is a great book for anyone interesting in writing non-fiction.
Caro describes the amount of time and dedication it takes to research a story, and the importance of being thorough. Although I'm not planning on writing a 1,000 page book on a United States President anytime soon, I've found his writing has inspired me to seek the truth in my own storytelling.
So there you have it, a list of the books that have most influenced my travels and creative process.
Until I can start traveling again, I will continue to satisfy my wanderlust by getting lost in a good story. To keep up with my current reads, follow along on my IG stories @candidvoyage.
Take care and be well during these crazy times, everyone! -Teresa