As I’ve mentioned before, my love of reading has, in many ways, led to my love of travelling. Even many of the books I loved as a child inspired me to want to see places I had read about, for example the works of Enid Blyton. I collected A LOT of her books when I was a kid, and my particular favourites were the series about the English boarding school of St. Clare’s and the children of Cherry Tree and Willow farms. Consisting of six books about twins Patricia and Isabel O’Sullivan, the St. Clare’s books made me long to attend an English boarding school so that I could go on rambles through the countryside, have horse-riding lessons and attend midnight feasts! Similarly, the three farm books The Children of Cherry Tree Farm, The Children of Willow Farm and More Adventures on Willow Farm made me wish to live on an English country farm, feeding the farm animals and befriending or observing wild English creatures such as squirrels and deer!
It’s funny, I’m sure other people would read about Australia and dream about living there and seeing the foreign animals, but my travel dreams began by dreaming of England. These books, and other childhood favourites such as The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame and C. S Lewis’s Narnia chronicles, probably led in large part to my wanting to move to England, which of course I did! I satisfied my desire to see foxes and squirrels and other British animals while living in London, but I’m certainly not done yet.
Here are my other top five picks for books that have definitely inspired my wanderlust, and maybe they will do so for you as well.
Boy and Going Solo by Roald Dahl
Inspirations – Norway and Africa
I’ve counted these two books as one entry as they are both part of Roald Dahl’s memoirs, and I had them as one volume growing up. Boy: Tales of Childhood obviously covers Dahl’s childhood life, up to when he turns 18 and Going Solo carries on from this into his first job for Shell and later experiences as a fighter pilot in WWII. Boy is a very funny book, telling stories of his childhood that you can often see where he used his own life experiences as inspirations for his fiction books such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. His descriptions of family holidays in his homeland of Norway are what I always found the most inspiring and I have wanted to visit Norway ever since reading this book as a child. His descriptions of the complicated journey to get there and the picturesque fjords and quaint villages paint such a lovely picture. I still haven’t made it to Norway yet but it is high on my list.
In the second instalment of his memoirs, Dahl recounts his experience of moving to and living in Mombasa, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania with his usual wit and wonder. His tales of lions and snakes and experiences as a British man in Africa showed both how dangerous it can be in those countries, as well as how exciting and exotic. Not surprisingly, African countries such as Kenya and Tanzania are high on many people’s destination lists; reading Going Solo can give you a great feel of what life was like there in the 1930s.
The Live of the Mayfair Witches and The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice
Inspirations – New Orleans and Louisiana
I can’t choose just one book by Anne Rice which has led to me dreaming of visiting New Orleans, as so many of her books take place at least in part here; but they all describe this city with such luscious, dreamy prose that I have dreamed of visiting since my college days (when I voraciously read anything by her I could get my hands on). Her descriptions of New Orleans both in the past and the present are mesmerising; she touches on the clothing, the weather, the people and the romantic architecture and gardens of the city, particularly the French Quarter and Garden District. In books such as Blackwood Farm, she also writes about the surrounding bayous and plantation manors with the same dreamy quality. When I get to the United States, New Orleans will be high on my list of places to visit!
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
Inspirations – Italy, India, Bali
A lot of people mention Eat, Pray, Love when talking about travel writing, and their praise is not misplaced. I haven’t seen the film that is based on this book, but I read the book while I was living in Thailand (in itself a pretty challenging experience) and it helped keep my desire for travel alive as well as inspiring me for later destinations. In three parts the author writes of her own travels, living in three countries around the world, looking for different ways to find inner peace after a heartbreaking divorce. In Rome she describes wandering among the old buildings, practising her Italian and finding comfort in the simple pleasures of fresh local produce and simple living.
In India she tells of her time living in an Ashran, practising challenging hours of meditation that were both physically and mentally gruelling but eventually gave her so much inner peace that you will probably want to drop everything and go to India to do it as well!
Her final destination is Bali, where she looks for a balance between the two extremes and eventually, unexpectedly, finds love again. Her words bring to life images of the simplicity and tranquillity of life in Bali as she comes to understand herself and what she wants from her life. This book is inspirational not only in making you want to visit the places she writes about but also in her journey of self-discovery. While many people who love to travel may find love far from home (myself included) the ultimate message in this book is, I think, about finding and loving yourself.
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
Inspiration – Africa
While this novel is often used in college and university coursework, I first read it for pleasure after it was recommended to me by a friend during my university years, and in a way it changed my life. The story is set during the 1950s in the Belgian Congo (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) and relates the tale of an American missionary and his family’s move to a small village in the Congo to bring Jesus to the locals. The story shows how starkly different life is in Africa compared to what the Price family are used to back home and relates the many cultural differences and difficulties faced by the minister in trying to convert the local people to Christianity, not to mention get by in a place so challenging and different from home. The political turmoil enveloping the country at the time serves as a backdrop for the personal tragedies and events that affect the family as they adapt to life in such a foreign culture.
This book may not specifically make you want to travel to the Congo (the seeming abundance of poisonous snakes and crocodiles seem daunting even for an Australian such as myself) but it will open your eyes to how very wide the gap between the haves and have-nots in this world is, and how much we Westerners take for granted. Much like my time living in Thailand this book made me both appreciate everything I have and want to travel to experience as much as I can and maybe help others less fortunate when I can. If you read only one book on this list, make sure it is this one, even if all it does is make you think about the world a bit differently.
Red Earth and Pouring Rain by Vikram Chandra
Inspiration – India
Red Earth and Pouring Rain is perhaps my favourite book of all time (so far at least). This was an assigned text when I was studying honours in English at University and in some ways it almost defies description. In short, the story is about a monkey who gets hit on the head and suddenly remembers his past lives and starts writing them out on a typewriter, but that is only the tip of the iceberg of what happens in this novel. This story effortlessly mixes the realities of life in India and America, past and present, men and gods, culture and exile. It is a story about stories that will dazzle you in its scope as well as make you want to experience an Indian monsoon. There is so much inside this novel, you can read it many times and find more layers of meaning, and I don’t think I have ever enjoyed studying or writing an essay about a book as much as I did this one. I love the way it takes you through Indian history, with references to Shakespeare and the meaning of words and story throughout, as well as weaving magic and present Indian deities with re-incarnated characters, expats and tourists. You feel like you can almost taste the red dust of the bustling cities, hear the cacophonous noises of a land with more than a billion people and see the colours flying through the air at a religious festival. I haven’t been to India yet, but before I get there I will be re-reading this novel again in preparation!
I hope you have enjoyed, and maybe been a little bit inspired, by my list of books that have inspired me to travel. Have you ever read an amazing book that made you long to visit a foreign land? Let me know what it was in the comments, and if you want to find out some more great travel books featuring animals, then check out this post on amazing animal travel stories!