Travel is one of the most wonderful experiences granted to us – what other creature can say (relatively on a whim) that they want a change of scenery and to experience something new? With the potential exception of migratory birds, not many. So what influences us to want to see the sights? Often, it’s hearing about grand adventures or seeing pictures of some far-off land. But there is another medium that gives us an itch to get going: literature, books, stories, etc. Reading the story of a life somewhere far, far away makes us yearn to see the places the author describes.
That being said, it is important to note that not everything happening in all countries is peachy. Many books (set in the U.S. and around the world) focus on the strife and turmoil happening within those borders, and it’s relatively impossible and perhaps irresponsible to make a booklist that ignores drama and conflict. So please, enjoy the following list, make some travel plans, learn some stuff, and stay safe out there!
Inferno is the fourth installment in Brown’s series following the fast-paced, crazy life of Harvard professor Robert Langdon. Really, all of the Langdon books (actually all of Brown’s books), take place in international locations, and Brown’s knowledge and use of language does a beautiful job detailing these countries.
This story in particular takes place in Florence, Italy. Langdon wakes up in a hospital room with no recollection of how he got there. In almost no time at all, he and the young doctor, Sienna Brooks, are fleeing through the streets of Florence and running from an unknown enemy. Inferno takes its reader on a detailed tour of Florence’s beauty and historical influences all the while teaching a thing or two about one of Florence’s most famous people, Dante Alighieri.
Wolf Dreams by Yasmina Khadra
This story gives you a picture of the modern chaos happening at the moment (good for your political knowledge), and it lends itself to the beauty of alternative culture and the landscape within the country. The book follows the life of Nafa Walid, the so-called “heart throb of the Casbah,” as he evolves, with terrifying seamlessness, from desiring a life of cinematic fame and fortune to being a member of the Islamic Fundamentalist Movement, committing murder with relative abandon.
Wolf Dreams isn’t exactly a travel guide, but it is rich in imagery and cultural awareness.
Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
Shantaram is just one picture of India, but it is a pretty fascinating one. Based on the life of the author, Shantaram details the life of a heroin addict/armed robber who escapes from the clutches of an Australian prison and flees to Bombay before settling in a slum. While in Bombay, our man manages to open a free health clinic, get involved with the mafia, and meet the love of his life. Not bad for a convict on the run.
While it’s not the most glamorous story, you do get a rugged picture of a very real area of India, and depending on what kind of traveler you are, that may be exactly what you’re looking for.
This is a truly complicated story from start to finish but absolutely worth the effort you put into reading it.
The book is set in South America, but with a great deal of influence via magical realism. We follow the multi-generational story of the Buendía family, starting with the foundation of the mythical city Macondo by the family’s patriarch, José Arcadio Buendía. José is said to have originally dreamed of a city surrounded by water and filled with mirrors (hello, magical realism, good to see you), and eventually establishes such a place between riverbanks. Throughout the novel, the emerging generations of Buendías suffer various tragedies but refuse to leave the land of their ancestors.
Full of magical elements and beautiful descriptions of South America (particularly Colombia and its surrounding areas), One Hundred Years of Solitude has been translated into 37 languages and has sold over 30 million copies worldwide—for good reason.
Life as a courtesan in 20th century China was certainly a difficult one. Following the life of Violet Minturn, The Valley of Amazement tells the story of a young girl forced to separate from her mother and become a virgin courtesan in the city. The story spans over fifty years, and we see Violet’s evolution from scared, young girl to savvy and sharp businesswoman—but to anyone with knowledge of her past, her success is a mask for some major inner turmoil.
Through it all, in spite of the emotional rollercoaster you’re invited to ride, readers are also treated to an accurate rendering of life and culture in 20th century China, and that’s a beautiful thing.
As one of the most read books in recent times, you can expect The Alchemist to be an incredible book—and it really is.
In essence, this is a story about following your dreams. We follow the life of a young shepherd boy as he travels from Spain to Egypt (and we mean travels the old-fashioned way—not just hopping on the nearest plane and landing in Cairo) in search of fulfilling his dream of discovering hidden treasure.
Throughout his journey, our shepherd boy learns the true meaning of love, friendship, and happiness in the midst of, let’s say difficult, scenarios. If you’ve heard the quote, “if you can concentrate on the present, you’ll always be happy,” then you should know that it comes from this book.
Seven Ages of Paris by Alistair Horne
If you’re interested in France, particularly Paris, Seven Ages of Paris could be exactly what you’re looking for to enhance your historical knowledge and give you the satisfaction of reading a great story.
The book itself jumps around quite a bit, as it spans (through a series of flashbacks) the course of French history from the Middle Ages to the 20th century. Horne has clearly done an incredible amount of research on his subject matter and provides readers an incredible image of what France was like during each time period. As Hywell Williams said in his Guardian review, he is, in the best sense of the word, an amateur of Paris past and present—informed, reliable, enthusiastic. He knows where the Parisian bodies are buried, and he also knows the cost of the lives of both the obscure and the grand people that went into the making of a city,” (Williams) No arguments there, Williams.
It’s a love story with violence, lots of drama, and some history—something for everybody.
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares
To end this list on a positive, happy note, take a look at the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series—all in all, there are five of them.
The series is based on the lives of four girls who have been friends quite literally since birth. As they separate for the first (and eventually second, third, fourth, etc. times), the girls find a pair of pants that fit all of them, in spite of their very different sizes.
So why is this series included on a list about wanderlust? Well, that’s because each book makes you want to change your life through travel, and because that’s what they do every summer. (It will make you jealous.) For example, in the first book, Lena travels to Greece, Bridget goes to California and Mexico, and Carmen goes off to South Carolina. And that’s just the first book!
It isn’t just that these characters go to amazing places, but also that Brashares is such a talented writer that she makes her readers feel as if they are also embarking on these adventures. If you want wanderlust without the political influences, this is the series for you.
Happy reading (and wanderlusting)!