Some books have the power to transport you to the places described through their poetic and vivid storytelling. Here are our picks for the 7 best travel books to read while on a journey to the various places described in the novels.
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On the Road by Jack Kerouac – USA
Kerouac’s iconic book On the Road is a wonderful companion on a coast-to-coast road trip through the US, just like the one main character, Sal Paradise, and his charming friend Dean Moriarty embark on.
Start in New York City with a visit to one of the favourite hangouts of the Beat generation, Village Vanguard, in Greenwich Village. Before heading west, stop by the Hudson River Park and marvel at the sundown over New Jersey.
Up next is Chicago. Drop by The Green Mill, where you’ll enjoy jazz in all its forms, from bebop to avant-garde. Continue your journey to New Orleans where you can take the ferry to Algiers, a charming neighborhood where you’ll spot Victorian cottages decorated with gingerbread woodwork and find many lovely specialty shops, such as candy store Southern Candymakers. Another great pit stop would be Colorado’s capital Denver, a former Beat hub, with Larimer Street the beating heart of this community. Today it houses hip restaurants, lofty apartments and several microbreweries.
When you finally get to San Francisco, head to Telegraph Hill for spectacular views over the bay area and some quiet thoughts on the journey behind.
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Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami – Japan
Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore recounts the individual journeys of two characters, old man Nakata and 15-year-old runaway Kafka, from Tokyo to the small island of Shikoku. While their journeys through the various cities are mappable, the exact locations are more difficult to pinpoint. But that doesn’t matter much since the evocative and magical storytelling will entice your curiosity about this fascinating country known for combining traditional customs with ultra-modern technology.
Start your journey in the capital city Tokyo. Discover the geek universe of Akihabara Electric Town where you can find a vast collection of electrical appliances and devices as well as comic books and pop culture trinkets. Take the train to Osaka, where you will find one of Japan’s oldest Shinto shrines, Sumiyoshitaisha. Pop by the casual area of Shinsekai for some ‘kushikatsu’ – a dish consisting of various skewered, battered and deep fried foods.
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The Beach by Alex Garland – Thailand
Probably the most famous book set in Thailand and subsequent film adaption starring Leonardo DiCaprio, The Beach follows backpacker Richard on his quest of finding an unspoiled and isolated island only known to a small international community of backpackers. The book captures the eerie and marvelous atmosphere of the Thai islands in such a realistic yet magical way that you’ll get wanderlust as soon as you start reading.
Richard’s – and your – adventure starts in Bangkok’s central Khao San Road. Once hosting a major rice market, today it’s a backpackers’ hangout; here you can find cheap accommodation, a vibrant nightlife and exotic foods (such as barbecued insects).
Following Richard on his journey, you’ll arrive in the Gulf of Thailand. The open sea will take you to various islands: Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, Koh Samet, Koh Tao just to name a few.
Read more: The 8 best islands in Thailand
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Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie – India
Salman Rushdie’s masterpiece Midnight’s Children depicts the history of modern India through the life of Saleem Sinai, who was born at the exact moment of India’s independence and has telepathic powers that allow him to connect with 1,000 other children born at the same time. With its powerful, poetic and magical narrative, this novel will entice your imagination and get you longing for new travel adventures.
The novel changes locations throughout the Indian subcontinent, from Kashmir to Agra and then Mumbai. Located in a valley and surrounded by the Pir Panjal mountain range, Saleem dreams of the idyllic landscape of Kashmir: the meandering river in Srinagar, the snow-capped mountains of Gulmarg and the meadows of Sonamarg. India’s most famous landmark, the Taj Mahal, makes an appearance in the book as Saleem’s family moves to Agra for a short while. Built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in the 17th century in honour of his third wife Mumtaz, this stunning construction is among the Seven Wonders of the World.
The most populous city in India, Mumbai will send you into a whirlwind of emotions and experiences. Home to India’s prolific film industry and an extensive urban tropical forest, Mumbai also features grand colonial-era architecture such as the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, the city’s extravagant Gothic-style train station.
Read more: 14 unmissable places to visit in India
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Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen – England
Pride and Prejudice tells the story of Elizabeth Bennett, one of five daughters, living in the English countryside during the Pre-Victorian era. Though the locations of the novel are imaginary, Austen was deeply inspired by the real English countryside of among others Hampshire and Derbyshire. With their small villages, rolling hills, meandering country roads and ancient woodlands, you will have no problem in imagining Austen’s characters coming alive here.
Start your journey in Derbyshire. Here you can take a hike through the moorlands of the Peak District National Park and stand on Stanage Edge on Hathersage Moor overlooking the surrounding countryside. Visit the magnificent Chatsworth House, where you can take a stroll through the bright gardens and experience a milking demonstration in the farmyard behind the house.
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Out of Africa by Karen Blixen – Kenya
Karen Blixen’s poetic rendering of Kenya conjures images of a vast and luxurious landscape and will swiftly awaken your wanderlust. Set in the countryside, by the foot of the Ngong Hills, Out of Africa tells the story of Danish Baroness Blixen on her coffee plantation and her encounters with locals and other Europeans wandering through the country.
Karen Blixen lived in Kenya for 17 years and has surely left her mark on the country. Her former house has been turned into a museum, where you’ll be able to admire her paintings and furniture, but also original equipment from the coffee farm.
A short flight away from Nairobi lies Tsavo National Park, one of the largest and oldest wildlife reserves in Kenya. Here you’ll spot the Big Five – the African lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, African leopard and White/Black rhinoceros. Head to Masai Mara to have a look at the landscape Blixen so vividly captures in her book. Named in honour of the Maasai people, who inhabited this area, this is the perfect place for complete savanna immersion.
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The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende – Chile
Allende’s debut novel The House of the Spirits follows several generations of the Trueba family and their lives in the Chilean countryside and capital throughout a period of many social and political changes. With its use of magical realism, this book ultimately explores the Chilean identity and landscape, and makes for a captivating read before, during or after a trip to Chile.
Chile is famous for its awe-inspiring nature – from dry deserts to glaciers and volcanoes – and great wines. If you’re keen on wine tasting, plan your own tour to the Casablanca or Colchagua Valley. With a bit of research and a good dictionary, you should be on your way to sampling a tasty Chardonnay in no time.
For flora and fauna contemplation, head to Tolhuaca National Park where you’ll spot among others, Patagonian oak trees, monkey puzzle trees, Pudu deers and the large Magellanic woodpeckers. Not to mention the 6500-feet high Tolhuaca Volcano that dominates the landscape of the park.
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