The Books that Inspired Us to Travel in 2009

Cloth maker in Delhi

Cloth maker in Delhi, India. Photo by Dave Rubin.

If you’re an organized sort of person, you probably have your Christmas shopping out of the way by now. If you’re anything like me, you’re just biding your time, waiting for that last-minute rush as you try to cover all your bases.

For those of you who fall into the latter group, check this out. Here are eleven books that have inspired these intrepid travellers to hit — or stay on — the road in 2009. From short stories by a Maori writer to a book about the ethical implications of eating fish, the variety is immense. If you have names on your Christmas buying list with question marks next to them, one of these books might be the perfect gift.

Stay tuned. In a couple of days we’ll cover the movies and music that inspired the internet’s finest travel bloggers.

This post contains affiliate links.

Pounamu, Pounamu[/amazon]

Pounamu, Pounamu by Witi Ihimaera

Recommended by Craig Martin from Indie Travel Podcast

Can I claim it’s the two issues of the Indie Travel Podcast travel magazine? No … oh well! In 2009 Linda and I have been exploring Australia a little, but mainly re-investigating home: New Zealand.

Pounamu, Pounamu[/amazon], a collection of Witi Ihimaera’s short stories is a constant source of Kiwi refreshment. From a cold morning on the farm to a family funeral, his characterisation and storytelling remains sharp and poignant. His stories are filled with Kiwi idiom and even more liberally sprinkled with Maori words and phrases: both bold moves when it was published in 1972.

Witi Ihimaera may be most famous for penning The Whale Rider or for being the first Maori to publish a novel or a collection of short stories, but it’s his first work — Pounamu, Pounamu — which connects me with a New Zealand I don’t know and inspires me to continue exploring with open eyes.

Available from Amazon[/amazon].

House of Rain[/amazon]

House of Rain by Craig Childs

Recommended by Cooper Schraudenbach from True Nomads

Whenever I dream of the red rock canyon country of the American Southwest, I am inspired by author/adventurer Craig Childs, who spends his life exploring the mesas and canyons of the Four Corners region. Back in February 2009 during a wet and cold Pacific storm, I was reading his recent book, House of Rain[/amazon], dreaming of the warm and dry sandstone of the high desert. Here, Childs chases the sexy “Anasazi”, or the more pc “Ancestral Puebloans”, across the four corners and down into the Sierra Madre of Northern Mexico. House of Rain delves into the landscapes and archeology that surround these mysterious ancestors. Inspired by Childs’ vision, we made several forays to Utah’s Cedar Mesa and Dark Canyon summer and fall 2009, chasing our own glimpses of the enigmatic cliff dwellings and masonry walls that tell of those who came before. I always feel a shiver standing among thousand-year-old dwellings that still feel as if the tenants will soon be home for dinner.

Available from Amazon[/amazon].

Finding George Orwell in Burma[/amazon]

Finding George Orwell in Burma by Emma Larkin and The Glass Palace by Amitov Ghosh

Recommended by Jonathan Shapiro from Vagabonding at 60

I’m going to punt a bit on how I answer this question. We have been teaching English to Burmese refugees and monks near to my house around Albany, NY. Until recently I was completely unaware of the existence of this community, and the small Burmese monastery in this most unlikely place. One of the monks, a renowned scholar, has returned to Mandalay, and invited us to visit and be his guests at his monastery. This seems like an offer not to be refused, despite the military government, and we plan to go this February.

To get ready, we have been reading several books about Burma/Myanmar. The first is Finding George Orwell in Burma[/amazon], by Emma Larkin. The author follows Orwell’s footsteps during his time in Burma, and describes what the country is like as she does so. Suffice it to say, it may have been the inspiration for 1984, and Burma still bears an uncanny resemblance to that novel today. The second is The Glass Palace[/amazon], by Amitov Ghosh. This is a historical novel which tells the multigenerational story of an Indian-Burmese family, and traces the history of the country from the overthrow of the King and Queen by the British Raj, independence, and much of the 20th century. Both are highly recommended.

The Trumpeter of Krakow[/amazon]

The Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric P. Kelly

Recommended by Jeanne Dee from Soul Travelers3

The Trumpeter of Krakow[/amazon] was the book that most inspired our family world travel this year and we highly recommend it for all ages! Our open ended world tour is primarily to educate our child, so we originally bought this historical fiction classic to effortlessly inform her in a fun way before we toured Poland on this years journey. Lo and behold, it turned out to be an exciting and rich adventure story that we all loved and made our trip to UNESCO World Heritage site Krakow and Poland so much more enlightening. If Poland is on your itinerary, you enjoy learning or if you just love Harry Potter style electrifying quests, this is the book for you!

Available from Amazon[/amazon].

The Reluctant Fundamentalist[/amazon]

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid

Recommended by Shannon O’Donnel from A Little Adrift

As an American, there is simply no denying that I am representing my country when I travel; and there’s also no denying that I largely view the world from a specific Americanized viewpoint. This provocative book dynamically delves into the east/west relationship; it’s a quick read incredibly clever and thought-provoking. The narrator, an America-educated Pakistani man, lunches with an American man in Lahore and monologues his life story, highlighting his gradual disenchantment with America.

The book blatantly begs the question, “Can all Muslims who criticize America be labeled as fundamentalists?” It looks at prejudices from both sides and expectations for the book’s conclusion are twisted on end and one is forced to assess which man at the table may be the fundamentalist assassin, the American or the Pakistani man. You can’t help but assess your own prejudices and cultural assumptions by the end of the book.

Available from Amazon[/amazon].

Bottomfeeder book cover[/amazon]

Bottomfeeder: How to Eat Ethically in a World of Vanishing Seafood by Taras Grescoe

Recommended by Daniel Roy from The Backpack Foodie

This sobering, eye-opening book made a deep impression on me in 2009. At once a beautiful travelogue about the world of seafood, and a cautionary tale of the consequences of overfishing and global warming, it both educates and fascinates. This book made me want to travel to to fishing communities the world over, to witness what might be the last generation of ocean abundance. I read this book prior to visiting Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market, and it greatly enhanced my appreciation of the place.

An “Omnivore’s Dilemma” for seafood, this book is highly recommended if you care for the planet, and want to eat responsibly and in a sustainable manner.

Available from Amazon[/amazon].

Hitching Rides with Buddha[/amazon]

Hitching Rides with Buddha by Will Ferguson

Recommended by Carrie Marshall from My Several Worlds

Cherry blossom season in Japan is anticipated with such eagerness that its progress is charted by the National Weather Bureau as the delicate blossoms burst into full bloom across the archipelago. Will Ferguson’s quest to follow the cherry blossom front begins on the southernmost tip of Japan. From there, he hitchhikes over 3,000 km to Japan’s most northern point. Hitching Rides with Buddha[/amazon] (also published under Hokkaido Highway Blues) is a personal account of his travels. His stories are vignettes – a tantalizing glimpse into the lives of ordinary people who give him rides and help him complete his goal of becoming the first person in history to follow the cherry blossoms as they erupt from one end of Japan to the other. Ferguson’s astute observations about Japanese culture are both heartwarming and hilarious, reminding us to travel as participants and not as observers.

Available from Amazon[/amazon].

Kinky Gazpacho[/amazon]

Kinky Gazpacho by Lori Tharps

Recommended by Eleanor Stanford from The Golden Papaya

Kinky Gazpacho[/amazon] by Lori Tharps is a funny and thought-provoking memoir about Tharps’ experiences abroad in Spain, a love story of how she met her husband, and a reflection on race in different cultures. This book inspired me to travel through the way it explores another culture from the inside, through the narrator’s experiences as a college student, wife, and mother. As the mother of three young children myself, adventure travel is not an option for me right now, but this book shows that the true spirit of adventure can be found not only in scaling mountains or scouting out exotic restaurants, but in peering deeply into the everyday life of a different country.

Available from Amazon[/amazon].

Around Africa on my Bicycle

Around Africa on My Bicycle by Riaan Manser

Recommended by Anthony from The Travel Tart

The book that I have read this year that’s great for inspiring that new trip is Around Africa On My Bicycle by Riaan Manser. I came across this book in Johannesburg, South Africa and was convinced to buy it as soon as I read the blurb on the back. Riaan is South African and he decided that he wanted to ride his bike around the ENTIRE coastline of Africa. It took him 2 years to do it, and there are some fascinating stories that really show the spirit of Africa. After reading the book, I almost wanted to buy a half decent bicycle and do the same trip, then I realised my physical limitations….. Seriously, this book captures the spirit of adventure, and it’s also an inspiring read. There is an entertaining statistical section which details how many tyres, tubes and bike parts he went through!

Available from Amazon.

A Voyage for Madmen

A Voyage for Madmen by Peter Nichols

Recommended by Derek Turner from The World by Sea

In 1968, nine men raced against time, nature and each other to be the first person in history to sail around the world alone-without stopping. The men came from all walks of life. Some were respected sailors, others had never sailed at all, but each man had a vision of something greater than himself. In this epic retelling of history, Peter Nichols brilliantly jumps between the stories of each man, from background to strategy. He exposes both the joy and terror of sailing, and leaves you craving adventure. In the end, however, A Voyage for Madmen is more than a story of sailing, it is a story of mankind and what drives him to become great.

Available from Amazon.

The Discoverers[/amazon]

The Discoverers by Daniel Boorstin

Recommended by Jodi Ettenberg from Legal Nomads

I have a rule that I only read non-fiction while travelling, so as to learn as much as possible while on the road. In my 18 mos of travel thus far, the book that inspired me the most is easily The Discoverers[/amazon] by Daniel Boorstin. As the former Librarian of the U.S. Library of Congress, I would love to meet Boorstin to sponge up the content of his brain by osmosis. A good start is this book, the first in a series of three. The Discoverers walks us through the history of human discoveries, including the many fortuitous coincidences that preceded them. Boorstin’s writing style is extremely enjoyable, and the book – while dense with the weight of time and information – was impossible to put down. In the thirst to soak up other cultures and traditions, we sometimes forget to learn about their initial discovery and the incremental impact of those who made a first foray into a foreign land or a new idea. The Discoverers covers the fascinating and often checkered pasts of economics, astronomy, geography and history with extraordinary gusto. Highly recommended and I look forward to reading the next two books in his series.

Also see last year’s version of this post: The Books, Movies and Documentaries that Inspired Us to Travel in 2008.

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Discussion »

  • #1Legal Nomads

    I am glad this went up when I was in Bangkok: now I know what to pick up at the bookstores before I head into Cambodia! Thanks for including my suggestion too. Jodi

  • #2Alice

    Great post and some wonderful books here… in particular I can’t wait to read Hitching Rides with Buddha as I am sure it will remind me of my wonderful time spent in Japan. I also like the look of Kinky Gazpacho… I love the way that Eleanor says:

    “the true spirit of adventure can be found not only in scaling mountains or scouting out exotic restaurants, but in peering deeply into the everyday life of a different country.”

    This is exactly what I like to do, and I think this approach sometimes brings the greatest travel gems.

  • #3Craig

    Great list. I especially love Voyage for Madmen.

  • #4Shannon OD

    What a great round up!! I haven’t yet read most of these, so I really look forward to hunting down these new titles :-)

  • #5soultravelers3

    Ah, I love books! What a fantastic round up! Thanks all!

  • #6Vera Marie Badertscher

    Terrific list. Lots of new and fresh ideas here! I offer an open invitation to any of these travel writers/bloggers to do a guest post at A Traveler’s Library, where we talk about books and movies that inspire travel every day (well, nearly every day.) Contact me at vmb at atravelerslibrary dot com if you want to take me up on the offer.

  • #7Travel and Vacation Blog

    Great list of books! Daniel Boorstin’s The Discoverers is a great read. Thanks for posting!

  • #8All Inclusive

    Can’t wait the read The Discoverer’s it is exactly what I love to write about. Thank you for the recommendation.

  • #9MrsCasanova

    I read the book A Voyage for Madmen and Loved it! Great reviews on these books. What is everyones favorite/most inspirational?

  • #10Two Steps Far

    Great list of books. We will check them out for sure. We just finished reading some other classic travel books.

  • #11Expat in Germany

    I’m always looking for good travel reads, so have bookmarked this site. Thanks for the list, I love the variety and I hadn’t heard of quite a few of the books on the list.

  • Add Your Comment

  • The Guy: I think Dave and Jodi raise some very valid points and they are consistent with my perceptions based on over...
  • Jay Daviot: Epic list! There are some great blogs there. Would love to see a few more blogs from photographers though...
  • John: I’ve always wanted to hitch hike across the USA.
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  • John: Great advice, I always buy charcoal tabs in case I get an upset tummy.
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