• Izabelita


Updated: 6 days ago

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Let's start with a great quote:

"A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies...

The man who never reads lives only one"

George R. R. Martin 

As an avid reader and traveller, I thought it was great idea to write a blog post about my two hobbies with travel theme in mind. Great travel books take you to places and help you feel the rhythm of the city, help you imagine the smell of local dishes, help you visualise yourself in that new location. All the books I am going to recommend are my best travel books I read, and they are really great introduction or inspiration for your next trip.

Some of them will give you a feel for the country and introduce you gently to its culture. Others will provide you with vivid descriptions of landscapes, cities, or daily life. All of them are in one way or another connected to a country they describe or take place in. Without further delay, I would like to present you with a list of best travel books which I subjectively think you should read before you travel to each of the following countries:


Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene - a classic black comedy set in Havana, that predates Cuban Missile Crisis. Although the book ridicules agents of British MI6 it presents certain aspects of Cuban life, culture and hardship that people lived under Batista regime. Get your copy here.

The Old Man and The Sea by Ernest Hemingway - a short novel is a story of a battle between old, experienced fisherman and large marlin. Although there are Cuban topics in the background of the novel, it is not as descriptive as the other two books listed under this country. However; Papa Hemingway is well liked in Cuba and you will find a lot of references to his life on the island. For instance, in Havana, a bar called Floridita had his statue erected representing him drinking mojito (more details on that in my article Havana in 2 days) read this short and lovely story with your book copy here

Cuba the Land of Miracles by Stephen Smith - great reportage of society on the verge of an ideological breakdown. The author travels through the country in search of the real Cuba and Fidel Castro, the man who shaped the island's history for 50 years. Country ruled by Marxists, dependant on tourism, where communism and voodoo co-exist and where Castro's influence continues to throw a shadow. Your copy to purchase  here 

My top 3 travel books about Cuba

Caribbean islands - antigua & jamaica

I would recommend any of Jamaica Kincaid novels, my favourite one is The Autobiography of My Mother and I would suggest you start with this book (yes I read all her books). However; to really get to know the island life Annie John would be a great introduction to the island of Antigua as a magical place. Her life is compared to a basket of green figs carried on her mother's head, where there is a snake hidden somewhere within. Start reading with your copy of Annie John or The Autobiography.

White Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys - this novel is thought to be a prequel to Jane Eyre which was an inspiration for this book. It is a story of Antoniette a Creole heiress living in Jamaica, who marries Englishman. Vibrant, sensual Caribbean landscape disappears when she is taken to England... find the rest of the story here

My collection of Jamaica Kincaid novels, and Wide Sargasso Sea


The Yacoubian Building by Alaa Al Aswany - it is a very interesting read that delves into a mix of power, corruption, sex, exploitation, poverty and extremism. It captures the varied aspects of Egyptian life: straight, gay, rich, poor, powerful, and powerless. I think it gives a great glimpse into modern Egyptian society and culture - captivating and controversial. It is not what you would expect... purchase here.

Best of Egyptian, Nigerian and English travel books


Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte - one of the classics of English literature, beautifully describes the lonely moorland setting of the book and the countryside loving characters with evocative description. Of course such a setting has drama and romance to go with it. Find out details here

Jane Eyre - another classic by Charlotte Bronte, which depicts life in 19th century Northen England, it s a romance novel set in 5 different locations (which you can visit as a trip too). The novel approaches the topics of class, sexuality, religion, and feminism and it evolves around Jane and her life from early childhood, time at boarding school, her first job into adulthood. For me this is a quintessentially English book which gives great insight into its culture, class system, with great countryside descriptions. Make sure this classic is on your shelf

Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby - not only funny but also true and wise. This book will help you understand Brits life-long obsession with football intertwined with English customs and habits. This book is for the home team (in his case Arsenal) and for everyone who knows what it really means to have a losing season. Have your tears running down your face by getting your copy here.


Name for the Sea by Sarah Moss - almost a memoir by Sarah... who spent a year living in Reykjavik and working at the Icelandic University. She describes her daily life in Iceland, customs that seem odd at first, and culture differences between Icelanders and Brits. A light but great reading introducing you to Iceland - good read before you visit just a click away

Island on fire by A. Witze & J. Kanipe - this is a story of an 18th century volcano Laki that turned Europe dark. This book is based on a lot of research and is really well written historical account of what had happened in 18th century during volcano eruption, and what were the consequences for Europe after this powerful eruption, as well as prediction of what could happen if a volcano of similar size would erupt again in the near future. Very interesting book giving you also basics of volcanology! Learn all about super volcanos from your resource here

My most overpriced books bought in Iceland, get yours cheaply via my links ;-)


Shantram by G. D. Roberts - even though it's a chunky book, it is a page turner, once you start it will be hard to put that book down. There will be some late nights - I am warning you! The story is written by Australian prison breaker who escapes and hides in India. He lands in Mumbai and describes every aspect of the live he experiences while he lives in slums, works for mafia, and ..... maybe finds love. This book is an absolute must read before you travel to India, it prepares you for explosion of colours, cacophony of sounds, blend of various smells and fragrances, and vivid description of flavours - especially if you are coming from Europe or western countries. I am glad I read it before my trip, I think otherwise I would not appreciate the culture and this country to the fullest. You can buy the book here

Staying On by Paul Scott - it is a history of a British couple who decides to stay in India after the country gains independence from Great Britain. It is a funny and unique story and represents the views of the couple on independent India, their lives in a small hill town, and it provides a great description of the legacy of the Raj. It will give you a different context as opposed to Shantram - buy it here.

City of Djinns by William Dalrymple with open-minded curiosity, the author explores the seven “dead” cities of Delhi as well as the eighth city - today's Delhi. Underlying his quest is the legend of the djinns, fire-formed spirits that are said to assure the city's Phoenix-like regeneration no matter how many times it is destroyed. Buy your cheap copy here

Top Indian travel books, but read Shantram before you travel


Memoirs of Geisha by Arthur Golden tells a story of 9-year-old girl who is sold to a geisha house. There she is forced into servitude, receiving nothing in return until the house's ruling hierarchy determines if she is of high enough quality to service the clientele - men who visit and pay for conversation, dance and song. After rigorous years of training, girl becomes Sayuri a geisha of incredible beauty and influence. Life is good for Sayuri, but World War II is about to disrupt the peace. Much of the novel is set in the popular Hanamachi geisha district of Gion in Kyoto and contains references to actual places frequented by geisha and their patrons, such as the Ichiriki Ochaya. Part of the story is also set in the Amami Islands, it is hard to put the book away.


Half of the Yellow Sun by Chimamanda N Adichie - the plot of this book takes place during civil war times when Nigeria became independent from Great Britain in 1960. The Nigerian-Biafran civil war lasted from 1967-1970 and was marked by extreme starvation and ethnic violence. Ethnic tensions fostered by the British played a major role in the war. The majority of eastern Nigeria, was comprised of Igbo people, and this area seceded to create Biafra. This historic setting serves as a backdrop to a story of 4 main ethnically Igbo characters and their experiences; Olanna, Odenigbo, Kainene, and Ugwu. Immerse yourself in this story with a copy of your book 


Frida Khalo by Hayden Herrera - you cannot go to Mexico without not knowing who Frida Khalo was. You will see her face quite often so it would be good to get to know this icon. This is the first comprehensive biography of the artist published to date and it is quite a chunky book. Nonetheless, this book gives us the background of turbulent days of Mexican Revolution, its culture, and folklore. The book is as interesting as Frida's life with some of her paintings and photographs included. This book is vibrant, sad, intriguing and shocking just as the life of the protagonist. A must read for any Frida fan like me - your copy can be right here.

Best of Japan and Mexico travel books: biography Frida Khalo and story of Geisha's life.

Mix of countries

Of course Eat, Pray, Love is almost a travel classic by Elizabeth Gilbert which I do not think I need to introduce, but a quick summary in case there is someone here who may not know this book. It is essentially one woman's search for everything across Italy, India and Indonesia. The memoir chronicles the author's trip around the world after her divorce and what she discovered during her travels. Get your copy here

The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner - is a story of a grumpiest man on the planet who goes in search of the happiest place in the world. In author's quest to find the world's happiest places, he eats rotten shark in Iceland, visits strip club in Bangkok, and drinks himself a stupor in Reykjavik. Finally he discovers the relationship between money and happiness in a tiny and extravagant Qatar (and it's not a good one), visits Bhutan and discovers they have official policy on Gross National Happiness, and asks why Brits don't do happiness? Find your happiness here

Geography of Bliss & Fever Pitch made me laugh so much!

United States

On the Road by Jack Kerouac - although written in 1957, this to me is a classic timeless travel novel. The story follows character Sal who leaves New York City and heads west, riding the rails, making friends, and partying the night away. Sal's frustration and desire to see the world are topics that can resonate with probably many of us. What I personally like about this book is that through all main character adventures, he becomes a better and more confident person and I think that what happens when you travel. Get this classic here

What other travel related books could you recommend? I am curious to find out new titles! Please share in comments

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