Wherever your next vacation might take you, reading more than just a guidebook can seriously enrich your trip planning. Knowing something of the history and culture of your destination can make all the difference in separating a run-of-the-mill holiday from a life-changing one. Alternately, if your budget doesn’t allow for as much travel as you’d like, reading can transport you to foreign lands for a fraction of the price. Either way, these books from or about famous sites around the world should be on your shelf.
The Motorcycle Diaries
If you go to South America, and come away knowing nothing about the legendary Marxist revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara, you did something wrong. Guevara’s iconic memoir traces his travels from Buenos Aires, Argentina, through Chile, Peru, Colombia, and beyond, on the expedition that first inspired him to eventually become a guerilla leader. Whatever your personal thoughts on Guevara’s politics, there’s no denying his stamp on history, and this was the work that set it in motion.
The Master and Margarita
Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky may be better known Russian authors, but for a glimpse at a more recent iteration of Russian society, Mikhail Bulgakov’s farcical fantasy is without an equal. See what chaos ensues when the devil pays a visit to an aggressively atheist Soviet city. It’s a satire of epic proportions.
Evening is the Whole Day
Colonialism didn’t just plant Westerners amid native communities – it displaced millions of people worldwide. Preeta Samarasan’s debut novel chronicles the trials and tribulations of an Indian family in Malaysia, a country where local Malay people have been displaced not only by invading British forces, but by the Chinese and Indian workers brought in by white colonists. The result: a complex cultural tapestry riddled with political trouble.
Paris is home to many a story, but few have the lasting power of Victor Hugo’s French Revolution epic. From the page to the stage, Les Mis has captured audiences worldwide with the tale of convict-on-the-run Jean Valjean. Totaling about 1,500 pages in its unabridged version, the novel is one of the longest ever written, so best get started well before you arrive in the City of Light, so you’ll have plenty of time to visit Hugo’s house in person.
Marjane Satrapi’s heart-wrenching graphic novel documents the true story of her childhood in an Islamic Revolution-torn Iran. See day-to-day life in the Middle East through her eyes before venturing to the real-life Persepolis. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is stunning, but understanding what a toll war and political repression take on a society makes a visit all the more impactful.
Dark Star Safari
Well known for his epic cross-continental journeys, Paul Theroux is one of the most celebrated travel writers of all time. In this travelogue, he seeks to uncover the truth of Africa in a grueling overland journey from Cairo, Egypt to Cape Town, South Africa. The path takes him through some of the most feared and maligned parts of the world – are places like Sudan and Kenya really what they seem on the news?
Around the World in 80 Days
When all you need is a quick escape, Jules Verne’s celebration of triumphant travels is the best kind of vicarious living. Remember a world where travel was far more difficult than it is today, and join Phileas Fogg on his groundbreaking circumnavigation of the globe. London, Suez, Bombay, Calcutta, Hong Kong, Yokohama, San Francisco, and New York all have their place on the itinerary for a beloved tale of adventure.