Sunday, 19 April 2015

Backpacking and Books: Reading on my Travels

It seems like a life time ago that I was writing the previous blog post about taking a break from book blogging to go travelling but it was actually less than 2 months ago. 

I’ve just returned from six weeks backpacking the length of Vietnam, up through Cambodia and into the northern reaches of Thailand I had a wonderful, eye-opening and fun trip. 

Of course, with many long bus trips, beach sittings and general down time, what better way to fill in the gaps by reading; that wily pastime that I’ll never shake! I took a few books with me to get me started but I was always drawn to the common room bookshelf of every hostel I stayed in. 

It wasn’t just to scout out potential new reads; it became a sort of passing study into the kind of books other travellers were reading on their own journeys. 

A lot of the books I came across were well thumbed travel guides for different regions of Asia that had clearly been well used and then abandoned for the next traveller. Armed with my own trust Lonely Planet tome encompassing all of Southeast Asia, I left these be. Some were in a multitude of languages and it was interesting to see the foreign editions of some well loved books that I’ve read or know of. 

The rest of the books were a varied selection of the stories read and left by travellers and I really had to exhibit some serious self control not to fill my backpack with heaps of books. When I took a book, I tried to leave one in its place, lest I leave a fellow bookworm short of a potential good novel to read. 

Below is the list of novels that I read whilst on my travels, all of which seemed befitting in some way to the trip that I was on.

Eleven Minutes by Paulo Coelho

Based on the experiences of a Brazilian prostitute, the story tells of young dreamer Maria, who after her first forays with love, leaves her home where she starts a new life and learns the darker aspects of love, sex and human nature. All of the above are thoroughly explored and Maria’s journey is both a physical and emotional one that is shared with the reader. After adoring The Alchemist, I was drawn to another book by Paulo Coelho whose beautifully philosophical prose helped while away down time in Vietnam.

The Book of Tomorrow by Cecelia Ahern

After a family tragedy, teenage Tamara’s life is altered forever. As she struggles to come to terms with all she has lost, the discovery of a mysterious book helps her realise how much tomorrow can affect today. I got totally caught up in Tamara’s personal growth in the story, as well as the new friendships she forges and the family secrets that are unravelled. Escapism fiction at its finest, this was my first Cecelia Ahern novel but definitely not my last.

Mine clearer Tess travels to Cambodia to uncover the mystery behind her husband’s death. Amidst a spate of horrific abductions and murders of young Khmer women, Tess finds herself in immediate danger as she gets closer to the truth behind the crimes. Set against the backdrop of the Killing Fields, and with the action set between Cambodia and the UK, it was great for me to be able to read this exciting novel whilst in Cambodia; learning the turbulent history of the places described and the culture of the people through this novel and my time spent in the country itself.

Star of the Sea by Joseph O’Connor

Set during the Irish famine of 1847, this historical novel charts the journey of a ship bound for America and the intertwining stories of the passengers on board. Murder is being plotted, not all the passengers are as it seems and they are all linked by an elaborate set of backstories in a dark time in history where social inequality was rife. Brilliantly crafted and hugely compelling, this epic fictional journey was a highlight of mine.

Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

The non-fictional journey of one women’s pursuit of everything after a difficult divorce. Across Italy, India and Indonesia, Elizabeth Gilbert seeks pleasure, spiritual enlightenment and balance and in the writing of this book bares her soul and gives a witty and intelligent account of her journey that is truly a pleasure to read. I bought this book in Vietnam at the start of my trip (because it was everywhere) and managed to eke it out throughout the whole six weeks as I found it so poignant, applicable and enjoyable to read on my own personal journey.

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

Finch and Violet meet for the first time on the ledge of the bell tower, and on that day, no one jumps. Thrown together for a school project, they end up exploring the “natural wonders” of their state. On their wanderings, chaotic Finch learns to be himself and Violet begins to cope with her sister’s death, and together they try to live and love in a world that is fraught with personal challenges. This YA exploration of mental health, love and relationships was devoured in northern Thailand, where I could relax and fully take in the story which was brilliantly and tactfully written on such a controversial yet important subject.

Reading was really was a great time filler whilst I was away, and every story I managed to get hold of was worth the reading. If anyone has read any of the above I would love to hear your thoughts. Or if you have been travelling or even a holiday read that struck you as particularly enjoyable on your trip, I’d love to know what books you read and what you thought of them. 


  1. I love reading while travelling somehow it makes the books so much more memorable. When my friend and I were backpacking in Indonesia we took full advantage of swapping books with people in hostels. Thanks for some good book suggestions.

    1. Yes, what you read travelling does tend to stay with you more somehow! How was Indonesia? Sadly I didn't make it there this time around. Any books that you read whilst away that still stick out for you?