Travel can inspire great things in life. It can bring clarity, joy and new experiences but how do you decide on where to go next if you're a bit of a homebody when you're not abroad? Well, literature, of course.
Here we document 10 books to fire up your imagination a get you thinking about your next foray into the world.
1. India - Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie
Born at the exact moment India gained independence from Britain, Saleem Sinai inexplicably shares his story with the trials and tribulations of a nation trying to stand on its own after colonial rule. Set against the backdrop of real historical events, it sees the painful secession of India and Pakistan as well as war between the two countries and war between the latter and Bangladesh. As the protagonist bounces around the sub-continent, it shows how his country shapes him and how its people shape India.
So revered is this book that it won the Booker Prize in 1981 and then went on to win the Booker of Bookers (a prize determined to find the best book amongst all Booker Prize winners) both in 1993 and 2008. Although under the guise on an intricately detailed narrative of magical-realism and self-discovery, this is actually a story of a nation so vast and colorful all its glories can not be told even in this whopper of a novel.
2. USA - On The Road - Jack Kerouac
Kerouac was one of the fathers of the Beat Generation, and this piece of literature is probably as influential a part of it as Allen Ginsberg's Howl. A semi-autobiographical novel, On The Road, sees the protagonist travel the length and breadth of America by any means possible (and mostly by the only means affordable) interacting with the people, listening to jazz and smoking a hell of a lot of cigarettes.
It is the ultimate in road trips and adds a level of profound self-discovery over a humorous take on the discovery of his vast country. Unbound by social convention the narrator is spirited and audacious and it has led to countless generations just getting in their car and seeing how far they can get. Inspiring a whole counter-culture with its depiction of freedom, this is arguably one of the most influential books of its time.
3. Spain - The Sun Also Rises - Ernest Hemmingway
Hemmingway certainly had a penchant for travel, and as a war reporter, he saw much of Europe and, in his later years, he moved to Cuba. So pick up any one of his novels, and it will tell a story of the places he has been, seen and experienced but The Sun Also Rises tells of a journey itself as a group of English and American ex-pats travel from Paris to Pamplona, in the Navarre region of Spain, to watch bull-fighting.
Hemmingway undertook this journey himself and exquisitely explains, not only the places and people but also their cultures, societies, prejudices and inherent nature that has grown from these. Multifaceted and extraordinary in every way this novel is an insight into how different the various European cultures can be.
4. Colombia - One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
Spilling forth the bloody history of Colombia through the lives of a single family, it uses magical realism to weave history into the narrative that is ostensibly about people and how they live their lives in the shadow of tragedy and great upheaval. Thematically concerned with the inevitable and inescapable repetition of history the book compresses a century worth of events into a readable and entertaining story.
One of the greatest novels in the Spanish language it deals with everything from solitude to the fluidity of time. Considered one of the best novels ever written, it launched the genre of 'magical realism'.
5. Japan - Norweigan Wood by Haruki Murakami
While the famous Japanese author is primarily known for his works encompassing magical realism, his most famous book of all, a love story about two University students in 1960s Japan turned the author into an overnight sensation in his homeland.
Nostalgically recited in the first person by the male protagonist, Toru Watanabe, the story is one of love and loss and has moments of heart-wrenching sadness that is ubiquitous in most teenage relationships at one point or other. At times it verges on becoming nothing more than an emo love story, but with themes of mental illness, solitude and a sense of the unknown at the heart of its plot, Norweigan Wood manages to pull off the rare feat of being an incredibly well-written page turner with the imagery of the intensity of the hectic city life of Japan juxtaposed against its rural beauty permeating throughout.
6. Nigeria - Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
A tale of Okonkwo, a leader in a fictional Nigerian village, it plays out into a tragic telling of how British colonialism irreversibly affected the cultures of the world and tore apart lives and communities. The quintessential postcolonial novel, it strikes out at the once colonial leaders and, despite presenting an imperfect culture to start with, it shows how it didn't necessarily make things better.
A timely warning on the influences we inflict on the world and a challenge to the keep-what-you kill mentality often found in former colonial powers.
7. South Africa - Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela
Former South African president and civil rights activist, Nelson Mandela is one of the most important and influential figures in modern political history and his two-part autobiography tells of his fight against apartheid and his imprisonment on the infamous Robben Island that came with that as well as his run for the presidency.
A man who changed the world, this book tells his story from his perspective.
8. Dominican Republic - The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junto Diaz
Part of the problem with writing about this unforgettable novel is that it is, practically, undefinable. A history of the Dominican Republic under its brutal dictator, a historical figure so often overlooked by European and American media, it also has elements of science fiction and a Spanglish dictionary.
Showing the immigrant experience of diaspora, it is historically and culturally relevant on many levels.
9. Thailand – The Beach by Alex Garland
A thriller set on an idyllic island in Thailand, it is a story of how a group of travelers get drawn into what seems like paradise but it soon turns sour as they try to protect their secret.
Although it goes awry, the imagery of Thailand it paints with its words are gorgeous and you can even visit the actual island that the subsequent film adaptation was set on.
10. UK – Notes From A Small Island by Bill Bryson
The American travel writer is at his best when describing his time in Britain as he sends up the culture and traditions of the eclectic and somewhat confusing nation in an affectionate and loving portrait of it all.
He cuts through some stereotypes whilst playing others up in a witty and warm manner that will make you want to discover it for yourself.