This post is sponsored by Rosetta Stone.
Studies have shown Americans take less vacation than just about any other country on the planet. Far from lazy, we Americans work way too hard, and studies have shown there’s a severe psychological cost to not taking enough time away from our stressful jobs. Books have always offered an imperfect solution—a “vacation for the mind”—but sometimes books can go on to inspire a real flesh-and-blood vacation, when you read a great story set in an exotic locale that makes your heart beat a little faster with the excitement of actually going there. Whether it’s to trace the fictional steps of a character through a city, or to see with your own eyes the dazzling sights the author describes, here are ten books that will inspire you to book some plane tickets and pack your most comfortable pants.
A Fine Balance, by Robinton Mistry
Location: Mumbai, India
Mumbai is a sprawling, beautiful, tragic city of nearly 19 million people, an economic and cultural engine for India as a whole. It’s also a city battling endemic poverty while boasting the country’s highest saturation of billionaires. Mistry never actually names Mumbai in the book, but it’s clearly the setting for his story about four Mumbaikar who are drawn together by the tumultuous events of India’s mid-1970s Emergency period. His beautifully detailed descriptions will make you experience every crowded train, every soaring skyscraper, and every pungent scent—leaving you with the burning desire to go and see this incredible city for yourself.
The Lost Continent, by Bill Bryson
Location: Small-town America
Bill Bryson’s easygoing humor is sharp and smart, and his travel books are always effective at inspiring new vacation plans. After living in England for more than a decade, Bryson returned to America after the death of his father and wrote his first travel book after being inspired to take a road trip of nearly 14,000 miles through the country’s small towns, avoiding tourist areas and seeking out less-traveled areas. The end result is a humorous book that will have you tuning up the car to replicate this ultimate road trip through the hidden treasures of your own country.
Snow Country, by Yasunari Kawabata
This novel won the 1968 Nobel Prize for Literature, and describes a region of Japan many Westerners aren’t aware of, an area in the West where climactic conditions bring incredible amounts of snow every year—enough to cut towns off from the rest of the country. Many people think Japan is Tokyo, crowded and urban, but reading this book brings home the silence, isolation, and incredible beauty of this desolate area, and should inspire anyone who reads it to book a trip to discover a region of the world that is as lonely as it is beautiful.
Ulysses, by James Joyce
It’s rare to have the opportunity to literally follow in the footsteps of a fictional character, but James Joyce rendered his beloved Dublin so thoroughly in his complex, maddening classic novel that you can in fact trace Leopold Bloom’s path through the city, and you can even matchsome of his surprisingly clear-eyed descriptions of key buildings with structures that are still standing today. Bloomsday comes around every June 16, so you can start planning your 2017 walking tour of Dublin early.
Murder on the Orient Express, by Agatha Christie
Location: Europe in Luxury
Not so much a destination as a way of travel, the Orient Express was once a luxurious and languorous way to travel from London to Athens, Istanbul, Vienna, and a dozen other destinations that were often difficult or dangerous to get to otherwise. The trains that made up the original Express became shorthand for luxury, and reading Christie’s novel gives a glimpse of what it’s like to take your time and enjoy yourself while en route somewhere, as opposed to dealing with your tray table and the screaming kid sitting behind you. Assuming, of course, that no one is murdered while you’re traveling.
My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante
Location: Naples, Italy
Ferrante is quickly approaching cult status across the globe as her Neapolitan Novels set in and around Naples, Italy, grow in popularity. Ferrante’s characters hail from a particular neighborhood on the outskirts of Naples, and the politics, culture, and limitations of life in that small spot are the engine that drive her stories’ conflicts. The richness of life and the humming electricity Ferrante imbues Naples with make anyone reading the books want to go and find a room just to be a fly on the wall for a while.
The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton
Location: New Zealand
Although set more than a century in the past, Catton’s descriptions of New Zealand and the tiny town of Hokitika (pop: 876 circa 2006) are lush with natural beauty and a harsh, unforgiving climate. New Zealand is, of course, an incredibly beautiful spot—if you need proof, just go rewatch the Lord of the Rings films. Catton’s haunting descriptions will have you booking your 20-hour flight immediately.
The Light Between Oceans, by M.L. Stedman
Location: Australia and Loneliness
Janus Rock, the isolated island lighthouse where Tom and Isabel Sherbourne live in Stedman’s amazing, lyrical novel, doesn’t actually exist. But it might have been inspired by a number of isolated lighthouses on islands off the coast of Australia—notably Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse, which is spectacularly beautiful. Stedman’s dense descriptions of the beauty of the Sherbournes’ surroundings will no doubt have you Googling lighthouses around the world for the sort of trip that could heal souls.
The Two Faces of January, by Patricia Highsmith
Location: Athens, Greece
Patricia Highsmith’s view of traveling through Europe and the Balkans may be a bit dated, and her stories invariably focus on murder, blackmail, and other less-than-savory aspects of human behavior, but this 1964 novel captures the allure of Greece despite some shady goings-on (which, yes, include blackmail and murder), and reading it makes you feel like you, too, could simply show up one day, book a room, and wander around Athens soaking in the intense history and local beauty.
Location: The Solar System
This is the 21st century, after all. Why not daydream about booking the next flight to Mars, so you can experience the silent, freezing isolation of Mark Watney? Or a trip to the moon, where you can imagine the Loonies plotting sedition? Or a warm welcome on Venus? Or sky-diving more or less infinitely to your death on Jupiter? Travel technology may not allow you to hit these destinations today, but it never hurts to dream.
Summer is here, people. The time to make your vacation plans is now. Grab a book for inspiration and start booking rooms.