Reading for the Road

They say travel broadens the mind?and it does. So do books. If reading books broadens the mind, and travelling broadens the mind, then reading books while travelling must really give the old noodle a workout.

Travelling is conducive to reading. For starters, You’re on vacation and (theoretically) have more leisure time. Additionally, travel often comes with pockets of unavoidable waiting time?waiting for the train, plane, or ferry, for example. There’s a reason why they sell so many books at airports!

When I travel, I usually take several carefully-chosen books along. Until I got an e-reader, half my carry-on bag was weighed down with absolutely essential reading material. Now I discipline myself to take only my e-reader, which leaves a lot more luggage space for other travel necessities. (Note to AU because I know You’re reading this: I do not read e-texts on my e-reader; my Kobo simply isn’t suitable for anything but leisure reading.)

Matching my reading choices to my travel destination has become a fun way of getting more out of a trip. Reading about and being in the same place takes mind-broadening to a higher degree.

History, for example, comes alive if you can read about it on location. After travelling to Cuba for vacation one year, I realized I didn’t know much of the country’s history before the revolution. The next time I visited, I took along Cuba: A Concise History for Travelers by Alan Twigg, to learn about what happened in Cuba before Castro. I also took Cuba Diaries: An American Housewife in Havana by Isadora Tattlin to get an outsider’s view of current life and culture in Cuba’s capital. Reading both in Cuba’s sultry heat heightened the travel experience.

I find it fun?and enlightening?to read about other travellers? experiences while I travel in the same places they wrote about. When I was in Finland, I read Robert M. Goldstein’s Riding With Reindeer, an account of his bicycle tour through Finland. I began my journey in Helsinki, just like Goldstein, and then I travelled north to Lapland by train and bus. It was interesting to read Goldstein’s impressions of travelling the same route on a bicycle.

While driving the ring-road in Iceland, I was able to enjoy Iceland’s spectacular scenery through both my eyes and those of Stephen Markley. Markley’s book, Tales of Iceland, followed the same route, although the youthful Markley spent more time in bars meeting Icelandic women than I did. To virtually travel off Iceland’s beaten track, I read Fight the Wild Island by Ted Edwards, where the author undertakes a solo trek across Iceland’s remote interior.

Some travel reads are less place-specific but still enlightening and entertaining. In The Traveller: Notes from an Imperfect Journey Around the World, Montrealer Daniel Baylis recounts a year he spent volunteering in twelve different countries. In Far and Away, Neil Peart explores North and South America by motorcycle. The classic Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne is a great travel read, too. And for a bit of travel stress-relief, I can recommend Traveling While Married by Mary-Lou Weisman, but only if you have the ability to suppress giggles.

Last year, I attempted to read On The Road by Jack Kerouac while I travelled west by Greyhound bus. Perhaps it was the distraction of the passing scenery but I just couldn’t get into Kerouac’s book. Instead, I listened to music on my ancient iPod, trying to match Canadian tunes with journey locations (peak moment: listening to Blue Rodeo’s Western Skies as Banff hove into view.)

This year, our travels take us east. Later this summer I’ll load up the Kobo with east-coast history, culture, and flavour. I already know what I’ll be reading for my first visit to Labrador. Since we’ll be driving the remote Trans-Labrador Highway, I’ve chosen A Woman’s Way through Unknown Labrador by Mina Hubbard. It seems appropriate reading for that road.

Barbara Lehtiniemi is a writer, photographer, and AU student. She lives on a windswept rural road in Eastern Ontario. Follow Barbara on twitter @ThereGoesBarb.

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