Travel is often an opportunity to relax and indulge, and one way to really maximise your experience is to read. After all, you’re off work and when do you ever get the opportunity to really get stuck into a good book? We’re not talking flimsy ‘beach reads’, we’ve put together a selection of truly amazing fiction and non-fiction books to pair with destinations and fully immerse yourself on your travels.
Ladies Lit Squad founder, Sheree Millington, tells us which books she got lost in while travelling.
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
Set in Barcelona in 1945, this thriller tells the story of a boy named Daniel searching for a mysterious author in post-war Spain. Full of subplots, twists and turns, this is the perfect page-turner to pack for bustling Barcelona.
Gaudí: A Biography by Gijs van Hensbergen
While looking at the majestic La Sagrada Família church, most famous for, err, not being finished, you might wonder about the architect responsible for many of Barcelona’s incredible buildings. This book is the seminal biography of Gaudí, and you can impress fellow tourists with your knowledge.
Tangerine by Christine Mangan
Set in 1950s Morocco, Tangerine has more than a passing resemblance to The Talented Mr. Ripley. A gripping psychological thriller, it’s a perfect reprieve whether you’ve been catching waves in Taghazout or haggling in the souqs of Marrakesh.
A House in Fez by Suzanna Clarke
After a few days in Morocco, you’ll want to move to here, which is exactly what Suzanna Clarke did. This book documents her renovation of a crumbling riad, but also the customs, festivals, history and foods of the region. Fascinating.
Call Me by Your Name by André Aciman
Set in the steamy summer of 1987, bookish teen Elio falls for scholarly (and gorgeous) houseguest Oliver. Set in Liguria, read it on the beaches of Monterosso and Manarola whilst reminiscing about young love. Here, you can literally feel the sea breeze on your face as you read this coming of age story.
SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard
All hail Mary Beard, bad-ass female classicist. If you’re enjoying Italy’s stunning architecture, this book will help you swot up on the Roman Empire that was responsible for it.
White Teeth by Zadie Smith
The debut of British author Zadie Smith tells the tale of the real London: multicultural, diverse and brimming with life. If you’re exploring the East End, this’ll help you get a sense of what modern Londoners are like.
Brit(ish) by Afua Hirsch
British–Ghanaian journalist Afua Hirsch’s book is part memoir, part commentary on Britain’s imperial past. It makes race-politics palatable and, though it deals with the UK’s situation, it’s a relevant read wherever you’re from.
Circe by Madeline Miller
This feminist reworking of Homer’s Odyssey, told from the perspective of the Goddess Circe, is set in the mythical island of Aeaea (said to be off the coast of Italy). However, we recommend reading it in idyllic Pula with its crystal-clear waters and living your best goddess life.
Café Europa: Life After Communism by Slavenka Drakulić
This insightful collection of essays portray life in several Eastern European countries after communism. Even the title is a comment on how Eastern Europe tries to imitate the west, installing a ‘Cafe Europa’ in each town.
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
This brilliant novel, set in southern India, won the 1997 Booker Prize and is the perfect companion for the beaches of Goa (try tranquil Cola beach). The writing is beautiful and it’s a must-read classic.
India After Gandhi: The History of the World’s Largest Democracy by Ramachandra Guha
This authoritative account of the world’s largest, and most unlikely, democracy details India’s myriad history, from savage conflicts to Gandhi’s lasting inspiration and influence. Impeccably researched, this non-fiction read will bolster your experiences in India.
A Star Called Henry by Roddy Doyle
This is the most entertaining crash course in Irish revolutionary history you’re ever likely to get. Tracing Henry’s life from slum boy to legend, the famous Irish author breathes cynically humorous life into history.
Notes to Self by Emilie Pine
An astonishingly raw collection of personal essays covering everything from addiction, eating disorders and infertility, it’s struck a chord with the nation.
101 Reykjavík by Hallgrímur Helgason
This offbeat comedy set in Reykjavík gives a 30-something’s first-person account of how their life changes once their mum comes out as a lesbian. Dark, sexual and witty, this read manages to give a great account of Iceland’s cool capital along the way.
The Little Book of Tourists in Iceland by Alda Sigmundsdottir
Even though this book deals specifically with Iceland, there’s a lot to be learned from this title. This explains the huge rise in Iceland’s tourist numbers since 2010, and how it’s impacted the country and its inhabitants.
Gili Islands, Indonesia
The Pisces by Melissa Broder
The Gili Islands are a water-lover’s paradise, with turquoise seas, turtles and plenty of chances to generally splash around. This hilarious aquatic-themed book about a human–merman romance is just the ticket.
The 4-Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferriss
While you’re in stunning Indonesia, surrounded by ‘digital nomads’, you’ll no doubt be plotting how to make island life a 24/7 thing for you. This cult classic explains how to work less and live-it-up more.
A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
This classic American novel was published posthumously, so the author never knew how loved his book became (it even won a Pulitzer). You’ll adore the oddball protagonist Ignatius J. Reilly, who lives with his mother in New Orleans.
Educated by Tara Westover
This incredible biography is the not-so-classic American dream. Westover grew up in a survivalist Mormon family in the mountains of Idaho, never went to school and suffered abuse. Through sheer grit and wit, she got herself to school, college and eventually Cambridge University.
Ponti by Sharlene Teo
This young writer’s searing debut, is set in Singapore, so while you’re exploring you can get a better sense of the book and vice versa. Ponti explores the relationship between mothers and daughters... with a dollop of horror thrown in for good measure.
This is What Inequality Looks Like by Yenn Teo
This collection of essays set out to accomplish explaining the experience of what it’s like to be on a low income in Singapore, and to show how these experiences are linked to the structural conditions of inequality. This book is not about shaming the reader in to being more charitable; rather it aims to open people’s eyes and inform the reader as to how they can strive for a more sustainable future.