A solo trip means taking the time to expand, contemplate and gain a new perspective. And there’s no doubt books can do just the same. So I’ve made a personal reading list of books for a solo trip: the stories I think will make me curious about the world around me; the travel writers that have the potential to inspire my journey; and the books that will hopefully provide a narrative for my own trip.
But first, some books that inspired my trip
Some books, if read at the right time, help you make sense of a chapter in your life. They can also plant ideas in your mind that are asleep somewhere in your psique for a while, until they wake up and start directing you along certain courses of action.
In retrospect, I think there are at least 5 books that have played an important role in making me want to wander for a while. Maybe they’ll do the same for you:
1. ‘Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle’ by Dervla Murphy
In my mind, I have crowned Dervla Murphy as the queen of solo travelling. There’s no doubt that reading ‘Full Tilt’ has pushed my appetite for travelling, as I found Murphy’s desire to travel contagious.
‘Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle’ starts with Murphy cycling East from Dunkirk (Ireland), having her lifelong dream fulfilled, as she states on the prologue:“On my tenth birthday, a bicycle and an atlas coincided as presents and a few days later I decided to cycle to India”.
It was January 1963 and a cold wave had swept over Europe, but she decides to start her journey nevertheless. Through the first 18 pages, the kindness of strangers on snow storms, the attacks of wolves in Yugoslavia and the convenience of carrying an automatic weapon for scaring away uninvited men promise Murphy will cycle on a rough, windy and slippery road.
In ‘Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle’, Murphy’s grit and endurance are a message: they tell the reader to put away any fears and take the first steps on the path you want to walk.
2. ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces’ by Joseph Campbell
In this breathtaking study of comparative mythology, Campbell analyses the myth and narrative of the hero in a number of cultures around the world.
In brief, Campbell states that there’s an archetypal narrative around heroes which literature and folklore tales around the world follow: a hero departs from the ordinary world and, through completing a road of trials, he receives a boon which he takes back to his ordinary life.
In other words, the myths all include a Departure, an Initiation and a Return.
Myths have been explaining the world since a time long forgotten by humans, and their basic messages endure up until today. Although ‘The Hero of a Thousand Faces’ works well as a metaphor (somewhat blandly put by today’s insipid “get out of your comfort zone”), I have decided to take it literally and see where it takes me.
3. ‘Istanbul’ by Orhan Pamuk
I took this book from the library before having picked any travel destination. After reading it, I decided this city would be my final stop (on a somehow winding itinerary). The writer’s capacity to mix his personal life with the history of an age-old metropolis provide a fascinating narrative.
Personally, Pamuk’s ambiguous feelings towards Istanbul and its many literary connections made me too curious about the city.
4. ‘Jung and Tarot’ by Sallie Nichols
When I was still considering whether to take a solo trip or not, I had a friend read tarot cards for me. The cards were all pointing towards change and a positive experience in that change.
Because I wanted to explore the meanings of the cards I got, I took this book. I found it a great resource to find the psychological meanings of each card and contemplate your mind’s workings through a new perspective.
5. ‘The Tiger’ by John Vaillant
Vaillant investigates the “roaring rampage of revenge” (quoting Kill Bill here) executed by a Siberian man-eater tiger in Russia’s Far East.
This is not only an exceptionally well written and well documented book about a fascinating story so sensational that it feels like a thriller. In time, I’ve realised I read it as a metaphor.
‘The tiger’ analyses this feline and the meanings it has sparked for humanity. Tigers represent fear and danger. But Vaillant also explores how native populations revered this creature as a God to be respected. And how William Blake in his ‘The Tyger’ poem saw this creature as the fierce soul that doesn’t fade.
Coming in October: a solo-trip reading diary…
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