How to prepare a trip by… Reading
You picked a country, saved up money, bought the plane ticket and now you can’t wait to go! But wait, do you know anything about the place you’re going to? Whether it’s the sights, the people, the customs or the language, there are a lot of things you could or should know before you travel somewhere. And the best way to learn about a country and its people is through books, films and, of course, the internet.
In the next couple of posts, I will introduce you to the best and most fun ways to get in touch with the places you’re going. Starting with good ol’ books.
The most obvious place to start is by reading travel guides.
Some of the most well-known travel guides are Lonely Planet, Fodor, DK Eyewitness, National Geographic, Rough Guides, Footprint and Not for Tourists (plus many many more depending on which language you’re reading them in). Most of these publish individual travel guides for countries, cities, entire continents and specific regions.
Depending on where you want to go, you will have a choice of hundreds of different titles and formats. The easiest way to find the perfect guide for you is to just go to a bookstore and have a look at what’s on offer and what each guide focuses on. If you plan a trip through all of Australia, it’s better to buy a guide that covers the entire country. If, however, you’ll be spending all of your time in Western Australia, then just buy the guide on Western Australia because that will be much more in depth than a guide on the entire country.
Travel guides are a good introductory read before you go somewhere. They not only talk about sights, restaurants and hostels, but they also give you an overview about the history of the country, the environment and they usually contain an annex with the most important phrases of the local language. Additionally, some guide books tell you which books or movies could be interesting to you if you’re going to that country.
Personally, I like the Lonely Planet guides (because they fit my travel style and my idea of what a travel guide should be) and I like travel guides that are actual books. That might seem very impractical and old fashioned but I need to be able to flick through a travel guide rather than searching through my e-book reader to find the page I want.
Books by people who travel
A different approach to researching for you trip, is to read accounts of people who have already been where you want to go. In contrast to guide books, travelogues describe the feel of a country and its people much more in depth.
Travel writers spend a long time in the country and will usually mix information about the place they’re at with information on the political situation, the opinions of the people and much more. A good travel book should be able to make you feel like you’re there with the person. You should be able to see the landscape in front of your eyes and to smell the smell of the fish market or of the eucalyptus trees.
For a list of travelogues for each continent, have a look here.
Have you ever gone into a bookstore and said something along the lines of “I’m going to (insert country here) do you have a book that’s set there”? Then you’re certainly not the only one. During the two years I worked in a bookstore, those were some of the hardest questions I got asked. Or do you know a book that’s set in Kansas apart from The Wizard of Oz?
For most countries (if not all regions within that country) you can find novels that are set there. You’re going to San Francisco? Have a look at the novels by Armistead Maupin or read A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. You’re off to Scotland soon? You could read the classics, like Jekyll and Hyde, Macbeth or anything by Walter Scott. And if you prefer something more recent and set in the now, you might try the Scotland Street series by Alexander McCall Smith, a crime novel by Ian Rankin, Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh or Stonemouth by Iain Banks. Heading to Buenos Aires? Try My Biggest Lie by Luke Brown.
The list of novels set in amazing places is literally endless and they are a great way to delve into the society of a place and to get to know the people of that country. Because more often than not, the authors actually lived (or live) in the country they are writing about and know the character of the people better than anyone.
And finally, dictionaries. Whether you speak the language of the country you’re going to, or whether you have no clue, looking at a dictionary before you head off might be a good idea.
Even in countries that all speak the same language, like Australia, New Zealand, the US and Great Britain, the dialects of those countries can differ greatly. As every Aussi that used the word “thongs” outside their national territory, will know (little clue: one meaning is footwear and the other underwear).
So before you head off, have a look at a regional dictionary (or search for the entries of the different dialects on Wikipedia) to find out what language differences you might encounter.
Have you ever read a book that’s set in the country you were about to go to before? Did it help you? Tell me about it in the comments, I’m always looking for a good book recommendation!