Own a Book Set in Every Country You’ve Traveled To

travel-bookshelf

I lived out of a suitcase for the better part of two years (more on my travel experience here). While that break in “regular" life gave me some of my best reading years to date, it did mean reading almost exclusively on my Kindle e-reader. I’m still singing the space-saving praises of the Kindle for travel purposes, but I’m incredibly excited to thoughtfully restock a bookshelf again. I’d like to make an entire shelf my travel bookshelf.

The idea for a bookshelf filled with books set in every country I’ve traveled to came to me in Italy, where I ducked into a bookstore to hide from a downpour of cold November rain. Italy was my last country before heading home permanently and I was naturally feeling a little glum about it. I found the tiny English books section and spontaneously purchased my first physical book in months.

That book was Tim Parks’ Italian Neighbors, a memoir of an expat living in Northern Italy. I’ll never forget the beautifully simple travel memories that book gave me. I’d glance from book to view while on a train bound for a little Tuscan town. I’d read chapter after chapter while waiting impatiently for a pizza to come out of the oven. I’ll think of those moments every time I see that book on my shelf.

Almost six months and a global pandemic later, I’m still very much in the process of settling back into life with a permanent address. In reality, I still don’t have my own place to furnish yet. But someday I will, and the books on this globally-inspired list will be high on my list of purchases to make.

Curating a Travel Bookshelf: Guidelines

When considering which one book I'd like to own from each country I've traveled to, I'm setting a few guidelines for myself. Here are the parameters I'm using to decide on the books on my travel bookshelf.

 First, the majority of the book must be set in that country. Second, it must be a beautiful cover. After all, these books will be doing double duty as decor. Third, I’m not going to discriminate between fiction and nonfiction. I think I’ll naturally gravitate towards memoirs and travel books, but a novel that captures the essence of my experience in that particular country is still very much on the table.

Purchase Something From This Book List

Disclosure: At no additional cost to you, Pages to Passport will earn a small commission if you purchase from these links. Thanks in advance for your support!

 

Let's start with my home continent of North America as that's where my travel experience and love of travel started. I'll probably make a United States of America travel bookshelf at some point too. For now, here are my quintessential North American books.

USA: Travels with Charley in Search of America by John Steinbeck

There are about a thousand great American novels to choose from, but it didn’t seem right to choose a book set in only one state for this. I debated choosing one of The Best American Travel Writing anthologies or the Wild by Cheryl Strayed, a book that certainly changed my life. It was this book that felt just right, a story of a middle-aged travel writer and his dog setting out to hear, see, smell and feel the real America.

Canada: Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

This is a 1908 classic about an orphan girl sent to a couple hoping for a boy, set in a fictional town on the very real Prince Edward Island, Canada. Bonus, I already own a very cute copy of this book. It's the one in this gorgeous set

Mexico: Terra Nostra by Carlos Fuentes

This epic, sweeping book by one of Mexico’s greatest writers captured the attention of my history-loving heart. It covers 20 centuries of cultural shifts, bouncing between centuries unpredictably. 

First of all, let me just clarify that I know Ireland isn't in the United Kingdom, but it made the most sense to loop all of those isles together. These three books represent many of the things that England, Scotland, and Ireland mean to me. They're quirky and introspective and full of adventure in many forms.

England: One Day by David Nicholls

Yes, there are millions of books to choose from here and of course, I had a hard time deciding which one book would summarize my experience in England. Again, I chose the book that feels like my England. For me, that’s One Day by David Nicholls. It’s a hopeful, meandering love story that spans the country, and 20 years of time. 

Honorary mentions include London by Edward Rutherfurd, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, and Middlemarch by George Eliot.

Scotland: 44 Scotland Street

I had a very Pages to Passport moment when I read Outlander while exploring the Scottish Highlands, but seeing as I didn’t absolutely love that book, I wanted to choose something a little different for Scotland. 

My choice is going to be the lighthearted, chuckle-worthy novel, 44 Scotland Street by Alexander McCall Smith, because Scotland feels like a lighthearted, happy place to me.

Ireland: Dubliners by James Joyce

I took my first solo trip abroad to Ireland. On the redeye flight to Dublin, I read James Joyce’s 1914 book called Dubliners. There is a quote from that book that has stayed in my head all these years. It reads, “I wanted real adventures to happen to myself. But real adventures, I reflected, do not happen to people who remain at home: they must be sought abroad.”

It's no secret that I'm a big fan of the European continent, so I had to break Europe into a few categories. Western Europe is chock full of wonderful books. Some of my fondest memories involve books, trains, and pairing the two in Western Europe.

Portugal: 300 Days of Sun by Deborah Lawrenson

When I think of my time in Portugal, I think of recovery and reflection. I went to Portugal after the long, life-changing experience of walking the Camino. The experience also left my body incredibly sore, so I spent a lot of time just sitting in the sun. I love how Lawrenson’s novel transports me to a sunny Portuguese town on the Algarve, where I have fond memories of doing just that. The book has a healthy dose of mystery and a shadowy backstory, so it will surely keep me entertained.

Spain: Roads to Santiago by Cees Nooteboom

Seeing as Spain is the country that I’ve visited most often, it shouldn’t have surprised me that I had a hard time deciding on just one book that captured my experience in Spain. My time in Andalusia feels world’s away from my experience walking the Camino Frances. A book set in Madrid doesn’t capture the feeling that Barcelona gives me. 

I decided to choose a modern travelogue of lesser-known Spain called Roads to Santiago by Cees Nooteboom as my “one book.” I’ll probably also purchase The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway, as I vividly remember walking into Pamplona and thinking Ernest Hemingway was inspired here, and South from Granada: A Sojourn in Southern Spain by Gerald Brenan.

France: Paris Was Ours by 32 Writers

This is the book that made Paris feel like mine. It’s the book that sparked my daydreams of living abroad. It’s a book that made taking a stroll through the Luxembourg gardens that much more meaningful when I got to do it, and I’d love to be transported back to Paris on the pages of this book once again. 

An honorable mention was A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle, but I haven’t actually been to the South of France (yet) so I’ll stick to my Parisian roots.

Belgium: Bottoms Up in Belgium by Alec Le Sueur

This book ponders the question “is Belgium really as boring as they say?” For someone who found the answer to that question to be a resounding “no,” I’m really excited to read this and be transported to reading on the sunny windowsill in Brussels, eating sugary waffles covered in Nutella, and wandering the charming streets of Bruges.

The Netherlands: Daily Life in Rembrandt's Holland

I grew up in a town on Lake Michigan called Holland, so I know more about Dutch culture than most midwestern Americans. I’ve tiptoed through the tulips and eaten foods that kids in the Netherlands grow up with too. When I visited the Netherlands, it felt oddly familiar. 

But I often forget how powerful the nation of Holland once was, and I’d love to explore the golden age through this book

Switzerland: Slow Train to Switzerland

If I could ride trains through Switzerland and hike around the Swiss alps forever, I absolutely would and this book captures exactly why. In 1863, an English woman set off by train on the first organized tour of Switzerland. More than a century later, the author of Slow Train to Switzerland uses her journal as a guide. As I love a little history with my travel writing, I think this will be the perfect addition to my global travel bookshelf.

Italy: Italian Ways by Tim Parks

I already own Tim Parks’ Italian Neighbors memoir on building a family in Northern Italy, and devoured it while riding the rails in Tuscany and Umbria, so I’m sure Italian Ways will transport me back to those days.

Vatican City: When in Rome: A Journal of Life in Vatican City by Robert J. Hutchinson

This funny account of Hutchinson’s life living in the eternal city inside a city is one that I’d like to curl up with. Having only spent a day in the Vatican, I’m excited to wander those roads and wonder about the mundane, unpretentious, and often hilarious findings found in this book.

Here are the remaining European continent countries that I've visited. I've loosely called these books the Eastern Europe category. Some of them are more central. Some of them are Balkan countries. Others straddle two continents (lookin' at you, Turkey). These books are just as diverse as this region is.

Croatia: Travels in Undiscovered Country by Tony Fabijancic

Croatia can’t really be considered “undiscovered” anymore, but I think this book by Tony Fabijancic might bring me to the slower, quieter side of Croatia that I really loved. I want to see more of the sleepy island life, the unhurried people, the memorable landscapes and cities and coastlines.

Montenegro: The Full Monte by Paul Dishman

The cover of this book reads “a beautiful little country that you’ve never heard of but really ought to visit” and I couldn't agree more. This little country swept me off my feet and lately has been the answer to the dreaded question “what’s your favorite country?”

Bosnia and Herzegovina: Black Lamb and Grey Falcon by Rebecca West

It was incredibly difficult to find a book that I’d want to own set in Bosnia and Herzegovina. I discovered Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon and knew it was the one. It’s a blend of travel journal, cultural commentary, and history. Technically, Bosnia and Herzegovina were still part of Yugoslavia at the time of writing, but I think that captures just how recent and uneasy the relationships in the region are.

Greece: My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell

This hilarious account of Durrell’s five years of childhood exploration on the island of Corfu warms my heart. I read it while sailing through the Greek islands, and it’s cast of misfit characters makes me smile just thinking about them. It's also the book that the PBS series Durrells in Corfu is based on. While I haven’t actually been to Corfu, or any of the Ionian islands, it just feels like Greece to me.

Turkey: Constantinople by Edmondo de Amicis

I feel so lucky to have experienced Turkey in such a unique way, as a guest of a wonderful Turkish family as they sailed around the Datça peninsula. Then, I was able to stay with them and explore Istanbul too. 

All this to say, it’s hard for me to find a book that really feels like the Turkey I know and love. I finally settled on Constantinople by Edmondo de Amicis, partly for the description of how it opens, with a dazzling description of the city gradually appearing through the fog. That feels a lot like Turkey to me, and I’m excited to have this book on my bookshelf.

Honorable mentions include Istanbul: Memories and the City by Orhan Pamuk and Portrait of a Turkish Family by Irfan Orga and Anatolian Days and Nights by Angie Brenner and Joy E. Stocke.

Bulgaria: Street Without a Name by Kapka Kassabova

This memoir of a woman revisiting her native country, after years of a love/hate relationship with it, is beautiful and captures the absurdities and idiosyncrasies of this country’s past. I certainly felt some of them when I visited this country myself.

Hungary: Strangers in Budapest by Jessica Keener

This novel follows a young American couple as they move to Budapest and befriend a Jewish American WWII veteran who helped free Hungarian Jews from Nazi prison camps. He is on a mission to track down his daughter’s potential murderer and while murder feels very far away from my wonderful week in Budapest, I think this sounds like a really great read anyway.

Honorable mention: Prague by Arthur Phillips, a novel about 5 American expats in Budapest who dream of a brighter, happier place. For them, it’s Prague. For me, Budapest wins that battle.

Czech Republic: Time's Magpie: A Walk in Prague by Myla Goldberg

I love the idea of taking a walk through the pages of this book right into the heart of Prague and its history. The author explores Prague, a city where centuries-old buildings now house Western ideals and a generation defined by a Communist regime coexists with a generation looking to forget that history.

Slovenia: Forbidden Bread by Erica Johnson Debeljak

Oh man, this was a tough country to find a book for. My experience in Slovenia feels dreamlike and unique, and I wasn’t finding many beautiful books that I’d like to own that captures that. I finally landed on Forbidden Bread by Erica Johnson Debeljak, a memoir of a woman following love and finding identity in Slovenia as the country transforms from a communist to capitalist society before her eyes.

I'm looping Asia and Oceania together as I've only been to five countries in this area. I need to make it back to Asia at some point, but these five books will always hold a special place on my travel bookshelf.

Australia: Seven Little Australian by Ethel Turner

I came across this adorable little book at a used book stand in Melbourne’s Queen Victoria Market. I had never heard of the story but was smitten with the idea of a father’s army-like discipline being no match for his seven fun-loving children. I didn’t buy the book, because I was already overweight on my budget flight’s luggage allowance. So I’d like to add it to my travel book collection now.

New Zealand: Wild Journeys by Bruce Ansley

This gorgeous book set in New Zealand is already on my travel bookshelf, as a birthday gift to myself last year when I lived there for six months. It follows Ansley as he retraces historically significant paths around the beautiful country of New Zealand.

Road No Good by Bridget Isichei

Vanuatu, a small country composed of dozens of islands in the South Pacific, is a place I was lucky enough to stay on for 2 weeks with the family I was an au pair for. In those two weeks, I was immersed in an expat culture that left me laughing, shaking my head, and thinking “someone should write a book about this.” There aren’t many books set in Vanuatu, but Road No Good by Bridget Isichei captured my attention.

Indonesia: Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

I think this is the book that set everything in motion. It’s the book that made it okay to be a solo female traveler. It’s the book that made it okay to go to off-the-beaten path places as a woman. It’s the book that put Bali, Indonesia on the Western world’s map. It’s the book that put Bali on my destination bucket list, so it deserves a place on my bookshelf too.

South Korea: The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See

While I never traveled to the Korean island of Jeju, where this book takes place, this book seems to capture the hope I felt during my one day very busy day in South Korea.

Purchase Something From This Book List

Disclosure: At no additional cost to you, Pages to Passport will earn a small commission if you purchase from these links. Thanks in advance for your support!

 

What travel book are you going to add to your travel bookshelf?

If you’ve got the luggage space, I love the idea of collecting books like souvenirs. Buy a book, set in that location, for every destination you visit or stamp on your passport. I'm so excited to have this travel bookshelf project to keep my travel spirit alive.

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adobberteen

2 Comments

  1. Eileen Dean
    May 12, 2020 at 9:34 pm

    What a wonderful idea, I haven’t traveled as much as you but this is an incredible idea for keeping all my memories alive. I’ m going to start researching right away, including some of the books you have mentioned. Thank you so much.

    • adobberteen
      May 14, 2020 at 2:52 pm

      Yay! Would love to hear what books you decide to add to your shelf.

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