Stop saying ‘if only’ each time you pick up a book that stirs your wanderlust. Follow your heart to incredible places beyond pages for the journey of a lifetime. Here are books that’ll help you get there.
Words: Efi Eqbal
SAILING THROUGH LIFE
COASTING BY JONATHAN RABAN
Coasting tells the story of Raban’s 7,408km journey around Britain in a 32-foot ketch (sailboat), using only a compass for navigation. The voyage digresses into personal memories that ultimately allow him to recozgnise who, and what, he really is.
While it may a bit far-fetched for many of us to attempt sailing around the world without owning a boat or having a team to support us in times of trouble, we can still opt for a fragment of Raban’s experience.
Decide on your preferred starting point and charter a yacht. Negotiate with the service provider on the trip you’d like to take and work on a schedule with them. It can be a bit pricey, but it’s an experience worth the money if you’re at least able to dock at over three ports; for example, start in Penang, sail through the Straits of Malacca with a stopover in Melaka, and end in Singapore, over one week. You’ll soon discover there’s a whole different culture to people who sail; to have experienced a sliver of it will provide a lifetime of satisfaction. www.charterworld.com
MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA BY ARTHUR GOLDEN
The life of one of Japan’s most celebrated geishas is told through a fictitious story that is at once romantic, painful, erotic, devastating and suspenseful. Golden captures the evolution of a young girl born into poverty and sold to a geisha boarding house.
In this book, we witness the transformation of the main character as she learns the rigorous art of the geisha: Classical dance and music, the art of conversation, the right way to wear a kimono, elaborate hair and makeup, and even the art of pouring sake to reveal just a touch of the inner wrist. Geisha are entertainers, artisans and hostesses, and though their world has changed, the few who remain continue to enthral till today. This book inspires curiosity about history, culture and vanishing traditions.
No, we’re not advocating that you go to Japan and train as a geisha, but we do suggest experiencing the arts involved in the lives of a geisha. For this, Kyoto in Japan is best. Geisha, known as geiko in the local dialect, live here. You can experience what is known as a ‘geiko dinner’ at any one of the five active geiko districts there – expect to be served, entertained with conversation, and wined and dined traditional style. Ladies, if you’d like the actual experience of dressing up in geisha glory, book a session at one of the many studios in the Gion district that will help transform you through dress, as well as hair and makeup. www.japan-guide.com, www.yumekoubou.info
TRANQUILITY & TRANSCENDENT
THE GOD OF SMALL THINGS BY ARUNDHATI ROY
“May in Ayemenem is a hot, brooding month. The days are long and humid. The river shrinks and black crows gorge on bright mangoes in still, dust green trees.” From the first page of Arundhati Roy’s atmospheric and descriptive Booker Award- winning novel, you are immersed in the heat, the sounds and the colours of the southern Indian state of Kerala.
Kerala is a vast state with a land area of 38,863 square kilometres on the Malabar Coast. Renowned for its alternative healing powers of Ayurveda and yoga practices, as well as its countless ashrams, what Kerala offers besides colours, sounds and fragrances, as described in this book, are people of diverse cultures and religions who exist in harmony. But, it didn’t get there without challenges; there have been tense and tumultuous times fuelled by social class segregation and discrimination. There are lessons to be learnt here, and today, Kerala is known as ‘God’s Own Country’.
Take some serious time out, at least two weeks, if you are truly keen to experience Kerala. Anything less would not be enough as there is just so much to see and do. Do not waste the opportunity to travel around this state. You can even opt for a homestay where you will get to live with locals who will be able to help you formulate the ideal experience you wish to have. www.keralatravels.com
EAT, PRAY, LOVE BY ELIZABETH GILBERT
This book is a true-to-life account of one woman’s search for love and the meaning of life. She finds this and herself as she journeys through Italy, India and Indonesia. This highly-acclaimed book was turned into a movie starring Julia Roberts in 2010.
Such a life-changing experience as romanticised in the movie may be an inspiring outcome, but it cannot be replicated by anyone else. The experience you have will be your own and the journey you make will depend very much on your motivations. This book compels you to learn the true meaning of ‘go with the flow’ so you may discover who you truly are. Only then, will everything else in your life fall in to place.
The most compelling excerpt in this book is: “People think a soul mate is your perfect fi t, and that’s what everyone wants. But a true soul mate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that is holding you back, the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life.” Taking a spiritual journey through different countries and cultures may just be the key to awakening your inner-self. Bali and India have long been recognised as places that can break and rebuild the soul as recounted by many authors, while Italy, with its breath taking beauty and communal spirit humbles the heart. All these experiences help ground you and open you up to receive love. www.indo.com, www.incredibleindia.org/ travel, www.italia.it/en/home.html
TRAIN FOR THOUGHT
THE GREAT RAILWAY BAZAAR BY PAUL THEROUX
The Great Railway Bazaar recounts a four-month train journey through Europe, Asia and the Middle East – an essential experience for those who have ever fantasised about travelling by train. The book features some of the world’s greatest lines, including the Trans-Siberian Railway and India’s Grand Trunk Express.
There’s always something romantic and wonderfully old-fashioned about travelling by train. Imagine the rousing joggle of the coach that is sweeping you across two continents with stopovers at stations where the language, culture and food differs by miles – as long as the rail tracks laid in St Petersburg, Russia in 1890 – you are basically travelling through history!
The Trans-Siberian is now a network of railways that connects Moscow with the Russian Far East, and cuts through the coastal areas of the Sea of Japan. Its branch lines travel through Mongolia, China and North Korea. In 1916, it was expanded to connect Moscow with Vladivostok and is still being expanded right now. Booking a trip on the Trans-Siberian – the longest railway line in the world – is any traveller’s dream come true and should be attempted at least once by travel enthusiasts. Alternatively, a more realistic approach for the modern-day man is to take some time out and travel to India to experience the Grand Trunk Express – one of the oldest trains operated by the Indian Railways since 1929. It’s the Indian daily speed express train that runs between New Delhi and Chennai Central. Life will never be the same again once you learn the virtues of patience, openness and acceptance through these experiences. www.trans-siberian.co.uk
FREE & EASY
LIFE IS A TRIP BY JUDITH FEIN
Exotic, exciting and every bit inspiring, Fein’s 14 finest moments in her magical travels from Mexico to Micronesia, and from Vietnam to the splendours of Istanbul, are recounted with honesty and openness. You’ll feel as though you’re right there with her.
Fein is a veteran traveller; this unconventional travel journalist’s life began in New York and is now lived out of a suitcase most weeks out of the year. The tagline of her book, The transformative magic of travel, is an apt description of the experience one can have when travelling as she did – with no schedule, few plans and no expectations. Be open to the unexpected and to experiencing different people and wild adventures.
Fein rode in a funeral boat in the Micronesian island of Mog Mog, hung out in a Mexican prison, celebrated Hmong New Year with the natives in Laos, and even met with a High Priest of the ancient Israelite Samaritans on a holy mountain in Israel – each event flowing into the next as she roamed to experience the real world.
Travelling as Fein did requires a bit of know-how and should only be attempted by seasoned travellers as there are issues of safety to consider. Go with a partner, friend or spouse and you’ll feel more comfortable. Then, of course, there are realistic and practical matters to consider, because we all need to put food on the table, and unless you’re ‘minting’ it, this may not seem doable. However, consider putting your accumulated leave to good use; you can easily have the adventure of your life even if just for two weeks. Scour the map and consider the places you’ve always wanted to visit but never had the opportunity to. Chat with friends and find out if they have friends in those places that you can connect with to help you along. Our suggestion is to look at clusters of bordering countries where you can easily make your way around as you travel – Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) to Bangkok (Thailand), Bangkok to Vientiane (Laos), Vientiane to Yangon (Myanmar), Yangon to Kathmandu (Nepal), Kathmandu to Bangalore (India), and so on. While you’re on your journey, keep an open mind. Like Fein, you’ll be surprised how many friends you would have made at the end of your travels. And don’t forget to keep a journal; it certainly is worth sharing your adventure with friends, children and grandchildren yet to come. www.airasia.com
BRIEFCASE TO BACKPACKS
Use your annual leave to travel and explore the world. While the notion of unplanned travels seems adventurous and amazing, there are a few things you do need to plan.
1. Figure out exactly why you want to travel and what you want to get out of your trip. Then, look at the map and choose the places that can offer you those things.
2. Not every country is suitable for unplanned travelling. You need to research properly before mapping out your journey. List the countries you want to go to and answer the questions below:
- Is a visa required before you arrive, or can you obtain one upon arrival?
- How much will the visa cost?
- How long can you stay in the country?
- Are there different regulations for arriving by air or by land?
- What are the other country specific requirements? (This may include proof of planned departure, vaccinations etc.)
3. Be sure to check for particular health issues or outbreaks at your intended destination. It’s pertinent before you start your travels so you avoid falling ill during your trip. This may include the need to get proper vaccinations, as well as paperwork as proof to be presented to immigration authorities.
4. Make sure you have enough money, and spare funds that you can easily access while you’re travelling for just-in- cases. You need to budget your unplanned travels according to your means, but set aside an extra 30% to 40% for emergencies. Check with your bank on international withdrawal allowances on your ATM card or debit card.
5. As exciting as the prospect may be to travel in spontaneity, you have to be practical and consider truthfully what you can and cannot live without. Depending on which age bracket you fall into, as well as your health condition, this may include proper bathroom facilities or even certain dietary requirements.
6. Basic weather information about your potential destinations will help you identify the best times to visit and how to pack for your trip. It’s all the more important if you’re travelling across time zones with great climate disparity.
7. While it’s important to have a rough itinerary for each place you visit, first accept the possibility that you may not get to fulfil all your desires. To try and set everything up perfectly will only ruin your travels. You can expect 70% of what you’ve planned to work out, but it’s the 30% that you haven’t accounted for or expected that’ll truly be the adventure you seek. Whatever the outcome, accept it and move on. This will be the distinguishing factor on whether you’re a traveller or a tourist.
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