1. Knowledge of local literature will be a conversation starter.
By familiarizing yourself with the area’s well-known literature, you’ll have a conversation starter with most locals you happen to chat with. The college I attended used to require that all incoming students read the same book. The theory was that if everyone on campus had read the same book, everyone would have at least one thing in common they could talk about upon meeting for the first time. The same applies to reading stories pertaining to a destination you’ve chosen to visit.
This proved true in southern England where I joined a hiking group for a walk. When asked what brought me to that part of the countryside, I explained I was following in the footsteps of author Enid Blyton and her Famous Five characters. The nearest hikers all nodded recognition and we then chatted about the locally written series.
On Prince Edward Island, the mere mention of Anne of Green Gables will start a flood of conversation with anyone, visitor or local. Everyone there is familiar with the novel.
→ Start planning your own Anne of Green Gables trip
2. You’ll get off the beaten tourist track.
Often while en route to some bookish destination I’ve found myself in a less touristy part of town that I otherwise would never have seen. While Googling bookstores, libraries, and literary sites of Bangkok, Thailand before visiting, I discovered The Reading Room. This small art library and project space, which started as an activist safe space to promote education despite a military government that practiced censorship (read more about The Reading Room project), is located off the beaten tourist track. Getting there, we peeked through fences into the hidden backyards of city houses, we walked among locals out doing daily errands, and the small shops and eateries we passed weren’t flashy or dressed up to catch the eye of passing tourists. This felt more like seeing Bangkok than anywhere else we’d been in the city.
→ See the inside of the Reading Room in the Bangkok vlog
3. Literary themed travel days can be free/cheap.
Literary themed travel days are often the cheapest days of my trips. There’s so much you can see and do for free. Especially if you’re traveling light, and lack of space in your luggage preclude you from actually buying too many books while browsing bookstores. Besides spending the day longingly browsing bookstore shelves, with a little pre-planning you can either find a free literary walk or make one of your own.
In London all you have to do is google “free Bloomsbury walk” and you’ll find a dozen sites (such as this London for Free Writers Walk) that will have you touring the most literary neighborhood in no time, for no charge. (Except, do make sure your phone is charged… or you’ll end up like I did, in the middle of Bloomsbury staring at a low battery indicator instead of your walking guide!)
Tokyo has an entire section of town known as “book town” and unless you can read Japanese books (and are therefore tempted to purchase any), you can spend several happy hours perusing the 100-200+ bookshops and their various cafes. You could even give yourself some goals like, find the oldest, the smallest, an English-language one, and so forth.
Visiting author houses is another usually cheap activity. In Cambridge, MA, visiting the former home of author Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is free, however in Concord, MA each of the 4 author houses in town cost about $10 each. Depending on how many you choose to visit, this activity could add up, so you might just go walk around Walden Pond for free instead.
→ Plan your own trip to Concord, MA
4. You’ll be inspired to try new activities.
By now you’ve probably heard the phrase, “Do it for the [Insta]gram [photo],” so why not do it for the book? Is there an activity the characters in your book are doing that you haven’t tried yet? Perhaps your characters spend their days hiking in the countryside, or taking a rowboat to an island, or dancing in ballrooms. Then go for a hike, or rent a boat, or take a ballroom dance class wherever your book takes place!
Someday I hope to try ballroom dancing at the Jane Austen Festival. When I visit England’s Lake District I plan to rent a rowboat and spend the day pretending to be a Swallow (or Amazon).
5. Solo travel won’t be lonely.
Traveling solo? It’s less lonely when you’re distracted by a book and a mission- that mission being a list of all the places to see in a day. Also, while traveling solo nobody will feel ignored while you finish the book related to your destination or put in your earbuds to listen to an audio book while strolling around town.
I had a couple days to myself in Holland and with pre-planned places to see, the days flew by! And I was happy to be solo as I listened to The Girl with the Pearl Earring while walking around Delft. I even over-planned my days and ended up skipping lunches in order to see everything I wanted to. It was good I had nobody with me, because I probably wouldn’t have gotten away with skipping a meal otherwise!
–> Read about Delft and The Girl with the Pearl Earring
6. You’ll find familiarity around the world in bookstores.
I once was told that being familiar with a synagogue service would allow me to walk into any synagogue in the world and feel a sense of familiarity I have found this is also true about bookstores. I recommend searching out bookstores on a map ahead of time so you always know where the closest one is while traveling. No matter where you are, even if the books are in a foreign language, you’ll find a sense of safety and familiarity among the book stacks. When you’re beginning to feel overwhelmed during your travels, there’s nothing better than finding a bookstore in which to spend some needed downtime. Finding one with a cafe where you can sit with a drink in hand and people watch or get some work done is best. You’ll walk out feeling restored and ready for whatever comes next.
7. You’ll support small businesses.
Many small author house museums and independent bookshops receive less traffic than they deserve. Your in-person visits, shopping in their gift shops (in person or online), and donations keep these great places afloat.
Also, I’ve often found that these small independent shops and museums stock handmade goods by local artists who you may find yourself ordering more from years after the trip! I may have paid an exorbitant shipping fee from Canada just for soap because I happened upon a bar of raspberry cordial smelling soap at a craft fair at Avonlea Village in PEI and needed more when the first bar ran out.
8. Your reading comfort zone will expand.
Do you normally stick to one or two different genres when you read? Literary travel is a sure way to motivate yourself to read outside your comfort zone. If you find yourself heading towards a destination with a literary connection, use your travel time to read (or listen to) a relevant novel. If there are multiple books you could choose from, use the opportunity to try one you wouldn’t normally have picked up.
I certainly had no intention of picking up any Transcendentalist novels, but when I found myself near enough to Concord, MA to make a detour to this literary stomping ground, it was time to try a new genre.
–> Learn more about the Transcendentalist authors in this vlog
9. Travel is the best teaching tool.
Experiences will be remembered much longer than the plot of any book. Any tidbits learned about an author, story, and the time period during which it takes place will be retained with the good memories of the trip.
For example, it’s one thing to read Anne of Green Gables, but to walk through the house that inspired it and actually see the old kitchen tools and spinning wheel in the sewing room- it will provide a deeper understanding of life in the 1800s, how the author did daily tasks, and why she wrote certain book scenes as she did.
Similarly, you can think you understand the gravity of Anne Frank’s Diary, but it reaches into you on a whole other level if you have the chance to walk solemnly through the Frank family’s former living quarters.
10. Literary travel is fun!
If you were to ask me why I love literary travel, I’d first respond with the simple answer that it’s fun! There’s just something fun about being able to step into a setting you’ve only read about on paper, or seeing statues (bronze or wax) bring characters, and long-dead authors, into 3D reality in front of you. The ability to make connections between a physical place or object of today and the printed words on a book page makes reading more fun!
What’s your reason for loving literary travel? Share with us in the comments below!
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