Suggested Reading

Something that you rarely hear about when people tell tales of travel is just how much free time you have. Hours on plans and trains (and waiting for them), nights in hostels waiting for the noise to die down, meals eaten alone, etc. Not to say that this free time is a bad thing – these are the times when I meet people, think about the experiences I am having and take the time to people watch. This is also the time I read… book after book after book. I probably read more in a week on a trip than I do during a month at home.I’ve read my fair share of chic lit on trips, but my favorite books to take are ones about the place you are visiting. Reading a book about the places you are seeing in person gives great context to your sightseeing and also makes reading the book that much more enjoyable.

Throughout my years traveling, several books have really given me great insights into the country I was in and made an impact on my experience.

Amsterdam, The Netherlands 

The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank

I think almost everyone reads this at some point in Elementary school, but when I visited Amsterdam in September 2011 I knew I would be visiting the Anne Frank House and wanted a refresh. I made sure to finish it before by visit which was scheduled mid week. When you are reading her Diary, you can’t help but form mental images of the rooms she describes. Its actually a literal shock when you walk in and see how much smaller everything is than you imagined. Eight people lived here? For two years?
At the time I visited, I felt so close to Anne. She had been my number one companion for the last two days. I knew so much about her life and what she thought about. I couldn’t help  but feel sad as I walked through her former hide out. The post poignent moment was seeing her room and looking at the movie star posters still pinned to the walls. At that moment, Anne Frank, and the life she lived and lost, becomes very very real.

The Anne Frank House in Amsterdam

Oahu, Hawaii 

Hawaii, James Michener 

I wouldn’t blame you if you spent your entire time in Hawaii just taking in how beautiful everything was and never had a chance to pick up a book. Luckily since I lived there for a little while, I was able to balance my time between seeing natural wonders and reading poolside (You can start hating me now).

Hands down, the best Hawaii themed book is James Michener’s epic book. Starting with the discovery of the islands way back when and chronicling everything from the missionaries, to the imported Chinese laborers (and brides) to the leper colony of Molokai, the book covers the entire history of the volcanic islands.

What I learned is that in addition to being one of the most lovely of the US States, Hawaii might also be one of the most historically interesting.

Hawaii Sunset

Memoirs of a Geisha, Aurthur Golden

I’m sure this one isn’t such a shock. Since the making of the movie, this book has been pretty popular. I actually read it back in 2005 when I first visited Japan (I’m such a hipster).

Although its fiction (and written by a man), this book has obviously been well researched. Its full of interesting insights into Japaneese life and culture that you will find yourself remembering as you visit Kyoto and Tokyo.

The most interesting thing that I learned from this book was the importance of the Kimono and all the different elements that make up the the traditional Japaneese dress. As I walked through Japan, I started to notice the patterns of the Kimono and the decorations on the Obi. I checked there feet to see what kind of sandels and socks they wore and admired their hair decorations.

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

First they Killed my Father, Loung Ung

I bought this book for a little boy selling things on the street in Phnom Penh. I didn’t have high expectations, but after I started reading it, I couldn’t put the book down. Loung Ung’s true story about her childhood as a laborer for the Khmer Rouge blew me away.

Although Loung suriveved the tragedy that ripped her country apart, (as the title suggests) some member of her family were lost. Her sad story gave a very real face to the victims of the Khmer Rouge that I help with me as I visited first the Killing Feilds and then the S21 prison.

Ung also wrote a sequel about her life in America once escaping Camboida after the fall of the Khmer Rouge.

S21 Security Prison


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