Your first big backpacking trip will be unlike anything else you do in your life, travel or otherwise. While you’re on the road, you’ll learn non-stop, about… an almost endless array of things — do’s, don’ts, shoulds, shouldn’ts, hacks, and the humanity of everyone you encounter. Growth and personal evolution are inevitable byproducts of vagabonding. We’re not saying you have to travel in order to improve as a human. But amidst the parties and the hot springs and the tree houses… a little progress on the personal front isn’t a bad perk, right?
Even if you’re not into all the woo-woo personal growth stuff, it’s nice to read some books before and during your trip to add context to the act of travel. Like life on the road, books (novels in specific) are proven to increase empathy. Besides, when you backpack you have a lot of downtime — this is your chance to catch up on a few classics.
To help guide you, we’ve made a list of essential books to read before, during, and after your first big, horizon-expanding trip.
Video Night In Kathmandu
If you plan on making your way throughout Asia—whether Hong Kong or Tibet, the Philippines or Bali—you must read Pico Iyer’s 1988 travel narrative, Video Night In Kathmandu, And Other Reports From The Not-So-Far East. In the mid-80s, the world was shrinking faster than ever. Iyer, a writer for Time, spent seven months over the course of two years “crisscrossing the continent on four separate trips, mostly in order to see its sights, but also in order to visit the front line” of what he calls the American cultural campaign or “pop culture imperialism.”
Mohawks in Bali, Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan, and pizza in Nepal, and hamburger restaurants featuring live renditions of Bruce Springsteen songs in the Philippines: this is the Far East that Iyer discovers, one that is slowly being infiltrated by the west. Whether this is good or bad is largely up to the discerning reader, but Iyer writes with clarity about the gap between a desire to consume and a desire to observe when it comes to travel.
One thing is for sure: Iyer was able to see clearly what huge waves of western tourism would do to once-remote countries in the coming decades. -LD