Books to take travelling: what I read on the road


Sparky reading on Playa del Carmen, Mexico © Emma Sparks Reading on the beach in Playa del Carmen, Mexico © Emma Sparks

When I was younger, I used to devour books. Then a degree in English Literature and French – where I’d often be required to finish and analyse two or three novels a week – decimated my appetite for reading. After a couple of years off, I began reading again, taking my time, often taking months to complete a book (Sapiens, I’m looking at you). But after a recent stint of reading profusely on the road, I’m ready to become a bookworm once again.

I always pack a paperback for my jaunts (not a Kindle convert… yet) and for four months in Central America I squeezed five books into my backpack, making the most of glorious hostel bookswaps to acquire the rest. Travel and stories are simply a natural match. Here are the tales that rekindled my love of reading.

Books I read while travelling in Central America

Fallen Children by David Owen © Emma Sparks Fallen Children at Lake Atitlan, Guatemala © Emma Sparks

The Fallen Children – David Owen

Genre: Young adult fiction

Good for: Fans of The Midwich Cuckoos

Where I read it: Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

An ex-colleague of mine wrote a book. (Two, actually. The first is called Panther). I am of course, infinitely impressed – while also supressing major envy of his novelist status. Needless to say, his ability to craft captivating fantasy and science fiction (that even appeals to those who never usually read fantasy or science fiction) is top notch. Go buy his books!

Dancing Girls and Other Stories – Margaret Atwood

Genre: Fiction

Good for: Fans of The Handmaid’s Tale

Where I read it: On buses between Mayan ruins in Mexico

I studied Atwood at A-level and have always loved her feminist themes. Dancing Girls and Other Stories is a collection of short stories narrated by a host of different female characters, covering relationships, loneliness, stalking and even a couples’ trip to a Mayan ruin – a wild coincidence, considering where I was at the time!

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty © Emma Sparks Big Little Lies at Funky Dodo Hostel, Belize © Emma Sparks

Big Little Lies – Liane Moriarty

Genre: Chick lit

Good for: Fans of the TV series

Where I read it: In a Belizean beach shack on a rainy day

I always prefer to read stories before watching any big- or small-screen adaptations (books are always best!), but in this case, the mysterious California-glam TV series Big Little Lies spurred me on to pick up this dog-eared paperback from a bookswap shelf. It’s a easy read and I’m a total sucker for whodunnits.

Swing Time – Zadie Smith

Genre: Fiction

Good for: London lovers; readers looking for quality writing

Where I read it: On shuttle buses around Guatemala

Zadie (word)Smith nestled her way into the shelves of my heart with NW, a story set around Willesden and Kilburn, where I lived when I first moved to London. Swing Time had other touchpoints for me, like childhood friendships, dancing and travelling the world. This woman can write, and I have two other Smith titles on my bedside table ready and waiting for me already.

Love with a Chance of Drowning, Torre de Roche © Emma Sparks Love With a Chance of Drowning, Laguna de Apoyo, Nicaragua © Emma Sparks

Love with a Chance of Drowning – Torre de Roche

Genre: Travel memoir

Good for: Romantics, travel lovers, risk-averse wannabe adventurers

Where I read it: Laguna de Apoyo, Nicaragua

I’ve been meaning to read Torre’s first book since it came out (see intro for why I never got around to it) so I was thrilled to find it in a hostel in León, Nicaragua. Her experiences of love and adventure were a delight to discover and as someone who is a rather fearful traveller herself, I could relate.

The Jaguar Smile: Nicaraguan Journey – Salman Rushdie

Genre: Travel memoir

Good for: An outsider’s perspective of the Nicaraguan Revolution

Where I read it: León, Nicaragua

My introduction to Rushdie was unusual (he’s known for his fiction), but this account of his trip to Nicaragua in the 1980s enriched my understanding of the nation. I travelled there for beaches and volcanoes rather than history or politics, but I’d recommend gaining a basic understanding of the Nicaraguan Revolution to anyone.

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty © Emma Sparks What Alice Forgot, Playa Maderas © Emma Sparks

What Alice Forgot – Liane Moriarty

Genre: Chick lit

Good for: An easy read with a happy ending

Where I read it: Playa Maderas after a failed surf lesson, Nicaragua

After Big Little Lies, I couldn’t resist picking up another Moriarty – this time, a tale about a woman who wakes up having lost 10 years-worth of memories. She’s divorcing the man she loves, but she simply cannot remember why… Another page turner.

Born A Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood – Trevor Noah

Genre: Memoir

Good for: Fans of The Daily Show

Where I read it: On the beach in Jamaica

Funny man Noah recalls his childhood growing up in post-apartheid South Africa. From his confusing racial identity to first dates and entrepreneurial debacles, this coming-of-age memoir is full of wisdom as well as wisecracks.

I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai © Emma Sparks I am Malala, in Jamaica © Emma Sparks

I Am Malala – Malala Yousafzai

Genre: Memoir

Good for: Everyone. Everyone should know this girl’s story

Where I read it: By the pool in Jamaica

Finally I found the time to swot up on all things Malala. After reading her balanced account of life in Pakistan’s Swat Valley and perspective on the trauma she’s experienced, I was pleased to see that Malala recently returned to her beloved home nation (albeit not in ideal circumstances) – something she wasn’t sure she’d ever be able to do.

A Brief History of Seven Killings – Marlon James

Genre: Historical fiction

Good for: Insight into Jamaican politics, gang violence and language

Where I read it: In a hammock in Jamaica

Duppy. Ting. Bombo cloth. Marlon James swings between Jamaican dialect (that last example is a naughty word, shhhh) and American English with ease in this historical fiction spanning decades and oceans. It’s a heavy 700-pager requiring keen investment – and it’s violent from the outset.

This post contains Amazon affiliate links – so if you decide to purchase any of my recommendations, I’ll get a teensy commission, at no extra cost to you!

You might also like…

Is Semuc Champey worth the trip?

Update: three months on the road

Volcano boarding near León, Nicaragua

Update: two months on the road

A boat ride along the Rio Dulce

Review: the Mayan Trail tour with G Adventures

Update: one month on the road

The next big trip is nigh...