When I first arrived in Bali, some 8 years ago, I had with me an old copy of James Clavell’s Shogun. It was my only book during my one month stay here with my then girlfriend. I would read it anytime she and I weren’t strolling around Legian and Kuta (I know, I know, we were tourists we didn’t know better. Spare me.)
Nothing much I brought in my backpack for this trip. Just a pair of old cargo pants and some tees. It’s a vacation but one with a really tight budget. By tight, I mean spandex tight. Plane tickets from my hometown Yogyakarta had eaten up one-sixth of our budget. We needed to be really prudent if we wanted to go home. Well, neither of us wanted to go home actually. We’d fallen in love with this place. But, still, we had life and families back home. Me and my job, she and her family. Considering this, we only had 4/6 left to spend (tickets back were another 1/6). For a month. For eating and lodging. Couldn’t even buy any souvenir for my mom back home. To save even more, anywhere we wanted to go to, we walked. Even to Seminyak, some 10 kilometers away from where we’re staying. That’s 20 km worth of walking under the hot blaring sun.
Why Shogun? It has nothing to do with traveling (there is actually) nor about Bali. Well, my reason was more practical than anything. It’s because it’s really a thick book printed with reaaally small fonts. I believed it could last for the whole month to finish considering the way I read. I would have been doomed, if I had finished it before. Our 4/6 ration would not have allowed me buying new book even if I wanted to.
People like to bring books when they vacay-ing. Why? Well, for one, it makes they look sophisticated. It doesn’t matter if you’re really reading it or you’re just posing with it when you’re working on your tan. But that’s not me. I love to read. Not only it makes me look sophisticated (haha) but because I really love to read. I read everything, even my mom’s cook book when there’s no suitable substitute. Speaking of book and traveling here’s a list of books you should read when traveling according to me. Why? Because I wish I had it with me back then.
1. On The Road by Jack Kerouac
I have no other choice, have I? I have to put it here in this list. I don’t know what stoked me the most about this book. Kerouac’s fast-paced narration, it’s soul-searching theme, or because it’s based on real occasions and real people, some of whom are my favorite authors too. You know, William S. Borrough and Allen Ginsberg. The Beatnik godfathers. My admiration goes sky high to any book that tells story about substance abuse so casually years before it went mainstream.
2. Papillon by Henri Charrière
That Butterfly tattoo on his chest was how Henri got the nickname Papillon
My dad’s favorite book that I read when I was a kid and every time I have time to read ever since. Like On The Road, it’s a roman à clef sort of things. It tells a story about a prisoner who had been unjustly punished and tried to escape any prison he was in, from French Guyana to Vietnam. Of course a book about a prisoner looking for freedom resonances a lot with the freedom you seek by traveling.
3. Old Man and The Sea by Ernest Hemingway
It’s light, thin and meaningful. What else can you ask from a book? No matter how critiques often moan about its lack of plot. It’s Hemingway, baby. It worth your time.
4. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
This is by far the oldest book in this list, and the heaviest. Written in 170-180 AD by the then Roman Emperor, it contains wisdom like no other. Reading this we are taken to the point of view of an emperor, which nation stretched from the Mediterranean Sea to modern Iran. If you remember that opening scene of Gladiator, that’s likely around the time Marcus finished this diary. No self-extravagant tone whatsoever. What we see is a world from the eyes of an old Stoic. (Stoic=Stoa philosophy school). It’s wise. To the point. Practical. I heard that Meditations is a trending book among startup-ers and entrepreneurs nowadays. Maybe because of its practicality. Or maybe because they like to challenge everything that previous generation have set as stoic (pun intended)?
5. Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder
We can find honorary mention of Marcus’ work in here too. It’s like Alice in Wonderland, only much more philosophical. We’re taken in the world of philosophy through the eyes of Sophie Amundsen. A literally Philosophy 101 that is told in a really subtle manner (read: fiction) that we don’t realize that it’s a book of philosophy (or philosophical book).
6. Tintin by Hergé
The only comic in this list. Rejoice o’ thou who experienced reading Tintin as a kid. Where should I start on this one? It’s a masterpiece. ‘Nuff said. Tintin has gone to almost all possible places to visit in his adventures, even the moon. It’s entertaining to see his adventures with his companions, especially the sailor-mouthed Capt. Haddock and Snowy, his wire fox terrier. Hergé took Tintin to places when those places were still interesting: Pre-communism China, pre-Civil War Baltic area, Ibn-Saud’s Arab and so on and so forth. You know that title, “global citizen” many hipsters are using now? Tintin is the original global citizen.
7. Fear and Loathing in Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson
This is probably a typical evening for Hunter S. Thompson. Seeing here with John Cusack and Johnny Depp probably tried reenacting what happened in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Lucky number seven belongs to my favorite author, Hunter S. Thompson (God rest his soul). This book tells you about crazy journey, a real one, that Hunter took in the 60s. A book about drugs, traveling and absolute craziness and geniuses of Hunter. Don’t know how many souls are blessed because of reading this book. Me included. There’s so much wisdom, even in the most bizarre phrases Hunter concocted in this book.
Well. There it is, the list of books you should read when traveling. Each of which, I guarantee, can shed a light in your personal life. Inspiring, entertaining, providing lessons you can look up to and apply in your own travel and life.
As for the vacation I mentioned above, it ended up nicely. It became the prefix of our life here in Bali. My girlfriend found a job as a teacher in an international school and me, after going back and spending some time in my home city, came here again and found work here too...and I still keep the Shogun. Somewhere in my bookshelves.