The decision to move abroad is a tough one and will, in all likelihood, completely change the direction of your life. The opportunity to move may come with a new job, or you could just be moving for a change of scenery. The chance to interact and intersect with a new culture, a whole new set of friends, the chance to step out of your comfort zone and find yourself, to go on brand new adventures – these are all the great rewards of an international move.The expat experience has been well documented in many bestselling books, in both the fiction and non-fiction genres, giving you a bird’s eye-view of what living in a specific country is really like. Here’s a list of the ten books that will definitely make you want to move abroad!
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
A global bestseller since it was first published in 2006, Eat, Pray, Love describes one woman’s journey through three diverse countries, trying to find herself and what she really wants. At 34, Gilbert finds herself suffering the aftermath of a very ugly divorce, and embarks on a year-long journey of recovery, broken up into three equal parts, in Italy, India, and Indonesia. In Italy, Gilbert dedicates herself to the pursuit of pleasure through food, and immerses herself in it completely. She pursues the art of devotion and meditation in India, and finally tries to find a balance between these two on the Indonesian island of Bali. Spanning a wide range of experiences and insights, through her travels Gilbert provides a funny, charming, and intimate picture of these three countries. This book is a reminder that when you step out of your comfort zone, approaching a new culture and country with an unflagging optimism is best way to keep yourself open to new experiences.
Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel by Rolf Potts
If you are looking to move countries for a change of scene, this is perhaps one of the best books you could read. Rolf Potts’ book is about just taking off, for between six weeks to two years at a time, and discovering the world on your own time and terms. The book is written as a guide, and while you can find the same information in a number of different guide books, what Vagabonding really does is offer you an insight into a new way of thinking about travel. The book is a meditation on the unfettered joy of hitting the road for a long period of time. The 11 chapters in the book each follow the same structure, and in them, Potts shows you how to take time off work to travel, fit your work into international travel, and also how you can make the most of your travel experience. Potts also provides practical information on booking and planning your travel, and general safety concerns for world travel. Peppered with anecdotes from famous and ordinary travellers alike, Vagabonding is the first book you should read before hitting the road.
In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson
It is usually hard to pick just one of Bill Bryson’s books to have inspired an insatiable wanderlust in its reader, but this one is really a gem. Bryson takes you a journey from the east to the west coast of Australia, and stops off at forgotten mining towns, cities on the coast, and many other locations that are completely off the beaten path. The picture Bryson paints of Australia is a majestic country where people live in perfect harmony with some of the most deadly animals on the planet, and which is also home to the largest living thing in the world—the Great Barrier Reef—and the world’s largest monolith, the Ayers rock. In a Sunburned Country is a compelling account of an immense, rugged land full of people who are content and welcoming and far more often than not, very obliging with a case of cold beer. Full of trivia about Australia, In a Sunburned Country paints a picture of Australia that will make you want to go there immediately.
Istanbul: Memories and the City by Orhan Pamuk
This book is a loving portrait of a city negotiating the spaces between its past and present, written by a long-term resident—Pamuk still lives in the house that he was born in. The central theme of this book is a meditation on how our birthplaces make us who we are, and Pamuk’s birthplace is no ordinary city. Sitting on the cusp of east and west, Istanbul is a veritable treasure trove of charm, history, and beauty. The Ottoman past, which is rapidly disappearing, is represented by the beautiful but decrepit mansions along the Bosphorus. The present shows the cultural effects of twentieth century westernization. The book is full of Pamuk’s insightful musings about the character of Istanbul and its citizens. With cinematic scope, Pamuk intertwines his personal life with the city, and the book moves across the workings of Pamuk’s family life and the emergence of the artists that shaped the milieu of the city, past and present.
The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World by Eric Weiner
When Eric Weiner realises that his life is really rather unhappy, he undertakes a journey to the places touted as the happiest in the world to see what really makes them such happy places. His travels move from Qatar (one of the world’s richest states) to Moldova (the world’s most unhappy place) and he also goes to places like Switzerland, India, and Bhutan. He doesn’t eventually manage to answer the question he started out with, but the journey does make for an entertaining and informative read, with his explorations of cultures that he is interacting with. The book has been described as “Paul Theroux meets David Sedaris”, and is a rollicking adventure around the world.
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
One of Hemingway’s greatest achievements and most popular books, A Moveable Feast is an account of Hemingway’s life as an expat writer in Paris in the 1920s. Paris has historically held a certain sway over the world’s imagination, and Hemingway’s experience explains why this is so. The book brilliantly epitomises the mood in Paris in the aftermath of the First World War. This is Hemingway’s personal account of his days in Paris, his observations of the city, and expatriate life around him. Interestingly, a number of the cafes, bars, hotels, and apartments that Hemingway mentions (and gives contact details for!) are still operational today. A Moveable Feast is also filled with irreverent portraits of literary luminaries such as Gertrude Stein and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Ezra Pound, James Joyce, Ford Madox Ford, and John Dos Passos also make an appearance in the book.
My Life in France by Julia Child
There is no doubt that Julia Child single-handedly introduced Americans to the joys and intricacies of French cooking with her cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking and her television show The French Chef. But Julia wasn’t always that proficient in the kitchen. When she first moved to Paris with her husband, Paul, she didn’t speak a word of French and had what can at best be called a tentative interest in cooking. Once she and Paul had found an apartment in Paris and settled in, she signed up for classes at the Le Cordon Bleu, one of the few women to do so at the time. She also started buying produce from local markets, and her descriptions of these markets have prompted more than one expat in France to drop everything and head straight for them. She chronicles her journey as a cook, and meeting Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle, with whom she began collaborating on what would become a landmark event in both food and publishing history. My Life in France is more than just a memoir of one woman’s life in France – it is an ode to a great love affair with French food and culture, and is insightful, poetic, and very, very accurate about the French people.
A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle
In this fictionalised autobiography, Peter Mayle does what most people only dream of – he moves into a 200-year-old farmhouse in rural, southern France with his wife and their two dogs. The property is complete with thick stone walls, a wine cave, massive trees, and a swimming pool. But is it all really as easy as picking up and living the good life in France? As Mayle finds, to both his horror and amusement, there’s whole lot more to moving to the South of France than the delights of Provencal cuisine and fantastic wine. This is a life lived at a pace that is dictated by the seasons and not the days. He and his wife endure the cold mistral of January in their wonderful farmhouse that doesn’t have central heating, and have to deal with cracked pipes, ripped tiles from the roof, and a window torn right off its hinges. With customary grace and gentle humour, he renders the highlights of each month that he is there – from an unusual snowfall in February to the tourist influx of the summer to the quiet Christmas dinner with which the book closes. Along the way, he also learns the intricacies of goat racing through the centre of town and hunting for mushrooms while making visits to markets and vineyards, all of which are pleasures that make Provencal life such a joy.
Under the Tuscan Sun: At Home in Italy by Frances Mayes
This book does for Tuscany what Peter Mayle’s One Year in Provence did for France. Well-known poet and travel writer Frances Mayes decides to buy and renovate an old Italian villa in Tuscany, and discovers the pleasures of a simple life in Italy. The book is a charming and warm account of her days in the Italian sun, cooking and enjoying the beauty and colours of the terrain around her, the physical hard work in her garden, and the quirks of dealing with the locals who are warm and welcoming people. What makes this book really special, though, is the constant finding and negotiating the concept of home in two separate countries with very diverse cultures. The book also covers several chapters of recipes, including some of Mayes’ own, and is a wonderful tour of the gastronomic delights of the region. She presents a cultural celebration of Tuscany that can usually only be gained by a deep involvement with the land and its culture.
In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin
In this travel classic, Chatwin travels from Lima in Peru to Patagonia, where he spends six months. His curiosity about the area was ignited way back in his childhood, when Chatwin found a reddish animal skin tucked away in a cupboard. Many years later, he found himself on an incredible journey to the southernmost tip of South America – Patagonia. Told in a non-linear fashion, in 97 sections in all, this is the story of a magnificent land and its very colourful people. Much of the book deals with the people that Chatwin meets along the way – gauchos on the pampas, villagers with Welsh origins, and a hippie from San Francisco who wants to be a miner. He also encounters a French soprano, and blends facts and snippets of local myths and legends into a masterful tale that will make you want to book your tickets to Chile right away!
This is, of course, not an exhaustive list of inspiring travel books and memoirs. As always, the fun of a list is in the discovery and discussion. Are there any books that have made you want to move countries? Tell us about them in the comments!