Can We Live Here?

Posted on 30th July 2015 by Sarah Alderson
Sarah Alderson selects the best books for travelling.

In 2009, Sarah and John Alderson quit their full-time jobs in London and headed off, with Alula, their three-year-old daughter, on a global adventure to find a new home. For eight months, they travelled through Australia, the US and Asia - navigating India with a toddler in a tutu, battling black magic curses in Indonesia and encountering bears in North America - asking themselves one defining question: "Can We Live Here?' Here Sarah selects the best books to read when travelling that aren't travel guides.

Behind The Beautiful Forevers – Katherine Boo

Winner of the National Book Award, Katherine Boo is a Pulitzer-winning journalist who spent years living in India getting to know the inhabitants of one of its most populated slums. This fantastic book, which reads like a novel, is full of a colourful cast of characters that leap boldly off the page and is a fascinating peek into Indian politics and the everyday lives of slum-dwellers living next door to obscene wealth.

While most tourists can be seen clutching a battered copy of Shantaram on their travels through India, this is the book I would recommend taking to read on those long train journeys cross-country.

Balilicious – Becky Wicks

We spent five years living in Bali and came to know and love its beauty, magic and mysticism. Known as The Island of The Gods, Bali has long drawn those seeking spiritual awakening and an alternative lifestyle.

The hilarious author and travel writer Becky Wicks documents her time spent living there – digging deep into Balinese customs from cock fighting to black magic curses, while also throwing herself into some of the wackier western treatments on offer – vaginal steaming anyone?

I’d recommend this book to anyone heading to Bali as it has more information in it than the Lonely Planet and will make you laugh until you pee.

Becky has also written the eye-opening, laugh out loud travel memoir Latinalicous – a must-read guide for anyone who’s heading to South America.

A Walk in The Woods – Bill Bryson

My first Bill Bryson novel remains to this day my favourite, perhaps because it ignited the first stirrings of wanderlust in me for a great American adventure.

His account of his trek along the Appalachian Trail is vividly told and almost had me reaching for my rucksack and walking boots (before remembering I owned neither and wasn’t that big a fan of hiking or camping.)

The description is so brilliant that by the end of the book you feel that you’ve walked the Appalachian trail yourself and fought off bears single-handed (saving you from actually having to do it if, like me, you don’t like hiking, camping or bears).

Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour – Morgan Matson

As well as writing non-fiction and women’s fiction, I also write young adult fiction. Among my favourite YA authors is Morgan Matson, author of the highly acclaimed Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour. The story is about a teenage girl who, following the death of her father, goes on a road trip across the States, discovering In ‘n Out burgers, Elvis, love, and a whole lot more. All road trips are as much about inward journeys of discovery as they are outer journeys, as Amy discovers. The book inspired such road trip lust in me that the next summer we drove Route 1 down the west coast of America.

I’d highly recommend this novel to both adults and teens alike.

Living Beautifully: With Uncertainty and Change – Pema Chodron

To get the most from travelling you need to be able to relax into the moment, live presently, and be comfortable embracing the uncertainty of a new country and new culture. These simple, clear teachings from the great Buddhist spiritual leader Pema Chodron are a great reminder of how to live (and travel) calmly, remaining unaffected by stress (or changing travel plans) – a skill necessary for any hard-core world traveller, or even commuter.

A Primate’s Memoir - Robert Sapolsky

This fantastic memoir is among the best books I’ve read and one I have gifted many times over. Written by primatologist Robert Sapolsky it documents his love affair with Africa and in particular his time spent in Kenya, researching a troop of baboons he lived among.

With a candid sense of humor and eye for irony Sapolsky draws the reader into his research and the complex, sometimes soap-opera-esque lives of the baboons (uncannily human in their interactions) while also giving air time to his daring and downtime adventures in the conflict zones of Uganda and Sudan.


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