“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”
“That’s the thing about books. They let you travel without moving your feet.”
If you’re an avid reader and traveler, you’ve probably seen one of these quotes—or many similar musings—hand-lettered beautifully on Instagram, at the top of your Goodreads feed, or as cute signage at your local bookshop.
The underlying idea seems to appear again and again: There’s some kind of mystical, metaphorical intersection between literature and travel, with the two constantly linked.
This idea manifests itself everywhere in our culture. Think: “best beach reads” articles dominating magazines and lifestyle sites come May or June, poetry anthologies dedicated to the theme of travel, PBS’s “Poetry in America,” and even create lists of literary and poetic landmarks to visit.
But books—and poetry, in particular—can play a bigger role than just a plane ride distraction if we let them.
A recent survey conducted by The Harris Poll found that 68 percent of responders said that traveling made them more open-minded and considerate, similar to what research suggests about the relationship between reading and empathy.
While studying abroad in France, I read poems about the French resistance during World War Two. Through these poems and their imagery, I began to connect more deeply to the country’s rich, important culture and history.
I realized that poetry doesn’t just help us travel to new places; it empowers us to travel through time and explore different perspectives. If you’re seeking that same connection, here’s how to find it.
Read poets from the place you’re visiting
As campaigns like #WeNeedDiverseBooks and global reading lists gain well-deserved traction, readers are increasingly seeking out literature from other perspectives.
Shake up your bookshelf or suitcase with a poet that represents the locale you’ll be exploring. While sightseeing provides fast-paced thrills and unforgettable moments, some downtime with a book of poetry might just be the best thing to help you reflect and connect the dots of a complex culture.
Resources like these lists of the best Spanish poets, Chinese poets, and Greek poets are a helpful starting point.
Explore more than one story
While a culture or country’s notable poets can serve as an incredible introduction, be aware of what African feminist writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie describes as the “single story” trap.
When you read just one poet or poem from an area, you risk leaving out nuanced contexts and viewpoints. In addition to diversifying the nationalities and ethnicities on your reading list, think about gender, age, and sexuality.
Engage with local literary life
One of the trips on my travel wishlist? A tour of New York City’s independent bookstores. I always try to embed myself in the unique literary scene of every city that I visit. Checking out adorable, original bookstores and libraries, as well as attending local poetry events and performance spots, can enhance any trip. It’s also a cool way to meet a city’s locals and hear their recommendations literary and otherwise.
Listen up: Embrace poetry podcasts
If you don’t want to be bogged down with heavy books while traveling, there’s a lighter option: poetry podcasts. Some of my favorites include The Poetry Magazine Podcast, The Slowdown (hosted by U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith), and The New Yorker Poetry Podcast.
Bring a journal and find poetic inspiration
Traveling can serve as a time for creative inspiration. That’s why writers retreats are so popular and why there’s even a traveling scholarship for poets. Whether you write about your journey or another topic altogether, allow a change in scenery to fuel your words.