Posted by: travelwithcurls | May 15, 2009

Preparing for Travel

Brother and I booked our trip to Africa yesterday, very exciting. (By the way we ended up booking independent of any travel organization- not with Kensington Tours- due to our time restraints). So, now begins the harrowing part of traveling—preparing for it. First, I call everyone I know who has ever been to Africa to ask them what the weather and food are like. Then I demand that they list the top best things to pack. Then I read. I always try to read a book (fiction or nonfiction) that describes the scenery of the place I am going. It provides a first hand account of what someone else thinks of that destination which helps me envision it so I can successfully pack. Here are the books I’ve read that helped me through my journeys in the past:

 On my flight to London I read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. I am in no way a hopeless romantic, but I knew that this book would provide an authentic backdrop to what my life would be like living in London. Although Pride and Prejudice is set in a completely different time period, most of the more historic sites remain similar to Austen’s descriptions in the books. While exploring London and its surrounding areas, I often visited places I read about in Pride and Prejudice which made them feel familiar. Regardless of your preference toward love stories, I highly recommend this book before heading to London.

 While in London, I took advantage of the fabulous Oxtail store situated near my office. Oxtails are hand-me-down stores (sort of like the Salvation Army, only fancier- it is London after all) which sell anything from furniture to clothing to CDs to books. And this particular Oxtail had an awesome collection of the most amazing books! Knowing that I was about to move to Rome, I immediately purchased The Ides of March by Thornton Wilder. Although it is a quick read, it portrays the life of Julius Caesar through different forms of communication. Wilder uses love letters, diaries, graffiti, gossip, dinner invitations, and legislation to set the scene in Ancient Rome. Since Rome was basically constructed around the ruins built in Caesar’s time, this book offered an excellent description of Rome- I basically had a map of the historic city in my head before I even got to Italy.

 While living in Rome, my friends and I took a trip to Paris, Prague, and Budapest. One of my travel companions urged me to read Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast on our way. She lent me her copy, and after reading it, I had to buy it for myself. Hemingway explains his tour through Paris including its buildings, people, and food. Arriving in Paris, I understood how the city’s roads connected and the right food to order.

 After Paris, we flew to Budapest. I discovered a secondhand English bookstore on a side street near our hostel. I was immediately drawn to a small, nondescript book that was falling apart, The Travels of Marco Polo. In truth, this account of Polo’s journey was not nearly as riveting as I had hoped, but it did provide an interesting account of Europe and Asia- it helped provide a foray into India which was useful since that was my next big trip after Rome.

 Since Polo wasn’t exactly what I had hoped to read, I tried The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri in hopes of rounding out my India preparations. Unfortunately, The Namesake is almost entirely set in the US, and its few description of India was not as enlightening as I would prefer. But, it did describe customs and traditions which helped prepare me for life in India.

 Now that Africa is less than two weeks away, its time to start preparing. Thus, I’ve decided to start Ernest Hemingway’s True at First Light. Ernest’s son Patrick published this book after Ernest died in 1961. Although the Hemingway’s were on safari in Kenya and we will be in South Africa, I think it will certainly help me picture the landscape and safari lifestyle. I love Hemingway’s simple yet poignant descriptions and how he captures mere moments and transforms them into memories. I can’t wait to start this memoir.

 It’s also a good idea to read through a guidebook before going. Our family friends lent me a copy of their Frommer’s South Africa to use as a research tool. I don’t always love to use big guidebooks from well-established companies like Frommer’s since they have such a set style and systematic way of looking at travel. I usually like to pick up a smaller guidebook that is short enough to read right before landing in my destination city. But, since this trip to Africa is quickly approaching, I think Frommer’s can help provide beneficial tips. I think Brother is a little nervous about this trip (he’s a bit more cautious than I) so I am sure he will appreciate Frommer’s.


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