brown bookmark and black plane keychain
Babcia and Yia Yia!, Intro To Travel Lit

Travel Lit: 10 Ways Books Make Us Better Travelers

Books work so very hard to take us on a journey through stories with settings and characters that inspire and ignite the imagination. For the traveler, books are even more important as they produce wandering memories and inspire travel dreams. Let’s face it travelers and literature are two peas in a pod!

woman in beret looking at piles of books placed in front of antique shop
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In fact, there are plenty of ways that books make us become better travelers no matter what kind of trip we are taking. It’s one of the most important things that we do all year long. Here are 10 ways we use books:

Create context for your destination.

As we plan for any trip, our first move is to hunt down some books to start learning about where we are off to. No matter what destination is in our sights, there’s a book out there to help get us excited about our adventures. To be clear, we certainly look for great new book picks but we also read and reread plenty of great classics. If we are on our way to Paris, we may choose our old copy of Julie and Julia to enjoy. However, if we are headed to Texas, we might opt for a brand new book of essays entitled Being Texan.

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Inspire travels you never thought of before.

As teachers, we are always throwing book picks at each other. Our conversations are often about that list of books from Ambassadors or the new Sunshine State book awards. Usually, one new title will stand out to us as the “I haven’t thought about going there in a while” book. Books do a great job of stirring up the senses and taking us to new and exciting places. Using quality literature to get you going is what we are all about! I just put down the true crime book entitled The Galapagos Affair. How about a trip to the Galapagos?

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Allow for new experiences when you know the literature from where you’re visiting.

Setting. It’s an undeniable part of any good read! We are often drawn to books with great setting and that can easily get us prepared for our upcoming experiences. If we are off to the Far East, the crowd pleasing trilogy Crazy Rich Asians may be just the right fit. It may not let us into those fancy circles but it can remind us to review the rules of Marjhong and ensure that it’s part of our trip! On the other hand, we could be right in the middle of the juicy Bridgerton series and are headed for high tea to take on biscuits and scones with a High Tea tour on a double decker bus touring London by Brigit’s bakery. Perhaps a good book sends us on a journey to find that setting as is the case with most traveling fans of Harry Potter!

Connect the past with the present.

No matter what era of history your mind wanders to, there is a book for you! Can’t get enough of Ancient Rome? There’s a book. Enjoy learning about the Vikings? Books have you covered. Do you want to learn more about the European founding of Australia? Check. Fiction and non-fiction abound! Some of the best literature helps connect the modern reader with the amazing tales of the past. One of our favorites is Percy Jackson and the Lightening Thief. Middle schooler Percy takes us on an epic adventure across the US while teaching us about the ancient Greek Gods. We recommend this for kids and adults alike! Read it then, take a cruise through the Greek islands!

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Open the world of art to the non art lover

Books can teach us so very much even when we are not expecting them to. Plenty of travelers struggle with art appreciation and are looking for ways to connect with art. Take in great fiction like the DaVinci Code to not only enjoy a great read but to also start wrapping your mind around the art of Paris. Enjoy incredibly moving non fiction like The Greatest Treasure Hunt In History to learn about The Monuments Men. This band of brothers was tasked with repatriating all of the stolen art of WWII. Way to tie it all together! Art is an integral reality of any travel and has the ability to be embraced. Books certainly help.

woman sitting on ottoman in front of three paintings
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Give kids a starting point to make travel more relevant

International children’s literature is at an all time high. There is more for children to read than ever before. Classics like Madeline and Paddington offer glimpses of faraway places. While modern picks such as Katie in Scotland make travel a relatable topic for young minds. Use our Travel U series to look at all kinds of children’s books that will inspire you! Note that some of the links below are affiliate links. I only recommend products & brands I love and that I think you would love, too!

Extend travel while you are not out and about

Sometimes a good book is just the remedy true travelers need when they are grounded. Literature can help you sort through all of your different travel choices that are available to you. If the world is your oyster, books are the tool to use to pry it open! Sometimes, though, it’s hard to make a choice with so many options. We like The Wordy Traveler Subscription Box as a great way to see what newly written and newly wandered. Another great source for curated picks are the many, many book lists over on Good Reads.

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Make world customs and traditions easier to understand

Sometimes there’s so very much to keep in mind when we travel. We always want to mind our P’s and Q’s while feeling comfortable in our own skin. Books can enlighten us on how to conduct ourselves when out and about. But literature can also give us an understanding of a culture like no other avenue. Take, for example, Joyce’s Ulyssus. This classic story takes us through Dublin in one day in the life in 1904. Be sure to know that Bloomsday will take place every June 16th and you can join in the revelry! But don’t you think it’s a good idea to read the book before you do? Ireland has tons of literary connections to enjoy. Check out Dublin’s Literary Pub Crawls to partake in all the fun!

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Uplift your own storytelling skills

If there is one thing those Irish know how to do, it’s tell a great story! And that could be said about so many other places as well. From Africa to North America, storytellers can be such an integral part of why and how we travel. The teacher in us will always tell you that the more you read the more you will develop your own storytelling skills about all of the places you’ve been. So, tell your stories and keep reading the tales of others.

Unlock the true meaning of quality travel

No matter where you go, books can be the key to unlocking purposeful travel for any age. Kids will connect better, adults will appreciate context and everyone will understand their destination just a little bit more. Books provide far reaching understanding of global understanding and values. Whether you are turning the page or listening to a book, the world awaits as the story unfolds. Enjoy the adventure!

PS: Here’s just a little more book fun!

top view of library with red stairs
Intro To Travel Lit, Travel With Alex: Europe 101, Travel With Terri: USA 101

Travel U: Libraries That Inspire

Admit it, you haven’t thought about it in a long time. It’s been hectic and there was just no way to fit it into your all too busy schedule. Then, the whole Corona Virus thing brought everything to a standstill. Between dance class and self-quarantine, there is just no room in your schedule for yet another activity anyway. I know, I know! Me too! But the reality is that your local library offers so much more than just a good book selection. There are so many more activities and opportunities at community libraries than we even realize! So, in order to support all those hard working, book loving librarians out there during National Love Your Librarian Month, here is my best pitch to get you in those doors! Let’s travel to the library!

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I recently looked at the August schedule for our local library and I was so impressed with the amazing array of events and activities that they are offering. There was everything from science to tax prep. I even saw YOGA! I don’t know about you but yoga may have been my favorite thing on the schedule! Yoga at the library! Seriously?! Absolutely. Libraries are so much more than the books that they keep. Monthly book clubs for adults and weekly story times for kids of all types and ages are just the start of how innovative this underused resource is.

There’s more….

Lots of libraries are involved with programs that incorporate and support STEM initiatives. They provide spaces for people to gather for all kinds of community interests and there is ALWAYS a reading incentive program. (That’s right, they are not just in the summer!) Looking for a class on sign language for babies? Check. How about a veteran’s book group? Yup. Like gardening? Yep, they meet once a month too! The library even offers a class called Pizza and Picasso! I’m in!

Two great resources for getting your kids ready to go to the library are “Between The Lions” (younger) and “Reading Rainbow” (older)- both products of PBS and both available in some way through YouTube. Together, they do a wonderful job of making the library exciting and interesting.

Library Lowdown

As for the global citizen, let me direct you right to the non-fiction stacks. The section you are looking for is all the way at the end. According to Mr. Dewey, you can travel the world in the 900’s. Specifically, section 910 is full of travel and geography. (Did you see my last post on maps?) and just next door in section 914, you will find a bit more about genealogy. That’s right! There is no better place to get started then at the library! Now, hop right on over to fiction and pick up a great European mystery or a Tokyo love story. So, c’mon! What are you waiting for?! Make the time and visit your local library now. Better yet! Make one of these fascinating libraries a bucket list stop on your next travel adventure:

New York Public Library

Located on iconic 5th Avenue, there is no better library in the world, hands down. Check out events and storytimes here.

The London Library

Located in historic St. James’ Square, check out the amazing collection and seriously good events on their calendar here.

The Chicago Library: The Harold Washington Library Center

Located on State Street, check out all of the cool STEM activities that are offered here.

The Central Branch Library of Kansas City

Located in downtown on 10th Street, the library is worth the visit just to see the outside. Check out their events here.

So, let’s travel to the library and discover a new place to find adventures right in your own neighborhood. The library can take you anywhere! Like this and want to see more? Join us at TGC!

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Babcia and Yia Yia!, Intro To Travel Lit, Travel With Alex: Europe 101

Art Lovers Unite!

Do you love it or hate it? Are you inspired by it or bored with it? Do you immediately get the importance of it or do you think that your kindergartener could do a better job? Can you connect it to its history or is it just a mish-mash of stuff that is set up in an old building? Oh art!!! It can be an overwhelming part of travel that can be difficult to tackle! Let’s try to make art an enjoyable part of your experiences no matter where you fall on the “I love art” spectrum. So, wands up! Art lovers unite!

Check out our podcast! Babcia and Yia Yia Travel The World is ready to help you take a deep dive into travel with episodes on art and so much more!

I’ve go to be honest…

Just like everyone else, I saw great art in high school and I didn’t care. I didn’t get why it was important at all! I mean, I got it but it wasn’t my thing. So, what changed over the years? Well, the one thing that really interested me were good stories. More specifically, I like the puzzle of how this story over here affected that story waaaaaayyyyy over there. It’s fascinating to me. And those tales, my friends, are found by the boat load in history books.

As I learned more, art became a more important part of that history puzzle. At first, it wasn’t so much the technique or style of art. Instead, it was what was happening while that art was being made. Some made complete sense like Michealangelo. Other times though, I couldn’t believe that a piece of art was being created under such extreme circumstances like the Book of Kells. I mean, how does one come up with the idea for a super cool colorful bible while one is being attacked by Vikings? Fascinating!!

Not into to every kind of art

I’ll admit it! I’m just not that into Egyptian art and I can pass on Picasso. I appreciate it, but, it’s just not to my liking. And that’s okay! Liking art doesn’t mean loving every aspect of it. I appreciate how the Egyptians came up with different pigments and how there are cave painting in Southern France but give me bougie Monet any day and I’m happy.

I found that I gravitated to certain types of artists after a while, and that makes art all the more interesting to me. As a travel junkie, I love to see local art but, I fell in love with impressionism. So, I am always on the lookout no matter where I am in the world for whoever has one of those lovely canvases that “catches the light”!

I fell so deep, in fact, that I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit stunning Giverny in all it’s Monet glory. (Ummm… don’t pass it up either!) In fact, it was right in the heart of impressionistic Giverny that my love affair with this school of art was cemented. Just in the center of the little artists’ village is a wonderful museum full of famous works. There, a great exhibit about how Impressionism was inspired by Japanese Manga was in full swing. Japan and France unite? It was true! They told the story so well and by the end of the exhibit, I could totally see how those two puzzle pieces went together! Snap!

In setu

When I was a little girl, my grandfather took me to the National Gallery of Art. I walked around and saw the amazing works by so many famous artists but, I was little. I really had no idea. Two famous paintings there are by Monet and depict the cathedral in Rouen at dawn then at dusk. The study of light draws many to analyze the similarities and differences. Again, it didn’t mean much. Fast forward many years to when I got the chance to visit Rouen. Just across from the very same cathedral is the TI. The sweet young man behind the counter was kind enough to bring us upstairs and allowed us to sit in the very window that Monet had painted from. With a print of his work in front of us, it completely changed the way I looked at those two canvases way back in Washington DC!

In setu, meaning “in the setting intended” can drastically change how you look and appreciate a piece of art. Native American art will always appeal to me more in Santa Fe than it does in Miami. The Art Noveu style found in Prague is far more interesting there where the movement was born than in London where I am far more interested in Victorian works. Art in setu can completely change why art matters.

The Art In Architecture

Maybe reluctant art lovers have a simpler choice to start with. Something that is easily accessed and readily available. Travelers looking to make a connection with art sometimes can simply look around and enjoy the art in architecture. Sitting on a plaza in some amazing European city can be a– wait for it– a proverbial feast for the eyes!

I was sitting on the banks of the Vistula river in Krakow enjoying the Summer sunshine and taking in the scene around me. Old men playing chess under the castle walls that turned Krakow into a city of stone instead of a city of wood were playing serious matches against one another. The spires of the many churches rose up into the skyline telling a story of age and time. That one was an onion dome, the other a stepped church facade popular in the region. I turned to see a steeple with neo classical feel. Modern buildings rose up behind me while a bridge that crossed the river came to life with sculpture intertwined into the structure. I sipped my wine and sat back and smiled.

Whether you are looking at the reconstruction of the Notre Dame or categorizing the classes of columns at some Greek ruins, architecture could be just the ticket for the curious traveler to start enjoying the art world.

The Power of Wow

I was sharing the lovely Rialto bridge with some students one day and it was obvious that I found more joy in it than they did. I finally asked what they thought about it. It’s okay they said but it was just an old bridge. I mentioned how they built that bridge with out electricity. They countered that you don’t need electricity to enjoy a crane and a bulldozer. “Well, I guess maybe I should say that there were no engines, nothing to plug in, no lights, nothing, but they built that.”

A student looked closer. “How did they carve that design?” With a hammer and chisel I said. ” What if they made a mistake?” Good question. “Well, how did they lift that up into place?” Simple machines like ramps and pulleys. “Wow! It really is beautiful!” Ah! Success! Another art lover created!

“Wow” is a super important word in art and needs to be used as much as possible. It allows all of us to look at art from so many different angles. How was it created? What kind of talent did it take? How did they build it? How did they find those colors? Why is it so dark? The list goes on and on. The answer always has the potential to be exactly the same: wow! In an age when it seems harder and harder to impress, art never disappoints.

Beware of Sleeping Giants

So there I was…. walking down the great avenues in Paris and I was headed toward one of the pillars of the art word. You guessed it! I was going to the Louvre! C’mon! You know that if you ever set foot in Paris, it’s a mandatory stop and probably the most important stop within is the legendary Mona Lisa!!!

If I could insert the “screeching tires” sound right here I would! The Mona Lisa has to be the biggest let down in art! First, the gallery is so CROWDED! And the painting itself? SO SMALL! In fact, it’s no technical masterpiece compared to other DaVinci works. The truth is that the real reason Mona is such a household name is because she was stolen in 1911 by some poor schlump named Vincenzo Peruggia. The works inside The Louvre far outpace Ms. Lisa and Vinnie’s escapades and have so much more depth and history to them.

The police record of Vincenzo Peruggia who attempted to steal Leonardo de Vinci’s painting ‘The Mona Lisa’ in 1911, 25th January 1909. (Photo by Roger Viollet/Getty Images)

The reality is that seeing icons can be a bit of a let down after so much hype. Sometimes, you’ve got to find the hidden pieces in the quiet corners to really appreciate the talent involved. One such piece is “Lady With Ermine” a contemporary of Mona Lisa which is located in Krakow, Poland. The art itself is a bit bigger and currently sits in the Czartoryski Palace. The piece, just like the Mona Lisa, was stolen and took quite some time to return. The museum helps tell the story of this DaVinci great.

You’ve Got Style!

I am the first to admit it! I am not a fan of post impressionist cubism of the early 20th century. There I said it. Did you even understand it?! All it means is that I don’t like modern art. It’s just not my thing and that’s okay! Maybe your thing isn’t Byzantine frescoes or maybe you just can’t look at art deco. Whatever your tastes are, there’s a style of art for you to enjoy! From cartoon work out of Brussels to ancient calligraphy from the Far East, there’s something for everyone. The key is to find the connections between it all!

Finding a style to appreciate, Impressionism, Byzantine, Dutch masters, Renaissance, Rococo, Baroque, Gothic, Ancient artistic understanding gives any beginner in art appreciation a launching pad. Check out this book by Rick Steves to hone in on what makes you art happy and what your personal style is. Note that some of the links below are affiliate links. I only recommend products & brands I love and that I think you would love, too!

Buyer Beware! 

We Americans have a very conservative take on the human body. In general, we find anything immodest not healthy or salacious. This is especially prevalent when it comes to our children. No matter how you feel, if you plan on introducing art into your kid friendly travels, you are going to have to tackle naked art!

The human form is the apex of artistic talent and is studied in every possible pose a human can create. From the epic David to the patriotic Winged Victory, human pieces and parts are on display all over the world. Please be prepared for that if you have little ones in tow!!! Lol!

Art Every Day

Creating a habit of infusing the art that you’ve come to appreciate can help any traveler become a true art aficionado! Check out these super cool apps that give you just a drop of art every single day! Pass on what doesn’t appeal to you and spend as little as a minute with what stands out!

Google Arts and Culture App connects you to all kinds of art opportunities around the world. It’s a great place to check in and just see what’s new and happening.

Daily Art is the simplest app I’ve ever used. Sign up and choose a time. Each day one piece of art is sent out and you will get notified of that. Open the app and read one or two paragraphs about the art that is shared. Easy-peasy!

A couple of amazing stories based on art are out there to enjoy as you get ready for your travels. Check out these great films:

How do you feel about art on a scale of 1 to 10? 

Art permeates more than museum walls. It sings through music, it soars in architecture, and it smiles through everyday life. Art is not for the elite, it’s for you and me. It’s for those who are looking to expand their horizons to take on the future by understanding the past.