12 holiday reads that make the best travel companions
And they won’t hog all the hot water in the hotel shower
Sadly, there’s no getting away from spending some of our precious leave days on trips that are less than exciting — yet another Rajasthan destination wedding, anyone? But even if you can’t wait for your upcoming ski trip in snowy Kashmir, or a lion safari in Kenya, all travel comes with its moments of boredom: waiting for trains, long flights, and being the only person awake when jet lag kicks in at an unholy hour. Packing a stash of quality holiday reads will rescue you every time.
As essential for your carry-on as Digene and tissues, holiday reads are the best travel companions you could ask for. They won’t rout you out of bed to spend half the day queuing up for a museum, or con you into splitting a gluten-free pizza in Rome. Making the most of the hotel bathtub or spending a chill afternoon on the beach just isn’t the same without a paperback in hand.
So when you could be getting some much-needed time away from screens, when the charging ports at the airport aren’t working and it’s costing you several euros on your data card to play a game of Candy Crush, don’t be a victim of boredom. Instead, reach for the holiday reads that you packed and congratulate yourself on your foresight.
For those on a Roman(tic) Holiday
Ideally, your holiday romance involves a meetcute with a guy who has soulful eyes and scribbles expressive charcoal sketches. Let’s be honest: in real life, that guy would be emotionally unavailable and even in a movie, he’d end up slipping off a door and freezing to death in the ocean. Cracking open a romance novel is more pleasant for everyone involved (here’s a list of many more romantic reads.)
The Dead Romantics by Ashley Poston
In this acclaimed meta-novel, Florence Day is a ghostwriter for a popular romance author. When she goes through a breakup, she loses her faith in love. Florence thinks her biggest problem is finding her mojo as her strict — and handsome — new editor’s deadline looms. But it’s soon replaced by a much more tragic one when her father dies.
Florence is forced to return home and confront the ghosts of her past. Why are more ghosts following her? So begins the weird and wonderful supernatural romance between the writer and her editor.
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
This lyrical romance comes in the guise of a science fiction novel that gives a fresh meaning to forbidden love. Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth recall their idyllic childhood at the strange boarding school where they forged lifelong bonds.
Years later, the three have grown up and their terrible fates are sealed. Their fight against these predetermined roles (no spoilers) revolve around one question: Is it only human to love and be loved? It will linger with you long after you’ve turned the last page.
Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
No matter how many times you’ve seen it play out, the enemies-to-lovers trope done well is a rollicking ride, and this hilarious and heartwarming novel is exactly that. The stakes are international relations, when Alex, the son of the US President, runs into Prince Henry of the British royal family. The two have never gotten along, but their latest encounter is photographed and splashed all over the press, made to look like a fight.
Now, Alex and Henry have to do damage control by pretending to be the best of friends. Their gritted teeth soon give way to genuine smiles as the two grow closer. Though of course, their romance would cause an even bigger public scandal than their altercation. What’s a young gay power couple to do? It’s all between the pages of this holiday read.
For the ones travelling down memory lane
Expanding your mind is all very well, but sometimes on holiday, you just want a slice of the familiar. There’s a thrill in revisiting a book and discovering new quotes and characters to love. Give in to nostalgia with these timeless beach reads that you’ve probably gone through before, and dive in all over again.
Frederica by Georgette Heyer
Heyer’s Regency romance universe is the predecessor to the current Bridgerton craze, and Frederica remains one of her most compelling heroines. Neither a young woman, nor a diamond of the season, Frederica’s primary concern is taking care of her younger siblings. If you’re a beleaguered older sister, used to putting everyone’s problems before your own, you’ll definitely relate.
Contented, competent, and self-sufficient, Frederica has no desire for more love in her life. When she finally gets the happily ever after she deserves, it feels like a cherry on top – a refreshing and realistic approach to romance.
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
Okay, maybe avoid this one if you’re nervous about your upcoming scuba diving excursion. Otherwise, this marine science fiction from our childhoods is well worth reading again, especially on the beach. The story of a submarine pursuing a mysterious sea monster will make you look at the ocean in a whole new light.
Besides the rich descriptions of life underwater, this novel serves as a reminder that 150 years later, we still have no idea what lurks in the deep sea. Yet our human fascination endures. Go on a thrilling adventure in this holiday book without ever getting out of your deck chair.
Emily of New Moon by L.M. Montgomery
If you were a fan of Anne of Green Gables growing up – the spunky redheaded orphan who is mistakenly sent to live with an elderly brother and sister on a tiny Canadian farm – give the lesser-known Emily a shot. A sensitive girl who is orphaned when her father dies, Emily is taken in by her mother’s snooty relatives. In one fell swoop, she has to navigate her new position as well as her grief (How do you deal with grief?).
Emily’s desires will put you in touch with your inner child. Even as a slightly weird kid, stuck in a small town with big dreams of being a famous author, she craves acceptance and belonging. Montgomery’s prose is as lush and readable as ever, with an aching sense of longing that marks Emily as the moon to Anne’s sun.
For those journeying to their inner selves
When you’ve been feeling the burnout hitting at work, a holiday can be the break you need to reset and revive your flagging spirit. Instead of trying to cram in a million tours and activities, spend some time in your own head with the help of a meditative holiday book. These picks will give you a pick-me-up to stave off that existential crisis.
Confessions of a Forty-Something F**k Up by Alexandra Potter
Nell feels like a complete failure when her career and her engagement fall apart. She starts a confessional podcast to connect with other forty-something fuck-ups who are going through the same thing. Through her gratitude journal, which initially contains little to be grateful for, we see a year in her life.
Desperate to get some work, Nell also takes up a job writing obituaries. That’s how she meets Cricket, an octogenarian widow whose friendship teaches Nell that you’re never too old to live and love wholeheartedly.
Black Water Sister by Zen Cho
In this coming-of-age fantasy, a young woman in Malaysia begins to hear the voice of her grandmother in her head. Jessamyn has never met this mysterious ancestor, but is now called upon to deal with her unfinished business. As if Jess doesn’t have her own issues – she’s broke with no career prospects, and in the closet to boot.
Although this novel revolves around its titular supernatural legend, it’s ultimately rooted in the modern world. As Jess discovers her past through her grandmother, she finds her sense of self and the confidence to come out. This gem on our holiday reads list will make you look for more possibility in your own life.
The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell
Libby leads a fairly ordinary life, working a decent job so she can afford an okay apartment and the occasional drink with friends. So when she inherits a London mansion, she knows things will never be the same. What she doesn’t know is that her dream home was once a house of nightmares, occupied by a cult.
As Libby delves into her past, horrific details emerge about the socialite parents who died when she was a baby. Her fantasy image of them shatters, leaving her with more questions than ever. Libby finds she is no ordinary young woman after all. In her quest to discover who she is at last, Libby grapples with the darkness of her origin story and her strange new siblings. Can she find a way to overcome her past?
For the ones who have already escaped
Sometimes, crashing waves and warm sand are all the fantasy you need. When you want to keep your feet planted in the real world and go exploring in someone else’s, these autobiographies will welcome you in.
The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit
The sudden frailty of their bones, the fretful mannerisms and cataract surgeries; there comes a time when it strikes you that your parents aren’t going to be around forever. Solnit chronicles her mother’s spiral into Alzheimer’s and peppers this unusual memoir with mythology, poetry, and more.
Through this pick on our list of holiday reads, we explore what it means to lose the narratives that make us who we are. Don’t expect a linear biography here. There’s a trip to Iceland, fairytales, and reflections on storytelling. It’s as if Solnit is inviting us along to enjoy the journey, even if it will be taken away from us in the end.
Chemical Khichdi: How I Hacked My Mental Health by Aparna Piramal Raje
Starting with a frank description of what it’s like to have bipolar disorder, this memoir is split into three parts: how Raje found out about her condition; the seven forms of therapy she adopted; and her concluding reflections on mental health.
Despite the title, this isn’t your typical prescriptive how-to. Instead, it’s a searingly honest exploration of the struggle to experience a full life with a mind that doesn’t always serve you. When Raje points out that your mental illness isn’t your personality, and calls mental health a team sport, these insights are applicable to anyone struggling to make peace with themselves.
I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy
From the title and the cover image of child star McCurdy cheerfully holding her mother’s ashes, you know this celebrated memoir will deliver on pitch-black humour. The unexpected gut punches come from McCurdy’s recollections of childhood abuse, including her reluctant foray into acting and the eating disorder she inherited.
As she grows up and faces life without this oppressive maternal influence, McCurdy learns to internalise that her childhood wasn’t normal and her mother wasn’t perfect. Alongside these hard-won truths, there’s heartbreak, clarity, and profound reflections on fame and identity.