An Unusual Travel Tradition

There are a lot of strange travel traditions that you hear about while on the road. Always wearing the same underwear for flights, cooking a meal from your country for every host you stay with, collecting every bus and train ticket to later make into a 16-page scrapbook to bore your family to death with.

But the best travel tradition I’ve ever been a part of was what I’ll call “The Travelling Book.” The idea was that you’d read this book, write a short comment and your name and a date in the front or back inside cover, then pass the book to another traveller.

Not writing in someone else’s book is an unspoken rule of life. You can unfriend someone on Facebook and chalk it up as an accident. You can eat someone’s last Rolo and get away with it. You can fuck your wife’s sister and you’ll probably be forgiven over a romantic weekend in Paris. But taking a pen to another person’s book, dude, that’s a friendship-ending crime.

Gregory David Roberts Shantaram

I’ve known one exception to that rule. It was a book that was given to me by someone who’d been given it by someone else who’d been given it by someone else who’d been…Yeah, you get the idea. It didn’t belong to anyone. It was a book of the world. The book was “Shantaram” by Gregory David Roberts. You might know it. It’s a book about India and about love and about life and about heroin smugglers escaping from Australian prisons who end up fighting for the Afghan army by way of acting in Bollywood. As you might imagine, it’s epic. A 900-page epic to be precise.

I received it in the jungle. An American woman left it on the dinner table overnight and I picked it up in the morning, curious. I read the first paragraph and then the second and the third, then I found myself on Chapter Two, and I’d already fallen in love with the characters, but then it was breakfast and the American woman wanted her book back.

She left the jungle a month later and gave me the book. “Just remember to give it to someone else,” she said. “Don’t keep it.” I started reading it in the jungle and finished it a few weeks later eating breakfast at a hostel in La Paz, Bolivia. Nice bread, that hostel had. And jam. And it was as much as you could eat.

In Peru I gave the book to a woman sharing the same house I was. I like to think that book has been twice around the world since then, but of course it might be sitting in the bottom of someone’s rucksack at home, tidied away in an attic, feeling all sorry for itself, wondering when its next adventure will be. I believe it’s still out there, on the road, staying with a volunteer at a Vietnamese shrimp farm or with a middle-aged woman on a cruise ship in the Caribbean.

Vietnamese Shrimp Farm
Apparently this is what a shrimp farm looks like. Who knew?

I love that idea. Whatever the reality is, I have a perception in my head of where that book might be, so when I’m being a worker drone or eating my muesli as part of my regular routine, I can stop and wonder where “Shantaram” might be that day.

So yep, that’s right, sometimes I live vicariously through an inanimate object.

Anyone else had any experience of travel traditions? Or have their own that they want to share? The weirder the better!

Advertisements

31 Comments Add yours

  1. skinnywench says:

    Loved this book and read it when I was on my travels, unfortunately the last 5 chapters were missing and I was devestated when I found out. However, I found the same book in Bali on the same journey and traded so I was able to finish the book – amazing luck )

    Like

    1. ambigram0 says:

      Ahh, I can’t imagine how annoying that would have been! Great that you found it so soon afterwards – the world was on your side that day, that’s for sure!

      Like

    2. sytremaine says:

      i am still reading this book, but i’ve been to india in between the beginning and the end, which has helped

      Like

  2. Happy Runner says:

    I love this book! it still is my favorite book. I took my copy on travels and was amazed how many people stopped me to talk to me about this book. I was boarding a plane and someone struck up a conversation completely ignoring the line forming behind us. My copy has traveled the world, I have lent it to friends, but always asked for it back. It’s a reminder for me to keep exploring my path in this world.

    Like

  3. I love this book! Although it took me nearly 6 months to read, it’s massive! I’m not very good at giving books away, I like to collect them and arrange them on my shelf in rainbow order. But I love this so much I have *lent* it to someone, I’m fully expecting it back though. As for travelling traditions, I’ve taken a little pink teddy with me everywhere I’ve ever been, even on rollercoasters. I left him in a hotel in Belize once, but he made his way back. But now he’s missing!! Every time I think about it I get a little bit upset. He might be in china, but I actually have no idea. Maybe I should make a missing persons poster…

    Like

    1. ambigram0 says:

      Ahh, teddy bears, a classic! I met some guys in South America who had a teddy bear with them to represent a friend who “couldn’t make it.” Such a nice touch!

      Don’t be upset for you teddy, think of all the amazing adventures he’s probably having! Just don’t picture him in the bottom of a dumpster with an eye missing… 😉

      Like

  4. I’ve never read this book (although now I want to), but I just love the idea of this particular copy circulating the world, shared between travellers as part of their own epic trip/s.

    Like

  5. This book was spectacular! Now if only I can remember where I picked it up. I often leave read books in planes, hostels, hotels even a bus with a little note inside saying – pass it on. Gosh – I almost want to read this book again!

    Like

    1. ambigram0 says:

      I had no idea this kind of thing was so common. I’m going to have be more eagle-eyed!

      Like

  6. ania says:

    I’ll definitely be adding this to my Kindle before we go to Mexico next month — sounds like a great read and would be great to feel part of this “community” even though I’m obviously not reading the copy you read. Instead think of forwarding it in a digital sort of way.

    Like

    1. ambigram0 says:

      That sounds great! Technology lets us share stuff in whole new ways and I’m all for that. Ignore the people that say books will always be better than digital copies!

      Like

  7. Picking up books along the road is one of the pleasures of travel. Passing them on, swapping them.
    On the subject of random travel traditions, we bought a car off some lovely backpacker in Broome, Australia. They had bought it off another backpacker couple. Each set of owners had signed the bonnet, dated it and the destinations. The car was a thing of legend! the miles it did 🙂

    Like

    1. ambigram0 says:

      Ahh that’s awesome! What happened to it? Please tell me you passed it on to someone else?!

      Like

      1. yeah, we sold it to someone in Melbourne after the incredible coastal road trip from Broome. I know he ended up with a new paint job but after that…. He had his own facebook page and everything!

        Like

  8. gnatseyeview says:

    A truly good read! My wife is from Mumbai, and even she enjoyed it, and knew the places that written about.

    Like

    1. ambigram0 says:

      It’s certainly made the rest of the world want to come and visit her city, that’s for sure! (although with Slumdog Millionnaire I suppose, ha)

      Like

  9. Randi Winter says:

    I love this idea and have done it myself. It is a great way to lighten your load along your travels and surprise and delight someone else. The TV show Touch, features the same premise and it is really powerful.

    I think the type of travellers that do this are also more niche travel oriented, and I think that it is one of the most effective and interesting ways to travel..that is to let your passions be your guide! niche-travel

    Like

    1. ambigram0 says:

      Never heard of Touch. Going to check it out, cheers!

      Like

      1. Randi Winter says:

        It is starting up again very shortly. it is ostensibly about a boy with autism who does not speak, but ultimately it is about the personal connections that hold us, and this world together by such a fragile thing as using the book or embarking in any sort of niche travel that gets you deeply in touch with your interests and passions most often bringing you closer to people and places in ways you could never imagine.

        Like

  10. BonMinou says:

    Loved that book…great idea! Have you heard of http://www.bookcrossing.com/?

    Like

    1. ambigram0 says:

      Oh wow, that looks pretty awesome, but nope, never heard of it before. Thanks!

      Like

      1. BonMinou says:

        My pleasure. Have fun!

        Like

  11. Jillian says:

    What a great idea!! I’ve left books in hostels before, but it was to just get rid of the weight – I love the idea of writing a message on the inside and passing it on!

    My travel tradition has been to buy some kind of jewellery from the places I go to – so almost everything I wear in my ears or on my neck has an origin and story behind it 🙂

    Like

    1. ambigram0 says:

      Ahh, jewellery is a great one. I bought a necklace at Macchupichu back in June 2009. Worn it every day since. Not a tradition as such, but a reminder!

      Like

  12. al3xsheehan says:

    This is so great because I literally just inherited Shantaram from a hostel in the jungle in northern Thailand. Like yourself, I immediately fell in love. Have you heard of the website http://www.bookcrossing.com? You register your books and get to see where they go around the world. It’s fabulous and I hope it catches on!

    Like

    1. ambigram0 says:

      Haha, somebody else commented on this post suggesting the exact same website!

      Like

  13. I think this is a wonderful idea, I am an avid reader and often think that books are wasted when they sit on the shelf when you have finished them.

    Like

  14. yourothermotherhere says:

    Of course now I’m going to have to read the book, sign it, and pass it on.

    Like

  15. notnyet says:

    What a great idea. Here in SW Florida there are plenty of Read it & Replace it sort of shelves in community clubhouses, or coffee shops, or restaurants (like Perkins.) I love the incription idea. Until now, I just had to hope for a forgotten letter, or grocery list, or pressed flower to acquaint me with the those who read before me.

    Like

  16. I’ve stayed a few places that had a book exchange – take a book from the shelf and leave one you are done with to replace it. Too bad more places don’t have them. Not quite the same as your traveling book, but they came from somewhere and go somewhere else after.

    Like

    1. ambigram0 says:

      Ahh yeah, quite a few hostels have bookshelves like that. I agree though, it’s a shame more places don’t do it.

      Like

Say Something!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s