3 books that inspired us to travel – and how the real travel compared to the imagination

Author Carina Klein
· 6 min read · 17 comments

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Some books inspire you to travel so much that you actually go and see the locations. But how do expectation and reality compare?

I am writing this article as I'm sipping on my favorite Italian red wine Primitivo and dream myself away to Italy. But you can't only dream yourself away with food, you can also dream yourself away with books. Some books have inspired us so much that we went to the locations ourselves, to see what they are really like. Here is the story of three of them:

  1. Donna Leon – Death at La Fenice – Venice (Italy)
  2. Astrid Lindgren – Seacrow Island – Sweden
  3. Douglas Adams – Last Chance to See – Komodo (Indonesia)

Donna Leon – Death at La Fenice – Venice (Italy)

The book is part of the Commissario Guido Brunetti crime novels, which consist of 30 cases as of 2021. In the first one - Death at La Fenice - we get introduced to Commissario Brunetti, who solves the murder of an opera singer at the Venetian opera (Teatro La Fenice). But it's not the murder which drew us to Venice, it was the fact that the Commissario goes everywhere with a boat. And that he drinks wine with every meal, which consists of multiple courses of course. You can feel Donna Leon's love for Venice in all of her novels and she describes the city as only an inhabitant can.

Real-life: We wanted to see what Venice is like, preferably without all the murder. We really did arrive with a boat and afterwards, we took a Vaporetto (or public boat) several times a day (hint: a day pass is really useful if you are a boat junkie like us) - and we loved every single ride. So how about the food I hear you ask? Well, we had at least one 4 course meal, comprising of Antipasti, Primo Piatto, Secondo Piatto, and Dolci every day, accompanied by vast amounts of super delicious Italian wine.

We totally recommend you to sleep somewhere in the Sestieri or 6 main districts, which are situated on 118 islands. In the evening, when all the tourists are gone, you can wander the streets alone. One of our favorite Venice memories is getting a Spritz Veneziano to go and just sit on the empty San Marco Square.

A picture of Venice
Venice from a Vaporetto

Astrid Lindgren – Seacrow Island – Sweden

The book is one of the many Astrid Lindgren novels, which are set in Sweden. Many of them are classics series like Pippi Longstocking, Bill Bergson, The Six Bullerby Children, Emil of Lönneberga, and so many more. What made Seacrow Island outstanding for us, was the omnipresent holiday vibe. It features the widower Melker Melkersson and his four children, who leave the city of Stockholm to spend their summer holidays on the fictional Seacrow Island in the Stockholm archipelago. The children, who range from 7 to 19 years, experience a lot of adventures. They swim in the sea, go on boat rides (and sometimes get lost on them too), celebrate midsummer, and just live their best lives in the Swedish summer.

Real-life: Admittedly, we were not children anymore when we visited Sweden, we were well over 30. But it was still a lot of fun and a great adventure to experience the Swedish summer! We rented out a kayak and paddled around the wilderness for a whole week. So yes, of course, we did get lost on a boat trip like the children in the book. And we swam. And we basked in the sun. And we just lived our best lives in the Swedish summer. The only thing we missed was the midsummer celebrations because we went in 2020 (you know?) - I guess we just have to catch up on that in the future.

A picture of a lake in Sweden
A lake in Sweden

Douglas Adams – Last Chance to See – Komodo (Indonesia)

The book is one of the few non-fiction works of the late great Douglas Adams, which he wrote together with the zoologist and photographer Mark Carwardine. The two authors travel across the globe to find species on the brink of extinction. Amongst others, they visit the kakapo in New Zealand, the Amazonian manatee in Brazil, the Yangtze river dolphin in China, and the aye-aye in Madagascar. For some reason, the Komodo dragons on the island of Komodo in Indonesia really resonated with us. Who doesn't want to see a real-life dragon? As a millennial, one of the most outstanding narratives of this book is the difference in travel without the internet. It took the authors years of research, phone calls, letters (I mean when was the last time you wrote a letter), and looking at maps to book the flights, ships, and accommodations. When they arrived, everything was slow and unorganized. It sounded like a real off-the-beaten-path adventure (on a side note: they already described overtourism in Bali in 1990!).

By the way: when the book was written in 1990, there were around 5000 Komodo dragons left. In 2015, there were only 3014 left.

Real-life: The travel to the Komodo National Park was much easier than in the book. Yes, everything was easy enough to research and book online and everything was more or less working and in time, but it was still a huge adventure. We decided to take a boat from Lombok, which turned out to be a mediocre decision. The sea was awfully choppy and everyone, including the captain, got sick. On the day we made it to Komodo island after the worst night ever we seriously questioned our life choices. We saw a few dragons close to the settlement but it was quite touristy and underwhelming. Luckily, we weren't discouraged and decided to go on land again the next day, on the island of Rinca. Our group was much diminished from the hardships of the previous days and so we were only four people taking a grand hike around the island (do opt for the longest tour if you have the choice, you won't regret it!). And this day was amazing! We saw so many dragons: large ones, small ones, sleepy ones, active ones, and even two dragons mating! You know it's good when even the tour guide gets his camera out and starts to take pictures. On the way back to Labuan Bajo, some playful dolphins joined our boat as if they wanted to make this perfect day even better. So maybe we did not quite feel like off-the-beaten-path explorers but I was still very much an adventure.

A picture of Komodo dragons mating
Two Komodo dragons mating

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31.03.2021, 22:43

Ah, this is amazing! I'm so pleased to see you had some amazing experiences inspired by books.

I will definitely be looking up Douglas Adams' Last Chance to See.
Thanks for sharing :)

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Carina | Bucketlist2Life

01.04.2021, 13:36

I reread Last Chance to See for this blogpost and it's still one of my favorite books ever!

John Quinn

14.03.2021, 01:53

Showing my lack of book knowledge here, but I don’t know any of these. As you know I’d like to see the Komodos. I do quite like the sound of the Venice book too. Or maybe that’s how they enjoyed the city that appeals.

Carina | Bucketlist2Life

14.03.2021, 13:34

I really think the biggest appeal of the Donna Leon novels is how she describes Venice!


12.03.2021, 14:32

I love reading books set in a location and then visiting that location bringing the book to life! I also really enjoy reading books set in locations ive recently traveled too because then it helps me remember the trip and I get excited reading and being able to say, "I know exactly where that is!'

Carina | Bucketlist2Life

13.03.2021, 10:22

That is so true! It can be great to read books about the destinations before and after the journey...


11.03.2021, 05:12

I love the whole concept of this post. The Commissario Guido Brunetti series reminds me of the Hercule Poirot series, except it is set in Italy as opposed to Britain. I will have to check it out.

Carina | Bucketlist2Life

11.03.2021, 11:38

That is such a great note! I always planned to read more Agatha Christie novels like Murder on the Orient Express or Death on the Nile!

Wendy White

10.03.2021, 08:01

I've been wanting to visit Komodo Island for ages now but not sure I'm prepared to get seasick! I'm going to add Last Chance to See to my reading list as it sounds fascinating.

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Carina | Bucketlist2Life

10.03.2021, 12:29

If Komodo is on your bucket list definitely do read Last Chance to See!

Vanessa Shields

10.03.2021, 07:06

I love Donna Leon’s books! I’ve almost all of them and started reading after a trip to Italy. Definitely transports you to Italy. I haven’t read these other two but will have to check them out!

Carina | Bucketlist2Life

10.03.2021, 12:25

So glad that you like Donna Leon! The other two books are very different though.


10.03.2021, 01:17

I haven't had my nose in any of these books. Gasp! Thank you so much for the recommendations as I'm always looking for new reads. Especially about travel. The book that inspired my four trips to France's Loire Valley is the Nightingale. While the book is beautifully written with heroine strength at its core, it's the real-life stories of French women in the resistance that keep me going back. (And the wonderful friends I've made on each trip!)

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Carina | Bucketlist2Life

10.03.2021, 11:26

Great to hear that you can relate! We added The Nightingale to our to-read-list! It sounds like it's right up my alley.

Smalltownplussize Tom

10.03.2021, 00:11

Love how you tied the books in as an inspiration to visit those places! Those stories prepare your mind for a real life adventure.

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Carina | Bucketlist2Life

10.03.2021, 11:19

Thank you so much for your feedback! The books really can serve as preparation!

Steven Jepson

09.03.2021, 23:22

Before I travel anywhere new, I try to read a book set in that very place before I go. I think I have a much better appreciation and enjoyment of where I'm visiting. Another clever post from Bucketlist2life. And I remember all too well the "joys" of traveling before the internet :)

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Carina | Bucketlist2Life

10.03.2021, 11:01

Maybe I should try to read a book about every place I go before I go. There are so many interesting ideas in this comment section - I love it!


09.03.2021, 19:59

I am a traveler who loves to read and a reader who loves to travel! Adding these book recommendations to my #tbr list!

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Carina | Bucketlist2Life

11.03.2021, 11:42

My #tbr list is getting longer and longer too!


09.03.2021, 17:24

Nice posting. For me it’s the opposite, I look for books after a trip. Found Peter May books while traveling thru Outer Hebrides and books about Hapsburg dynasty after visiting Vienna. Either way books compliment travel so well.

Carina | Bucketlist2Life

09.03.2021, 18:12

That is an excellent idea. I will look into books about places I've already been to to relive the travels!

Chalk and cheese travels

09.03.2021, 14:05

Last chance to see looks right up my alley will have to look this up 😀 thanks for the list all look very interesting

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Carina | Bucketlist2Life

09.03.2021, 14:09

I LOVE Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy so I was super excited when I discovered a non-fiction book from Douglas Adams. I reread the Indonesia chapter for the blog post and it still made me giggle the second time. There's one guy in the book - an expert on snakes - who Philipp and I still frequently quote.

Bernie and Jess Watt

09.03.2021, 14:03

Interesting take. I've become a boring non-fiction reader over my adult years. Maybe it's time to get back to the book store :)

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Carina | Bucketlist2Life

09.03.2021, 15:00

I, on the other hand, cannot make myself read most non-fiction books...


09.03.2021, 13:48

I can't help laughing when you said visiting Venice without the murder? LOL! By the way, these are great books and I hope to get a hold of them. It really feels great to visit a place from the book you've read. And lastly 30's or whatever age, there is always a child in us. ;)

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Carina | Bucketlist2Life

09.03.2021, 13:55

You'll understand once you read a Donna Leon book. They can be quite dark :D My inner child is alive and kicking!


09.03.2021, 13:24

Great collection of books! I have to admit I never heard of any of them, but I can see how it would inspire wanderlust!

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Carina | Bucketlist2Life

09.03.2021, 13:32

I think this list might be quite "European centric" - at least Astrid Lindgren. And Donna Leon is HUGE in Germany...

Under Flowery Sky

06.03.2021, 20:32

I didn't hear for thee book. Seacrow island sounds so interesting.
Thanks for recommending..

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Carina | Bucketlist2Life

06.03.2021, 20:40

You are very welcome!

Under Flowery Sky

06.03.2021, 20:33

these books

Beth Anne

06.03.2021, 19:28

Always love finding new travel book recommendations. I haven’t actually heard of any of these, though I know Pippy Longstocking, so thank you!

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Carina | Bucketlist2Life

06.03.2021, 19:44

If you know and like Pippi Longstocking you'll like Seacrow Island too!