39 Books To Accompany A Travel Pilgrimage
Its been just over a year since we sold all the things and moved onto a tiny boat thinking we’d travel the world by sea doing some big thing for God by visiting His people to tell their stories. (That all changed, of course. God decided He had some pretty big things to work out in us instead, and if you’re new here, you can read more about all that here.)
Fast forward to a recent request by a friend of mine (hey Sonya!) who mentioned that she’d like to start a reading group on Facebook. While looking through some of the books I've read this past year for recommendations, I realized our epic travel journey includes some interesting themes worth sharing.
It's a lengthy post, but I've tried to lay it out so you can do lots of skipping around as you see fit. It'll give you some insight into how reading has shaped the internal part of our journey, but most importantly, I hope it provides inspiration for how reading can shape your pilgrimage wherever you may be right now.
Reading To Be With God
I try to spend a little time with God every day which means that I also like to spend a little time reading His love letter to me (the Bible) every day, too. This year, I’m using the English Standard Version simply because it’s what I have on my Kindle right now.
The other two titles in this section have kept me focused. A friend bought us Paul David Tripp’s daily devotional during that harrowing time period when we were really struggling with our decision to sail. And because I read a good deal of it through tears last year, I decided to use it again—this time hopefully with a little more ability to pay attention to its truths. (You know, because the tears aren’t blurring my vision this time around!)
To re-align my focus and priorities, I read through Tozer’s book about once a year. Because if I’m pursuing anything, it should be God, and The Pursuit of God impresses upon the reader timeless (and timely!) truths for believers. It’s a tiny book and a bit heady, but it packs a powerful punch.
Reading As A Glimpse Into Cultures
After making the epic change from sailing to traveling by plane, train, and automobile, I had grand ideas about crafting a global studies class for Autumn themed around each of the countries we’d be visiting. I envisioned a huge reading list of iconic ethnic novels coupled with reflective journal-writing and analytical papers.
In the end, though, I cut my expectations way back because instead of having her nose in a book, I wanted to make sure she’d have her mind fully engaged in the cultures at hand. Even so, we’re still dabbling with some cultural reads here and there.
The first is Jackson’s Track. We spent five weeks in Australia and made some great friends who currently live in Alice Springs, a remote town in Northern Territory. From these new friends, we learned a great deal about Australia’s Aboriginal people, the injustices committed against them, and the current political discussion that may lead to righting some of those wrongs. Our friends enjoy the company of, attend church with, and minister to an Aborigine tribe in Alice Springs, so when I came across Jackson's Track, I snatched it up right away.
A memoir, Jackson's Track details the true story of Daryl Tonkin, a white man married to an Aboriginal woman living in the bush during the 1940s-1950s. It’s both enlightening (to learn about how the Aboriginal tribes live on the land in the bush) and harrowing (to learn about how the tribes were mistreated and misunderstood by whites -- and Christian whites, at that). Highly recommend!
Loung Ung’s book, First They Killed My Father, is gaining fresh attention from the recent movie by the same name directed by Angelina Jolie. Autobiographical in nature, it details life under the rule of the brutal Khmer Rouge in Cambodia as described through the eyes of Loung Ung as a young child. Harrowing and heart-breaking, it provided a terribly clear perspective not only into what happened during the reign of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, but also into how the heavy trauma of war affects children. Our recent visit to Cambodia made this book come alive, and to have a friend there whose family likely underwent much of what this book describes drove this memoir into our hearts. Highly recommend!
Jamie C. Martin’s book Give Your Child the World provides some great ideas for introducing the globe and its people to kids, not the least of which is a ginormous annotated book list of quality literature from every continent. She has organized the lists first by geographic area, and then by ages (4-6; 6-8; 8-10; and 10-12). I bought this book after we began traveling, and therefore I didn’t have the luxury of using the library, which is a bummer because it would have been great to read these books while exploring each country we’ve visited. We use an app called Epic! which is a digital library, and so we’ve been able to read some of the titles while on the road. But I’m looking forward to using this book to peruse many of her recommended titles when we get back to a place with a library.
Reading About Pilgrimage
From selling just about all of our worldly possessions to moving onto a boat, and then changing direction completely to begin traveling the world together by plane, train and automobile, it became apparent to me almost from the get-go that our travel was no ordinary "holiday." I downloaded these titles as a study in how others have pilgrimaged in their lives.
In The Sacred Year, Michael Yankoski writes about his year of engaging in different spiritual practices such as the daily examen, gratitude, silence, and simplicity (among others) as he attempts depth with self, depth with God and depth with others. A practical read, the book set forth several doable spiritual practices that I’ve adapted for myself.
In the novel Chasing Francis, a megachurch pastor having a faith crisis flies to Italy to journey with a group of Franciscan friars to retrace the steps of Francis of Assisi. Though fictional, Ian Morgan Cron’s novel sets forth fascinating (and true!) history of Francis of Assisi, and the dialogues between the protagonist and the friars go deep. This book made me think much about authentic, deep-souled faith, and how “pilgrimage is a way of praying with your feet.” We’ve done a lot of “praying with our feet” this year, and this book set the tone for our journey. I especially like the study guide at the back and would love to do a group read of this title when we return to the States.
Finally, Prayer has become a devotional of sorts. I especially like the subtitle: Finding the Heart's True Home coupled with its organization into three sections that have me moving first inward, then upward, and finally outward.
If I've learned anything on this journey, it's that pilgrimage moves each of us (even Eden!) first inward, then upward, and finally outward. The whole book is an invitation to pray and an exploration of prayer all wrapped up into one book with many easily accessible descriptions of different types of prayer such as simple, formation, meditative and contemplative prayer as well as prayers of tears, adoration, rest, healing, and suffering (and many more). It has been a great companion to jump-start my prayer life on this journey.
Reading To Know & Support My Friends
Every once in a while, a friend of mine writes a book, and I get the privilege of reading it and promoting it with a review or two. This year, three friends birthed books!
Michele Howe and I met years and years ago at a Panera Bread near Toledo, Ohio where she both inspired me to write and schooled me about the freelance writing market. A prolific writer, Shelley (as her friends call her) has written many books, but this one about being a GRANDparent is one of my favorites for its practical ideas and gentle encouragement to those given the honor of becoming grandparents. Many of my friends are on the cusp of grandparenthood, and it will be my go-to gift to them when their grand-babies are born!!
Ashleigh Slater and I first met online when I coordinated posts at For the Family, and then we grew a little closer when I began contributing to her site entitled Ungrind. As providence would have it, our families were able to meet face to face at her home in the Atlanta, Georgia area, and WOW what a whirlwind of words and depth of connection we were able to develop in just a few hours! All this to say that Ashleigh is the “real deal,” and her book Braving Sorrow Together is both raw and vulnerable (as she shares many personal stories of sadness), but also redemptive and applicable (as she presents so many practical ideas for how we can “brave sorrow together.”) Oh… and I am honored to have written a little excerpt in this book, too. :)
I “met” Ruth Chou Simons only through cyberspace -- again when I was coordinating posts at For the Family where she was a contributor, and I was blown away by her vulnerability and transparency not only in her posts but also in the few exchanges we had online. She’s a creative whose visual giftedness and linguistic prowess exponentially encourage fellow sojourners in their spiritual walks. Her book, Gracelaced, is lovely to the eyes, to the mind and to the soul. It would make a fantastic gift for a girlfriend in need of encouragement.
Reading As A Way To Prepare For Travel
When we changed gears from sailing to traveling the world, we picked up The Rough Guide to First Time Around the World which provided excellent, practical tips for world travel (just like the title suggests, lol). It reads like a travel guide, except instead of learning deeply about one destination, it’s a survey of the globe with some great advice about how to traverse it well.
Because we’re obviously traveling as a family, we also picked up Tsh Oxenreider’s At Home in the World which is a memoir of her family’s one-year trip around the world. From it, we gleaned much not only about the various locations to which they traveled, but also about the gamut of emotions they experienced from day to day and the range of activities in which they engaged (i.e. school and work while on the road). Additionally, she expresses that while they “feel at home in the world,” they also “feel like Alice falling down a rabbit hole”; and that “without a foundation underneath four walls, we identify with everywhere and nowhere.” These sentiments resound deeply with our souls as well! This book as well as Tsh’s website entitled The Art of Simple and podcast aptly named The Simple Show provide great insights for families wanting to travel… or for families wishing to live vicariously through those who do. (If you visit Tsh's two sites specifically for travel information, be sure to search for travel-related posts and podcasts as they are a subset in her overall theme of living simply.)
You may be wondering why I included Night under this heading. The first two titles assisted us in preparing for the trip as a whole. Some specific destinations, however, require a little extra preparation, I think, and a trip to Auschwitz is one of them. Mitch, Autumn & I are each reading Night to make ready our hearts for what we will encounter at Auschwitz in a few weeks. Elie Wiesel's stark and candid writing style succinctly details his survival as a teenager in Nazi death camps. It's a harrowing but important read, and one surely to set the tone for our visit to the notorious concentration camp.
Reading To Slow Down
When we moved onto the boat, the pace of our lives changed dramatically. I discovered that I had a bit of an addiction—an unhealthy need, if you will—to be busy, to have a full calendar, to be doing all.the.things with all.the.people.
As boat dwellers in a new place, we suddenly had very little on our schedules, no local friends with whom to engage, no activities to which we needed to rush our kids, no project deadlines to meet, no work demands to handle.
At first, we had a much needed rest, but then we became antsy and felt out of sorts and maybe sensed a little emptiness. Both of these books helped me to appreciate the slower pace and to be mindful of living more intentionally. And when our lives get back to some semblance of “normal” after this travel pilgrimage, I'm sure I'll be re-visiting these titles again. Like the subtitle to Chasing Slow suggests, creating our own normal will require continued courage to journey off the beaten path.
Reading To Understand The Deeper "Why" Of Life
After realizing that boat life wasn’t a good match for our family dynamic, we figured that maybe we misread God’s plan. Right about that time, my friend sent us Tony Evans’ book Detours which helped us to understand how our path to the sailing life may have simply been a “detour” of growth, a necessary diversion for some different purpose He has in our future. If you feel like your life is on an uncomfortable trajectory, maybe God has you on a detour, too. This book may help you to see that indirect path with fresh eyes.
Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning is a memoir that not only details Frankl's experience in Nazi death camps, but also offers a unique and important psychological analysis of how we can best face suffering. (Hint: it has to with seeing a purpose in all we're facing -- even when facing extreme suffering.) Wow was this a good read. It's a bit heady in places, but his insights -- formed by experiences in the most harrowing of circumstances -- are credible and important and relevant for us all.
Thin Places surprised me! It's poetic and beautiful, vulnerable and deep. It's a memoir where Mary DeMuth revisits monumental "thin places" of her past -- experiences that "are snatches of holy ground, tucked into the corners of our world, where, if we pay very close attention, we might just catch a glimpse of eternity." She describes living "in the midst of holy moments, yet only in retrospect" is she really able to see them. OH how I can relate to the sentiments she describes here! I loved her ability to look at the hard places in her life to see the "deeper why" and the way God spoke especially intimately to her through them.
Reading A Few Classics
I think most people know about each of these books, so I won't rehash them here. Suffice it so say, though, that I'm making a commitment to read more classic literature -- literature that deals more deeply with the human condition and the grand themes of life. It's just good for the soul. :) And for whatever reason, the themes of such titles speak louder and clearer when far from home and journeying the world.
Reading to Understand Myself
Its only been recently -- maybe over the last five years or so? -- that I've gained the courage to call myself "writer." However, writing does not come easy for me. It takes me an inordinate amount of time to hone in on what it is I want to say, and then it takes me hours to get the words just right. How can I work smarter? faster? better? I've wondered often. Enter Charles Duhigg's book. I gleaned quite a lot of philosophical and practical ideas from him regarding how to see motivation as choices (not chores), to foster better focus by naming expectations for a work session, and to encourage creativity by observing more closely my own experiences and combining old ideas in new ways. It's a good read and will remain a resource for the months to come as I attempt to write about our travel pilgrimage.
Pray, Write, Grow details one person's attempt at writing to improve his prayer life, and praying to improve his writing life. I'm fascinated by this concept and how the disciplines of both praying and writing blend together.
And then... there's the enneagram! I've only just started dabbling in the topic of the enneagram, and my dabbling began with these two books. I'm a "7," I think: an "adventurer," an "enthusiast." I have so much more to learn about myself and others, and the enneagram will be a good tool, I think. For sure, I understand already why the idea of selling everything, buying a boat, learning to sail, failing to sail, and then deciding to travel around the world was just the kind of crazy that set my heart aglow. :)
Reading to Remember Tomorrow Isn’t Guaranteed
More than once, Mitchell and I second-guessed decisions that brought us to these places far outside of our comfort zones. Second-guessing, though, brings about all kinds of unnecessary darkness. Reading Kara Tippetts' The Hardest Peace (a story where she quite literally faces death) reminded me that life is short with no guarantees: no guarantees that we'll make "right" decisions... and no guarantees that we'll live to see every decision played out in all its potential glory (or defeat). In short, ain't nobody got time for second-guessing!
Kara, her body riddled with a cancer that ultimately takes her life, speaks of her illness to one of her children through tears: "I told her my prayers were to remain beside her, but that if the answer isn't yes, to trust God that the story is good." And that, in a nutshell, is Kara's message to us all: that whatever comes, we can "trust God that the story is good."
The second title, Just Show Up, provides excellent, practical suggestions of how we can come alongside one another through suffering.
I highly recommend both books as trustworthy companions for facing life's hard stuff -- whatever that hard stuff may be.
"Blind Date" Reading
I wouldn’t normally have picked up either of these books.
False Impression is way outside my typical reading pattern, for example, because 1) it’s a whodunnit mystery, and 2) it’s set in the world of art, neither of which typically captures my interest. But when we were in Fiji, a gal in the office where we stayed -- Ragni -- strongly recommended it, so I gave it a whirl. In the end, I’m glad I read this book. It was a quick read, and it gave me insight into my Fijian acquaintance… which was priceless!
The Nightingale was left behind at one of our apartments in Italy. I casually read the first chapter and subsequently couldn't put the thing down! It's historical fiction set in and around Paris during WWII, and it details the varied and important roles of women in the resistance to Nazi occupation of France through two sisters with contrasting personalities. As our trip to Auschwitz (and later to Paris) looms near, this book provides another lens through which to remember this terrible part of the world's history. I put this on Autumn's reading list. Highly recommend!!
Reading To Discover An Avenue For Purpose
At some point in this journey, we realized that we couldn't keep traveling indefinitely. While some families do travel full-time -- and actually make a living doing it -- we knew that our travels would likely come to an end sooner than later because we'd eventually need to land somewhere solid again to launch Autumn off to college.
But the world is our oyster, as they say, and we'd really like to end up in space that makes our souls happy. We want to be doing work that we know we're meant to do, work that we can look to as an outpouring of love (as Tsh Oxenreider has said), and work where we can truly be most ourselves.
In the beginning of The Art of Work, Jeff Goins says that a calling "is the thing you never thought it would be, the twist in the plot that makes everything else come together, and somehow in the end you cannot imagine otherwise." And then, in his conclusion, Goins says, "Your calling is not a destination. It is a journey that doesn't end until you die." And in the pages between, he includes gems related to the importance of failure and how sometimes we're called to something old rather than new. It's a book I'll read and re-read. It has been, and will continue to be, an important title for this pilgrimage and beyond.
Shannon Martin's Falling Free complements The Art of Work. She speaks of being rescued from the life she always wanted (see subtitle) and delivered into a much harder but more fulfilling space. She and her husband live in little Goshen, Indiana, not far from where I grew up. I love how she lays down her dream of living a safe, cozy, comfortable life on a farm for a tiny house on the "wrong side of the tracks," all so she can better fulfill God's purpose: to love Him and to love His people -- especially the often ignored folks on the fringes of society.
Love Does is one of those iconic books where, after reading it, you feel compelled to DO something. And, as the title suggests, the thing Bob Goff inspires us to do is to love. How? By DOING. He points out that we spend an inordinate amount of time talking about love, and a lot less time doing it, and his encouragement is simple: love is something we should do. On this journey, we’ve experienced people doing love in big ways. We’ve had friends and family house us for months, rent-free; we’ve had complete strangers treat us to a whirlwind tour of their city for a whole day; we’ve had new friends invite us for copious amounts of pizza and wine where our kids could run free together with theirs all evening long; we’ve had hosts bring us fresh eggs and homemade cookies & cakes as they pull up a chair to chat; we’ve had friends back in the States take gifts to my dad in our stead for his 80th birthday. People have loved us big, and in so doing, they’ve taught us how to love big, too. Bob Goff has it right… real and ordinary love becomes extraordinary when it becomes a love that does.
We're still not sure what God has for us in terms of our "what's next," but these titles inspire me to a broader openness for exploration.
Reading to Learn A New Skill
It’s strange to think that both Mitch and I read these books AND took tests on them a little over a year ago. For anyone wanting to learn basic sailing terminology and safety, I’d definitely recommend these titles with the exception that the “Made Easy” part is basically a lie. Because unless you’ve grown up around boats your whole life, there isn’t anything “easy” about learning how to sail! What a big fat bummer that we had to learn this the hard way, LOL!
That's the end of my reading list, although anyone who knows me knows that the thing will just continue to grow and grow! A wise friend once told me that pilgrimage is where we ALL are -- whether we journey around the world, across town, or from within the four walls of our cozy homes. (Shout out to the always-insightful Pat Nicholls.)
Happy sojourning, friends! If you have must-read titles to add to this list of pilgrimage reads, please, PLEASE share the titles and why they mean so much to you. I'd love to learn from your journey as well!
*** By the way... some of these links here are affiliate links meaning that if you click on them and make a purchase, we'll get a few cents -- at no additional cost to you. :)