Will travel for books

Used bookstore in Bath, UK

Bookstore in Bath, UK

Reading a book is, for me, like taking a mini-vacation. Even when life is good, who couldn’t use a little escape from days filled with writing deadlines, appointments, carpool, kids’ homework, grocery shopping, and cleaning (assuming I were inclined to clean)?

What I like even better is to combine reading with travel. I don’t just mean reading on the beach—though, don’t get me wrong, I’m fully on board for that any time—I mean reading about places you’ve been and visiting places you’ve read about.

It’s fun when an author sets a book in a town or region you’ve lived in or visited, and you can clearly “see” every location the characters move through. One of the many reasons I love to travel is for that extra layer of familiarity with a book or movie’s setting that makes you feel like an insider. And nothing beats visiting a place you’ve read about dozens of times and finally seeing it with your own eyes.

There’s a reason why people flock to Harry Potter-themed tours of London and DaVinci Code tours of Paris and London. We love to connect with the books we read, and setting helps us do that.

The Thames

The Thames

Now that I’ve been to New York City, I can picture the financial district, Central Park, and Brooklyn and understand where they all are in relation to each other.

Broadway & Wall Sts

Broadway & Wall Sts

I’ve lived in the Washington, D.C. suburbs twice now, which is a great place for fans of thrillers to live or visit. Just about everything Vince Flynn or David Baldacci has ever written is centered in and around D.C., not to mention our very own Rachel Grant’s book Concrete Evidence.

The Capitol

The Capitol

Sue Grafton’s alphabet mysteries became even more enjoyable after I lived on California’s central coast. Once I’d spent some time in Santa Barbara, I understood how her fictional town of Santa Theresa could be so small (by my suburban girl standards anyway) and yet have so many wealthy residents and so much crime. And I loved it when Q Is For Quarry took lead character Kinsey Millhone to Lompoc, and up my way to Santa Maria.

It’s rare to read a romantic suspense with Navy SEALs without getting some San Diego highlights. I lived there for two years in college and have visited several times since. I can picture most of its beaches, imagine walking by the famous Hotel Del Coronado, and—thanks to my Navy dad and Air Force husband, even remember strolling on the sands of Naval Air Station North Island.

I did not, unfortunately, encounter any Navy SEALs. Sadly, I didn’t even know they existed when I lived there. 😉

Hotel Del Coronado

Hotel Del Coronado
Photo by Ctorbann (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

I’m a firm believer that it’s not a great year unless I’ve used my passport, so I get a special thrill out of reading books with foreign settings that I’ve visited. And this summer was especially fun because I’m such an avid reader of Regency historical romances set in England.

Not only was it my second visit to London, but this time we did a whole UK tour. Ever wondered what Gretna Green—where lovers often eloped in the early 19th century—looks like?

Gretna Green blacksmith's shop

Gretna Green blacksmith’s shop

Countryside near Gretna Green

Countryside near Gretna Green

Or the fashionable Mayfair district where all good families seem to reside during “the Season”?



Just after returning home from our trip in August, I read The Arrangement by Mary Balogh. In the very beginning, the hero “hides out” from his family for several weeks in the Lake District, specifically Lake Windemere. Hey, I was just there! Maybe you can imagine my excitement.

Lake Windemere

Lake Windemere

When Regency ladies take leave from their country estates to visit the milliner in York, or dowager aunts head off to Bath to “take the waters”, I can picture the narrow streets where they shopped and the yellow stone of the quaint city along the Avon.

The Shambles in York

The Shambles in York

The River Avon in Bath

The River Avon in Bath

And speaking of the UK, fans of Alexander McCall Smith’s Isabel Dalhousie series should take a trip to Edinburgh. I couldn’t have imagined what a fabulous mixture of ancient and modern, urban and wilderness this seaside town would be.

Old Town Edinburgh

Old Town Edinburgh

Reading books about places I haven’t been opens new worlds to me. Reading about places I have been enriches the experience and the memories, taking me down new streets and giving me a deeper understanding of the city or landscape.

I’d love to hear your own experiences of favorite trips that enriched your reading, or books that made you feel like an insider.

About Gwen Hernandez

Author of SCRIVENER FOR DUMMIES & the Men of Steele romantic suspense series. Manufacturing engineer turned writer. Scrivener instructor, runner, reader, explorer, Kung Fu sifu, AF spouse, mom, vegan. gwenhernandez.com

Posted on October 15, 2013, in Gwen Hernandez and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.

  1. I used to be a huge historical romance reader (especially medieval Highland romances) before switching to reading primarily romantic suspense, so my solo trip through Scotland–particularly the many days I spent in various parts of the Highlands and Skye–was great craic and really made all those books come alive! If it weren’t for the horrendous UK weather, I’d move to Edinburgh in a heartbeat :).

    I love visiting places I’ve read about or reading books set in places I’ve been to– it adds a whole other dimension to the experience!

  2. I just returned from two weeks in Florence, Italy and re-read the great Irving Stone biography of Michelangelo “The Agony and the Ecstasy”. That book brought the city alive for me! I saw all the churches he worked in, worshiped in, and the buildings he watched being built. Every street, every museum, every palace was mentioned in the book in a very real way from Michelangelo’s POV. I kept expecting him to just show up with a chisel in one hand and a paint brush in another.
    Then, when I took the train through Carerra’s white marble quarries, I could just imagine him picking out the most perfect block with which to build the David.
    Great book and a great city to visit!

    • Your trip sounds fabulous, Sharon! I remember reading a book several years ago about an art student who goes to Florence and gets mixed up in some kind of mystery, but it was the author’s descriptions of the city and its magic that stuck with me. I was so excited to finally see the city with all its red roofs, hidden piazzas, and rolling green hills…

      I’ll have to check out Irving Stone’s book. Sounds fascinating. 🙂

    • How COOL, Sharon! I’ll have to read that (and go to Florence of course…)

  3. Gwen, you’ve hit the memory lode with this post. The tour industry has caught on to the fact we readers like to explore the ‘real’ settings for fiction characters. A highlight for me was a visit to Scotland, searching for some of Jamie and Claire’s haunts-Gibaldon’s Outlander series.

    Settings inspire me to write, I find. When I visited Petersburg, Alaska, I HAD to write a novel about it! Thanks for the post!

    • Rolynn: Oh, yeah, I should have thought of Outlander. I’m inspired to write by my trips too, though I sometimes worry that I’ll get things wrong and readers will cry foul. It’s so easy to show your ignorance of a place without realizing it. For example, I was recently reading a book by a big-name author, and she had a University of Virginia alumna call it U of V. But around here everyone calls it UVA.

      Still, I’m itching to write a book set in Lucerne. Guess my characters will have to be tourists… 😉

      BTW, Petersburg, Alaska sounds interesting. AK is on our l-o-n-g list of places to visit. Until then, I enjoy reading about it. 🙂

  4. That was absolutely wonderful for me…and I wasn’t even a part of your adventures. You took me THERE (Gretna Green and the Mayfair District of particular delight!), and made me feel like an “insider”. Thank you!

    My travel experiences are limited, but I intend to remedy that. We were just in Palm Springs over the summer and I searched for Adrian (the vampire) from Richelle Mead’s Bloodlines series. Crazy setting for a creature of the night, I know, but he’s one swoon-worthy character worth finding! 😀

    Loved this personal piece!

    • Aw, thanks, Carmen! I’m glad you enjoyed it. As for Palm Springs, I love when stories are set in unexpected places like that. I probably would have been searching for Adrian too. 😉

  5. Oh my gosh, Gwen! That’s the blog of the year. (We may as well disband right now.) 🙂

    Love the pictures that accompany the genre or specific book! Well done!

    I admit to combing Rome with “Angel’s and Demon’s” in my purse. Felt geeky until I noticed 6 other couples wandering around a piazza with worn paperback copies too, LOL! (They had not started giving the Dan Brown Tours yet, we were on our own.)

    Karin Slaughter does a wonderful job of describing the vast array of neighborhoods in ATL. I think Darynda Jones does for New Mexico too, but I’ve never been there.

    • LOL, Sarah, not sure about blog post of the year, but I had fun writing it. I won’t tell you how long I spent reliving my travels…er, sorting through photographs. 😉

      And then we were watching the first episode of Parks and Recreation, Season 6 (cuz we’re behind like that), last night and they were in London and Scotland. We were all, “Ooh, ooh, we were right there!” We’re such dorks about it.

      Love that you took Angels and Demons with you to Rome!

  6. This summer, I did a driving tour of Northern California and Central Oregon while I was reading WILD, Cheryl Strayed’s account of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. Reading about Strayed’s experiences on the trail enriched my own trip and enjoyment of the book as I recognized landmarks like Shasta Mountain and the Rogue River in the Siskiyou National Forest. Imagine my excitement when I spotted PCT hikers at Crater Lake and watched them plot their course from the rim of the lake (btw one of the most beautiful places on Earth) around Red Cone. And then another PCT hiker at McKenzie Pass lava fields hitchhiking into to town (presumably to resupply before continuing on to Washington).

    Gwen, loved the virtual tour! Did you ever read any of the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde? It takes lost in a good book to a new level as literary detection agent Thursday Next fights crimes against literature such as villains kidnapping protagonists like Jane Eyre or Mr. Quaverly from their stories.

    • Krista: That would be great. I’m going to have to make sure that next time I travel I have a location-related book along. Or at least read one before I go. I’m heading to NJ this weekend. Maybe I should pull out a Stephanie Plum? 😉

      I’ve never read the Thursday Next series, but it sounds fascinating. Will add it to my list. Thanks!

  7. Love this, Gwen! I haven’t traveled much – we went to Scotland, Germany, and Italy on our honeymoon, and Sint Maarten for a field project, and that’s pretty much the extent of my foreign travels. (Canada doesn’t count since I live closer to it than I do to Oregon.) I want to go back to all of those places, but there are so many more places I want to visit.

    I’m currently researching Eastern Turkey for my next book and so itching to go there. I want to see Lake Van and all the amazing archaeological sites in the region. But… maybe not right now with the area I’m writing about being so close to Syria. I am nervous though, about doing the setting justice since I’ve never been there. Thank goodness for documentaries, Google Earth, and You Tube!

    Thanks for the shout out for Concrete Evidence. 🙂 I love setting books in D.C. and have several more planned. Can’t wait to visit the city again.

    Krista, I also have to agree about Crater Lake. Absolutely stunning. The first time I saw it was from an airplane on a clear day. The water was so blue, it went right on my bucket list as a place I had to see. Finally visited with my family in 2011 and it was amazing.

    • Rachel: Those are some great places to have visited! Turkey sounds daunting to me. Anything in that part of the world freaks me out a bit right now–whether justified or not. I’ve heard wonderful things about Turkey from those who were stationed there, though. Can’t wait for your next book!

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