Want to Travel? Read a Book

By Sarah Miller – Horizon News & Features Editor

After 16 weeks of homework assignments, tests, short nights and long days, winter break is just around the corner (finally!).

Just one more week before sleeping until noon, eating home-cooked meals and, for many, catching up on that always growing list of books to read. If you have one book or 10 books you want to read, winter break is a good time to read about what you love instead of required textbook reading.

As a book lover, it was embarrassing to come to college and spend what little free-time I had watching Netflix because I couldn’t handle thinking after a long day of classes and homework. I am proud to say that I finished one book (not for a class) over the course of this semester.

“Without Reservations: The Travels of an Independent Woman” is a poignant, inspiring travel memoir written by journalist Alice Steinbach. If this book doesn’t make you want to travel, nothing will.

Steinbach chronicles her nine months of travel through France, England and Italy with a series of postcards mailed back to herself.

“Dear Alice,” they all start, followed by the sights and sounds of her day and occasionally including a bit of insight into what she’s learned outside of her home.

“Over the years I had fallen into the habit–a quite natural one, I believe–of defining myself in terms of who I was to other people,” Steinbach writes in her introduction. “For while, at least, I wanted to stand back from these roles and see who emerged.”

In Paris, she meets a soulmate who appears multiple times in her story. She visits the graves of her literary heroes. She finds new friends who show her parts of Paris she would have never found otherwise.

With every description of tiny cafes dotting the streets of Paris, I’m drawn to the energy and adventure awaiting every traveler of this magical city. Steinbach finds a way to connect the senses of the city with the feelings of humans.

“Paris guards her inner beauty from the casual observer,” she writes in one of her postcards. “To find it one must looks beyond the facades. It is true of people also: their spirits exist behind their facades, beyond their words.”

Her journey continues to England, where more friendships form with exotic, exciting women, more strong, independent women of history are respected and more lavish parties with strangers.

In Oxford, England, she crosses paths with a young college student who teaches her an important lesson that accompanies her throughout her trip: mishap = excellent adventure. In the future, Steinbach learned the joy of finding a positive side to otherwise frustrating situations.

The next and final stop is Italy, where Steinbach slowly but surely finds her niche and comfort with the unknown. She seeks out the tiny adventures that add color to her travels. “When I approached the corner, I wondered: should I turn right? Or Left?” she wondered. “Then I realized it didn’t matter. Whatever was around the corner, I didn’t want to miss a minute of it.”

Steinbach’s way of exploring allows even the smallest events to be opportunities to learn. She embraces what she can gain instead of what can benefit her.

“At the beginning of this trip I was falling, I think,” Steinbach writes. “Now, even though my form is far from perfect, I am better able to dive into new waters, leaving behind barely a splash as I enter.”


If you’re searching for more books to enjoy over break or maybe to give as a gift to someone else, here’s a list of Sarah’s Top Book Choices:

  • Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
  • The Reading Group by Elizabeth Noble
  • A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
  • The Lost Girls by Amanda Pressner, Jennifer Baggett, and Holly C. Corbett
  • Is Everyone Hanging out WIthout Me? by Mindy Kaling


Professors’ Picks:

Heidi Hochstetler: Education

  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

Marelby Mosquera: Biology, Chemistry

  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
  • The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert

Donovan Tann: English

  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
  • Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

Karen LeVan: English

  • When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
  • The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby
  • Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy

Michele Hershberger: Bible/Ministry

  • Abba’s Child by Brennan Manning
  • New Kind of Christian by Brian McLaren


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