The book you should read before visiting each of these 22 countries


Travel can do wonders for a person. It can open your eyes to other cultures and provide you with experiences you could never have anywhere else. At the same time, when visiting a place that’s drastically different from where you’re from, you may experience culture shock, a sense of disorientation that comes from being in a place with an unfamiliar way of life.

Which is why it’s smart to prepare yourself before you even step out the door, just to get a sense of what you might expect from a new-to-you place. To that end, Babbel writer Dylan Lyons asked international ambassadors which books travelers should read before visiting their country.

So before you head out, try these top reads:


Wolfgang A. Waldner recommends reading “The Tobacconist” before taking a trip to Austria. The book follows a 17-year-old boy who’s gone to Vienna to become an apprentice at a tobacco shop. Then conditions take a turn for the worst in Austria as Nazis arrive in Vienna.

“Its quiet wisdom and sincerity resonated with me very deeply,” Waldner told Babbel of the novel.



Elin Suleymanov recommends you read “Ali and Nino” before visiting Azerbaijan. The story revolves around two characters, a Muslim and a Christian, living in the Azerbaijani capital of Baku from 1918 to 1920. These characters eventually fall in love. The book has also been adapted into a film.



Kunzang C. Namgyel suggests reading “Treasures of the Thunder Dragon: A Portrait of Bhutan.” The book provides historic context of the Himalayan kingdom and has been updated to cover recent events, such as the introduction of parliamentary democracy for Bhutan.



David MacNaughton says you should read “With Faith and Goodwill: 150 years of Canada-U.S. Friendship” to reflect on Canada’s history before visiting the country.

“It is a beautiful collection of speeches, photographs and essays from Prime Ministers and Presidents that express our shared history (from Sir John A. Macdonald and Andrew Johnson to Justin Trudeau and Donald Trump),” he told Babbel.



Juan Gabriel Valdés recommends “La casa de los espíritus,” which translates to “The House of the Spirits.” The work of historical fiction follows a landowner and his daughter.



Juan Carlos Pinzón suggests reading “One Hundred Years of Solitude” by Gabriel García Márquez. It tells the story of the founding of the fictional town of Macondo with the lyricism that only poet Márquez could create.



Lars Gert Lose recommends giving “Smilla’s Sense of Snow” a read before heading to Denmark. It’s a murder mystery novel set in Copenhagen that, according to Lose, explores “Danish culture versus Greenlandic and the related issues of language and identity.”



Eerik Marmei suggests “The Man Who Spoke Snakish.” The book—about a boy tasked with preserving ancient traditions in the face of changing times—is written by a native of Estonia, and is very well-known and well-received among Estonia’s citizens.



Kirsti Kauppi recommends reading “Moomin” before traveling to Finland. According to her, the “Moomin” books play a large part in the lives of children growing up in Finland.

“The ‘Moomin’ books were originally written as fairy tales for children,” Kauppi told Babbel. “Their philosophic nature is universal and makes the books enjoyable for people of all ages and from all backgrounds. The carefree and friendly Moomins provide a warm-hearted reading experience, and are also an essential part of the childhood of every Finnish kid.”



Peter Wittig recommends trying “Tschick (Why we took the car)” before taking a trip to Germany. The book centers around two unlikely friends who “borrow” a car to take a road trip together. Who knows—it may inspire a German road trip of your own!



The Greek Embassy in Washington, which is led by Haris Lalacos, offers up “Freedom and Death” as the novel to read before visiting Greece. It paints a picture of Crete in the late 19th century, with conflict between the Greeks and the Turkish, Christianity and Islam.



Geir H. Haarde recommends reading “Independent People,” written by Nobel Prize-winning author Halldor Laxness. The story follows Bjartur who, after spending years in servitude, is trying to gain his independence. At the same time, his daughter wants independence from him.



Navtej Sarna’s book of choice is “Freedom at Midnight.” The book is built upon the interviews conducted by two journalists, who talked with hundreds who survived India’s fight for independence.



Anne Anderson says you should read “TransAtlantic” before coming to Ireland. The book is a fictional account of two pilots—Jack Alcock and Arthur Brown—who attempted to be the first to fly across the Atlantic to Ireland. Reading about their adventure will surely help get you ready for your own.



Audrey Patrice Marks recommends “Selected Poems” to give a sense of the Jamaican way of life, dialect and more.

“‘Selected Poems,’ written by iconic authority on Jamaican folklore, the Hon. Louise Bennett Coverley, O.M., O.J., M.B.E., Hon. D.Litt. – affectionately called ‘Miss Lou’ – captures the Jamaican dialect in a humorous and compelling way, providing unique and invaluable insights into the Jamaican culture and what it means to be [Jamaican],” she told Babbel.



Pierre Clive Agius suggests “In the Name of the Father (And of the Son)” be added to your reading list. The book’s narrator begins reading a diary of his father’s from when he was a soldier in World War II. His father has passed away by the time he reads the diary, but it causes him to question and explore the relationship he had with him.



Henne Schuwer recommends reading “The Embarrassment of Riches” in order to get a sense of how past and modern-day Netherlands compare.

“‘The Embarrassment of Riches’ is a wonderful account of the mentality in the Dutch Republic in the 17th century. As a Dutchman, I realize that mentality is still very much present in the Netherlands of today. Besides, if you drink your coffee on Sunday morning at one of the many cafés on the canals in Amsterdam and look around, you are transported back to the world which Schama so masterfully describes. Some things do not change,” Schuwer told Babbel.


New Zealand

Tim Groser recommends “The Whale Rider” to those who want to get in touch with nature before their visit. New Zealand is known for its incredible scenery, after all.



Kåre R. Aas recommends reading the “Harry Hole” series while preparing for your trip to Norway. The stories follow a “dedicated but disillusioned police detective,” according to Aas.



Božo Cerar suggests “I Saw Her That Night,” a story about the mysterious appearance of a young woman from Ljubljana during WWII.



Björn Lyrvall recommends a series of essays, “Nordic Ways,” that provide a range of perspectives and give a broad sense of the country of Sweden.

“‘Nordic Ways’ is a new anthology of essays, edited by Debra Cagan. It came out last fall and is representative of all five Nordic countries. It describes life in the North from different perspectives,” he told Babbel.


United Kingdom

Kim Darroch says “Atonement” is notable for its ability to capture moments in Britain’s history in an exceptionally accurate way, making it worth a read before coming to the United Kingdom.

“It addresses momentous themes — love, war, the hold of the past over the present — while capturing to perfection moments from Britain’s recent past, whether an English country house summer between the Wars, or the horrors of the retreat from Dunkirk,” she told Babbel.


Which country will you read/visit first?

Entertainment, Travel

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About the Author
Augusta Statz
I have a B.F.A. in Writing from the Savannah College of Art and Design. I’m an avid writer with a genuine sense of curiosity. I feel the best way to absorb the world around you is through fashion, art and food, so that’s what I spend most of my time writing about.

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