My slightly unusual travel companions (NOW without explosions)

Today I would like to write about a topic which isn’t too normal when talking about traveling and backpacking. They are normaly quite unhandy travelmates who are heavy and bulky, and therefore make you question yourself sometimes and why you still have them… No – I’m not talking about obese gnomes in your backpack who knot your earphones together or eat your socks so in the end there are just unmatching single ones left.

I’m talking about books. Since not everyone can aford e-readers, some of us have to buy, read and carry these lovely fucking paper anchors. Don’t worry, I won’t list the pros of the existence of books on earth and the benefits of literature for mankind (this might be a little obvious but there is nothing I love as much as books… after woman and music (and Tom who is definitely not spellchecking this) maybe) so in this blog I will only discuss some personal observations I’ve made in New Zealand.

Well… since you are now informed about my little book obsession and you are still reading this as you haven’t come to the conclusion that this isn’t a travel blog directed by Michael Bay and therefore as lame as doing your flatmates dirty dishes… here we go.

I was kind of surprised when I arrived in New Zealand to discover that a lot of hostels have a bookshelf, and furthermore it’s allowed and encouraged to exchange books. After a while I developed this obsessive habit of checking out the bookshelf of every hostel I spent some time in, because it would tell me a lot what kind of people passed by, much like a book in itself. The most obvious hint about the past inhabitants is obviously the languages on the covers, and since I was in New Zealand you can probably guess that there were heaps of books in German. But something else I surprisingly found in nearly every hostel was the good old Lonely Planet, because at some point a lot of backpackers must be questioning themselves over whether it’s worth carrying around half a dead tattooed tree, since they probably only used it 3 or 4 times (or maybe less) and after some rough curses while repacking their backpacks they decide to kindly donate the paper equivalent of the Amazon rainforest to the bookshelf. So if you want the feeling of pure unwanted/unloved existence I recommend to reincarnate as the latest edition of the Lonely Planet. But back to the language; besides the high population of English and German books I noticed something interesting… with a weird reliability I also found on nearly every shelf some Scandinavian literature. The most common was Swedish and Danish (just found a few Norwegian which was sad since I desperately tried not to forget my little knowledge about the language I had tried to learn a year before). This was quite weird since I’ve met more Scandinavian books than Scandinavians themselves. Maybe a Scandinavian soul turns into a book when it gets lost abroad (probably not the worst way to end your life (as long as you don’t become the Swedish lonely planet)). I also discovered some Hebrew books and some Chinese/Japanese ones.

But language is not the only interesting thing, it’s also what kind of literature was consumed by whom. The Asians have this understandable obsesssion with learning the English language, at least that’s something I would think about after seeing the amount of English teaching books. A general favourite of every nation are books about traveling, crime novels and other sorts of light entertainment. But besides these topics there is another one which seems to keep a lot of backpacker’s brains busy: spirituality, psychology and the truth about ourselves. Thats a big question – I know… but at the same time I had to smile, because this showed me that a lot of people who are traveling are looking for something. Love, friendship, wisdom; that special kind of knowledge about life you can only gain while practicing it. That might sound weird but when I see these kind of books I hope somehow that these seekers found their answers and therefore they could leave their book behind for some other jaded soul.

Since this is Indie Road I can’t just leave you here with my deep and superficial thoughts, so here is a short list of books which made me sneer a bit:

  • The small, Finnish pocket book version of 50 Shades of Grey, for sex scenes of questionable morality and bad grammar on the go.
  • A guide book about druidism (at this point I have to confess, that I still own this book).
  • The Bavarian cook book (like the exact same version my mother stores in her kitchen – I guess we all have a weird nostalgic feeling about things from home when we stumble upon them abroad).
  • The red book in the picture – because it’s one of my favourites (the author isn’t that well known outside of Germany I think) and I was quite supprised to spot it on Stewart Island – the fact that someone carried this wonderful book that far was quite heartwarming. Maybe because it felt like meeting an old friend again by accident
  • The Bible/Quran – Don’t get me wrong, everyone is free to believe whatever he/she/it wants but I just have to smile when I imagjne someone deciding to leave their holy book behind on a hostel shelf of all things, after they carried it for so long.
  • A French/Russian Dictionary (survival knowledge you need everyday in NZ).
  • An older edition of “Lord of the flies” which obviously belonged to a student ages ago since the pages were filled with heaps of notes about the story, characters and so on – this made it way easier to understand the plot, honestly!

So, my dear fellow travelers. At this point I have to ask you for a favour. If you are a book loving person who also enjoys his paper friends while traveling and you don’t mind leaving your finished literature behind: write a little note and stick it between the first pages. You could write a reference about the book (I dare you to write down any spoilers, because if you do so I might hunt you down in your dreams and slap you with a French dictionary) or just a simple greeting to the next owner of your book. I left a small note as well in the mentioned red book from the picture and I think it’s a nice experiment you’ll probably never know the outcome to. I’m pretty sure you can make somebody smile… besides that it’s pretty cool to leave a hidden message and you never know who might read it and when.
– Axel @ indieroad

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