READING can enrich your travel experience and transform your getaway into an adventure of a lifetime.
I have just returned from a two-week trip to Egypt a couple of weeks ago. As I posted snippets of my visits to historical monuments around Cairo and other places on my Instagram, I received messages asking how I knew so much about those sites.
My Egyptian friend, with whom I stayed, made a joke that I probably knew more about them than her.
There is no secret: I read up extensively on the places I plan to visit weeks beforehand and also while I travel.
I don’t know if it is common practice to do so, but reading is one of the ways I mentally prepare myself before I embark on any journey to an unfamiliar place.
A month or two before I set off, I will purchase a few books on the specific sites I plan to visit in order to familiarise myself with my soon-to-be surroundings.
Some people may argue that you can simply get to know a place while you are there and while that is true, prior reading gives an even richer background story to the new environment you are in.
I often find myself not retaining as much information from the tour guide as I would like to.
For a nerd like me, it is annoying that I learn to appreciate the importance of a place only once I have left it.
This is why I like to do some background reading beforehand.
Travelling is a monumental privilege and it should be used as an opportunity for learning and to better oneself on top of having a great time.
I like to make it a priority to learn about the country I am visiting because I find it wasteful to travel somewhere and return as the exact same person that I was when I set off.
Back in the days of travelling, people would keep a journal and write detailed entries of their observations in a new country.
People were curious about new cultures, something I think the birth of the Internet has made us lose genuine curiosity for the unknown. That type of curiosity cannot be quenched with a quick Google search.
Most of the places I visited in Egypt had great historical and religious significance — I made it a point to understand its history so that I could truly appreciate the time I spent over there.
I love getting excited about the place I will be exploring, and perhaps, only an over-imaginative bookworm will understand this — it is thrilling to know the events that unfolded then or the kind of people that once walked the land you are on.
Imagine how I felt walking on the dusty paths around Egypt: Prophets, pharaohs and some of the greatest Muslim scholars once walked the very path I was on. That kind of appreciation for a place cannot be felt if you have no prior knowledge of the country.
Reading before and during my travels is one of the ways I make sure I gain an educational experience while I travel.
It is one thing to say you have been somewhere but another thing to say that you truly experienced the place.
To experience a place, you need to have an understanding of the people and their culture — to know all of that, you need to do your homework.
I have enjoyed all my adventures around Egypt so far because they weren’t in vain. I delved in their world: I ate as many local dishes as possible, I spoke Arabic as much as I was capable of and I took interest in their local customs.
Things like knowing their football teams, how the ladies style their hijab and what they think of their local politics can really help you paint a picture of the minds of a local. A little advice though: talking about politics in Egypt will open a Pandora’s Box, so you may want to delay or dodge that topic altogether.
If you are a long-time Instagram or blog follower of mine, you would know that I was also in Egypt and Morocco at the end of last year.
Setting foot in Egypt for the first time was a huge deal for me because I grew up reading plenty of books on ancient Egypt.
Never in my life did I actually think I would travel to Egypt and now, I have done so twice!
As a child, it was the beliefs and cultural practices of the ancient Egyptians that fascinated me.
As an undergraduate, I had to observe the political uprisings in Egypt as a weekly assignment.
At this point in my life, I am still interested in all those things but with an added spiritual dimension. Reading can open your mind to new worlds. Perhaps, it can even draw you to places you never thought would interest you.
I, for one, am ready to put down my books on ancient Greece and discover the heavenly archipelago already.
Which country are you itching to discover?
The writer is a freelance writer, a blogger at www.dearsarina.com and is currently studying Arabic. She is a millennial trying to make a difference, starting with herself