Movies, Books Inspire Travel to Arabia and Beyond

Cruise Flashback; Galveston to Dubai 2013

Petra/Wadi Rum, Jordan; May 14, 2013  

MARCH 5, 2021, DALLAS – When I first saw the film Lawrence of Arabia decades ago, the desert environment captivated me. Sure, there was romanticism to the epic story, but I wanted to see the real places where it happened.

So eight years ago when we cruised to Aqaba, Jordan, my primary objective was to immerse myself in Wadi Rum.

Wadi Rum Watercolor, 2018

Wadi is Arabic for valley, and Wadi Rum is sometimes called the valley of the moon. It is among the places T.E. Lawrence fought during the 1917-1918 Arabic revolt. Lawrence titled his book about the experience “The Seven Pillars of Wisdom,” and a distinct rock formation there took on the name.

We only had a couple of hours to explore Wadi Rum from the beds of compact pickup trucks, as our full-day tour had started with Petra. Royal Caribbean didn’t offer an excursion combining the two famous sites, so I joined some fellow cruisers for an independent tour. My original blog post does a decent job of describing the day, so I won’t recap it here.

This wasn’t the first time that a movie or book piqued my interest in new places or experiences. After reading “My Old Man and the Sea” a few years ago (not to be confused with Hemingway’s more famous book with a nearly identical title), I couldn’t wait to sail Cape Horn at the southern tip of South America. Bill Bryson’s “In a Sunburned Country” has me dreaming of exploring Australia beyond the few coastal ports I’ve visited.

I wish I had prepared better for some of my journeys by immersing myself before arriving, whether through fiction or non-fiction, books or movies. I always have the best of intentions, but I either find myself racing to stay ahead of my voyage or reading about a place long after I’ve left.

Now I believe there isn’t a right or wrong approach. By reading ahead, I can focus my time there on what really interests me. But when reading afterward, I know exactly what the writer is describing. I’m transported back in time to the place I’ve already visited.

I’m not talking about travel guides. They are great for logistics. What I want are wonderful stories that immerse me into these places.

Fellow world cruiser Suzy, who has lived and worked in many interesting places that are off the beaten tourist path, recently asked our online 2022 World Cruise group what books we recommend reading to prepare for our destinations. She cited David McCullough’s “The Path Between the Seas.” I immediately remembered listening to the audio version about the challenges of constructing the Panama Canal during a long road trip years ago. Perhaps I will need to review it before I finally transit the canal myself in early 2022.

The “problem” with a world cruise is that there are so many locations to read about. With 27 countries on the 2022 World Cruise itinerary, I hardly know where to start. “Reading on Location” by Luisa Moncada and Scala Quin is a good reference, with its lists of books by continent and country. Of course, we have no idea where we actually will go or even if we even will go.

But that’s the great thing about reading and traveling. I’m eager to read about the places I plan to go, but also to add more locations to my list.

So please leave a comment to share your recommendations of favorite books (and movies) that will entice us to expand our travel horizons. I can’t wait to see – and read — what you suggest.

Original Petra/Wadi Rum post, 2013