Since I was a child, I’ve been entranced by two things: books and faraway places.

Though I didn’t leave the country until I was 15, I explored as much as possible without going anywhere. I read stacks of books. I took my red wagon to the library. I called an empty closet my ‘travel room’, where I pasted up a world map and stacked shelves with my parent’s old National Geographics.

I’ve always been a bookworm, delving into worlds I’d never know — from Tolkien’s Middle Earth to the American prairies of late 19th century. But as I grew older, I became increasingly interested in the world outside my Midwestern bubble.

The Little Mermaid in Copenhagen, one of the sites I most wanted to see as a child

Once I became a teenager, I traveled as much as time and money would allow. I backpacked the Andes and lived with a Spanish family in Andalusia. I hopped on and off trains throughout Europe.

I couldn’t get enough. Travel set me on fire — I was as desperate for it as I was for books when I was a kid.

Over the years, I’ve noticed I’m not the only reader-cum-traveler. I’ve met many travelers who also happen to be readers. Which makes sense. After all, being immersed in a book isn’t that different from being immersed in a foreign country; they both offer portals to new worlds. Both require imagination and empathy.

20 unique photos of Scotland

I don’t really travel for the sites or scenery (though they can be wonderful, of course). I travel to understand how other people live; to speak foreign languages and try new foods. To learn about a new way of life.

When you’re in a faraway place, even the mundane can captivate you: French street signs, newspapers written in Cyrillic, Italian voices on the radio. I’m endlessly fascinated by this — how when you’re in a foreign place, the quotidian becomes novel. In a way, it’s like being a child again.

Are you a reader and a traveler, too?

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Ashley Fleckenstein

Ashley is a travel and lifestyle blogger who lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Since college she has au paired in Paris, backpacked the world solo, and lived in Uganda. Her work has been featured by Buzzfeed, Forbes, TripAdvisor, and Glamour Magazine.
Ashley Fleckenstein