Reading can really take you anywhere, and there’s nothing better than a good book to pass the time on a long flight, road trip, or train ride. So we have compiled a list of some of the best travel books that will keep you company on your journey around the world.
The books below are sorted in alphabetical order and the ones marked with a star (★) are our favorite travel books.
A Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost
Rachel Friedman’s coming-of-age memoir reminds us to live for the moment. In an effort to prolong “adulting”, the straight-laced good girl surprises everyone when she books a trip to Ireland on a whim. Encouraged by an adventurous Australian, she continues to discover more about herself as she takes a year-long journey that spans three continents.
A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush
Feeling restless with his London fashion career, 36-year-old Eric Newby impulsively heads to a remote corner of northeast Afghanistan to tackle the Hindu Kush and Mir Samir. Enlisting friend Hugh Carless for the trek, they make a brief stop for mountaineer training in North Wales, make another quick stop in Istanbul, and endure a treacherous drive across Turkey and Persia before beginning their walk in the Panjshir Valley. Their hardships are described comically as they find themselves in unique situations that begin to take their toll physically and mentally.
A Tourist in the Arab Spring
While everyone else was pressing their way out, Tom Chesshyre was booking his ticket in to experience the Arab Spring revolutions as a tourist. With no political agenda, he journeyed to Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt to explore and to see popular tourist attractions. In this humorous and touching story, Chesshyre was excited by the energy of the people and their willingness to take time and talk with him.
A Walk in the Woods ★
This humorous autobiography tells the tale of Bill Bryson’s unsuccessful attempt to walk the Appalachian Trail. With sparkling lakes, picturesque mountains, and majestic forests, the Appalachian Trail boasts some of America’s greatest terrain throughout its 2,200-mile stretch from Maine to Georgia. One of the best travel books for nature lovers, Bryson introduces us to some of the ecology, sociology, and history of the trail, as well as some of the quirky folks he meets along his route.
A Week at the Airport
In the summer of 2009, Alain de Botton was appointed as Heathrow’s Writer-in-Residence. Given unprecedented access, de Botton took a hard look at the place where many of us spend hours, but never really take the time to see. He spoke with everyone from travelers to senior executives to the airport chaplain to airline staff. Out of those conversations and his own observations, he compiled an insightful look into the magical and the mundane that creates the life of an airport and the people in it.
A Year in Provence
Reading Peter Mayle’s best-selling memoir is almost like vacationing in the South of France. Following his dreams, he moved into a 200-year-old stone farmhouse in the Luberon with his wife and two dogs. In a tempo governed by seasons, not days, renovation work, visits to delectable restaurants, and local customs are features of this book that is sure to give you some good laughs.
This classic records the remarkable journey of Wilfred Thesiger’s travels across the Empty Quarter of the Arabian Peninsula. Disgusted by the Western lifestyle, he traveled some 10,000 miles by camel during his time there from 1945-1950. Being absorbed by the traditional lives of the Bedu people, Thesiger greatly illuminates our understanding of Bedu culture.
As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning
Laurie Lee’s memoir tells of his first sojourn away from home in 1934. He walks from his tiny village of Cotswold in Gloucestershire, settles in London for a while, then makes his way to Spain on a boat. He arrives in Vigo in July of 1935 and tramps around Spain for a year. Trapped by the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War and evacuated back home, Lee shows strength and endurance throughout his journey and presents an informative and entertaining description of his experiences.
Blue Highways: A Journey into America
This masterpiece documents the ultimate road trip through the backroads of the United States. William Least Heat-Moon set out on a three-month, 13,000-mile journey in his van and intentionally avoided cities, interstates, and fast food. This book is sure to rekindle your fire of wanderlust as he gives great insight into the people and small town cultures of the rural United States.
For the airplane lovers, the airplane haters, and everyone in between, Patrick Smith’s bestseller separates fact from fallacy in this tell-all about air travel. From turbulence to terrorism, and even airport architecture, Smith covers every commercial flying topic you could think of. As a frequent traveler who always requests a window seat, an airline pilot, and a travel writer, he presents this fun and enjoyable book in a very conversational manner.
Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Cape Town
Critical of the negative long-term impact aid from Western countries has had throughout Africa, Paul Theroux embarks on a sentimental journey throughout the continent. As a former Peace Corps worker and teacher in Africa, Theroux made his way from Cairo to Cape Town whatever way he could – including train, chicken bus, canoe, cattle truck, etc. You’ll live vicariously through his writing as he ventures through gorgeous, sometimes life-threatening landscapes.
Daughter of Fortune
Orphaned and raised by English expats, Eliza Sommers grew up in Valparaiso, Chile in the 1840’s. With the help of a friend, Sommers stows away in a ship to follow her lover to California during the Gold Rush of 1849. She finds a life of independence as she meets and begins traveling with a caravan of prostitutes. Chosen for Oprah’s Book Club, we see how her search for love gradually turns into a quest for personal freedom.
Not afraid to say what needs to be said, Edward Abbey’s autobiography challenges the power and profit mindset that is destroying our national parks. As the lone seasonal park ranger at Arches National Monument in 1956 and 1957, he desired to experience nature in its truest form. His love for the wilderness reminds us that every once in a while it’s important for us to disconnect from the chaos of society and reconnect with the serenity of nature.
Down and Out in Paris and London
In George Orwell’s first full-length work, he chronicles the day-to-day realities of societal hardships and poverty in Paris and London. The largely autobiographical work, published in 1933, reads more like a memoir instead of the novel it truly is. In his tale about Paris, we learn the dirty, behind-the-scenes details about hotel and restaurant operations. The tramp’s perspective and lifestyle soon takes over when he heads back to his native London. His vivid imagery allows you to share in his experiences as some of the themes still echo in modern society.
Eat, Pray, Love ★
Elizabeth Gilbert was “living the dream” as a successful writer, yet she was still unfulfilled in her life and marriage. Her memoir recounts how she filed for divorce and left everything behind, and reveals what she discovered as she set out to travel the world. If you need to be inspired to be fearless and search for your best self, this is one of the best travel books for you.
Hector and the Search for Happiness ★
Taking the advice of a patient, Hector, an unfulfilled psychiatrist, takes a round-the-world vacation to figure out the cause and meaning of happiness. During his search for understanding he keeps notes of his observations as he comes across a Chinese prostitute, an African criminal, and an Afghani cancer patient. The whimsical writing style makes it an easy read as we learn the keys to happiness may be simpler than we think.
Holy Cow: An Indian Adventure
After backpacking in India and despising the heat, pollution, and poverty, 21-year-old journalist Sarah Macdonald vowed never to return. Eleven years later, Sarah found herself quitting her dream job and following the love of her life to New Delhi. Soon after arriving she fell ill with double pneumonia. In the process of fighting for her health, she decided to fight back against the scorn she had for India and find peace within herself. She continued to evolve and began to appreciate her surroundings, all while teaching us a little bit more about India.
How Not to Travel the World
If you feel like your fears are holding you back, then this is one of the best travel books for you. Recently heartbroken, and battling crippling anxiety and an eating disorder, Lauren Juliff quit her job, sold her possessions, and set out to travel the world solo. Her excitement about finding herself and healing from her past is quickly halted as she continues to have instances of bad luck and near-death experiences. Instead of giving up, she decided to keep pressing forward and created a memoir that’s a real page-turner. Lauren is sure to motivate you by example to take that leap and chase your dreams no matter what comes your way.
In Patagonia ★
Bruce Chatwin’s instant classic gives us a taste of the mysterious place that is Patagonia. Fueling his desire for adventure, he spent six months in Patagonia gathering stories from the people he encountered. As he treks through the southern tip of South America, you’ll love the incredible pieces of history you’ll learn along the way.
In Search of Captain Zero
In 1996, Allan Weisbecker set out in search of his missing long-time surfing companion Christopher, who vanished in Central America. He sold his home and possessions, packed up his dog and surfboards, and traveled from Mexico to Costa Rica to figure out the truth behind Christopher’s disappearance, evading bandits, surfing, and befriending people along the way. His two-year odyssey ends when he finds Christopher living in a primeval rainforest. His unique adventure will keep you laughing from beginning to end.
In a Sunburned Country ★
If you haven’t been to Australia, this book is sure to inspire you to go. Bill Bryson guides you by train and car through Australia from east to west. Through forests, mining towns, and coastal cities we meet wonderful Australians and learn about the peculiar wildlife down under.
Into the Wild ★
Shortly after graduating from Emory University, Christopher McCandless decided to invent a new life for himself. He stopped communicating with his family, donated his savings, and abandoned most of his possessions as he set off into the wild. The true story follows McCandless through the western United States and eventually to Alaska where he settled in a deserted bus near Denali National Park. The international bestseller, also turned into one of the best travel movies ever, reminds us that it’s important to chase our dreams, but to do so wisely.
Neither Here nor There: Travels in Europe
Bill Bryson’s forte is finding humor in any situation as we see, taste, and feel Europe through his eyes. This hilarious memoir begins in Hammerfest, Norway, where he sets out to see the Northern Lights. He visits several locations throughout Europe, both small and large, before ending his journey in Istanbul, Turkey. His travelogue is a great reminder that sometimes the greatest travel joys are experienced when you least expect it.
On the Road ★
Largely autobiographical, the novel is based on the story of Jack Kerouac and his friends as they travel across the United States. The timeless classic follows his character, Sal, as he sets out west from New York City. His adventure of freedom and hope results in one of the greatest benefits of travel, becoming a better person.
Seven Ages of Paris
This inspirational work displays the history of one of the greatest cities in the world. Dense, yet enjoyably readable, Alistair Horne takes us through the Parisian history of seven ages of turmoil and change. The graphic details are sure to keep you engaged as he shows how Paris endured through each era.
Seven Years in Tibet ★
Heinrich Harrer’s autobiography gives us a unique look at Tibetan culture during his stay from 1944-1951. After his dramatic escape from a British internment camp in India and his trek across the Himalayas, Harrer became one of the first Europeans to enter and settle in Lhasa. The bestseller also details his friendship with the 14th Dalai Lama as the Chinese prepared to invade Tibet.
Tales of a Female Nomad
Rita Golden Gelman is a prime example of the fact that it’s never too late to follow your dreams and live the life you want to live. At 48, she divorced her husband, sold her possessions, left her glamorous lifestyle in Los Angeles, and became a nomad. Residing everywhere from huts to palaces, her goal was to connect with people all over the world. Her journey began in 1986, and she visited Mexico, Israel, Bali, and a host of other places, learning every step of the way. This refreshing story is not only about her adventures, but also about love, life, and people.
The Alchemist ★
Playing it safe is not an option for Santiago. After having a recurring dream of finding treasure in Egypt, the young Andalusian shepherd sets out to make that dream a reality. One of the best travel books for any dreamer, this bestseller is an allegorical novel filled with inspirational quotes that will help you to listen to your heart and follow your dreams.
The Art of Travel ★
What’s the point of travel? Alain de Botton presents his thoughts in this philosophical look at leisure travel. With insights from great figures of the past and topics like airports, landscapes, holiday romances, and much more, de Botton is sure to change the way you think about travel.
The Beach ★
Escaping the realities of home, Richard, a young English backpacker heads to Thailand. When he ends up with a map of a legendary, but hidden island, he befriends a French couple and they set out to find it. Once they arrive to the communal island, they find out the rumored paradise isn’t what it seems.
The Geography of Bliss ★
This humorous travelogue of ideas was crafted out of NPR correspondent Eric Weiner’s yearlong journey to find the happiest places on earth and figure out what we can learn from them. Traveling through Iceland, Moldova, Switzerland, Qatar, Thailand, and a host of places in between, he offers some interesting new ideas for travel destinations.
The Great Railway Bazaar ★
In 1973, Paul Theroux bid his wife and children farewell for four and a half months as he traveled from London’s Victoria Station to Tokyo Central on some of Asia’s most renowned trains. He made his way back via the Trans-Siberian Railway and soon after wrote one of the best travel books of all time for train travel. During his grand continental adventure he visited places and ate things most people wouldn’t dare. You’ll get a true sense of the people and places he encountered as he teaches us that sometimes the journey is more important than the destination.
The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom
This is a harrowing tale that makes a strong statement about man’s desire to be free. Enduring hunger, cold, injury, and illness, Slavomir Rawicz and six fellow prisoners escaped a Soviet labor camp near Yakutsk in 1941. Once they broke free from their Russian nightmare, they marched thousands of miles by foot from Siberia to British India. The story of their trek through China, the Gobi Desert, Tibet, over the Himalayas, and to their freedom has since been turned into a movie called The Way Back.
The Longest Way Home
Andrew McCarthy takes us along with him on his personal journey as he searches for the courage to settle down. He set out on seven different trips to places like Patagonia, Mt. Kilimanjaro, and Costa Rica, and was plagued by deep-seated fears and doubts throughout his adventure. As a passenger to McCarthy’s journey, his honesty and vulnerability are refreshing and might put you in introspection mode.
The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon
This compelling read tells the story of Percy Fawcett. The British explorer vanished in 1925 as he set off into the Amazon with his son and a friend in search of a fabled lost city. In his nonfiction debut, David Grann carefully pieced together details from Fawcett’s trip, along with experiences from his own personal journey into the Amazon. Grann reveals new evidence about Fawcett and the ancient city as he tells this tale of mystery and exploration.
The Road to Oxiana
In 1933, Robert Byron left Venice and took a ten-month journey through the Middle East to Oxiana, near the border between Afghanistan and the Soviet Union. He traveled through many cities like Beirut, Jerusalem, and Baghdad via motor vehicle, horse, or donkey, interacting with locals along the way. Giving us a nostalgic look at the past, his account of his discoveries and misadventures created a book deemed to be the first great example of travel writing.
The Shadow of the Sun
Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski challenges the conventional understanding of some of the modern problems faced throughout Africa in the early 21st century. Published in 2002, the book is a series of vignettes that describes a host of different experiences, from him wrestling a king cobra to death to wandering the Sahara with nomads. Beginning in Ghana in 1958, the book takes us through a variety of African states. Because Kapuscinski was able to stay with various people in different societal classes, we get an honest perspective of what was going on at the time. Africa was one of the many places he visited during his four decades of reporting, and he gives us a sympathetic insight into the issues faced by different parts of the continent.
The Sun Also Rises ★
This Ernest Hemingway masterpiece introduces us to Jack Barnes and Lady Brett Ashley. The novel follows the American expats and their love story as they meet up with a motley crew of British expats. The group decides to leave the excitement of 1920’s Paris and head to Pamplona for the Festival of San Fermin to watch bullfights and the running of the bulls. Based on the lives of real people, the themes of love, death, and masculinity add an interesting dimension to the story.
The Talented Mr. Ripley
Having grown into a very popular and interesting, yet sociopathic character, Tom Ripley struggles to make his way in New York City. He is approached by shipping tycoon Herbert Greenleaf, who hires Ripley to go to Italy to bring back his son, Dickie. The psychological thriller ramps up as Ripley becomes obsessed with Dickie. Things go from bad to worse as Ripley kills Dickie, steals his identity, and begins living off of Dickie’s trust fund. While the book ends with Ripley living the good life, it also suggests that paranoia may get the best of him.
Travels With Charley: In Search of America ★
Since he made a living writing about it, John Steinbeck wrote a travelogue of his personal 10,000-mile adventure around the United States in 1960. In a three-quarter-ton truck named Rocinante and accompanied by his French poodle, Charlie, the road trip helps him rediscover America. The book is definitely one to savor as Steinbeck connects with different people along the way and explores some of America’s tough issues.
Turn Right at Machu Picchu
This New York Times Bestseller follows Mark Adams as he retraces the 1911 route of Hiram Bingham III, who “reportedly discovered” Machu Picchu. The humorous account documents his search for the truth as he is guided by an Australian survivalist. If you want to head to Machu Picchu, this is one of the best travel books you can have because it gives you useful information and tells you what to expect on your journey.
Under the Tuscan Sun ★
It was love at first sight when Frances Mayes saw Bramasole, an abandoned 200-year-old Tuscan farmhouse. A memoir was born as she bought and restored the villa nestled in five overgrown acres. She brings you right along with her as she tells about the pleasures of her adventure and inspires you to embark on your own unique journey.
Unlikely Destinations: The Lonely Planet Story
Beginning in England in the 1970’s to traveling around the world until the early 21st century, Tony and Maureen Wheeler take us on a fascinating journey. From the pretty much penniless days of Lonely Planet to becoming an international brand, we learn about their travel tales and their business struggles. Helping to start the guidebook industry, their memoir will give you an open and honest look at this groundbreaking company.
Rolf Potts spent 10 years on the road and wrote the best travel book ever to prepare you for long-term travel. You’ll be fully equipped to start globetrotting as Potts provides practical information for financing your travel, adjusting to long-term travel, working overseas, and much more. This book is sure to get you mentally prepared to head out on your journey.
As the first selection for Oprah’s Book Club 2.0, Cheryl Strayed’s memoir tells of her 1,100-mile solo hike in 1995. With no hiking experience and nothing to lose, she traveled from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to the Bridge of the Gods in Washington. As she battles her own personal demons as well as terrors and delights along the hiking trail, it’s a tremendous story of how she breaks the mold and presses through her journey of healing and self-discovery.
We are always excited about adding new books to our queue, so let us know what you think of our list of best travel books, and if there’s anything you think we should add!
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