I love talking about travel books. Why? Because part of the tool belt of any traveler is a good book. We may not be able to venture far right now, but these travel books, from classics to comic travelogues, take us on journeys around the world.
Long bus, train, or plane rides can get pretty boring and can give you a lot of “dead” time if you haven’t mastered the art of the 10-hour blank stare. Additionally, reading travel books helps you learn about the destinations you are visiting. The more you know about a place, the more you can understand a place.
Travel Books Worth Reading
Ready for a reading list that will change the way you travel? Here are some of the must-read travel books, according to experienced globetrotters. Prepare for a serious case of wanderlust.
1. Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle by Dervla Murphy
Full Tilt is the inspiring true story of Dervla Murphy’s 1963 journey from Ireland to India on an Armstrong Cadet bicycle and the trials, landscapes, and cultures she encountered along the way. The route takes her through the valleys and snowy mountain passes of Europe and India to the scorching deserts of Afghanistan and Pakistan. And the metal of her bicycle, Rozinante (named after Don Quixote’s steed), becomes too hot to touch. She travels alone, without luxuries, sleeping on the floors of teahouses or on blankets outdoors, vulnerable to wild animals, insects, and thieves.
However, she is often met with generosity and kindness and shares many meaningful encounters with the locals. Her portrayal here gives a fascinating insight into the unique communities of the Middle East in the early 1960s… This is one of my favorite travel books ever.
2. Unlikely Destinations: The LP Story, by Tony & Maureen Wheeler
Founders of the phenomenally successful publishing company Lonely Planet, Tony, and Maureen Wheeler have produced travel guides to just about every corner of the globe.
Unlikely Destinations: The Lonely Planet Story is a unique mix of autobiography, business history and travel book. It traces Tony and Maureen Wheeler’s personal story as well as the often bumpy evolution of their travel guide business into the world’s largest independent travel publishing company. Not surprisingly, after thirty years in the business, the Wheelers have an unrivaled set of anecdotes which they share in Unlikely Destinations: The Lonely Planet Story.
3. Love With a Chance of Drowning by Torre DeRoche
This book is written by travel blogger Torre DeRoche, and, while I normally don’t like “chick travel love stories”, I couldn’t put this one down. It’s a beautifully written book about overcoming her fear of the ocean to sail across the Pacific with her boyfriend. The way she describes the scenery, the people, and her experience makes me want to follow in her footsteps. It’s powerful, vivid, and moving. It’s the best travel book I’ve read all year. Torre DeRoche is an Australian native and self-proclaimed fearful adventurer… One of those travel books that once you start, is hard to put down.
4. The World of Venice: Revised Edition by Jan Morris
Recent reports suggest the now-quiet canals of Venice are at their clearest for 60 years, with swans spotted in recent days. The city, of course, has always had a touch of fantasy about it. “Venice is a cheek-by-jowl, back-of-the-hand, under-the-counter, higgledy-piggledy, anecdotal city,” writes Jan Morris in this 1960 masterpiece. “She is rich in piquant wrinkled things, like an assortment of bric-a-brac in the house of a wayward connoisseur, or parasites on an oyster-shell.” The book pens a portrait of a city thick with atmosphere and stuffed with history, conjuring an intoxicating sense of place with Morris’s trademark wit and wisdom.
As spirited and engagingly human as the books that have taught us how and why and where to travel. Tony and Maureen Wheeler’s story describes a miracle (from 27 cents to a multi-million dollar empire). That is in its way as inspiring and wondrous as the temples of Pagan or Easter Island’s statues. Whether penniless backpackers or heads of a global company, Tony and Maureen somehow always exemplify the very best kind of travelers’ enthusiasm and curiosity.
Travel Books Worth Reading
5. The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton
Any Baedeker will tell us where we ought to travel, but only Alain de Botton will tell us how and why. With the same intelligence and insouciant charm he brought to How Proust Can Save Your Life, de Botton considers the pleasures of anticipation; the allure of the exotic, and the value of noticing everything from a seascape in Barbados to the takeoffs at Heathrow.
Even as de Botton takes the reader along on his own peregrinations, he also cites such distinguished fellow-travelers as Baudelaire, Wordsworth, Van Gogh, the biologist Alexander von Humboldt, and the 18th-century eccentric Xavier de Maistre, who cataloged the wonders of his bedroom. The Art of Travel is a wise and utterly original book. Don’t leave home without it.
6. Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson
Storyteller extraordinaire, British-American writer Bill Bryson is known for his hilarious books of adventures around the world. In fact, you can grab any one of his travel books and be transported to a new place with humor and humanity. Notes from a Small Island shares his adventures as he travels around the United Kingdom to really get under the skin of the locals.
You’ll love it for its witty humor and clever observations of life. You can enjoy a classic British afternoon tea and get the full experience while riding on a sightseeing bus in London (when travel safely resumes.
7. The Beach by Alex Garland
The irresistible novel was adapted into a major motion picture starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
Spellbinding and hallucinogenic, The Beach by Alex Garland — both a national bestseller and his debut. It is a highly accomplished and suspenseful novel that fixates on a generation in their twenties, who, burdened with the legacy of the preceding generation. And saturated by popular culture, long for an unruined landscape, but find it difficult to experience the world firsthand.
Arguably the book that put Thailand on the map as the ultimate beach destination. This novel was a Gen X-er favorite and it really stands the test of time. The search by a young backpacker for a mythical, secret beach ends up in a nightmare.
Travel Books Worth Reading
8. Under the Tuscan Sun: At Home in Italy by Frances Mayes
A widely published poet, gourmet chef, and travel writer, Frances Mayes opens the door to a voluptuous new world when she buys and restores an abandoned villa in the Tuscan countryside. What she shares with her readers is a feast for the senses as she explores the pastoral Italian landscape, history, and cuisine. This is a light read that will also leave readers craving all the fantastic food she cooks in her Tuscan kitchen.
You’ll love it for its picturesque image of sun-drenched Tuscan life. You can learn to make your own pasta, or bike through the Tuscan hillside and taste wine on your next vacation.
9. Wild: A Journey from Lost to Found by Cheryl Strayed
In a quest to find herself after hitting rock bottom, Cheryl Strayed hikes the Pacific Crest Trail — all 1,770 km (1,100 miles) of it on her own. With no hiking experience and her personal demons chasing her, this is a vivid, true story of an inspiring woman. She starts in the Mojave Desert and hikes through California and Oregon finishing in Washington state at the Bridge of Gods.
You’ll love it for its raw emotion and amazing descriptions of hiking the trail. You can experience life on the trail by hiking the Columbia River Gorge on a future trip.
Travel Books Worth Reading
10. Stranger on a Train: Daydreaming and Smoking Around America with Interruptions by Jenny Diski
After spending three weeks crossing the Atlantic on a cargo ship (“at night, the rabble of stars demanded to be watched”), Jenny Diski travels around the perimeter of the USA by rail. The joy of the book lies as much in her portrayal of characters she encounters en route as the immersive detail of the country she’s passing through. Or, as she writes, “it is much more as if America is passing through you, what you are, what you’ve known”. Part-memoir, and written around 20 years ago, Stranger On A Train captures an America that still feels familiar – albeit with cigarettes in place of smartphones.
11. On the Road, by Jack Kerouac
Written in 1957, Jack Kerouac’s Beat Generation classic is a timeless travel novel. The story follows his character, Sal, as he leaves New York City and heads west, riding the rails, making friends, and partying the night away. The main character’s frustration and desire to see the world are themes that can resonate with many of us. What I especially love about On the Road is that through all his travel adventures, he becomes a better, stronger, and more confident person.
12. Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Cape Town by Paul Theroux
Critical of the negative long-term impact aid from Western countries have 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.
13. The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho
Most travelers are searching for something on their adventures, whether it’s amazing archeological sites or the most delicious meal. But while you’re busy seeking something external, you usually end up discovering a piece of yourself you never knew was there. That’s exactly what happens in Paulo Coelho’s book, “The Alchemist,” said Cory Varga, travel expert and founder of the couple’s travel blog You Could Travel.
“‘The Alchemist’ tells the enthralling story of an Andalusian shepherd who wants to travel in search of treasure. But during his adventures, he finds himself, instead,” said Varga. “Coelho shows us the journey that matters—a journey of lessons and charming stories of snakes, love, dunes, and alchemy.”
14. Lands of Lost Borders: A Journey on the Silk Road,” by Kate Harris
The drive to seek out the unknown is what’s behind many people’s urge to travel. But where do you go when you feel that every place on earth has already been visited by millions before you? Is there any place left to discover? Kate Harris contemplates these questions, and more, in her memoir about a year spent cycling the Silk Road.
“This book was like no other travelogue I’ve ever read—a meditation on remote places very rarely written about, history and borders,” said travel enthusiast Elizabeth Sile, senior editor at Real Simple. “Harris perfectly captures what it feels like to want to explore—not to take the perfect Instagram or tick off the top sights, but to be exposed to wildness and discomfort.”
15. Out of Istanbul: A Journey of Discovery Along the Silk Road by Bernard Ollivier
Ollivier takes us on an absorbing walking tour of the Silk Road, experiencing many of the same marvels and dangers as the ancient caravans. . . . Though having an episodic feel, Ollivier’s account brims with a sojourner’s passion and an insatiable hunger for new vistas and peoples.
While some see retirement as a chance to cash in their chips and settle into a comfy armchair, Ollivier still longed for more. Searching for inspiration, he strapped on his gear, donned his hat, and headed out the front door to hike the Way of St. James, a 1400-mile journey from Paris to Compostela, Spain.
At the end of that road, with more questions than answers, he decided to spend the next few years hiking another of history’s great routes: the Silk Road.
Out of Istanbul is Ollivier’s stunning account of the first part of that 7,200-mile journey. The longest and perhaps most mythical trade route of all time, the Silk Road is in fact a network of routes across Europe and Asia, some going back to prehistoric times. During the Middle Ages, the transcribed travelogue of one Silk Road explorer, Marco Polo, helped spread the fame of the Orient throughout Europe.
Travel books inspire us to go visit far-off lands and imagine us doing incredible things. I hope these travel books inspire you to travel the world and feed your wanderlust. If you have any suggestions that I can add to this best travel books list, leave them in the comments.
If you’d like to see some of the other books I’ve recommended (or are currently reading), check out my Bookshop store.