Nothing kickstarts your travel motivation more than a good book. Whether it’s a powerful personal account of an adventure, a riveting piece of fiction or a revisitation of a famous historic journey, reading opens our eyes to the world. In this compilation, bloggers from across the world choose the best books about travel to help inspire your next adventure.
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In this article:
Best books about travel: classics
1. The Alchemist (Paulo Coelho)
Chosen by Michael Rozenblit, The World Was Here First
One of the best modern books about travel is undoubtedly The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. Originally published in Portuguese, this novel has since been translated into numerous languages. It follows the story of a young shepherd named Santiago living in Southern Spain. One night, Santiago has a dream that is interpreted to mean that great treasures await him in Egypt, by the pyramids.
This dream causes him to pack up his life and begin a journey through Northern Africa towards Egypt, where he meets various people and encounters a number of setbacks in his travels towards the pyramids.
The Alchemist is a great book to read, not only because of the interesting travel journey that Santiago goes through, but also because of the philosophical elements that Coelho includes in his writing. As a fairly short read, The Alchemist is a great choice for travellers needing a bit of extra inspiration to begin their travel journey.
2. Around the World in 80 days (Jules Verne)
Chosen by Elisa Subirats, World in Paris
Around the World in 80 days is one of my favorite travel books, the kind that I like to read again from time to time. Actually it was the book which inspired my world tour! It was written by Jules Verne in 1871, and it’s a classic of French literature.
The book tells the adventures around the world of Mr. Fogg, an English gentleman living in the London of the 19th century, and his French valet Passepartout. Fogg’s adventure starts at the exclusive Reform Club, where he bets a very high sum of money that he can travel around the world and be back to London in 80 days.
The World Tour starts in London and goes on through Paris, Egypt, India, Japan and the USA. It is incredible how Jules Verne describes all these exotic places without having visited them himself!
During their journey, Mr. Fogg and Passepartout live many adventures, but also some misadventures which threaten the success of the bet. Indeed, Detective Fix believes that Mr. Fogg is the author of a very important robbery that happened in London days before his departure and he wants to arrest him before the end of his trip.
Jules Verne was born in Nantes, France, and during his life he wrote many adventure novels, which were later the source of inspiration for many travellers and sea and space explorers.
3. The Beach (Alex Garland)
Chosen by Katherine Cortes, Tara Lets Anywhere
The Beach by Alex Garland is a popular fiction novel about a young backpacker who discovered and consequently lived in a small community of travellers in an isolated island in Thailand.
The island was beautiful, idyllic and untouched by tourism. Everyone adhered to daily chores such as fishing and gardening; there were leisure activities such as swimming in the beach and falls, trekking and so on. Eventually, there came a threat of being discovered by the outside world.
The Beach is a great book because (1) it’s suspenseful and (2) it tells a story that is relatable to most, if not all, backpackers: the continuing search for unspoilt locations.
The characters live in their tropical paradise for a while, but eventually they have to face the reality: it’s only a matter of time before the place gets discovered and commercialised. The book makes a point that this isn’t anybody’s fault, it’s just how the world works.
This thought is painful but realistic, and it also gives a lesson about appreciating what we do and where we are in the moment and – at the same time – being open and accepting of what will happen in the future.
4. Eat Pray Love (Elizabeth Gilbert)
Chosen by Shalini Garnaik, Eager2Travel
As quoted by Elizabeth Gilbert, “we don’t realise that, somewhere within us all, there does exist a supreme self who is eternally at peace” – and I find this peace when I am all alone, with a backpack on my back and walking down the streets like the world is mine to conquer.
Eat Pray Love is a book about a woman who has it all – a secure job, husband, life – and then suddenly she gets divorced and everything falls apart. The book revolves around her year-long journey to EAT (in Italy), PRAY (in India) and LOVE (in Indonesia). She finds herself in the journey, and feels alive again.
I love the way she wrote these 36 tales about all the places she goes, the food she tries, what she learns, and of course the guys. The story is so relatable to our lives; how we have everything but we are not able to find peace and satisfaction within our soul.
I love the way she describes her journey, the moments in each country, how she ate the world’s best pizza in a little street of Italy, how she found the way to spirituality in India and helped the poor woman in Bali. To sum it up, it’s a complete package of the emotions of love and travel.
5. On the Road (Jack Kerouac)
Chosen by Ann Kelly, The Road Is Life
This classic novel tells the story of the epic journey of Sal Paradise (based loosely on Jack Kerouac himself) and his friend Dean Moriarty, who travel across the United States in the 1940s in search of work out west. Their journey sees them hitch-hiking, train hopping, taking buses and coming across all kinds of colourful characters along the way. With no fixed plans or time frame, they simply went wherever the wind blew them and had the time of their lives.
I read this inspiring book while on my first overseas backpacking trip, and at the time it really resonated with me. Travel isn’t about reaching a specific destination in this book.
Instead, it’s about the people you meet and the unexpected situations you find yourself in along the way. It’s about embracing the journey you’re on and allowing it to potentially change your future.
This is exactly how I travelled during my seven-month solo trip through Southeast Asia, with no plans or expectations. It led me to meet my current partner in Thailand and we’ve been travelling and living in different countries together ever since. This book is also the inspiration behind our blog, taken from my favourite quote: “Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life.”
6. A Tramp Abroad (Mark Twain)
Chosen by Carol Perehudoff, Wandering Carol
Written in 1880, A Tramp Abroad loosely chronicles American writer Mark Twain’s romp through Europe with his fictional companion, Harris, who was based on his real life friend Joseph Twitchell.
Part fiction, part travel narrative, and all served up with Twain’s renowned wit, A Tramp Abroad remains one of the best travel books in a crowded field, hilariously highlighting a journey through Germany, Switzerland and Italy.
Written several years after his popular travel book An Innocent Abroad was released, it’s a narrative where misunderstandings are rampant, cultural differences are revealed and humour runs high.
As Twain and Harris hike – or find many reasons not to hike – through appealing destinations such as the Alps and the Black Forest, Twain’s keen gift for observation are mixed in with historical notes, legends, and descriptions of his personal experiences.
One of the funniest sections showcases his trip to Baden-Baden, a German spa town full of snobbish aristocrats taking the waters at the town’s mineral springs.
If you’re travelling to Baden-Baden today, reading his section on the historic bathhouse, Friedrichsbad, before visiting it yourself, and seeing the same landmarks he would have seen such as the Kurhaus and the park promenades, adds a layer of fun and history to the experience.
Best books about travel: personal stories
7. Backyard to Backpack (Evie Farrell)
Chosen by Kate Comer, Rolling Along With Kids
Since having kids finding time to read books has definitely been limited! So when I read a book in just two days I had to share it.
Backyard to Backpack is inspirational and had me in tears as I learnt about Evie’s struggles and triumphs. It is a story about her taking the leap with her daughter Emmie to leave their life in Australia and go travelling together for 2.5 years, to spend time together rather than be swallowed up in the daily grind of life back in Australia. It’s about how they reconnected and how Evie found peace in all that she had been through in her life.
The book is such an easy read full of humour and the sharing of truths that connect the reader with Evie and Emmie’s journey. To be honest, I didn’t want their trip to end, and the book has helped me reflect on my own family life and the choices we make.
8. Bad Lands (Tony Wheeler)
Chosen by Ellis Veen, Backpack Adventures
Bad Lands is about all the destinations your parents don’t want you to go to – countries that are considered too dangerous to visit. Tony Wheeler of Lonely Planet decided to see things for himself, and describes his journeys to places like Iran and North Korea.
Even though it is not Tony Wheeler’s goal, he shows that what we hear in the news is only one side of the story, and that it is often more safe to travel in these countries than you might think. It is well written and gives an insight into places few people visit as a tourist.
Tony Wheeler’s approach in the book is mainly to look at how bad these countries can be towards their own people. The results are sometimes surprising, and make you think differently about the places he describes. Despite the sometimes sad illustrative facts and difficult topics, the book is easy to read and even amusing at times.
9. The Big Red Train Ride (Eric Newby)
Chosen by James Ian, Travel Collecting
One of my favorite books about travel is The Big Red Train Ride by Eric Newby. He wrote the book in 1978 about a trip he took in 1977 when the Trans-Siberian Railway trip was through the Soviet USSR.
Much of the book is filled with his not-always-happy experiences travelling behind the iron curtain. However, it also brings to life this incredible train journey across half the world and includes a great deal of factual, cultural and historical information.
The Tran-Siberian crosses the steppes of Siberia, skirts the deepest freshwater lake in the world, and stops in towns that would be completely isolated if it weren’t for the railway.
The country and experience are different now, of course, but this book totally inspired me to take the Trans-Siberian myself and gave me a lot of background information that I enjoyed knowing when I took the trip, albeit many years after Newby’s.
The Trans-Siberian is truly one of the greatest, most epic train journeys in the world, and this book is a good introduction to the train and the trip.
10. Bread and Ashes (Tony Anderson)
Chosen by Emily Lush, Wander-Lush
There are few sights as glorious as the Greater Caucasus, the mountain range that forms a natural border between Georgia and Russia. And there are few adventures as intrepid as hiking in this landscape. Bread and Ashes: a Walk through the Mountains of Georgia by British author Tony Anderson tells the story of one such journey.
Part history book, part travelogue, Bread and Ashes recalls Anderson’s overland expedition from Azerbaijan to Abkhazia. It was published in 2003, but is based on events that happened in 1998 – an unstable time in the region following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
This was one of the books I chose to read before my first visit to Georgia. I thought it would ‘pump me up’ for the trip – and it did. When I eventually laid eyes on the landscapes in Anderson’s descriptions, I was surprised at just how accurate they were. I love the rousing prose the author uses to bring the mountains to life.
Quotable passages are creatively interspersed with reveries about Georgian history and politics. It is well researched and provides a solid background to the area’s breakaway territories, despotic leaders and other political trials.
Some critics accuse the author of resorting to clichés, but it’s hard not to when describing the Caucasus. If you plan to trek in Georgia, this book is a perfect primer and will encourage you to explore some of the more remote parts of the region.
11. Into Thin Air (Jon Krakauer)
Chosen by Erika Van ‘t Veld, Erika’s Travelventures
Into Thin Air is a true story as experienced by the author himself, when he embarked on a trip to summit the tallest mountain in the world, Mount Everest. He had never dreamed when he started his trip to Nepal that the climbing season he was about to live through would be one of the deadliest in history.
The author and a dozen others were forced to fight for their lives when a freak storm suddenly gripped the mountain. Four of his expedition team members passed away, and he recounts in detail the rescue attempts and heartfelt phone calls that were made in the hours following.
Having survived what is now called “the 1996 Everest Disaster”, the author spent months collecting interviews with other survivors to piece together the complete story of what happened over the course of those deadly 48 hours.
He also highlights how commercialised dangerous treks like these have become, putting lives of climbers and the local sherpa people in grave danger. This book is a gripping tale that showcases the dangerous and sometimes deadly obsession with summiting Everest.
Having spent three months in Nepal and hiked to Everest Base Camp myself, I love this book partially because of how well the author describes the beauty of the Himalayas. I also admire the courage of the author to put into words the suffering that he and others experienced, both physical and emotional, as a result of the Everest disaster.
12. Tales of a Female Nomad (Rita Golden Gelman)
Chosen by Julien Casanova, Cultures Traveled
Escape the ordinary with author Rita Golden Gelman as she tells her tales from the road. In the 1980s, long before the nomad culture that exists today, Gelman set out on a path of self-discovery after divorce. She aimlessly decides to live in a Zapotec community in Mexico for a month before travelling through Guatemala, Nicaragua, the Galapagos, and eventually to Indonesia.
She encounters fear and loneliness along her travels but as she connects with people and cultures around the globe, the new experiences awaken her spirit. She begins to feel joy, laughter, and a deeper connection with others. Her accounts of shared meals and time spent with local families all add to the beautiful picture of nomadic life.
Gelman’s writing style draws you into the adventure and by the end of the book, you’ll be itching to start your own nomad journey.
13. Tracks (Robyn Davidson)
Chosen by Dominika Byś, Sunday in Wonderland
A few years ago, just before leaving my comfortable life with full-time stationary work in an office and starting my own travel blog, I read Robyn Davidson’s book Tracks.
This story is a part of Robyn’s autobiography and tells about the times when she also left her comfy life behind and pursued her dream. She came from Brisbane to Alice Springs, Australia, to learn how to train camels. Eventually, she crossed the Australian desert up to the coast of the Indian Ocean in a solo female journey with only the company of her small camel herd.
She faced the cruel nature of unfriendly outback zones, met exceptional people on the road, and was challenged to make hard yet bold decisions.
This story touches the issues of an awaited solitude on a journey of finding yourself. The author’s travel was demanding, a little bit crazy, but also very inspiring. After reading Tracks I was motivated to look for uniqueness in my own adventures and inspired to follow my own dreamed paths.
Best books about travel: historic travel
14. Blue Latitudes (Tony Horwitz)
Chosen by Roger Timbrook, Expert World Travel
What can I say about Tony Horwitz, he is a bit of an adventurer, and somewhat mad! I first discovered his books far too many years ago to count while searching around on Amazon. I started with his book on his time as a journalist in the Middle East, which was a fun, eye-opening and exciting read to say the least.
But, he then followed it up with Blue Latitudes, a wacky adventure he and his friend Roger decided to have – retracing the travels of Captain Cook around the Pacific.
If you are not familiar with Captain Cook, he is a bit of a hero to us Aussies, because he kind of founded our country. Or at the very least “discovered it” (although there were many there before him, not including the Aboriginals).
The book is a fun mix of history, travel and adventure, with some typical Tony Horwitz humour and stupidity thrown in. What I particularly enjoyed was learning so much about the real stories and background of Cook and his time in the region, as well as the detailed history of my homeland.
On top of that, Tim always makes life hard for himself, and as a reader, we get rewarded with an exciting (mis)adventure every step of the way. From spending ten days on a replica of Captain Cook’s ship to exploring the lands and people of the pacific who are to this day still affected by Cook’s visit, this is a book worth checking out.
15. The Invention of Nature (Andrea Wulf)
Chosen by Courtney Black, Coco Betty
Alexander Von Humboldt was once the most famous man in the world. So who is he and why is he all but forgotten? A true artist and scientist, Humboldt basically created how we view nature today. He influenced the revolutionist Simon Bolivar, the scientist Charles Darwin, the US president Thomas Jefferson, poets Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and many, many others in his time.
The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World is an in-depth look at Von Humboldt’s life and discoveries during his travels in the Americas and Russia.
He was the first scientist to summit Chimborazo in Ecuador, and as he climbed he was struck by the idea that all of nature is connected and interwoven in a way that had never been considered before.
There he painted his Naturegëmalde, which roughly translates as a ‘painting of nature.’ It depicted the mountain with detailed columns of information and specifications about the climate, atmosphere, plants, and animals that could be found in that area and then traced to similar mountains across the world.
He introduced radical new ideas like human-induced climate change and spent his life fighting for a better understanding of the connection of nature as a living whole across countries and continents. He believed that art and nature were synonymous, and while that concept might seem completely normal and obvious today, it is because he introduced it to us over 150 years ago.
16. Kon-Tiki: Across the Pacific by Raft (Thor Heyerdahl)
Chosen by Dagney McKinney, Cultura Obscura
One of my favourite books about travel growing up was the travelogue memoir Kon-Tiki: Across the Pacific by Raft by Norwegian adventurer and ethnographer, Thor Heyerdahl.
Thor went on multiple oceanic voyages in order to prove the validity of his theories around global migration. The first, and most famous, of these journeys was across the Pacific Ocean on a handmade raft named Kon-Tiki.
His goal was to travel across the ocean from Peru to the Tuamotu Islands in French Polynesia. Based on the folklore of Polynesia, where he had lived for several years, he believed the island might have been settled by a group of travellers from the East (in other words, South America). So he set out to prove this was in fact possible.
As someone who loves books about survival and adventure, especially those that introduce you to new cultures, Kon-Tiki checks a lot of boxes for me. Although most of Thor’s theories have been disproved, this is still a fascinating story of adventure and tenacity of spirit.
17. Over the Edge of the World (Laurence Bergreen)
Chosen by Talek Nantes, Travels With Talek
One book that will inspire your wanderlust is Over the Edge of the World: Magellan’s terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe by Laurence Bergreen. This book was the major reason I travelled to the Patagonia region of Argentina and Chile to see what the early explorers saw.
In 1519, five ships left from southern Spain carrying a crew of 270 led by Ferdinand Magellan. The fleet suffered almost unimaginable hardships; starvation, disease, mutiny, unfriendly natives. Magellan himself was killed on an ill-fated battle in the Philippines.
Only 18 men and one ship limped back to Spain over two years later. One of the survivors, Pigafetto, was the ship chronicler whose detailed descriptions of the trip survived.
The book is a peek into the minds of the crew. Why did they go on such a dangerous journey, and what were they thinking on the ship as they travelled further and further from what they were familiar with? More interesting still are Magellan’s determination and incredible drive. I re-read it on my trip and saw many of the places Pigafetto described. It is a fascinating book.
18. Turn right at Machu Picchu (Mark Adams)
Chosen by Sean Lau, Living Out Lau
If you are headed to Machu Picchu, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, you might want to pick up a book called Turn Right at Machu Picchu. The book is part a historical lesson on the discovery of Machu Picchu and part an account of a man who decided to embark on that same journey.
Surprisingly, Machu Picchu was ‘discovered’ by a Hawaiian man by the name of Hiram Bingham III. Technically speaking, he never really discovered it because the locals have known of its existence for many years.
In fact, many believe that he was nothing more than a grave robber, stealing treasures and artefacts from Machu Picchu and the nearby Incan ruins when he first arrived there.
The book is a much better way to learn about the history of Machu Picchu than listening to the tour guides, but make sure you are aware of these things to know before visiting Machu Picchu.
Best books about travel: Americas
19. Into The Wild (Jon Krakauer)
Chosen by Raihaan Is’rafael, A Ray Of Light
This book revolves around the tragic story of Chris McCandless, a young man disillusioned with a conventional life who heads off to discover something better in the Alaskan wilderness. He leaves his family and friends and abandons most of his material possessions to live at one with nature.
The travel quote “not all those who wander are lost” seems to be the focus of this non-fiction biography by Krakauer, who paints McCandless as a man with a brilliant mind and the soul of an artist, who didn’t fit in to the modern world’s or his family’s view of how he was supposed to be.
Even though it may seem that McCandless was reckless and arrogant, I think he was courageous in his search for meaning. The writing is so engaging that although it is clear from the beginning how McCandless’ story would end, I was hooked until the last page.
20. Maya’s Notebook (Isabel Allende)
Chosen by Joanna Davis, The World In My Pocket
One of the best books that influenced me to travel somewhere was Maya’s Notebook by Isabel Allende. Because of it, not only did I get to travel to the remote Chiloe Island in Chile, but I also got to experience a traditional home-cooked meal, the curanto, with no other than the woman who hosted the author while she was researching the book and on whom the main character is based.
Maya’s Notebook is a book about a rebel teenager who takes the wrong path in life and is then sent to Chiloe Island by her grandmother, to live with an old friend of hers.
Half of the book follows Maya through her struggling years as a runaway teen, while the other depicts the tranquillity of living on the island and following all the local customs and traditions, most of them involving mythical creatures.
The book made my trip to Chiloe so much more insightful, as I could relate to the local customs because I already knew about them from the book. I felt that I got to know and understand Chiloe so much better.
Maya’s Notebook is not exactly a travel book, but it does inspire you to travel and to get to know Chiloe as deeply as the main character connects with it. It is a fascinating book, and very hard to put down before it ends.
21. The Motorcycle Diaries (Che Guevara)
Chosen by Sophie Lenoir, Bitten by the Bug
If you ever plan a trip to South America, The Motorcycle Diaries should definitely be on your reading list. It is a non-fiction book and the diary of the Argentine doctor and revolutionary Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, as he embarks on a nine-month journey through South America with his friend Alberto Granado.
They start in Buenos Aires and travel by motorcycle over the Andes mountains to the other side of Chile, then head up to Peru, Colombia and Venezuela. During their journey, they witness so much political, social and economic injustice that by the end, Che Guevara declares to fight for the cause of the poor.
The Motorcycle Diaries is an interesting read, as it offers a better understanding of Che Guevara’s revolutionary career, which has had a large impact on many South American countries.
I also enjoyed reading the description of places on his itinerary, many of which surprisingly haven’t changed much over the years. Finally, large sections of the book describe what travelling actually comes down to: survival, adventure, the companionship of travellers and the kindness of strangers.
This is also featured in our article on the best books about Argentina to inspire your travels.
22. Latin America Diaries (Che Guevara)
Chosen by Carley Rojas Ávila, Home to Havana
The lesser-known sequel to The Motorcycle Diaries by Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, Latin America Diaries, known as Otra Vez in its original Spanish, is the story of the author’s second journey through Latin America.
Following Guevara’s 1953 travels through Latin America after graduating medical school in Buenos Aires, Argentina, it chronicles his journey across the entirety of South America and Central America.
Guevara recounts revisiting favourite communities and transformative destinations from his first journey, including visiting communities in Bolivia and making another visit to Machu Picchu.
He also chronicles his time in Central America, an area he didn’t reach during his first journey. The diary culminates with Guevara’s experiences in Guatemala during the 1954 CIA-backed coup, and his later travels to Mexico where he would soon meet Fidel Castro.
Despite the diary’s emphasis on travel and Guevara’s experiences in his journeys, it also sheds light on the political history of Latin America, which is enlightening and informational for travellers headed there. If The Motorcycle Diaries gives a peek into how travel began to shape the author’s political ideology, Latin America Diaries kicks the door wide open. This is a particularly fascinating book for travel to Cuba, allowing readers to understand more about the events that led to Che Guevara’s political activism, which shaped Cuba and the rest of Latin America.
23. To Shake the Sleeping Self (Jedidiah Jenkins)
Chosen by Meredith Fulford, The Longest Weekend
To Shake the Sleeping Self: A Journey from Oregon to Patagonia, and a Quest for a Life with No Regret is a modern travel memoir that documents a man’s quest for self-discovery as he rides from Oregon to Patagonia on a bicycle.
Jedidiah Jenkins’s comical, refreshing account of his 16-month trip takes you along for the ride as he cycles, camps, couchsurfs, and sometimes hitchhikes across two continents. Readers, beware – this book might inspire you to book a trip to Latin America to check a few things off your bucket list.
To Shake the Sleeping Self contemplates the timeless travel conundrum – is it the journey or the destination, and what happens next once you finally arrive? The book is a great read for adventure-lovers and anyone looking to take a leap of faith and chase a big dream, no matter how crazy.
Best books about travel: Asia and the Middle East
24. Married to a Bedouin (Marguerite van Geldermalsen)
Chosen by Lindsay Nieminen, Step Into Jordan
Van Geldermalsen paints the Red Rose City of Petra in the pages of her book, Married to A Bedouin. It recounts her story of a Western traveller who fell in love with a local Bedul bedouin who made his home in Petra.
From sleeping in caves and selling trinkets to tourists, to learning to fetch and store water, van Geldermalsen’s stories paint vivid pictures of what life was like for the small tribe who called Petra home.
Whether you read this book before or after you visit Petra, it only adds to the marvel of this ancient city. Petra’s massive stone cliffs are so intricately cut and have stood since the 4th century.
Married to a Bedouin is a modern tale of more recent Petra and shares what it was like to be a bedouin (or married to one) and living in the city. The book brings to life the now empty caves that dot the cliffs of Petra and, as a westerner, makes me want to revisit the site again and again.
Van Geldermalsen currently lives just outside Petra, in neighbouring Umm Sayhoon village, and sells her books at a small shop inside Petra.
25. Shantaram (Gregory David Roberts)
Chosen by Jessica Drier, Unearth The Voyage
One of my favourite books about travel is Shantaram. It’s a book about an Australian man, Lindsay, who had a rough past, made some poor choices and ended up in jail. He then escaped from jail in Australia and fled to India to hide.
The book is about his journey living in India and the different experiences he has during his time there. Lindsay ends up living in a slum and becoming the slum doctor, helping many people recover from illnesses from which they would have died without him.
Lindsay ends up in jail in India, fighting the Pakastani and Indian war, falling in love and many things in between. I really enjoyed this book because it describes what life in India is like vividly.
Following all of Lindsay’s adventures is extremely exciting and you’re always wanting to read more to find out what is going to happen next. If you’ve ever been interested in travelling to India, this is a great book to read to learn more about the Indian people and feel more connected to the country.
Best books about travel: Europe
26. La Bella Figura (Beppe Severgnini)
Chosen by Namita Kulkarni, Radically Ever After
On my flight to Milan a few years ago I got halfway through Beppe Severgnini’s hilarious La Bella Figura: A Field Guide to the Italian Mind. It was no mean feat not to laugh out loud at every other page, between his several astute observations about his countrymen and the way things work (or don’t) in Italy.
I’d heard it said often that Indians and Italians are rather similar in many respects, and I found the book confirming that in so many quirky ways – while also surprising me with aspects of Italian culture I could not have otherwise imagined.
We’re all familiar with the broad generalising stereotypes about this country, but a narration such as this gives one a sense of what it’s like to be an Italian, warts and all. A rich mix of anecdotes spread across the length and breadth of this fascinating country, all strung together in a manner that works as a real-as-rain peep into the Italian mind.
27. Inferno (Dan Brown)
Chosen by Corina Preda, Another Milestone
When you say “travel books” you are probably thinking of books about places or stories about people who travel. Dan Brown’s Inferno is not that type, but it is a tremendous source of inspiration for all travellers.
The story is exciting, intriguing and makes you discover great places. The main characters are trying to solve a mystery and along the way; they go from Florence to Venice to Istanbul. Once you read it, it is impossible not to want to see these places with your own eyes.
The journey in Inferno starts in Florence, Italy. Reading it will open your appetite to explore the secret passageway of Vasari Corridor, visit the Boboli Gardens, adorned with fountains, sculptures and hidden grottoes, admire the beautiful works of art in Palazzo Vecchio, and see the interior of the Baptistery of Saint John.
Once the main characters arrive in Venice, Italy, a new adventure starts. Page after page you follow them along the Grand Canal, entering the Doge’s Palace and discovering the incredible details in Saint Mark’s Basilica.
The final stop in the book and the place where the mystery is solved is Istanbul, Turkey’s capital. Here the clues take them inside Hagia Sophia, the incredible mosque decorated with Byzantine mosaics, and underground into the Basilica Cistern, used to store water.
And even if you have already visited some of the sites mentioned in Inferno, you will want to return to see the intriguing details you discover reading the book.
28. Names for the Sea (Sarah Moss)
Chosen by Helen Rapp, Helen On Her Holidays
Just before I went to Iceland for my partner’s 40th birthday trip, I read everything I could get my hands on about the country, in a bid to understand this strange island and its people a little better. My favourite book that I read about Iceland was Names for the Sea: Strangers in Iceland by Sarah Moss.
Moss is an English novelist and academic, and the book tells the story of her year living in Reykjavik with her partner and two young children after taking a job at the University of Iceland.
Just as they moved to Iceland, the 2008 banking crisis hit, the value of her salary dropped by a third, and the family ended up having a quite different experience in Iceland to the one they’d anticipated.
Through a series of tiny, fascinating but everyday details about their life in Reykjavik, Moss reveals what it’s like to live in modern Iceland. She doesn’t neglect Icelandic folklore though; one of my favourite sections is when she goes into the countryside to talk to older Icelanders and they tell her stories about the elves, or “hidden people”.
I found Names for the Sea: Strangers in Iceland an entertaining and accessible book which really helped me understand the country. I’d recommend it to anyone visiting Iceland.
29. No Place Like Home, Thank God (Steven Primrose-Smith)
Chosen by Coni Danceanu, Experiencing the Globe
How do you see your own hometown after biking for 22,000 miles (35,400 kilometres)? It certainly puts some perspective into it. Steven Primrose-Smith embarked on a journey that took the better part of three years to see every capital in Europe using only his bike to move.
Although we disagree on the way he counts capitals and in what he considers to be Europe, the tale of his adventure is witty, fun and beautifully written to boot.
On the trip he will experience how different things can be within the same continent (from bureaucracy to the quality of the roads), and how there are wonderful people everywhere.
With some lessons learnt and some self-discovery done, this British author will see Blackburn, the city he calls home, with new eyes, but still rather be anywhere else (hence the clever title of the book).
After this journey, he goes for a few more journeys – also on his bike – publishing a book after each one. So, if you like his style, there’s plenty more to read.
30. Playing for Pizza (John Grisham)
Chosen by Brittany Harris
If you’re planning a trip to Europe or contemplating starting a new life abroad, you will love John Grisham’s Playing for Pizza. It’s about an American NFL player, Rick Dockery, who – after a crushing Super Bowl loss and a questionable paternity suit – goes to Italy to play for the Parma Panthers in the Italian football league. While living in Italy, he experiences multiple mishaps and culture stock.
This book had me laughing out loud and is one of my favorite Grisham books. If you have ever visited a foreign country where you don’t speak the local language or know little to nothing about the culture you will totally relate to the main character.
Playing for Pizza is much more light-hearted than the typical law and suspense thrillers Grisham is known for such as Pelican Brief and Runaway Jury. This novel displays more of Grisham’s comedic side and is bound to make you want to hop on the next flight to Italy.
31. Stork Mountain (Miroslav Penkov)
Chosen by Stephanie Craig, Sofia Adventures
One of my favorite books about travel is a novel called Stork Mountain. In it, a Bulgarian-born American returns to Bulgaria to track down his lost grandfather. Along the way, he finds love, sorrow, a comical stork, and a new understanding of Bulgaria.
We get to experience a variety of places in Bulgaria. The book opens in Sofia, but one of the things I absolutely love about the novel is the odyssey that our protagonist goes on to travel across the country by bus. We also see the Stradza, Burgas, and the empty land sitting on the border of Bulgaria and Turkey.
Central to the novel is the Nestinari, fire dancers who have roots in Bulgaria, Turkey, and Greece. Through them, we see how all three cultures mingle along the borders of these three cultures. If you’re curious about life in Bulgaria and the Balkans, this novel is a great place to start.
Best books about travel: general inspiration
32. Beyond Guilt Trips: Mindful Trail in an Unequal World (Anu Taranath)
Chosen by Michelle Muncy-Silva, Silvas Travel Tribe
Westerners are often raised to believe that travel can open our minds, and that it is an opportunity to learn about places different to our own. While that is true to an extent, travel can also often leave us at a loss. How do we productively discuss the differences we witness? How do we reflect on the varied perspectives we encounter, and use that experience to enhance our respect and understanding of other people?
Dr. Anu Taranath’s book Beyond Guilt Trips: Mindful Travel in an Unequal World helps us tease out these feelings by exploring her own personal travel stories as well as those of her students.
Her thought-provoking questions highlight the skills we can develop to “stretch and grow” our ability to discuss difference. This book asks the reader to have mindful travel experiences; to unpack the many different emotions that we may encounter both at home and in our travels, and hold space for them as we connect with others.
Each section provides the reader with an opportunity to explore what identities we bring with us to our travels. How might we better appreciate the multifaceted identities of those we come across? Whether you are a family planning a trip, a female solo traveller or a well intentioned student getting ready for a trip abroad, this book is a must-read in preparation for how to become more present during your travels.
33. The Geography of Bliss (Eric Weiner)
Chosen by Sasha Naslin, The Alternative Travel Guide
If you want to discover how people live in different countries and their mentalities, read the book The Geography of Bliss.
At the beginning of the book, the author Eric Weiner describes how he visited an institute that researches happiness. He was very interested in why people in some countries are happy, while in others they are unhappy.
Eric collected statistical data on happy and unhappy countries. It inspired him to go on an incredible journey around the world and visit happy and not-so-happy countries.
He travelled to popular countries like Thailand and Switzerland, and less popular ones like Moldova. So if you are going to visit Moldova, one of the unhappy but exciting countries, the book will give you an idea of the locals’ mentality. The author shares his thoughts on what makes people happy in the countries he visited, drawing on his experience of communicating with locals.
It is a thought-provoking book about a search for happiness, which tells about different understandings of happiness.The book does not provide ready-made answers to what happiness is and how to be happy. But the book makes us think about how we live, what is important to us, and what we need to feel happy.
Perhaps after reading the book, you will come up with your own answers. Eric Weiner’s book is filled with humour and is easy to read.
34. Shy Feet (Frances M. Thompson)
Chosen by Frankie Thompson, As The Bird Flies
It feels a little icky to recommend my own book, Shy Feet: Short Stories Inspired by Travel, but I wrote it for other people who love travel as much as me, so I do hope it is a welcome addition to this list. A collection of 12 short stories all about travel in one way or another, I actually wrote this book while travelling full-time.
During this nomadic time I did a lot of different kinds of travel and saw a lot of different places, so I really wanted different kinds of destinations and travellers to feature.
That’s why in Shy Feet you’ll find a woman on a soul-searching journey to the other side of the world after personal tragedy and a couple on a romantic luxury getaway in Thailand that doesn’t end as they each expect.
You’ll also meet characters on life-changing trips as an 18-year old au pair in France, an independent business woman who finds a whole new world in the city she lives in, and a curious child lost in London’s Gatwick Airport.
Shy Feet has a special place in my heart too as it’s the first book I published and I’ve published many more books since. It’s a great honour that Shy Feet has been read by hundreds of travellers since it was published in 2013, and nearly everyone seems to find a place or a person they can relate to, which is a great compliment.
Whether you’re already on the road or at home dreaming of your next adventure, I’d like to think that Shy Feet: Short Stories Inspired by Travel would make a great little companion to open your eyes, mind and heart … just like travel does!
35. Vagabonding (Rolf Potts)
Chosen by Daniel James, Layer Culture
Have you ever wanted to explore the world around you? The great thing about Vagabonding is that no matter whether it’s some place at the other side of the world or a place just around the corner, this book will give you the inspiration you need to be able to embark on a brand new journey.
Rolf’s book gives even the shyest person the confidence to get out into the world and explore. Focusing on many philosophical aspects, the book covers ideas and basics about backpacking and travel. Another great thing about this book is that each chapter has a summary page containing all of the tips in condensed format and resources for further reading.
If it is your first time travelling or you’re in the planning stage of your first adventure around the world, or maybe even just looking for some relevant inspiration and a purpose – this book makes a great starting point.
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