The end of the year is just that time for favorites lists. Last week, I wrote about my favorite blogs of 2013 and this week, I want to talk travel books. Part of the tool belt of any traveler is a good book. 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.
I read a lot, and one of the things I enjoy most is to kick back on a long train ride with a good book.
When I started this blog, I put up a blog post on my favorite books and since I’m a voracious reader, my list has greatly expanded since then. If you’re looking for some great reads, here are my current book suggestions to inspire you to travel far off lands:
The Alchemist – A story about following your dreams, this is one of the most-read books in recent history. The story follows a young shepherd boy from Spain to Egypt as he follows his heart, goes with the flow, learns to love, and learns the meaning of life. The book is filled with wonderful and inspirational quotes, like my favorite, “If you can concentrate always on the present, you’ll be a happy man… Life will be a party for you, a grand festival, because life is the moment we’re living right now.” I’ve read this book multiple times. A book about following your dreams is a great book for dreamer…and we travelers certainly are dreamers.
Love With a Chance of Drowning – 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 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 the best travel book I’ve read all year. Here is my interview with her from earlier in the year.
The Turk Who Loved Apples – Written by my friend Matt Gross, this book by the NYT’s former Frugal Traveler is about his misadventures and lessons from decades of travel. A lot of what he’s written resonates with me, especially his thoughts working in travel, being a solo traveler, and living in Southeast Asia. It’s a great book and very well written. I did a video interview with him earlier this year too and we joke about our very different feelings on Vietnam.
On the Road – 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, desire to see the world, and adventures are themes that can resonate with many of us. What I especially love about this story is that through all his travels, he becomes a better, stronger, and more confident person. I can personally relate to that.
Unlikely Destinations – Written by the founders of Lonely Planet, this tome chronicles the start and rise of the company whose guidebook is probably in your backpack or on your bookshelf right now. The story follows them from when they set out from England in the 1970s to the beginning of the 21st century. In between, you hear all their travel tales and learn about their early business struggles. While the book drags in some parts, it is ultimately a fascinating read about the company that helped start the travel guidebook industry and forever changed how we travel.
The Island at the Center of the World – Nothing beats New York City, and this book by Russell Shorto explores the city’s early founding. You can’t understand a place if you don’t understand its history, and this book discusses the Dutch founding of New York and how they lost it to the British. It’s a fascinating read and now when I walk around New York City, I have a different perspective on it thanks to this book. He just published a new book on Amsterdam that I bought but haven’t read yet.
The Beach – Behind The Alchemist, this is probably my favorite travel book. (I like the movie too, but the book is way better). What I love about Alex Garland’s tale about backpackers and their search for paradise is that you can identify with Richard and his quest to “do something different and get off the beaten path” but, in the end, see that as an illusion. It’s also a good tale about how backpackers’ search for the ideal can end up ruining that ideal. I love this book a lot. I’ve read it twice. Now that I am writing about it again, I think I might re-read it soon.
Vagabonding – Written by the godfather of vagabonding, Rolf Potts, this book is a must-read for those new to long-term travel. Rolf spent 10 years on the road (he even walked across Israel) and his book contains valuable insights, quotes, and a lot of practical information. From saving to planning to life on the road, this is a must for newbies. It’s an inspirational book and one that really affected me when I was planning my trip. His book was re-released last month and I interviewed him about his book.
In A Sunburned Country – It’s hard to pick just one book by Bill Bryson that’s good, because they all are. He’s one of the most prolific and recognized names in travel writing. This book chronicles a journey through Australia and takes you from east to west, through tiny little mining towns, forgotten coastal cities, and off-the-beaten-path forests. Bryson includes lots of trivia information in his tale as he travels around in awe – and sometimes in fear (thanks to box jellyfish, riptides, crocs, spiders, and snakes) – of this enormous country. This is the book that inspired me to go to Australia.
The Geography of Bliss – Writer and NPR correspondent Eric Weiner set out on a yearlong journey to find the world’s happiest places. He heads to places like Iceland, Qatar, Denmark, India, and Moldova (the world’s most unhappy place) on his quest, and while he never finds the secret to happiness, his journey makes for an amazing and lighthearted read. In trying to answer the question “what makes a society happy?”, Weiner has some interesting interactions with locals and the cultural experiences.
The Seven Ages of Paris – OK, maybe Paris beats New York. This book skips around a lot but it highlights the main influential periods of Parisian history, taking you from the early middle-ages to the 20th century. It’s very dense and I found myself re-reading a few parts. While I like more linear history books, this is a good overview of Parisian history.
Cruising Altitude – This book by Heather Poole is about life as a flight attendant. I, ironically, picked it up at an airport and read it on a plane. It’s a quick, light read about what it’s like to work at 35,000 feet. It had some funny stories and gave me a new appreciation for just how hard those flight attendants work and how much crap they have to put up with! I was lucky enough to talk to Heather last year about her book.
Paris Was Ours – Another book on Paris because I love the city so much. This book showcases thirty-two writers from around the world who moved to Paris and talk about their time there. They share personal stories of how they learned to cook, study, and integrate into Parisian life. This book dives into the good, the bad, and the ugly but shows just how much of a lasting effect Paris can have on people.
That’s my current top list. I have some more books at the bottom of my resources section and currently have queued up over 20 other travel books on my Amazon wish list (including some recommendations from readers).
And I’m always open to more recommendations so leave your favorite books!