Updated: 5/21/22 | May 21st, 2022
My 2015 New Year’s resolution was to read more, and I can say, for the first time in my life, that I kept that resolution (I swear, next year, I will go to the gym more!). I’ve read over 80 books this year on topics ranging from travel to business to history to self-improvement, as well as biographies!
I’ve fallen in love with reading all over again. Growing up I was an avid reader (not many 15-year-olds read the unabridged Les Misérables for fun), but in the last few years, I focused more on Netflix than books. I’m glad I started reading again. I forgot how wonderful it is to learn, understand, and explore the worlds of others — to see life through their eyes and be inspired to go new places and live better.
And so, with another year coming to an end, I wanted to share the books that inspired wanderlust in me the most:
1. The Art of Travel, by Alain de Botton
This book isn’t about some adventure the author took. It examines the why of travel. What compels us to see the world? Why do we do what we do? From the anticipation of a trip to the act of getting there, being there, and the return, Botton discusses it all. It was the most thought-provoking travel book I’ve read all year. The author’s incredibly sophisticated and vivid use of language and imagery sucks you in, and his discussions of beauty, travel, and the mundane are engaging and thought-provoking.
2. Turn Right at Machu Picchu, by Mark Adams
This book recounts Adams’s tale of roughing it through Peru in search of Inca ruins and ancient cities while following archaeologist Hiram Bingham’s original route to Machu Picchu when he rediscovered it in 1911. The book taught me a lot about Peru, and I am inspired to visit a lot of the sites Adams explored on my trip there next year. Like him, I fully plan to turn right. It was the best travelogue I’ve read in the past year and has inspired me to visit a lot of the places he did in the book.
3. The Lost City of Z, by David Grann
This book seeks to find out what happened to another South America explorer: Percy Fawcett, who trekked through the Amazon jungle in search of the fabled Lost City of Z. Blending history, biography, and travelogue, Grann intermingles information about Percy’s life and expeditions with the science behind the myth of Z and the possibility that there could have been vast advanced civilizations in the Amazon. I learned a lot about the region and history of the cultures that inhabited the land before Westerners invaded.
4. Marching Powder, by Rusty Young & Thomas McFadden
This book by Rusty Young tells the true story of Thomas McFadden, an English drug trafficker who ended up in Bolivia’s San Pedro prison after an official double-crossed him. While it wasn’t the most well-written book I’ve read, the story is a page-turner. You learn about life in a prison where inmates bought their own cells, made their own drugs, bribed cops, and more. This is not a story of redemption. It’s one about life in one of the most corrupt prisons in the world…and the weird tourist attraction it became.
5. Cockpit Confidential, by Patrick Smith
Flying gives me a lot of anxiety. I white-knuckle the armrest for at least half my flight, so when I came across the book, I got excited. A book by a pilot that explains how planes work and what all those sounds I’m hearing are? YES! I devoured this book in three days (it’s an easy read). Patrick Smith’s book (written in Q&A) takes a lot of the mystery out of flying and what life as a pilot is like. This book eased many of my flying fears and provided such a better understanding of how planes actually work.
6. Amsterdam, by Russell Shorto
Written by Russell Shorto, one of my favorite writers, this book covers one of my favorite cities in the world. Shorto moved to Amsterdam with his family and — as he did in his book on Manhattan — has written a phenomenal tale of the city’s history. I’ve read a lot of books about Amsterdam and this book is by far one of the best, providing a wonderful overview of the city as told through the stories of its famous and not-so-famous residents. Even if you’re not a history buff, you’ll find the book an educational and fun read.
7. The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho
This book is always on my best-reads list. The story follows a young shepherd boy traveling from Spain to Egypt after a dream tells him he needs to get to Egypt. Along the way, he meets interesting people, learns to follow his heart, go with the flow, and discovers love and the meaning of life. This book is truly inspiring, filled with wonderful quotes. My favorite is, “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.”
8. Walking the Amazon: 860 Days. One Step at a Time, by Ed Stafford
To be honest, I didn’t find this to be a well-written book. Ed Stafford isn’t a natural writer and it took me a few chapters before I got into it. However, what compelled me to power through this is the story. This guy walked from the Pacific to the Atlantic, from Peru to Brazil, all the way across the Amazon jungle! He was the first person to do this, cutting his way through the jungle, sleeping in the trees, and almost starving a few times. It’s the kind of travel story is what inspires people to go out and do something wonderful and life-changing.
9. The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost, by Rachel Friedman
Rachel begins the book describing her sheltered childhood and her decision to spend a few months in Ireland. There she meets an Australian who becomes her best friend and inspires her to travel the world. Most of us will relate to this book – the desire to break out of our shell, our fear of the unknown, getting more comfortable in our own skin, and growing as travel makes us more independent. Well-written, funny, and a bit self-deprecating, this book made me smile all the way through.
10. Wild, by Cheryl Strayed
Cheryl Strayed’s book is about her journey along the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail when she was 26. She sets off in hopes of finding herself and coming to grips with the death of her mother, break-up of her marriage, and drug addiction. Along the way, she encounters kindness, happy fellow hikers, and a deep sense of belong. Filled with wonderful prose, I found this book deeply moving. It’s easy to see why the book was so popular. Even if you’re not a hiker, you can relate to her personal struggles and transformation.
11. How to Travel the World on $50 a Day, by me!
OK, I had to sneak this one in there! The best book I read all year on travel planning (not that I’m biased!), this how to guide will help you plan your trip from A to Z, save money in regions around the world, and become a better budget traveler. This book was a three-month New York Times best seller and has helped a lot of people plan and save for a better trip. It contains a lot of detailed information not found on this blog too to ensure you have an amazing trip without breaking the bank!
Here are a few more books from throughout the year that I also enjoyed:
- Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr., by Ron Chernow
- 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change, by Steven R. Covey
- Drunk Tank Pink: And Other Unexpected Forces That Shape How We Think, Feel, and Behave, by Adam Alter
- My ’Dam Life: Three Years in Holland, by Sean Condon
- Headhunters on my Doorstep: A True Treasure Island Ghost Story, by J. Maarten Troost
- The House of Rothschild, Volume 1: Money’s Prophets, 1798–1848, by Niall Ferguson
So there are my top books for 2015! If you have any suggestions for books, leave them in the comment section.
Book Your Trip: Logistical Tips and Tricks
Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner. It’s my favorite search engine because it searches websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is being left unturned.
Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com as it consistently returns the cheapest rates for guesthouses and hotels.
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:
- SafetyWing (best for everyone)
- Insure My Trip (for those 70 and over)
- Medjet (for additional evacuation coverage)
Want to Travel for Free?
Travel credit cards allow you to earn points that can be redeemed for free flights and accommodation — all without any extra spending. Check out my guide to picking the right card and my current favorites to get started and see the latest best deals.
Ready to Book Your Trip?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel. I list all the ones I use when I travel. They are the best in class and you can’t go wrong using them on your trip.