Posted: 12/17/2019 | December 17th, 2019
Another year is almost over, which means it’s again time for my annual best books of the year list! This year, I sort of fell off the book-reading wagon. Writing my own book, moving to Paris and then Austin, and running a conference was exhausting and, by the end of the day, I was often too tired to read.
But, while Netflix often whisked me away to dreamland, I did manage to read a lot of great books this year. It may not have been as many as I would have liked but one can still not be mad at averaging two books a month.
So, as we come to end of 2019, here are my favorite travel and non-travel books I think you should pick up to consume:
1. Ten Years a Nomad, by me!
This is my new(ish) book!!! Unlike my previous books, this is not a “how to” guide but a collection of insights and stories from the road. It’s a memoir of my ten years backpacking the world and the lessons I learned along the way. This book gets to the heart of wanderlust and what extended travel can teach us about life, ourselves, and our place in the world. It’s available as an audiobook too! I think it makes for the BEST Christmas gift and it would mean a lot if you picked it up!
2. River Town, by Peter Hessler
This book is about American writer and journalist Peter Hessler’s time living in Fuling, China, in the 1990s as one of the first Peace Corp volunteers allowed into the country. I loved his book Oracle Bones, so I was excited to read this one. While I don’t think it’s quite as good as ,em.Oracle Bones, it’s nevertheless an insightful, fascinating, well-written account of what living as an expat in China was like during a time of great social and political upheaval.
3. Lands of Lost Borders, by Kate Harris
I read this right after I handed in the final draft of my book Ten Years a Nomad and was blown away by Kate Harris’s magical prose. Kate writes the way I would love to be gifted enough to write. The book follows her journey cycling the Silk Road from Turkey to Tibet and is filled with vivid descriptions of the people and places she encountered. Kate does a magnificent job of weaving adventure and philosophy. It’s one of the best books I read all year
4. The Joys of Travel, by Thomas Swick
Thomas Swick has been a travel writer and editor for decades and is one of the giants in the industry (it’s been fun to get to know him over the years; I only regret not finding his work sooner). The book is a quick but thoughtful read on the emotions we feel as travelers and is filled with lovely stories from his time living abroad in Poland and how mass communication has changed travel. It’s a relatable, insightful book that reminds us why we travel.
5. Here Lies America, by Jason Cochran
This book examines death tourism in America and the forgotten history that comes along with it. My friend Jason Cochran spent time roaming the country exploring the secret past of America’s greatest memorials through the lens of his family’s history. It’s an intriguing and absorbing look at the history of the US (I learned a lot I didn’t know and I’m a history buff!) and how we remember our history (and what parts of that history we conveniently choose to forget).
6. The Atlas of Happiness, by Helen Russell
Written by best-selling author Helen Russell (who also wrote the amazing and entertaining book The Year of Living Danishly), this book examines what makes certain cultures happy and others not. (In many ways, it’s like The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner.) The book highlights interesting facts from cultures all around the globe and it’s writing style makes it an easy read, offering practical tips and insights you can implement in your own quest for happiness and meaning.
7. Stillness Is the Key, by Ryan Holiday
Written by best-selling author and modern-day philosopher Ryan Holiday, this book is a short and easy (but impactful) treatise on the need for stillness in your life. In this fast-paced world, we forget that slowing down can provide us with calmness, thoughtfulness, and help us lead a happier and more balanced life. As someone who has gone through a lot of change this year, I found a lot of wisdom in the book. It’s his best writing to date and has tips and wisdom that everyone can implement.
8. Why We Sleep, by Matthew Walker
As an insomniac, I was hoping this book would help me learn how to sleep better. It didn’t. But what it did do was show me just how important sleep really is and why I need to try to get a lot more of it. It’s a compelling, eye-opening book — especially considering that in our fast-paced, over-worked world the manta “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” dangerously common. But reading this taught me just how misguided that phrase is and that if I don’t try to sleep more, I’ll be dead much quicker!
9. Dark Matter, by Blake Crouch
Without giving too much away, this sci-fi book by Blake Crouch revolves around the idea of an infinite multiverse where every possible outcome of a decision plays out — and each decision thereafter creates another split, and so forth and so forth. It made me really think about regret and the decisions we make in our lives in a way I never thought about before. I couldn’t put the book down and found it a profoundly impactful book. It changed how I view regret.
10. Mistakes Were Made (but Not by Me), by Carol Tavris
I know that I’m raving about a lot of books on this list, but this is hands-down the best I read all year, one that made me look at people differently. We have a hard time saying, “I was wrong” (even when presented with facts that show 100% we were wrong). This book delves into why people double down on false information. In an age of “fake news,” it was an eye-opening look into how people reduce cognitive dissonance. Everyone should read this book!
So there you have it! My favorite books of 2019. I wish the list was longer so I could say I kept my promise to read more, but all you can do is pick up and keep going! I have a pile of books on my coffee table I’m getting through quicker, now that I’m at home more.
Regardless, if you’re looking for some good books this holiday season, pick one of these up (especially mine, because, hey, let’s be real, I’d appreciate the support!).
If you have any suggestions on what to read, leave them in the comments.
P.S. – If you’re looking for more suggestions, be sure to check out all my favorites on Bookshop. It’s not as cheap as Amazon but the money helps small, independent bookstores rather than Amazon. (If you only use Kindle, here’s the Amazon link.)
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
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Ready to Book Your Trip?
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