Updated: 5/19/22 | May 19th, 2022
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.
While traveling, I always enjoy reading books about travel, exotic locations, and living your dreams. It makes me feel good about what I’m doing and keeps me dreaming of different places. Even if you aren’t traveling, a good travel book can help motivate you to get out there.
Here are some of the best travel-related books that keep us dreaming:
The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho
A story about following your dreams, this is one of the most-read books in recent history. It’s sold 65 million copies and has been printed in 150 languages. 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. It’s one of those books that makes you feel good to be alive. This book always inspires me to remember to keep things in perspective and follow my heart and dreams and not be boxed in by what I “should” do.
On the Road, by Jack Kerouac
Written in 1957, Kerouac’s Beat Generation classic is a classic travel novel. Kerouac’s character’s (who he modeled after himself) frustration, desire to see the world, and adventures resonate with all of us who need a little relief from modern life. 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. He finds adventure, love, drugs, poverty, and excitement while moving from a weak character into someone whose life experience brings confidence.
Unlikely Destinations, by Tony & Maureen Wheeler
This tome chronicles the start and rise of the company whose guidebook is probably in your backpack or on your bookshelf right now: Lonely Planet. Started by Tony and Maureen Wheeler, the story follows them from England in the 1970s to the beginning of the 21st century. In between, you’ll hear many amazing travel tales and learn about their early business struggles trying to get Lonely Planet off the ground. While the book drags in some parts, it’ a fascinating read about the company that launched the guidebook industry.
The Beach, by Alex Garland
Besides The Alchemist, this is probably my favorite travel book. (I like the movie too, which stars Leonardo DiCaprio, but the book is way better.) Focused on a group of backpackers, what I love about Garland’s tale and their search for the ultimate backpacker paradise is that many of us can identify with Richard and his quest to “do something different and get off the beaten path.” Yet in the end we often realize that very quest is an illusion. It’s a fun, page-turning tale about how backpackers’ search for the “ideal destination” can end up ruining that ideal. I love this book a lot!!
Oracle Bones, by Peter Hessler
A novel about China spans the late 90s and early 2000s, it offers a fascinating look at China’s culture, politics, food, and everything inbetween. The author lived in Beijing for years, and his observations into daily life are insightful and perceptive. He befriends an Uyghur, one of China’s ethnic minorities, and the storyline gives a lot of insight into how China treats some of its lower-class citizens. We often think of China as monocultural, but this book clearly shows you it’s not.
Smile When You’re Lying, by Chuck Thompson
Written by the slightly jaded Chuck Thompson, this book is a humorous criticism of the travel writing industry. Chuck Thompson rails against the gloss of travel magazines, overused euphemisms, and the Lonely Planetization of the world. He argues that all those travel magazines are nothing but glorified brochures. All the good stories — and he includes quite a few of his own (my favorite was his story of getting robbed by Thai school girls) — don’t get included. Sometimes the book meanders all over the place, but it nevertheless kept me laughing.
Vagabonding, by Rolf Potts
Written by the godfather of vagabonding, this is a must-read for those new to long-term travel. Rolf spent 10 years on the road (he even walked across Israel). This book contains valuable insights, quotes, and a lot of practical information for the first-time vagabond (even if some of they are dated). From saving to planning to life on the road, this is a must for newbies. It’s an inspirational book and, while an experienced traveler might not get much practical information from it, it remains as good reaffirming read.
Seven Years in Tibet, by Heinrich Harrer
Published in 1953, this classic tells the tale of Austrian mountaineer Heinrich Harrer’s 1943 escape from British India, his trek across the Himalayas, and his stay in Tibet. Warmly welcomed, he became the tutor to the young Dalai Lama. He vividly recounts Tibetan traditions and customs that were little-seen or known by people in the outside world. Tibet was relatively unknown then, and Harrer tells of a world destroyed by the Chinese invasion of 1950, which forced Harrer to leave.
In A Sunburned Country, by Bill Bryson
It’s hard to pick just one book by Bill Bryson that’s good because they all are. He’s one of the most recognized names in travel writing. This book chronicles a journey through Australia. It 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 – of this enormous country. This is one of my favorite books, and it inspired me to go to Australia.
The Motorcycle Diaries, by Ernesto “Che” Guevara
This is the story of Ernesto “Che” Guevara’s eight-month motorcycle journey across South America as a 23-year-old medical student in 1951-52. The book (recently turned into a movie) mixes observation, adventure, and politics. Guevara left home with a doctor friend of his, and this eight-month motorcycle trip was the start of his path towards becoming a revolutionary. He explores Inca ruins, visits a leper colony, and helps miners and farm workers. It does an excellent job of humanizing a figure that most people know little about.
The Lost Girls, by Jennifer Baggett, Holly C. Corbett, & Amanda Pressner
Written by the infamous Lost Girls (Amanda, Holly, Jen) about their trip around the world, this book is great inspiration for anyone looking to quit their day job and travel the world. After experiencing a quarter-life crisis, each of these girls gave up a career to go on a journey together and came back better than before. The book chronicles their journey and is a eye-opening look at what it is actually like to travel with friends, not kill each other, and come back stronger (and happer) than ever.
A Year of Living Danishly, by Helen Russell
This is one of my favorite new travel books. It chronicles Helen and her husband’s move from busy London to the rural ountryside of Denmark. As her husband embraces a new job a LEGO, Helen embarks on a mission to discover why the Danes are consistently rated one of the happiest people in the world. It’s informative, funny, self-deprecating, and tells the relatable story of an outsider struggling to fit in. From childcare, education, and food to taxes, sexism, and everything in between, Helen kept me enthralled from start to finish
Turn Right at Machu Picchu, by Mark Adams
Turn Right at Machu Picchu recounts Adams’s tale of hiking across Peru with in search of Inca ruins and ancient cities. Having found one of the last oldschool guides in the country, Mark follows in the footsteps of archaeologist Hiram Bingham III, the man who (re)discovered Machu Picchu. The book does a great job of balancing the history of Machu Picchu with a modern travelogue in a way that doesn’t get bogged down in all the historical minutiae. The book taught me a lot about Peru and is another entertaining travelogue!
Love With a Chance of Drowning, by Torre DeRoche
Written by fellow travel blogger Torre DeRoche, this book covers her fear of the ocean and conflicting desire to sail across the Pacific with her boyfriend. I admit, I was worried it would be to “lovey dovey” for me but I honestly couldn’t put it down. It’s beautifully written and her descriptions of the scenery and people were captivating. It’s the sort of book you read that immediately coaxes you into planning your own epic adventure around the world!
Wild, by Cheryl Strayed
This book had a lot of hype surrounding it so my expectations were high. Fortunately, I was not disappointed! The book highlights Strayed’s journey along the Pacific Crest Trail, one of the longest hiking trails in the world. She sets off in need of some peace and self-reflection, forced to come to grips with the death of her mother, the break-up of her marriage, and struggles with drug addiciton. Along the way, she encounters kindness, community, and a growing sense of belonging. I found this book deeply moving.
Whether you’re in need of something to entertain you on your next flight or your searching for a captivating read to keep you inspired between trips, this list can help! Great books not only keep us entertained but they make us better travelers. They remind us why we travel in the first place.
If you want to really step up your travel reading, feel free to join our travel book club! Once a month, I’ll be featuring about five amazing books — some oldies, some recent reads — covering travel, history, fiction, and anything else I think you might enjoy! So, if you want book suggestions, just sign up below. Once a month you’ll get a list of suggested books based on what I read and loved that month.
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 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 they consistently return 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 over 70)
- Medjet (for additional evacuation coverage)
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.