Updated: 02/20/19 | February 20th, 2019
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. The book is filled with amazing quotes. 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.”” 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, Jack 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 thrills, adventure, love, sex, drugs, poverty, and excitement while moving from a weak character into someone whose life experience brings confidence. It’s a true American classic.
Unlikely Destinations, by Tony & Maureen Wheeler
Written by the founders of Lonely Planet, this tome chronicles the start and rise of the company whose guidebook is in your backpack 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. You’ll also see a lot of other familiar travel names pop into their story. 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 Beach, by Alex Garland
Alex Garland’s tale about backpackers and their search for paradise can be found all over the streets of Asia. Following Richard and his quest to “do something different” in Thailand, we see the backpacker’s desire to explore and find new places, but never really completely. The book is part adventure and partly an exploration of why we always search for these utopias and the consequences of that quest. It sums up the idealization of travel like no other book ever has come close too and remains one of my top ten favorite travel books ever.
Oracle Bones, by Peter Hessler
This novel about China spans the late 90s and early 2000s. It gives a fascinating look at many aspects of China, from its culture to its politics to its food. The author lived in Beijing for years, and his observations into daily life are insightful. 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. This book is thick, and while not a beach read, it will certainly give you a lot of information about the world’s rising dragon. 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 all the way through.
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. No book has ever come close to expressing the why and philosophy of long term travel as this book has.
Seven Years in Tibet, by Heinrich Harrer
Originally 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. The book is a great insight into Tibet as it used to be.
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 prolific and 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 (box jellyfish, riptides, crocs, spiders, and snakes) – 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. His time with the underclass kindled his desire for political change.
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 people looking to quit their day jobs and travel the world. Each of these girls gave up a career to go on a journey together and came back better than before. It’s especially encouraging for females who are worried about leaving their jobs or traveling around the world solo. The book chronicles their journey and is a good look at what it is like to travel with friends, not kill each other, and come back stronger.
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 countryside 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 someone struggling to fit in. (I had the pleasure of meeting Helen in 2018 at TravelCon and she is absolutely wonderful, which is just icing on the cake!).
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 to add to your book list! Check out my interview with Mark to learn more!.
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! Here is my interview with her if you want to read more.
Wild, by Cheryl Strayed
This book (and the subsequent movie starring Reese Witherspoon) had a lot of hype surrounding it. I admit, my expectations were high when I sat down to read it. Fortunately, I was not disappointed! The book highlights her journey along the Pacific Crest Trail, one of the longest hiking trails in the world, when she was 26. 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. She heads out on the PCT looking for a fresh start. Along the way, she encounters kindness, community, and a growing sense of belong. Filled with wonderful prose and honesty, 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 reading 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 or Momondo. They are my two favorite search engines because they search 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 as they have the most comprehensive inventory. If you want to stay elsewhere, use Booking.com as they consistently return the cheapest rates for guesthouses and cheap hotels. I use them all the time.
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. I’ve been using World Nomads for ten years. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:
Looking for the best companies to save money with?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel! I list all the ones I use to save money when I travel – and I think will help you too!