Updated: 10/12/20 | October 12th, 2020
The end of the year is just that time for favorites lists – and I’ve written about the best travel books many times over! I love talking about travel books. Why? Because 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. Additionally, reading travel books helps you learn about the destinations you are visiting. The more you know about a place, the more you can understand a place.
I am a voracious reader and have even started a book club on this website to share all the books I read. Today is another one of those days where I share some of the books I’ve read recently! If you’re looking for some great reads, here are my current list of the best travel books to inspire you to travel far-off lands:
The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho
A books 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, and learns love and the meaning of life. The book is filled with wonderful and inspirational 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.” I can’t recommend this book enough. It will move your soul.
Love With a Chance of Drowning, by Torre DeRoche
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 one 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 powerful, vivid, and moving. It’s the best travel book I’ve read all year. Here is my interview with her from earlier in the year.
The Caliph’s House: A Year in Casablanca by Tahir Shah
Inspired by the Moroccan vacations of his childhood, Shah decides to buy a house in Casablanca. He moves his family from England in hopes of breaking out from the monotony of life in London as well as exposing his children to a more carefree childhood. I randomly picked this up in a bookstore and couldn’t put it down. Shah is an engrossing writer and I was glued to every word. While dealing with corruption, the local bureaucracy, thieves, gangsters, jinns causing havoc, and the hassle that seems to come with even the most simple interactions, Shah weaves a story that is simply one of the best I’ve read all year. It’s beautifully written and endlessly enthralling. You must go buy this book!
On the Road, by Jack Kerouac
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 and desire to see the world are themes that can resonate with many of us. What I especially love about this story is that through all his travel adventures, he becomes a better, stronger, and more confident person. I can personally relate to that.
Unlikely Destinations: The LP Story, by Tony & Maureen Wheeler
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 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 Lost City of Z, by David Grann
This book seeks to find out what happened to 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. The book reminded me of Turn Right at Machu Picchu: modern writer follows fabled explorer through the jungle. I learned a lot about the region and history of the cultures that inhabited the land long before Westerners came stomping about killing people.
The Beach, by Alex Garland
Besides 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, by Rolf Potts
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, interesting 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. It delves deeply into the why and philosophy of long-term travel that no other book has come close to doing. His book was re-released and I interviewed him about it.
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 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 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, by Eric Weiner
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.
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. 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. Further reading: Check out my interview with Mark from earlier in the year.
Cruising Altitude, by Heather Poole
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. You learn crew terms, about training, dealing with pilots, and the day to day life that takes place up in the air. 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 about her book.
A Year of Living Danishly, by Helen Russell
This was probably my favorite book of the year. When her husband gets a job at the Lego offices in Jutland, Helen Russell decides to head to Denmark with him, freelance write, and try to figure out why the Danes are so happy. From childcare, education, food, and interior design to taxes, sexism, and everything in between (turns out the Danes love to burn witches), Helen’s funny, poignant story kept me enthralled from start to finish. It’s informative, hilarious, self-deprecating, and tells a great story of someone trying to fit in. As someone who loves Denmark, has lots of Danish friends, and thinks Copenhagen is one of the best cities in the world, I couldn’t put this down. If you read just one book from this list, make it this one!
Ok I know I include this like in every list but my book is awesome so you should read it. Thos New York Times best-selling book was called “The bible for budget travelers” by the BBC and will teach how to master the art of travel so you save money, get off the beaten path, and have a more local, richer travel experience no matter your destination. It features detailed pricing and destination information so you can travel better and know what to expect when you visit places around the world. Meant for anyone who wants to save money, the book contains everything I know about travel – and 10 pages of all my favorite companies!
Books about travel inspire us to go visit far off lands and imagine us doing incredible things. Bryson’s In a Sunburned Country inspired me to visit Australia! I hope these travel books inspire you to travel the world and feed your wanderlust. If you have any suggestions that I can add to this best travel books list, leave them in the comments.
If you’d like to see some of the other books I’ve recommended (or are currently reading), check out this page I created on Amazon that lists them all!
You can also find them listed in our Bookshop store, which helps support locally-owned bookstores. If you’re in the US, click here to check out my Bookshop store!
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.
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:
- World Nomads (for everyone below 70)
- Insure My Trip (for those over 70)
- Medjet (for additional repatriation coverage)
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!