Whether you need an inspirational book to give you the little kick you need to book your trip, or if you have long bus rides ahead of you, this list of classic, must-read travel books will undoubtedly keep you entertained and motivated to explore the world.
Here are 30 books that are not about melodramatic self-discoveries, but rather about the journey and the destination. Happy reading and happy travels!
The best non-fiction travel books & memoirs
This is about breaking free of the constraints of modern travel and letting the place itself guide you. It’s a variety of travel you’ll love to experience vicariously through Matt Gross—the celebrated Frugal Traveler columnist for the New York Times—and maybe even be inspired to try for yourself.
All Over the Place is Geraldine deRuiter’s memoir about what happened after she was laid off from a job that she loved: It chronicles her journey through Europe and Asia as well as many other places. Those years taught her a great number of things —about herself, about her family and friends, and about what it means to be an adult in the 21st century. From Geraldine’s first trip to India (where she was mistaken for a prostitute), to her adventures in Italy (where she fell in love with an Italian man), this book is in summary full of hilarious stories from all over the world.
Marco Polo’s account of his journey throughout the East in the thirteenth century was one of the earliest European travel narratives, and it remains the most important. The merchant-traveler from Venice, the first to cross the entire continent of Asia, provided us with accurate descriptions of life in China, Tibet, India, and a hundred other lands, and recorded customs, natural history, strange sights, and historical legends.
Founders of Lonely Planet Tony and Maureen Wheeler have produced travel guides to just about every corner of the globe. After thirty years in the business, they have been hassled by customs, cheated by accountants, let down by writers, banned in Malawi, berated for their Burma guide and had books pirated in Vietnam. Through it all, their passion for the planet and traveling certainly hasn’t diminished and comes shining through in this enthralling travelogue.
Flight attendant Heather Poole has written an engaging memoir about the ups and downs of life in the air. The author’s fifteen years of experience in the skies serve as inspiration for this funny account—written from a flight attendant’s point of view—of crazy airline passengers, quirky crew behavior and memorable flights. In conclusion, a cheeky and fun read during an oversea flight that is sure to catch your flight attendant’s attention.
Part foreign affairs discourse and part twisted self-help guide, this book takes the reader from America to Iceland to India in search of happiness using a beguiling mixture of travel, psychology, science and humor to investigate not what happiness is, but where it is with engaging wit and surprising insight.
John Cook led three famous expeditions to the Pacific Ocean in voyages that ranged from the Antarctic circle to the Arctic Sea, bringing back detailed descriptions of the natural history of the Pacific, Australia, and New Zealand. His journals tell the story of these voyages as Cook wanted it to be told, radiating the ambition, courage, and skill which enabled him to carry out an unrivaled series of expeditions in dangerous waters.
Through his signature signature humor and wry observations, Theroux recounts his early adventures on Asia’s fabled trains—the Orient Express, the Khyber Pass Local, the Frontier Mail, the Golden Arrow to Kuala Lumpur, the Mandalay Express, the Trans-Siberian Express—the stars of a journey that takes him on a loop eastbound from London to Tokyo, then onto the Trans-Siberian. In other words, an essential read for both the ardent adventurer and the armchair traveler.
Judith Fein takes readers on 14 exotic journeys where she learns from other cultures new and transformative approaches to family discord, death, success, fear, faith, forgiveness and overcoming trauma. To summarize, this book is immensely readable, steeped in a spirit of connecting with place, with each other, and with our inner selves.
Rather than lavishing pages on the sumptuous taste of a sun-ripened olive in Provence, philosopher de Botton examines what inspires us to escape the humdrum. Whether it consists of purchasing tickets to Tahiti, tromping through the countryside, or wandering through Rome. de Botton uses the works of artists (Baudelaire, Wordsworth, Van Gogh) and writers to explore the premise. For this reason, the Art of Travel is one of the wisest and most original travel books.
Anthony Bourdain explored more of the world than almost nearly any other person, from his hometown of New York City to a tribal longhouse in Borneo, from cosmopolitan Buenos Aires to the isolated Oman desert and of course Paris. Everyone who knew him has their favorite story about how Anthony opened their eyes—and stomachs!–to new flavors. In World Travel, Anthony along with a few of his closest friends share some of those stories. As he writes, “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”
Ernest Hemingway’s classic memoir of Paris in the 1920s, notably includes the original manuscript along with insightful recollections and unfinished sketches. Hemingway beautifully captures the fragile magic of a special time and place, and he manages to be nostalgic without hitting any false notes of sentimentality. “This is how Paris was in the early days when we were very poor and very happy,” he concludes.
The best travel books for finding inspiration
The New York Times Explorer is a collection of 100 trips around the world that are guaranteed to blow your mind. This beautifully designed, full-color book features dozens of expert-curated trip ideas by region, spanning from one-day adventures to multi-week journeys. In other words, there is something for everyone with a wide range of travel types and budgets. In essence, a must-have for globe-trotters, travel enthusiasts, and armchair travelers alike — and an excellent travel-themed gift for the travel enthusiast in your life.
Travis Elborough takes you on a journey in search of unusual and forgotten corners of the modern world. The truth about these curious places (underground realms, forgotten villages and secret societies) is just as varied as the destinations themselves. More particularly, these extraordinary insights reflect on our relationship with the world around us and tell fascinating stories. According to the New York Times, “Atlas of Improbable Places has that rare, through-the-wardrobe quality. It is a delightful compendium of the strangest places on the planet.”
Monisha Rajesh shares her record-setting journey around the world in 80 trains. Beginning with an antique steam engine across India and ending with a bullet train through Japan, Rajesh took to the rails for three months and 15 countries on a quest to experience life as it’s lived by locals. This book is a voyage through history and culture, peppered with personal stories of triumph over adversity—and it’s also just fun to read! This was the 2019 National Geographic Travel Book of the year.
This photographic journey through the world’s countries is filled with amazing images that showcase what life is like in each nation. This is a premium, 416-page hardback package that will inspire wanderlust and make an impressive travel gift. Supported by colourful and detailed maps—and packed with fascinating facts about different cultures, environments, languages and customs throughout the world—it brings the entire planet to life for a new generation of travellers! As a result, the New York Times critic is pretty straightforward: “Lonely Planet guides are, quite simply, like no other.”
The best fiction travel novels
As her candid coming-of-age journey takes her to Australia and South America, curious Rachel discovers and embraces her love of travel and unlocks more truths about herself than she ever realized she was seeking. Along the way, the erstwhile good girl finally learns to do something she’s never done before: simply live for the moment. Overall, a riveting and relatable read.
The most famous of Jack Kerouac’s works is not only the soul of the Beat movement and literature but one of the most important novels of the century. Like nearly all of Kerouac’s writing, this thinly fictionalized autobiography is filled with a cast made of real life friends, lovers, and fellow travelers. Narrated by Sal Paradise, one of Kerouac’s alter-egos, this book remains a cross-country bohemian odyssey that not only influenced writing in the years since its 1957 publication but penetrated into the deepest levels of American thought and culture.
Mark Twain acclaims his voyage from New York City to Europe and the Holy Land in a book so funny and provocative it made him an international star. Paris, Milan, Florence, Venice, Pompeii, Constantinople, Sebastopol, Balaklava, Damascus, Jerusalem, Nazareth, Bethlehem—for the first time he was seeing the great paintings and sculptures of the Old Masters. He responded with wonder and amazement, but also with exasperation, irritation, disbelief. Above all he displayed the great energy of his humour.
Exquisitely researched and told at a galloping pace, this book, peopled with unforgettable characters, soars across the globe from London to Peru to Philadelphia to Tahiti to Amsterdam. To summarize, it is the story of Alma Whittaker. He bears witness to the Industrial Revolution and that extraordinary moment in human history when all the old assumptions about science, religion, commerce, and class were exploding into dangerous new ideas.
Paulo Coelho’s masterpiece tells the magical story of Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd boy who yearns to travel in search of a worldly treasure as extravagant as any ever found. The story of the treasures Santiago finds along the way teaches us, as only a few stories can, about the essential wisdom of listening to our hearts, learning to read the omens strewn along life’s path, and, above all, following our dreams.
Hear the speech of the real America, smell the grass, tsee the colors—these were Steinbeck’s goals as he set out to rediscover the country with Charley, his French poodle. He drives the interstates and the country roads, dines with truckers, encounters bears at Yellowstone and old friends in San Francisco. Along the way he reflects on the American character, racial hostility, the particular form of American loneliness he finds almost everywhere, and the unexpected kindness of strangers.
In 1911, Hiram Bingham III climbed into the Andes Mountains of Peru and “discovered” Machu Picchu. While history has recast Bingham as a villain who stole both priceless artifacts and credit for finding the archeological site, this book retraces the explorer’s perilous path in search of the truth. Turn Right at Machu Picchu is markedly Mark Adams’ fascinating and funny account of his journey through some of the world’s most majestic, historic, and remote landscapes.
Based on Stephen Clarke’s own experiences and with names changed to “avoid embarrassment” A Year in the Merde provides perfect entertainment for Francophiles and Francophobes alike. The premise is simple: Paul West, a young Englishman, arrives to set up some “English” tea-rooms in Paris. In other words, the account gives a laugh-out-loud account of the pleasures and perils of being a Brit in France.
The best destination travel books
In 1933, the delightfully eccentric travel writer Robert Byron set out on a journey through the Middle East via Beirut, Jerusalem, Baghdad and Teheran to Oxiana, near the border between Afghanistan and the Soviet Union. Throughout, he kept a thoroughly captivating record of his encounters, discoveries, and frequent misadventures. Consequently, the bookserves as a rare account of the architectural treasures of a region now inaccessible to most Western travelers, and a nostalgic look back at a more innocent time.
This is Macdonald’s often hilarious chronicle of her adventures in a land of chaos and contradiction. It features encounters with Hinduism, Islam and Jainism, Sufis, Sikhs, Parsis and Christians. And also a kaleidoscope of yogis, swamis and Bollywood stars! From spiritual retreats and crumbling nirvanas to war zones and New Delhi nightclubs, it is a journey that only a woman on a mission to save her soul and her sanity.
This book, which explores the art of living as an expat in Denmark, was my favorite read this year. Helen Russell decided to follow her husband to Scandinavia and try to figure out what makes Denmark the happiest country in the world. Her insights cover design, tax evasion, sexism, childcare, gastronomy and politics. Helen’s funny, uniquely poignant tale of navigating life as an American abroad kept me entertained from start to finish. It’s informative, hilarious and self-deprecating—and tells a great story about how someone who tries very hard to fit in.
This book by British couple Yaya and Lloyd will give an inside look at what makes Britain so special. It features dazzling photos from incredible hikes and surprising spots to beautiful road trips. 100% of the tips are based on their own personal experiences. So whether you’re looking for the best pubs, the most gorgeous walks or the best fish & chips, this book will invariably be a trusted guide for Great Britain.
Prior to his return to the U.S. after a 20-year residence in England, journalist Bryson embarked on a farewell tour of his adopted homeland. As much as his trenchant, witty and detailed observations of life in a variety of towns and villages will delight Anglophiles, it veers from the ludicrous to the endearing and back again. This journal is a delightfully irreverent jaunt around the nation that has produced zebra crossings and Shakespeare, and places with names like Farleigh Wallop and Titsey.
In 1933, eccentric travel writer Robert Byron set out on a journey through the Middle East. He passed through Beirut, Jerusalem, Baghdad and Teheran to get to Oxiana, near the border between Afghanistan and the Soviet Union. Throughout, he kept a thoroughly captivating record of his encounters, discoveries, and frequent misadventures. The book serves as a rare account of the architectural treasures of a region now inaccessible to most Western travelers. In essence, it’s a nostalgic look back at a more innocent time.
Featuring thoughtful commentary and stunning photography, Monocle’s new book explores the endlessly fascinating country of this insular country. It’s part travel guide, part history lesson and part design inspiration. It features interviews with Japan’s top thinkers—including Hiroshi Fujiwara, Taku Satoh and Sou Fujimoto—who share their thoughts on Japanese culture and its all-encompassing influence on their work. This is a uniquely passionate tribute to Japan, covering everything from food and fashion to architecture and culture.