Nothing can take you on a journey quite like a great travel book, especially because they’re so powerfully transportive. They bring exotic sites, sounds, and smells to life, take you to places you’ve never been before, and can even shift the way you look at the world.
Reading and traveling are symbiotic activities; books inspire travel and travel encourages reading. They live in an intimate association with one another and by doing both they add up to something larger than doing either as an individual act.
We decided to put a list together of some of our favorite travel books. We hope these reads will inspire your next adventure.
Tracks by Robyn Davidson
This is the memoir of Robyn Davidson, a woman who trekked solo across 1700 miles of Australian desert with four camels and a dog. She first set off in 1977 from Alice Springs where she had worked for a few years training camels. She roamed west and eventually arrived at the coast after crossing the relentless landscape of central Australia.
Her story was first published in an article for National Geographic before Davidson finally decided to write a book. It was later turned into a great movie. It’s a story of survival and nomadism and a determination to fulfill one’s dream.
Wild by Cheryl Strayed
This book needs no introduction. We’re pretty certain that it features on most lists of best travel books to read. For those who don’t know, Strayed walk the 1100 mile long hike known as the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in the United States solo in 1995 after a tumultuous few years of her life.
With no training or experience she completed the trek through sheer determination and it ultimately helped change her outlook on life. It’s an incredible story of personal triumph and is an inspiring read, perhaps more so for females. The book was turned into a film with Reece Witherspoon and it has inspired a huge wave of solo female thru-hikers. It’s also been credited for making the PCT one of the world’s most sought after long distance hikes.
In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin
After finding the bones of a brontosaurus in his grandparents “Cabinet of Curiosities,” Bruce Chatwin couldn’t get the exotic and mysterious land of Patagonia out of his mind. In the mid 1970s, he finally gets to travel there, and this book is a fascinating account of the six months he spent traversing epic landscapes, hunting prehistoric fossils, and interacting with nomadic communities.
A master of storytelling, Chatwins book is full of adventure including hunting for strange beasts and meeting weird and wonderful strangers. After the book was published, Patagonian locals questioned whether some of Chatwin’s accounts actually took place. You can definitely sense his knack for embellishment, but as a pure, rollicking adventure no travel book really comes close.
Around the World in 80 Trains: A 45,000-Mile Adventure by Monisha Rajesh
Announcing that you’re going to travel the globe in an 80-train journey is quite a big deal…. But after carefully plotting her route, gliding along the world’s most iconic railways (including the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express) author Monisha Rajesh set out for the ride of her life.
Going from St. Pancras station in London to some of the world’s most majestic landscapes including Russia, Mongolia, Singapore, Tibet, Canada, and Kazakhstan, the book settles into a satisfying rhythm. Obviously, the journey isn’t without bumps in the road, like road blockades and pop-up police stations.
But the real magic is in the unlikely friendships she forges aboard each train journey and the swirl of cultures and breathtaking vistas she discovers along the way. It’s funny, poignant, and written at just the right pace to take it all in. As a winner of “Best Travel Book” in the National Geographic Traveler Awards, it looks like we’re not Rajesh’s only fans.
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
Just as some travel books are all about a particular place, others are more interested in a particular moment in time. On The Road by Jack Kerouac is a classic example of zeitgeist travel writing, bringing the 1950s counter-cultural movement to life as Kerouac journeys across the United States.
For the author, a book about America is also a book about freedom. This freedom is represented by the kooky characters Kerouac encounters while heading west, but also the stream of consciousness style of writing. Ultimately, the book evokes the feeling of traveling when you’re young, needing nothing more from life than the beating sun and open road ahead of you.
The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux
An absolutely entertaining travelog by one of the greatest travel writers of all time, The Great Railway Bazaar tells about Theroux’s four month rail journey through Europe, Central Asia, and Southeast Asia. He embarks on this journey to explore “the world” outside “his world.” Through the book, Theroux pays tribute to memorable railway journeys, also bringing into limelight the interactions with people at the places he visited.
The train route that the author takes starts at the Victoria Station in London to Asia and finally the Trans-Siberian Express. The Khyber Pass Local, the Direct Orient Express, and the Golden Arrow to Kuala Lumpur are all discussed in this enjoyable read.
A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson is a hilarious travel book that follows the journey of the author and his unenthusiastic friend attempting to hike the 2,190 mile Appalachian Trail, one of the longest hiking trails in the world that takes hikers from Georgia in the Southeast to Maine in the Northeast of the United States.
Bryson’s humor combining with his friend’s amusing complaints throughout the journey and all the misfortunes they encounter along the trail make for quite a fun travel read that tells the story of what it’s like to attempt the Appalachian Trail. All the weird characters you meet along the way might even help to save your life when you come face to face with a bear in the wild.
It is a page turner through and through, and you will finish the book before you even know it. If you are looking for a fun travel book to read to spark your curiosity about the wilderness in the United States, this is a great book to pick.
The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain
Mark Twain, more than anything, is funny.
And his satirical account of his trip on a steamship to Europe and the Middle East is a send up of privileged Americans, including himself. But between Twain’s character sketches and sarcasm, he digs into why people travel, the way tourism takes advantage of locals and capitalizes on history, and the baked-in moral conflict of being a traveler responsible for that capitalism.
The Snow Leopard by Peter Mattliessen
A really good book can take a subject that you might otherwise think is a snooze (Sheep! Someone else’s spiritual journey!) and turn it into something relevant and fascinating.
The author went with sheep biologist George Schaller to Nepal to study the Himalayan blue sheep and possibly to glimpse the rare and beautiful snow leopard. They undertook this five-week trek as winter snows were sweeping into the high passes. More importantly, though, this is also a story about why climbers go to the mountain in the first place and what they are trying to find there.
This is a deeply moving account of a true pilgrimage, a journey of the heart. Buy Here
Worldwalk by Steven Newman
This is the story of Steven Newman, a formen freelance journalist, who decided at the age of 28 to pack his bag and begin a 4-year journey around the world on foot.
This captivating adventure tale follows Steven’s epic journey across 21 countries on five continents and becomes a timeless lesson of hope and love through the eyes of a backpacker.
He allows himself to depend on complete strangers and is rewarded with incredible generosity, though he has many harrowing experiences including several life-threatening situations.
Worldwalk presents a fundamentally optimistic view of humanity and inspires the reader to see that people are the same wherever we may go. The intimacy and vulnerability of his journey, walking on foot through all of it, makes this book completely unforgettable. Buy Here
Blue Highways: A Journey into America by William Least Heat-Moon
This masterpiece documents the ultimate road trip through the backroads of the United States. William Least Heat-Moon set out on a three-month, 13,000-mile journey in his van and intentionally avoided cities, interstates, and fast food. This book is sure to rekindle your fire of wanderlust as he gives great insight into the people and small town cultures of the rural United States. Buy Here