At a time when we are unable to travel, reading can be one of the greatest salvations – and a much welcome virtual escape from the couch! In the non-travel times, post big adventure or during the planning for the next one, far-flung adventures can only be achieved in our fantasies. And whether you’re an avid bibliophile or a sporadic reader, there has been no better time to kick back with a great book.
And to help you out, we’ve compiled our 30 best travel books especially for you. From much-loved travel classics to coffee table non-fiction, memoirs and novels, and destination-specific books to transport you around the world – here’s our run-down of the very best travel books to get lost in right now.
Disclaimer: Almost all posts on this site contain Affiliate links, and this one about The Best Travel Books to Inspire Wanderlust is no different. This means that if you click on any of the links in this post (and make a purchase) I may receive a small commission at absolutely no cost to you. Each post is carefully crafted to (hopefully!) answer all your questions and recommendations are made where we believe they will improve your trip and help with your planning. As such we thank you in advance should you decide to click & buy. Read my full Disclosure here.
Table of Contents
- 1 Best Travel Books: Travel Classics
- 2 Best Travel Books: Coffee Table Books and Non-Fiction
- 3 Best Travel Books: Biographies & Memoir Novels
- 3.1 Wild by Cheryl Strayed
- 3.2 Walking the Nile by Levison Wood
- 3.3 The Salt Path by Raynor Winn
- 3.4 Lands of Lost Borders: A Journey on the Silk Road by Kate Harris
- 3.5 The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World by Eric Weiner
- 3.6 The Road to Oxiana by Robert Byron
- 3.7 The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain
- 4 Best Travel Books for Wanderlust-Worthy Escapism
- 5 Best Travel Books To Transport You to Far-Off Lands
- 5.1 RWANDA: We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families by Philip Gourevitch
- 5.2 PERU: Death in the Andes by Mario Vargas Llosa
- 5.3 MOROCCO: The Caliph’s House by Tahir Shah
- 5.4 AFRICA: Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Capetown by Paul Theroux
- 5.5 CAMBODIA: First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung
- 5.6 USA: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson
- 5.7 ITALY: The Name of The Rose by Umberto Eco
- 5.8 LEBANON: The Hakawati by Rabih Alameddine
- 5.9 IRAN: Land of the Turquoise Mountains by Cyrus Massoudi
- 5.10 CONGO: The Catastrophist by Ronan Bennett
- 5.11 BOLIVIA: Marching Powder by Rusty Young
- 5.12 CUBA: The Old Man & The Sea by Ernest Hemingway
Best Travel Books: Travel Classics
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
This spiritual and heart-warming story has become a classic modern-day fable about following your dreams and listening to the heard. Following the life of a young shepherd from Andalucia, the plot unveils the beautiful characters he meets on his travels. With themes of serendipity and folklore, The Alchemist has the power to inspire your next adventure. His other books such as The Pilgrimage and Eleven Minutes are also worth a read.
A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle
A much-loved story about the ultimate relocation. Peter Mayle’s revered memoir novel strips back the romantic notions of moving abroad. After buying an old farmhouse in the Lubéron Valley, Peter and his wife embarked on a journey which sees them adopt a new way of life, enjoying the food, the quirks and eccentricities of rural Provence.
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
Made popular by the 2012 release of the film of the same title, Jack Kerouac’s classic is definitely worth a read. Following the journey of Sal, who ventures back and forth across the United States, the plot unveils his coming of age experience with hedonistic debauchery, musical awakening and the discovery of personal freedom. The book which has become known as a trailblazer of the Beat Generation depicts a wonderful portrayal of 1950s underground America.
A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
It’s difficult to pick just one book by the legendary travel writer, Bill Bryson, but this is one of his earlier works and is a much-loved classic. Bill embarks on the epic Appalachian trail which spans the eastern coast of the USA with his friend Stephen at the age of forty-four.
They encounter interesting characters and critters along the way, making it a highly entertaining read and also a major film starring Robert Redford, Nick Nolte and Emma Thompson.
Best Travel Books: Coffee Table Books and Non-Fiction
While we can only dream of these at present, the Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2020 showcases some of the most sought-after experiences and destinations of this year (and will probably stay mostly the same in 2021 seen as we can’t visit all these places right now!) Covering some of the best value, most unforgettable and Instagramable countries, destinations and cities, this beautiful hardback is a great accompaniment for a sunny afternoon of wanderlust-worthy reading.
Co-written by the famous hiking extraordinaire, Julia Bradbury, this book will quickly become the avid hiker’s bible. From the epic mountain hike of The Pitons in St Lucia to long-distance pilgrimages like The Camino de Santiago and UK coastal walks, the book is a compilation of stunning short walks, mountain hikes and long-distance adventures – the perfect book for walkers and hikers of all levels and those planning for their next big adventure – near or far.
Perfect for the money-wise traveler, this book is a great one to flick through simply for inspiration and ideas or as a pocket-sized accompaniment on your backpacking adventures. Revealing the saving money and cheap hotel tips and tricks of long-time budget traveler – Nomadic Matt Kepnes, this book divulges the secret to comfortable travel on a budget – without sacrificing some of our favorite home comforts along the way.
The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton
The Art of Travel is a philosophical look at the activity of traveling ‘for pleasure.’ It includes thoughts on airports, landscapes, museums, holiday romances, photographs, exotic carpets and even the contents of hotel mini-bars. The book mixes personal thought with insights drawn from some of the great figures of the past, and dares to ask the question – ‘what is the point of travel?!’
Best Travel Books: Biographies & Memoir Novels
Wild by Cheryl Strayed
Also featured in our 40 of the BEST Travel Movies to Inspire Wanderlust, the original book by writer Cheryl Strayed is worth reading first. Following the troubled life of a recent divorcee, the story starts as Cheryl begins an epic solo journey, setting out to hike 1100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, a hiking trail that flanks the west coast of the USA.
Starting from the Mojave Desert, she ventures through California and Oregon, and into Washington state as she reaches the lesser trodden corners of her memory, reaching redemption and forgiveness along the way. It’s a life-affirming book with a theme of the healing powers of hiking.
Walking the Nile by Levison Wood
Adventurer and heartthrob Levison Wood put pen to paper to document his journey from the source of the great Nile to where it meets the sea. Following vicariously in his footsteps and the great river’s current- the reader is transported through 7 different countries, challenging terrain and several encounters with dangerous animals on this 4,250-mile heroic journey. This one is highly recommended. A truly humbling and enriching story of real adventure.
The Salt Path by Raynor Winn
A must-read for anyone who loves the West Country. After an unprecedented, almost unbelievable spate of misfortune, Welsh couple Raynor and Moth decide to embark on a 630-mile trek following the UK’s coast path from Somerset to Dorset. This is a heart-wrenching but life-affirming true story which highlights the restorative powers of walking, the importance of unwavering hope in the face of adversity and the incredible magnitude of human resilience.
Lands of Lost Borders: A Journey on the Silk Road by Kate Harris
The entertaining and popular travelogue of the writer Kate Harris is well worth a read. Setting off on two wheels to follow the iconic Silk Road from East to West, the story pursues Kate and her cycling buddy Mel on this epic journey. Picking up awards including the Banff Adventure Travel Award and a Nautilus Award, this one is set to be a well-established classic.
The New York Times bestselling humorous travel memoir by longtime National Public Radio foreign correspondent Eric Weiner. A fascinating tale of psychology, geopolitics, science, travel and humor, The Geography of Bliss takes the reader across the globe to investigate not what happiness is, but WHERE it is – asking questions about whether their geographic position and therefore lifestyles and political bias intrinsically affect their happiness levels.
The Road to Oxiana by Robert Byron
In 1933 and 1934 Robert Byron spent ten months traveling around Persia and Afghanistan. The Road to Oxiana is his account of that trip. Taking the form of a diary, it weaves descriptions of people and places and the mechanics of travel together with architectural and historical digressions. First published in 1937, it is considered by many to be the first example of great travel writing and the start of travel literature.
The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain
Published in 1869, The Innocents Abroad chronicles what Twain called his “Great Pleasure Excursion” on board the chartered vessel Quaker City through Europe, Egypt, Middle East & the Holy Land with a group of American travelers in 1867. For Twain, the trip turns out to be a microscopic study into the nature of human beings, his remarks on which are both insightful and humorous.
Best Travel Books for Wanderlust-Worthy Escapism
Finding Henry Applebee by Celia Reynolds
This is a heart-warming tale of an elderly man who boards a train from London to Edinburgh on a quest to find an old love. Depicting an unlikely friendship, between two people from different generations and different worlds, this sweet story is the perfect tonic for quarantine gloominess.
Love With a Chance of Drowning by Torre DeRoche
Love can make a person do crazy things. A city girl with a morbid fear of deep water, Torre DeRoche is not someone you would ordinarily find adrift in the middle of the stormy Pacific aboard a leaky sailboat – total crew of two – struggling to keep an old boat, a new relationship and her floundering sanity afloat.
The Summer House in Santorini by Samantha Parks
The perfect read for anyone dreaming the Greek Isles- The Summer House in Santorini features in Amazon’s Best Seller List and has scooped some rave reviews. The ideal escapism, the book tells the tale of Anna who inherits a slightly ramshackle abode on the island of Santorini. Rebuilding the house and a new life for herself, Anna uncovers intriguing family secrets along the way.
It’s on the Meter by Paul Archer & Johno Ellison
The perfect way to vicariously embark on an ambitious and fun adventure around the world- this book follows the journey of Paul, Johno and Leigh who purchase a London cab and set off on an incredible adventure- end destination- Sydney. Encountering some dangerous destinations and with a number of close-shave experiences, it’s an entertaining read for budding adventurers and road-trip fans.
Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
Now a cult classic movie, Liz Gilbert (played by Julia Roberts) became every woman’s favorite traveler after Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia first hit the screen. Based on the 2006 memoir by American author Elizabeth Gilbert, the memoir chronicles the author’s trip around the world after her divorce and what she discovered during her travels.
Best Travel Books To Transport You to Far-Off Lands
An inspirational book containing an unforgettable firsthand account of a people’s response to genocide and what it tells us about humanity. With curated dramatic intensity, Gourevitch frames the genesis and horror of Rwanda’s ‘genocidal logic’ in the anguish of its aftermath: the mass displacements, the temptations of revenge and the quest for justice, the impossibly crowded prisons and refugee camps and subsequent war in the Congo.
PERU: Death in the Andes by Mario Vargas Llosa
In an isolated community in the Peruvian Andes, a series of mysterious disappearances has occurred. Army corporal Lituma and his deputy Tom believe the Shining Path guerrillas are responsible, but the townspeople have their own ideas about the forces that claimed the bodies of the missing men.
MOROCCO: The Caliph’s House by Tahir Shah
Inspired by the Moroccan vacations of his childhood, Tahir Shah dreamed of making a home in that astonishing country. At age thirty-six he got his chance. Investing what money he and his wife, Rachana, had, Tahir packed up his growing family and bought Dar Khalifa, a crumbling ruin of a mansion by the sea in Casablanca that once belonged to the city’s caliph (spiritual leader).
Both hilarious and harrowing at different points, The Caliph’s House is the story of his family’s move from the gray skies of London to the sun-drenched city of Casablanca, where Islamic tradition and African folklore converge – and nothing is as easy as it seems.
AFRICA: Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Capetown by Paul Theroux
Although I may not have personally done the full epic Cairo to Cape Town journey (just Nairobi to Cape Town), this book resonates with me in a way not many other travel books do. Traveling by bus, dugout canoe, cattle truck, armed convoy, ferry, and train, Paul’s story about life on the road on this incredible content is engaging, eye-opening (to the Africa novice), laugh out loud funny (in various places) and insightful from start to finish – with multiple moments being the embodiment of the mantra, TIA. (This is Africa – used as an excuse for everything!) And every page just makes me want to be back there.
CAMBODIA: First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung
Loung Ung is 5 years old when the Khmer Rouge assumes power over Cambodia in 1975. They soon begin a four-year reign of terror and genocide in which nearly 2 million Cambodians die. Forced from her family’s home in Phnom Penh, Ung is trained as a child soldier while her six siblings are sent to labor camps. This book is her personal account of her life under the Khmer Rouge.
USA: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson
I’m sure every traveler already knows this story, if not from the book then the film starring Johnny Depp, but just in case: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas follows its protagonist, Raoul Duke, and his attorney, Dr. Gonzo, as they descend on Las Vegas to chase the American Dream through a drug-induced haze, all the while ruminating on the failure of the 1960s countercultural movement.
ITALY: The Name of The Rose by Umberto Eco
Published in 1980, The Name of the Rose is a contemporary classic which takes you through a world of intrigue, mystery and crime during the Middle Ages. The mystery itself grips you from the start and holds you tight throughout the revealing whodunnit process and the accompanying Philosophical discussions that are at the heart of the book.
LEBANON: The Hakawati by Rabih Alameddine
An inventive, exuberant novel that takes us from the shimmering dunes of ancient Egypt to the war-torn streets of twenty-first-century Lebanon. In 2003, Osama al-Kharrat returns to Beirut after many years in America to stand vigil at his father’s deathbed. As family stories start to be told, Alameddine spins a honeycomb of fable, family history, and Lebanese lore which is one of the most insightful accounts of life and culture in Lebanon available today.
IRAN: Land of the Turquoise Mountains by Cyrus Massoudi
Land of the Turquoise Mountains reveals a world beyond the propaganda-driven, media-fuelled image of fractious, flag-burning fundamentalism and provides a compelling glimpse both into the heart of the deeply misunderstood nation that is Iran and into what it is to seek out and discover one’s history and heritage.
CONGO: The Catastrophist by Ronan Bennett
Set around a defining moment in modern African history; the 1961 death of Patrice Lumumba, the man many Congolese view as their Nelson Mandela. Unlike the South African leader, Lumumba was not jailed but murdered. He was half beaten to death before being shot against a termite mound, buried, disinterred and dissolved in barrels of mining acid. Washington’s fingerprints were all over a political assassination that condemned the Congo to decades of dictatorship.
BOLIVIA: Marching Powder by Rusty Young
This is one of my favorite travel books – and one that I’ve read countless times. Based on the true story of Small-time drug smuggler Thomas McFadden, who found himself inside one of the most notorious prisons in South America after trying to take 5kg of cocaine out of Bolivia. Marching Powder is the story of how he navigated this dark world of gangs, drugs and corruption to come out on top – even running prison tours in the late 90s, making it one of the most unusual and unlikely destinations for tourists in the world!
CUBA: The Old Man & The Sea by Ernest Hemingway
The Old Man and the Sea is Ernest Hemingway’s only book written in and inspired by his life in Cuba. After reading the book you’ll be able to see many of the elements described in Havana: the fishing village in Cojimar, its people, the local restaurant and the sea where everything happens.
With books now flying off the virtual shelves- its time to jump on the bookish bandwagon, set up a reading corner in your home, balcony or garden, live vicariously through some of the greatest adventurers of all time or simply get lost in some of the best, indulgent escapism with best travel books of all time!
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Vicki is the Lawyer turned Content Creator, Editor-in-Chief and all round Boss Lady at MakeTimeToSeeTheWorld.
She has lived and worked in 7 different countries and started the site to show everyone that it is possible to travel whilst holding down a full time job (because not everyone can – or wants to – quit and walk away from it all).
Her style of travel has always been to get the best out of a destination as a time poor traveler making the most of limited vacation days and all without breaking the bank; BUT she does know where to save and where to splurge to have the most incredible travel experiences – such as luxury hotels and over-water bungalows, safaris, spas and more(!) – where the situation calls for it.