by Ally Gibson | Last Updated: Aug 11, 2020

My favorite part of reading a good travel book is simply this:

That they take me to places or situations that I’ve never experienced. Or if I have experienced them—they take me right back there.

Books have an incredible ability to promote empathy, increase vocabulary, and reduce stress. 

I especially adore books about far-off lands and adventures (so naturally, I’m a massive Harry Potter fan).

These are the best travel books that I’ve read over the years. I’ve shared my favorite quote from each of them to give you a taste of what’s inside.

I hope they transport and inspire you as much as they have me.

1. The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton

“We are sad at home and blame the weather or the ugliness of the buildings, but on the tropical island we learn that the state of the skies and the appearance of our dwellings can never on their own either underwrite our joy or condemn us to misery.”

I found this book enthralling. Botton does a wonderful job of opening the readers’ eyes to the many perceptual enhancements that travel can provide.

Few activities provide as much pleasure as travel. Alain de Botton considers the reason we travel in his writing. He discusses why we should go and how we come more fulfilled by traveling.

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2. Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes

“Splendid to arrive alone in a foreign country and feel the assault of difference. Here they are all along, busy with living; they don’t talk or look like me. The rhythm of their day is entirely different; I am foreign. ” 

You’ve probably seen the film based on this memoir. It’s one of those movies I can watch more than once. It always makes me wish that I was in Italy. 

The book has less drama than the film (she and her husband are still together). It follows Mayes’s time in Tuscany, as she and her husband remodel an old house.

This is a beautiful memoir full of heart and spirit. With the way she describes details, Mayes makes you feel like you are a part of the story. I could almost feel the warm winds and smell the lavender in her backyard.

Fun Fact: Frances includes lots of delicious Italian recipes in the book. Look out for the “Pears in Mascarpone Custard” it’s now one of my favorite desserts.

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3. Seven Years in Tibet: My Life Before, During and After by Heinrich Harrer

“Wherever I live, I shall feel homesick for Tibet. I often think I can still hear the cries of wild geese and cranes and the beating of their wings as they fly over Lhasa in the clear, cold moonlight. My heartfelt wish is that my story may create some understanding for a people whose will to live in peace and freedom has won so little sympathy from an indifferent world.” 

This autobiographical travel book is about Heinrich’s travels to, you guessed it—Tibet. He’s an explorer and mountaineer who has famously spent 7 years in the region. There he became a lifelong friend and tutor of the Dhali Lama. 

I really enjoyed the insights into his upbringing. His previous experiences with mountain climbing are fascinating. The book also provided some interesting insights into his evolution in spirit and thought.

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4. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

“I can’t stand it to think my life is going so fast and I’m not really living it.” 

The Sun Also Rises is the story of British and American ex-pats. They travel from Paris to Pamplona to watch the running of the bulls.

It’s a captivating read that’s funny and quite touching. The dialogue is snappy, witty, and honest. It’s a classic American novel that’s aged well.

Fun Fact: The Sun Also Rises is Hemingway’s first major novel. It catapulted him to fame in 1926.

5. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

“When we love, we always strive to become better than we are. When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.” 

The Alchemist follows a Spanish shepherd boy named Santiago. He has reoccurring dreams of finding gold in the pyramids. 

After a dream interpreter tells him it’s really a prophecy, he sets out to find his treasure in Egypt.

It’s an easy read—I got through it in a day. The story is a glorious reminder to follow your dreams.

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6. The Road to Oxiana, Robert Byron

“Somebody must trespass on the taboos of modern nationalism, in the interests of human reason. Business can’t. Diplomacy won’t. It has to be people like us.” 

This is one of the best travel narratives that I’ve read. The writing is precise and descriptive. 

It follows Byron and his friend as they travel from Italy through Cyprus and Jerusalem. Then across Persia and Afghanistan, which leads them to the tiny country of Oxiana.

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7. Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

“Make a radical change in your lifestyle and begin to boldly do things which you may previously never have thought of doing, or been too hesitant to attempt.” 

Into the Wild has many emotional moments. It’s a true story about Christopher McCandless, who leaves everything behind to explore and live in the wilderness. 

Hikers from all over the globe still attempt to retrace McCandless’s steps today.

It’s such a personal story, with the author detailing his own experiences with mountaineering. To me, it’s a must-read.

Fun Fact: Recently the abandoned bus from the story was removed from the Alaskan wilderness. The National Guard had to airlift it from its original location after too many fans got injured or died trying to find it.

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8. The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen

“We have outsmarted ourselves, like greedy monkeys, and now we are full of dread.” 

This novel is an account of Matthiessen’s two-month search for the snow leopard. It’s an unforgettable journey through the Himalayas.

In the book, Matthiessen charts his inner path and his outer one. He is a student of Zen-Buddhism. He writes about a deepening Buddhist understanding of reality, suffering, impermanence, and beauty.

It’s a wonderful insight into meditation on higher values in these times of limited principles.

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9. A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush by Eric Newby

“I was heavily involved on all fronts: with mountaineering outfitters, who oddly enough never fathomed the depths of my ignorance; possibly because they couldn’t conceive of anyone acquiring such a collection of equipment without knowing how to use it…” 

Two chaps set off to climb a mountain in Afghanistan with no prior experience of climbing mountains…what could go wrong?

The book definitely has its humorous moments. I could relate to these characters far better than to the “professional adventurers” I usually read about. 

Fun Fact: This is an autobiographical account of English travel writer Eric Newby. He was a fashion executive, moonlighting as a magazine travel editor when he impulsively went on this adventure.

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10. Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

“Doing nothing can sometimes be the most effective form of action. If you do nothing, you’ll be sending a clear message: that you’re stronger than they think you are. Not to mention a lot classier. Think about it.” 

Crazy Rich Asians is a satire and romantic comedy that’s so much fun that you’ll be reading it in one sitting. I know I did— Oh, and while you’re at it, watch the movie. It’s such a fun watch.

It’s about an heir to a Singapore fortune, who brings his American-born girlfriend home to meet the family. 

Seriously, this is the perfect beach read!

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11. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig

“You look at where you’re going and where you are and it never makes sense, but then you look back at where you’ve been and a pattern seems to emerge.” 

This is about a father and son motorcycle trip across North America. While telling the story, the book meditates on life’s fundamental questions.

Reading this one makes me want to get on a motorcycle and have my own adventure. 

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12. The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain

“One must travel, to learn. Every day, now, old Scriptural phrases that never possessed any significance for me before, take to themselves a meaning.” 

That’s right, this is a travel book by Mark Twain. Who knew he wrote travel books?

The Innocents is about his journey on board a vessel referred to as “Quaker City”. Along with a group of American travelers, he ventures through Europe and the Holy Land. 

His observations throughout Europe and the Holy Land are hilarious, derogatory, and insightful.

Fun Fact: Twain affectionately calls this 1867 trip his “Great Pleasure Excursion”.

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13. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed

“The universe, I’d learned, was never, ever kidding. It would take whatever it wanted and it would never give it back.” 

This is a true story about Cheryl Strayed, who at 22 set out to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. She sets out in search of answers after her mother passes away and her marriage falls apart. 

This book is such a delightful read, that Reese Witherspoon produced and starred in a film version.

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14. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream by Hunter S. Thompson

“No sympathy for the devil; keep that in mind. Buy the ticket, take the ride…and if it occasionally gets a little heavier than what you had in mind, well…maybe chalk it up to forced consciousness expansion: Tune in, freak out, get beaten.” 

The book follows Raoul Duke and his attorney, Dr. Gonzo as they head to Las Vegas in a drug-induced haze.

I’ve always liked gonzo journalism’s humor. The similes and metaphors are golden. The book is wild and wacky. It completely trashes the American Dream.

Rolling Stone was the first to publish the story as a two-part feature before they turned it into a novel in 1972.

Fun Fact: Hunter S. Thompson created the genre known as gonzo journalism. It’s a highly personal style of reporting that made Thompson a counterculture icon.

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15. A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle

“It is at a time like this, when crisis threatens the stomach, that the French display the most sympathetic side of their nature. Tell them stories of physical injury or financial ruin and they will either laugh or commiserate politely. But tell them you are facing gastronomic hardship, and they will move heaven and earth and even restaurant tables to help you.” 

This best-selling memoir is about Peter Mayle’s first year living in Provence with his wife and two dogs. He writes of the local events, customs, and cuisine with humor and insight. 

Reading this novel is the next best thing to going to France. It’s often hilarious and just as savory as the highly prized black Périgord truffles grown only in that region.

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16. In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson

“Perhaps it’s my natural pessimism, but it seems that an awfully large part of travel these days is to see things while you still can.” 

Bill Bryson travels through Australia in this novel. He writes about his impressions of locals, history, and unusual animals. Bryson writes fondly of the country and the people he meets on his journey. 

The novel is a companion travel piece mixed with some fun facts. I really enjoyed Bryson’s humorous anecdotes along the way.

Even before reading this, Australia was at the top of my travel wish list (and not just because my boyfriend is from there).

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17. Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders by Joshua Foer

“A wanderlust-whetting cabinet of curiosities on paper.”— New York Times

This book is jam-packed with interesting tidbits of information. 

It’s written by Josh Foer who runs the blog Atlas Obscura, which identifies the most random and interesting things around the world. 

The blog has been a favorite of mine for years. I always learn new and interesting facts from it.

Basically, the book is a collection of weird, hidden, and obscure places. These aren’t places you’ll read about in most tourist guides.

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18. On the Road by Jack Kerouac 

“The only people that interest me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing… but burn, burn, burn like roman candles across the night.” 

On the Road is an American classic based on Kerouac’s road-trip across the United States with his friends. 

He and his friends leave the confines of society to experience the wildness of the open road. 

When I read this novel it fundamentally changed my concept of what it means to be free. It’s a true slice of life film.

Fun Fact: Kerouac supposedly wrote the novel in one sheet of paper that was 120 feet long.

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19. Travels with Myself and Another by Martha Gellhorn

“My kind of loneliness now has no cure, you know; it is something I expect to live with until I die. Friends are heavenly kind, sometimes fun; it would be fatal not to have them. But I by no means need or want daily contact; perhaps it takes as much out of me as it gives, perhaps takes more.” 

I highly recommend this book. Gellhorn can describe an event so vividly that it materializes in front of you. Her writing is witty and you can tell she has a genuine interest in people. 

She was Hemingway’s third wife as well as a war correspondent. She writes of her adventures in Moscow, Eilat, and China during the Sino-Japanese War.

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20. Two Towns in Provence, M.F.K. Fisher

“my picture, my map, of a place and therefore of myself,” 

This book is a beautiful travel memoir. It’s based in the French provincial capital, Aix-en-Provence, as well as Marseilles. It’s an insightful look at people.

I love how opinionated and brave Fisher is—she’s full of laughter for the ridiculous parts of life. 

I really fell in love with Fisher’s writing style. She conveys both emotionally and physically what it means to be a foreigner.

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21. The Lost Girls: Three Friends. Four Continents. One Unconventional Detour Around the World by Amanda Pressner, Holly C. Corbett, and Jennifer Baggett

“Were the paths that we were heading down the right ones for us- or were we simply staying the course because we thought we should? Was the road most frequently traveled the one that we wanted to follow?”

Three friends in their mid-twenties decide it’s now or never to travel the world. They’re about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime. 

The memoir is written in chapters alternating between Jen, Holly, and Amanda’s points of view. I thought this worked well—we get to hear everyone’s side of the story.

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22. Travels with Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck

“The techniques of opening conversation are universal.  I knew long ago and rediscovered that the best way to attract attention, help, and conversation is to be lost.” 

In Travels with Charley John Steinbeck writes about his 1960s road trip around the United States. His travel buddy mentioned in the book’s title is Charley, his French Poodle. 

It’s beautiful and poetic, and funny, dark, and mysterious. It’s a warm, generous look at contemporary American life. 

Fun Fact: Steinbeck worked as a caretaker in Lake Tahoe. He used all spare time to write his first novel titled Cup of Gold, published in 1929.

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23. The Beach by Alex Garland

“If I’d learnt one thing from traveling, it was that the way to get things done was to go ahead and do them. Don’t talk about going to Borneo. Book a ticket, get a visa, pack a bag, and it just happens.” 

The novel follows Richard, a British backpacker who has arrived in Bangkok. On his first night in the hostel, he receives a map to an island that’s promised to be paradise.

The Beach is dark, but also funny and laced with exciting cultural references. Garland’s writing is razor-sharp.

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24. The Sex Lives of Cannibals by J. Maarten Troost

“…I had grown accustomed to life being interesting and adventure ridden and, rather childishly, I refused to believe that this must necessarily come to an end and that the rest of my life should be a sort of penance for all the reckless, irresponsible, and immensely fun things I’d done before.” 

This book is an easy read. I enjoyed how Troost mixed his experiences with some history about the islands.

At age 26 he moved with his girlfriend to Tarawa. He writes about the interesting people they met and lived with while on this small remote island in the South Pacific.  

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25. Iron & Silk by Mark Salzman

“Every moment a beginning. Every moment an end.” 

Iron and Silk is a series of genuine stories told as vignettes and divided into sections. It begins with two episodes that bookend his tenure–arriving and leaving China.

I enjoyed Salzman’s writing style—it’s straightforward and easy to follow. He has a beautiful way of describing the people he meets. The characters almost become as real to the reader as they were to the author.

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26. The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

“Something always turned up. That was Tom’s philosophy.” 

Tom Ripley is a suave, young striver who’s just arrived in New York. He meets a wealthy industrialist who hires him to bring his son back from Italy to Manhattan. 

Highsmith truly captures the development of a dark psychopath. Nothing happens that’s unnecessary to the development of the story.

This is one of those books that I sped through in a matter of days.

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27. The Muses Are Heard, Truman Capote

“There were hints of sunrise on the rim of the sky, yet it was still dark, and the traces of morning color were like goldfish swimming in ink.” 

The Muses Are Heard originally appeared in The New Yorker. Capote definitely has his own particular brand of humor. 

The story follows Capote, Ira Gershwin’s wife, and a theater group as they head to the U.S.S.R. They are there to stage Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess

The author has laced the story with impressions of Soviet culture. I had no idea about this story until a few months ago and am so glad I stumbled upon it. 

Fun Fact: Capote’s last name originally wasn’t “Capote”, it was “Persons”. He changed it to “Capote” after his stepfather’s family name.

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28.The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

“From this point on, she whispered, we will either find or lose our souls.” 

If you loved the film, you must read the book. This book is a web of memories that come together to solve the mystery of the man with no name.

The English Patient follows four people brought together while living in an Italian villa at the end of World War II. One of them is a nameless, badly burned British man who’s recovering from a plane crash. 

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29. Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman

“We rip out so much of ourselves to be cured of things faster than we should that we go bankrupt by the age of thirty and have less to offer each time we start with someone new. But to feel nothing so as not to feel anything – what a waste!” 

This is a must-read. The story is beautiful, sad, and intoxicating. The talent of the author’s style of writing overwhelmed me.

It’s the story of Elio, who’s 17 years old. Every summer his father selects and hosts a doctoral student to stay with them for the summer. 

This summer a charming man named Oliver is staying with them. It’s not long before a romance develops, and they are each changed forever. 

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30. Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing 

“No matter what the odds, a man does not pin his last hope for survival on something and then expect that it will fail.” 

There aren’t many true-life tales that live up to the hype—but this is one of them. It’s easy to read, informative, and a gripping read. 

Endurance is an account of Ernest Shackleton’s fateful trip aboard the ship Endurance. The book details their almost two-year struggle to survive after the ship runs into trouble. 

Fun Fact: Shackleton never reached the South Pole, but one of his descendants has. Navy Commander Scott Shackleton, a distant relative of the legendary explorer, set foot on the South Pole in 2010. 

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The Final Chapter

Grab one of your favorites from the list above and take a mental journey out of reality for a bit.

I tried to include books based in locations all over the world.

Books that could make you cry, laugh, feel alive, or connect with something spiritual. 

Have you read a book you think should be on the list? 

 Let me know in the comments below! I’m always looking for new books to read.

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