Reading goes hand in hand with traveling. Books open you up to new places, new experiences, and new adventures, all from the comfort of your own home. They broaden your horizons and sometimes inspire you to travel to new places. Here is a list of our favorite travel books of all time.
If any of these books inspire you, click the link to purchase them on Amazon.com.
Best Travel Books
Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel
Vagabonding by Ralph Potts, is not only one of my favorite travel books, it is also one of the most life-changing books I have read. This is the ultimate guide to living a nomadic life. The message of the book is that anyone with an adventurous spirit can take time off and travel the world. His book is a basic guide to making this happen and what to do once you are on the road. This is one of the books that inspired our family to take a one year trip around the world. If you are considering long-term travel, put this book at the top of your list.
Vagabonding | Best Travel Books
Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders
Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders, is the perfect book to help you build your bucket list of off-the-beaten-path destinations.
Atlas Obscura | Best Travel Books
Some of our favorite places are listed in the book, like Skellig Michael Island in Ireland, the Glowworm Caves in New Zealand, and Kjeragbolten in Norway. But some places are just bizarre, like the bone cleaning ceremony at Pomuch Cemetery in Mexico, Dog Suicide Bridge in Scotland, and the rain of fish in Honduras.
It was in this book that I first learned about Teufelsberg, an abandoned spy station in Berlin that is now covered in graffiti.
This book is fun to read, filled with strange and offbeat places to visit. Atlas Obscura is definitely a unique travel book.
In A Sunburned Country
Bill Bryson is one of our favorite travel writers and In A Sunburned Country is his best, in my opinion. If you want a hilarious book about what it is like to travel through Australia, this book is for you. Bill Bryson writes about the fascinating history of Australia coupled with misadventures and hilarious moments that will have you laughing out loud.
In a Sunburned Country | Best Travel Books
The Alchemist, written by Paulo Coehlo, tells the story about Santiago, a young shepherd that travels the world in search of treasure. This story is written like a fable, delivering the message to listen to your heart and to follow your dreams. Most people love this story for its inspirational message, but some people hate it, saying it is just a string of clichés. Personally, I enjoyed it and found it to be thought-provoking and inspirational.
The Alchemist | Best Travel Books
A Year in Provence
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to pack up your life and move to the south of France? Peter Mayle tells the story of what it is like to move from the UK to Provence, France and all of the trials and tribulations that goes along with it. A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle is a delightful, engaging account of what it is like to move to this region.
A Year in Provence | Best Travel Books
Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing is a non-fiction book but it reads like a thriller. In 1914, Ernest Shackleton and a crew of 27 men set out to cross Antarctica. While sailing to Antarctica, their ship got stuck in giant pack of ice, trapping them and stopping their progress. These giant floes of ice crushed their ship and the men had to survive on the floating ice for months. They lived off of their meager food supplies, as well as penguins, seals, and sea leopards. They constantly battled frigid temperatures, starvation, and even boredom.
This is the ultimate survival story. The author, Alfred Lansing, did a phenomenal job piecing this story together, by interviewing survivors and reading the diaries that they still managed to write in during this ordeal.
Endurance | Best Travel Books
I loved this book. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee is a family saga set in Korea and Japan in the 20th century. The story follows four generations of a poor Korean family as they face exile from Korea and then near poverty conditions in Japan. This is the type of book that transports you to a different time and place. Not only do you learn about the hardships that immigrants go through to make a new life for themselves, but you also learn a lot about the dynamic between Koreans and Japanese in the 20th century.
Pachinko | Best Travel Books
Turn Right at Machu Picchu: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time
This book will make you want to travel to Machu Picchu. And if you have plans to go to Machu Picchu, you definitely should read this book first. Written by Mark Adams, Turn Right at Machu Picchu tells the story of what it is like to follow in the footsteps of Hiram Bingham and trek to Machu Picchu. Only Mark Adams has no outdoor experience, making this book hilarious, laugh out loud funny. But along the way, you learn about the history behind Machu Picchu, its “discovery” by Hiram Bingham, and what it is really like to go trekking in remote areas of Peru.
Turn Right at Machu Picchu | Best Travel Books
Tip of the Iceberg
Tip of the Iceberg: My 3,000 Mile Journey Around Wild Alaska, the Last Great American Frontier is another great travel book by Mark Adams. For those with plans (or dreams) of visiting Alaska, this book is a must-read. On this journey, Mark Adams retraces Edward H. Harriman’s 1899 expedition across Alaska, traveling from the Inside Passage to Glacier Bay and out to the Aleutian Islands. This book is filled with interesting facts about Alaska, both about the expedition that put Alaska on the map, as well as current information.
Tip of the Iceberg | Best Travel Books
Into the Wild
Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer, is one of the most popular travel books. Krakauer tells the story of Christopher McCandless, a young man from a well-to-do family that hitchhiked into the wilderness and died of starvation four months later. This is the story about what would motivate someone to give it all up to head off into the unknown, searching for a better life. And this is another book that you may love or you may hate. You will either be inspired by McCandless’ vagabondism or hate him for his selfishness, leaving his family shattered after his death.
Into the Wild | Best Travel Books
I Am Malala
I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot By the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb, is one of the most inspiring books on this list. This book, which is a Nobel Prize Winner, is a story about a brave young woman and her father who stood up for the education of students in Pakistan, even in the face of the most challenging and dangerous obstacles. This is a powerful book, educating readers about the Taliban, what it is like to live in Pakistan, and Islam.
I Am Malala | Best Travel Books
Catfish and Mandala: A Two-Wheeled Voyage through the Landscape and Memory of Vietnam
Catfish and Mandala is written by Andrew X. Pham, a Vietnamese American. At the age of 30, he hops onto his bicycle, the start of a journey that takes him from America to Vietnam. It is a cultural journey where Andrew learns who he is and where he comes from. It’s a heartfelt, candid adventure story, taking readers through Mexico, the United States, Japan, and Vietnam.
Catfish and Mandala | Best Travel Books
Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity
Behind the Beautiful Forevers, written by Katherine Boo, is a powerful book about what it is like to live in poverty in a slum in Mumbai. Warning, it is not a pretty story. It will shock you and most likely leave you feeling frustrated. So why read it? Katherine Boo holds nothing back, informing us what it is really like to live in extreme poverty. It is informative and eye-opening, a look into real life in this world.
Behind the Beautiful Forevers | Best Travel Books
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce is a joy to read. Meet Harold, a newly retired man who lives in a small English town with his wife. He lives a rather boring life where every day is exactly the same. One day, he gets a letter in the mail from a woman he has not spoken to in over 20 years. He writes a letter and goes out to put it in the mailbox. Instead of putting his letter in the mailbox, he keeps it in his pocket, deciding to walk a little farther. Harold’s quick errand turns into a journey over 600 miles. This is a very entertaining story about hope and transformation and going outside of your comfort zone. The Unlikely Pilgrimage is quick and easy to read, and uplifting in its message.
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry | Best Travel Books
The Wine Bible
If you love wine, if you travel for food, or if you just have an interest in learning more about wine, check out The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil. This is a comprehensive, easy to read guide that teaches you all about wine. It starts with the basics and then takes you through the different wine regions around the world.
For each country, Karen includes maps, information on how the wine is made (there can be big differences in how each country produces and labels its wines), and at the end of each section she gives a list of recommended wines. For each area, she also writes about the cuisine and things to do if you are planning a visit here.
I learned so much. It’s fun to pick a region, learn about it, visit your local wine shop, pick out a few bottles of wine, and drink them at home. Tim and I have been trying wines that we haven’t heard of until I read this book, like Nebbiolos from Piedmont, Italy and Gerwurztraminers from the Alsace region of France.
This book is packed with information, so I am not reading it word for word, but it is a book that I know I will refer back to on a regular basis.
The Wine Bible | Best Travel Books
Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea
Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick follows the lives of six defectors from North Korea in the 1990’s. Their stories are incredible. This is a fascinating look into what it is like to live under a totalitarian dictatorship. The horrors that these people have lived through…poverty, darkness, and famine…just when you think things can’t get any worse, somehow they do. Yes, this book is heartbreaking at times, but it also tells the tale of the extraordinary resilience of these people. This is an eye-opening, educational book that everyone should read.
Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea
Iran Awakening: One Woman’s Journey to Reclaim Her Life and Country
Shirin Ebadi is the winner of the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize. Her memoir, Iran Awakening, tells the story about what it is like to live and work as woman in Iran. Shirin worked as a human-rights lawyer in Iran, speaking out against discrimination and injustice in Iranian society. During her life, she was imprisoned and she was the target of an assassination attempt. This book is a must-read if you want to learn more about Iran or read about a powerful, inspirational woman.
Iran Awakening | Best Travel Books
Poland: A Novel
In preparation for our trip to Poland, I read this book. This was my first James Michener, who is famous for writing lengthy historical fiction books that take place in locales around the world.
Poland spans eight centuries, told from the perspective of three Polish families. There is a lot of information in this book, and at times it can feel a bit slow and tedious, but overall it’s a fascinating history lesson about Poland. Kara also read this book and loved it.
This is a great book to read if you are planning a trip to Poland or you just want to learn more about this fascinating country.
Poland: A Novel | Best Travel Books
Americanah: A Novel
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie tells the story of two teenagers living in Nigeria, Ifemelu and Obinze, who fall in love. Ifemelu moves to the United States to go to college and Obinze hopes to join her. However, post-9/11 America will not let him in, so instead, he moves to London. Years later, they both return to Nigeria, although by this time, their lives are much different.
This is not only a love story, but also a story about what it is like to leave home for a new country and then what it means to return. It also a fascinating look into race and what it means to be black for the first time.
Americanah | Best Travel Books
The Geography of Bliss
The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World by Eric Weiner is one man’s quest for the happiest places in the world. This book takes you to Switzerland, Iceland, India, Thailand, Moldova, and more, searching for the happiest countries. I loved the section on Bhutan, a country we love and a country that has a policy of Gross National Happiness for its people. This book is laugh-out-loud funny, with a writing style similar to Bill Bryson. If you are looking for a light-hearted travel book, check this one out!
The Geography of Bliss | Best Travel Books
A Land So Strange: The Epic Journey of Cabeza de Vaca
In 1528, a Spanish mission to colonize Florida went terribly wrong. Of the 400 people in the mission, only 4 survived. These four people survived a journey by raft from the coast of Florida to the coast of Texas, enslavement by native Indians, and a trek across Texas and Mexico that lasted for years.
A Land So Strange: The Epic Journey of Cabeza de Vaca by Andrés Reséndez is a true story, although you will probably never hear it mentioned in history books. This small group of explorers encountered lands and people never seen by Europeans before their incredible saga.
It’s a fascinating story, and I enjoyed it, but give it time because it is a bit slow to get going. But what an interesting look into the first contact between this small group of Europeans and the native Americans.
A Land So Strange
Beyond the Sky and the Earth, a Journey into Bhutan
Beyond the Sky and the Earth, written by Jamie Zeppa, is a story about going outside of your comfort zone. Jamie, a very naive young adult, travels to Bhutan after graduating college to teach English. Instantly, she regrets her decision, with Bhutan being nothing she expected it to be. Within a week of arriving, Jamie strongly considers catching the next flight back to Canada. A string of events forces her to remain in Bhutan and after giving it a little time, Jamie falls in love with Bhutan.
This is not only a story about what it is like to live and work in Bhutan. It is also a story about stumbling onto the unexpected, going outside of your comfort zone to do something challenging, and having an experience that changes your life in so many ways. Having been to Bhutan, this book also gives a very accurate representation of the country. This was one of my favorite books of 2016 and I highly recommend it.
Beyond the Sky and the Earth
Into Thin Air
Into Thin Air, written by Jon Krakauer, covers the disaster on Mt. Everest in 1996. Most people are familiar with the story, especially since the release of the movie “Everest” in 2015. Jon Krakauer’s account is shocking and poignant. At the time, he was working as a journalist for Outside magazine. When he signed up for this climb, he had no idea about the disaster the Everest climb would become. His story gives a realistic insight into what went wrong during the summit attempt and how it changed the lives of so many people. For anyone with an interest in hiking and adventure, this is one of the best books out there.
Into Thin Air | Best Travel Books
Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World
When someone mentions Genghis Khan, what comes to mind? A blood-thirsty savage that dominated much of Asia? That’s what I thought, at least until I started reading Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World. This book paints Genghis Khan in a much different light.
Jack Weatherford, the author, is an anthropologist who studied the “hidden” ancient texts of the Mongol people. Genghis Khan was one of the most influential people in world history and some of his accomplishments are rather surprising. According to Weatherford, he abolished slavery, granted religious freedom, and ended the feudal systems of aristocracy. However, as I read this book, I find myself questioning Weatherford’s objectivity, as he seems to worship Genghis Khan. Even so, it is a fascinating read, and I recommend it to anyone with an interest in world history.
Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World
A Gentleman in Moscow
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles transports you back in time to Moscow, Russia in 1922. Count Alexander Rostov is placed under house arrest by the Bolsheviks at the Metropol Hotel. For years he lives here, never stepping foot outside. During this time, he forms relationships with the staff and guests of the hotel and still manages to live a fulfilling life.
This is a book to be savored. The writing is beautiful and it has a wonderful ending.
A Gentleman in Moscow | Best Travel Books
The Happiness of Pursuit: Finding the Quest that Will Bring Purpose to Your Life
If you have a big dream, you should read this book.
Chris Guillebeau set out on a “quest” to visit every country in the world by the age of 35. He succeeded, and while he was on the road, he learned that there are a lot of other people out there on a their own personal quests.
Chris compiled The Happiness of Pursuit, Finding the Quest That Will Bring Purpose to Your Life, a memoir of his experiences and a collection of these stories. It’s a dangerously inspiring book, especially if you have a “crazy” idea in your head that just won’t go away.
The Happiness of Pursuit | Best Travel Books
The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon
The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon is a blend of history, adventure, and drama. Percy Fawcett was a well-known and very experienced British explorer. In 1925, he set off into the Amazon to discover an ancient civilization and city of gold. He never came back. His disappearance remained one of the great, unsolved mysteries of the 20th century.
David Grann, the author of this book, underwent his own journey, by deciphering the journals of Percy Fawcett and then venturing into the Amazon jungle to discover what happened to him.
This book is part adventure, telling the tale of what happens to those who enter the deadly jungle. But it is also historical, uncovering facts about British exploration, and scientific (there are some crazy bugs in the Amazon!). It’s also a movie, but I wouldn’t waste your time on it; we thought it was terrible.
The Lost City of Z
West with the Night: A Memoir
Written in 1942, West with the Night is a memoir about Beryl Markham, the first female to fly east to west across the Atlantic Ocean. Beryl lived the life of adventure. She was raised in Kenya and grew up hunting with the Murani people. Later, she became an aviator and racehorse trainer. This book received praises from Ernest Hemingway, who states “As it is, she has written so well, and marvelously well, that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer.” If you want to read a book about an adventurous, inspirational woman, put this one on your list.
West With the Night | Best Travel Books
In the Shadow of the Banyan: A Novel
In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner tells the story of what it would be like to live through the civil war that gripped Cambodia from 1975 to 1979. This story is told from the perspective of Raami, a 7 year old girl, the daughter of Royalty. Over four years, her family is torn apart and forced into brutal labor and starvation. It’s an eye-opening look into what it was like to be a victim of the Khmer Rouge and the horrible atrocities they committed. This is very similar to reading a story about the Holocaust.
It is important to know that this book is based on the life of the author. Vaddey Ratner was just 5 years old when the Khmer Rouge took control over Cambodia. Her writing is lyrical and beautiful. This is a sad story, but it is also filled with love and hope.
In the Shadow of the Banyan
Buried in the Sky
In 2008, eleven climbers died while trying to summit K2. Two Sherpas survived and this is their tale.
The first part of Buried in the Sky: The Extraordinary Story of the Sherpa Climbers on K2’s Deadliest Day is enlightening, where you learn exactly what a Sherpa is, as well as the history of K2, Mount Everest, and mountaineering in the Himalayas. The drama starts in the second half of the book, where Peter Zuckerman writes about the disaster that occurs on K2. What I love about this book is that it focuses more on the Sherpas and the high-altitude porters than the western climbers…it is a fascinating, well-researched look into mountaineering in the Himalayas.
Buried in the Sky | Best Travel Books
What are your favorite travel books? Share them below in our comments section!
More Travel Inspiration
TRAVEL INSPIRATION: Here is a list of the best travel movies and 60 travel quotes to feed your wanderlust.
TRAVEL ADVICE: Here is our list of tips to help you maximize your time while traveling. We also have tips on traveling with kids plus a massive list of 101 travel tips we learned while traveling around the world.
TRAVEL INSPIRATION: For some epic travel ideas, here are 10 unique destinations to put on your travel wish list and 10 bucket list destinations from around the world.
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My favorite travel book is Shantaram. It is the story of an Australian man who escapes from prison and flees to Bombay (at the time), India. There he works as a doctor in the slums and goes on a jihad for Bombay’s mafia lord. While teaching English in Thailand, my friends and I passed this book around and when one of us was reading it, you had to wait until they were done to talk to them because they were “on Shantaram.” Absolutely amazing, moving, heartbreaking, inspiring. You and your family would love it!
You are absolutely right. I read this book and loved it. I regret not adding it to this list. Maybe I should make it “13 Great Travel Books…” Cheers, Julie
I’ll definitely be reading through this list and your others Julie. Travel, history, science: what’s not to love. Off the top of my head, my additions are:
On the Trail of Genghis Khan by Tim Cope (plus his earlier book Off the Rails written with his friend Chris Hatherly);
The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edward De Waal;
Almost French by Sarah Turnbull;
Once Upon a Time in Beirut by Catherine Taylor;
The Coat Route by Meg Lukens Noonan;
The Green Road into the Trees by Hugh Thomson; and
Wild by Cheryl Strayed.
On my ‘read next’ list is Ghost Empire by Richard Fidler about travelling with his son on the trail of the Ottoman Empire.
These sound great, thanks for the list! I read “Wild” and loved it. Made me want to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, or something like it. I’ll add these to my reading list, thanks for sharing! Cheers, Julie
Our local libraries don’t carry Vagabonding and World Trek, so I ordered them from Amazon. Can’t wait to get my hands on them and start reading. Thanks for the book recommendations.
Enjoy! It’s hard to read those books without getting the urge to put your things in storage and travel around the world for awhile! Cheers, Julie
THE ALCHEMIST, is one of the best books I’ve ever read. Such a quick read. Thanks for the list, some I’ve never seen, so I’ll need to go hit the stores.
Hi Brian. Nice to hear from you! Have you read “Vagabonding?” That’s another quick, inspirational read. Cheers, Julie
Very inspiring books! Thank you for the list!
John Krakaouer’s books are now on my Santa’s list (AKA Amazon wish list 🙂 although in order to avoid shipping costs I need to buy them through amazon.es 🙁 🙁
Glad you liked the list! I will be putting out another book post soon about my favorite books of 2016. Cheers! Julie
I realize this post is a year old but couldn’t resist passing along some useful info. I also live overseas and have trouble (huge shipping costs) getting books. However I have discovered bookdepository.com. A website based in England which sells just about everything you can find on amazon but NO shipping costs. At all. Worldwide.
Of course if you have an iPad or Kindle you can order books from amazon with instant gratification. But if you are like me and just like the feel of a book in your hand, check out bookdepository.com.
Thanks for the recommendations! I’m just finishing Bryson’s book about Australia and looking for new travel books to read. Love your blog (found you through Instagram).
Hello Anne. I will be releasing another post in the next week or two about some of the best books I read in 2016. Can’t wait to share them with everyone! Cheers, Julie