The Best Travel Books
The best travel books transport you, their words lilting over a place, making you feel like you’re smelling the salty sea breeze, hearing the bustle of a crowded cobblestone street, or feeling the pinch of the bitter cold day as the snow begins to fall. A good story shouldn’t just ensnare your mind, but make you feel like the characters are real and the place described is in reach.
I’ve complied a list of my favorite travel books, both fiction and non fiction that I believe are some of the greatest travel books of all time. From the interesting tales of years past in old Europe, to the exciting adventures that could take place right now on tropical islands. These books fit perfectly for whatever mood you’re in: history, escapism, mystery, and more.
We all need to be transported without leaving the couch, and these books will do just that.
I took of a bit of a different approach to my list of best travel books. I'm breaking it down by fiction and non-fiction and also including some “heavier” reads. Those set in war time. Because to me, these do a good job of helping us understand a destination and its culture. I've found 20 books I think are perfect for the traveler or those that wish to travel!
If you're looking for the best travel movies, check these out.
Best Fiction Books About Travel
The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo
Not just one of my favorite travel books, but one of my favorite books of all time. The Alchemist follows the story of a boy who dreams of traveling the world, finding love, and completing his personal legend. How do we find and figure out our dreams? This book helps define and answer that question. I read it over and over again, especially when I'm in a funk. It speaks right to the soul.
Should we quit on our dreams? This book will help answer that question in more ways than one. The book was written in only two weeks, yet has inspired so many and been translated in over 67 languages. This book spoke right to my soul. It's important to have a goal, yes, but to look for the signs, to listen to your heart, and to keep trying even if it seems there's an easy way out.
Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
Want to feel like you're on the rocky shores of Cinque Terre, Italy? Read this book. Great characters, ping ponging back to the 1960s in Italy and to present day America. The story follows various characters intertwined to the movie Cleopatra to the future where life has turned out very differently. If you need a good beach book this is it. Beautifully written and kept me interested throughout. One of my favorite pieces of travel literature since you'll feel like you're a movie star in Italy!
What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding by Kristin Newman
It’s as if Amy Poheler, Tina Fey, and Kristen Wiig got together to write this book. But instead it’s by a comedy writer living in California who uses travel to aid the highs and lows of her life. Something I can certainly relate to. You not only learn about her travels, but her love life, hilarious and crazy sexual experiences, and how travel can help you find what you want out of life. It’s truly gold. And I’m so happy I have this book in it’s actual form so I can read it again and again. I have dozens of pages bookmarked. Her uncanny writing style, comedic timing, and ability to make a point in each chapter is excellent. Basically, she wrote the book I want to write.
The Vacationers by Emma Straub
I could read this book again and again. This story is about a somewhat dysfunctional family taking a trip to Mallorca, an island off the coast of Spain. Having traveled to this idyllic island, I feel the book makes you feel like you're there. Each member of the family is going through something completely different but she sprinkles humor and lovable portraits of the characters. You'll totally relate to this, plus hello beautiful imagery.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
This Pulitzer Prize-winning book captivated me almost instantly. The story follows a young boy in Nazi Germany and a young girl in Paris. Both face difficult odds and grapple with questions of character and morality. It made me realize that things in the world are not always black and white, not always simply right or wrong. There are intricacies and layers and facets to every personality that impact the decisions we make.
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
This is a heavier read, but so interesting and good if you also identify with All the Light We Cannot See. Also set in Paris during World War II, yet such a more captivating story about two sisters and how their lives are drastically changed during the war. It also sheds light on how women participated in WWII and how the French felt during German-occupied, war-torn France.
Losing the Light by Andrea Dunlop
Brooke Thompson is a thirty-year-old who runs into a man from her past which unfurls deep memories from the year she spent in France. The story is a love letter to France and it's as if the country itself plays its own role. If you like The Talented Mr. Ripley (movie) then you might like this book as well, similar twists and turns and and a plot that keeps you guessing.
The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware
This story focuses on Lo who is a journalist with a messy relationship and even messier personal life and work. After a burglar breaks into her home, she's set to go on an exclusive cruise ship. But something feels wrong when she sees the Woman in Cabin 10, who apparently is not on the ship. The story follows her trying to solve the mystery. While this can’t compare to Gone Girl or The Woman on the Train, this book is a definite page turner and had me guessing the whole time. The scenes on the boat made me reminisce about my own trips on a cruise ship! Even if there is something quite fishy going on.
The Beach By Alex Garland
I did not think I would like it, but I felt totally engrossed by this book. Haunting and captivating, yet crazy cool scenery, I was hooked the whole time. Set on an idyllic island in Thailand, the story paints a beautiful world, one we think we all want to step inside. The rug is ripped out from under us when we realize there are some very, very dark things happening here. Paradise might not be what it seems.
Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman
I'm a sucker for a psychological thriller and this book fit the bill. I really loved the writing and intensity of the story, but the ending was a little rushed. It was as if the author threw it together to get the book out on time. I still recommend reading it, just wasn't my favorite.
The plot follows Erin, a documentary filmmaker, who honeymoons in Bora Bora. Inevitably, Erin and new husband Mark find something in the water that changes both of their lives. The characters grew increasingly irritating and unlikeable and Erin kept doing things I felt were more and more stupid. But if you need an escape, this book definitely feels like one!
This is a fun, whimsical book taking place in England and Italy. Grace lives in England and works at a storage company and every other waking moment she's taking care of her bedridden mother. When they find an exquisite art collection along with diaries in one of the storage boxes, Grace goes on a hunt to find the owner while learning about the owner's life. This takes her to a powder pink villa in the Italian Riviera where she finds her own story of love and family secrets that unfurl. It's a fun, easy read that I enjoyed!
Best Non Fiction Travel Books
I don't know whether I prefer fiction or non-fiction books when it comes to travel. Both make me feel like I'm there. But there's something about these true stories that encapsulate the struggles, beauty, and wonderment that occur when you travel.
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
I devoured this book in a day and a half. When my parents came to visit us we talked about our favorite books and movies. My parents had never seen one of my all-time favorites, “Midnight in Paris.” We sat down one night and watched it with popcorn and wine. As soon as the movie ended my Dad said that I must read “A Moveable Feast” by Ernest Hemingway. The book documents the time when many American authors like Hemingway and Fitzgerald moved to Paris to write. It paints the perfect picture to imagine these now literary heroes struggling to write in Paris in the 1920s.
Hemingway's writing style carefully crafts the scene without overly detailing the story to the point of exhaustion. You feel like you might be walking alongside him on the river Seine. It offers a compelling insight into the writer's psyche and his perception of the world and those around him.
A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle
I identified so much with this book! After leaving my own life behind to go live in Germany with two dogs, I felt like I could see myself in this book. The way the author, Peter Mayle, intertwines excellent writing along with the exquisite scenes in Provence with witty dialogue, is truly an art. The characters you meet throughout the story are hilarious and detailed.
Travels with Charley in Search of America by John Steinbeck
At the age of 58, world renown writer, John Steinbeck hits the road to rediscover America and all it has to offer with his French poodle, Charley. Along the way he journeys, not only across the country, but a personal journey takes place where he discovers more about himself and the world around him. This is a true look at life and how travel can transform you.
Germany: Memories of a Nation by Neil MacGregor
Michael gave me this book after he finished it and told me I had to read this since, at the time, we were living in Germany. This book does a phenomenal job of connecting the dots of Germany’s tumultuous and interesting history. Germany is so much more than the world wars. If you have any interest in Germany and how it came to be I suggest this book.
My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell
I was heading on a solo trip to Corfu, Greece and wanted to read a book that talked more about the Island. I stumbled upon this book and immediately started reading it after I found out that this book became a TV series “The Durrells” and thought it would be an easy beach read. The story follows Gerald as his British family flees the damp British climate for sunny Corfu. What ensues is a funny and poignant look at moving your life abroad.
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
This book seems to be a cult classic as Gilbert, after a nasty divorce, travels across the globe (Bali, India, and Italy) to find herself. Along the way she finds love, food, and herself. I love Gilbert as a writer (Big Magic is awesome) but it's not my favorite book, mostly because I don't identify with her as a character. However I love that it encourages solo female travel!
Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain
One of the most epic writers of all time, in my opinion, Twain mocks tourists boasting to be travelers. It's a book that brings us all “back to reality” when it comes to travel. It's funny and different.
Wild by Cheryl Strayed
Inspiring. That's the main feeling that you get while reading this book. To read about a women who fights against all odds and learns about herself along the way AND it's true? You don't always find that. I found this book slow to read and I felt she made some very rash decisions (not just deciding to hike the Pacific Crest Trail with not a real clue what to do). I still liked the story and wanted to finish the story, and her to complete the trail.
Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to The World of Food and the People Who Cook by Anthony Bourdain
I think Bourdain struck a chord in so many of us. Travel opens up our world, and it did the same for Bourdain. This book helps us all step out of our comfort zone, both physically and mentally. I believe Bourdain's travel writing spans the test of time and this book will continue to shed light on how we travel.
Travel as a Political Act by Rick Steves
To me, Rick Steves is the original travel blogger and travel author. He's helped so many people go and experience Europe. When you travel it's not just about going to a place, it's about learning the culture and history, and hopefully, having a better understanding of the people there. As an extremely well traveled individual, Steves shares his experiences across the globe and talks about using travel as a means of understanding.
So there you have it! 20 books I think any traveler should read. Or, if you just need an escape, these will do the trick. To me, these are some of the best travel books of all time and they prove to bring inspiration, no matter where you are in the world.