Thinking of your next big travel adventure?
Maybe you have never really traveled but would like to step out and dip your toes in the invigorating waters of global vagabonding?
Well, whether you are looking for motivation or distraction, this list of the 12 best books about travel will satisfy the wandering tendencies deep in your soul and inspire you to start planning your next big journey.
The best books about travel not only inspire but inform.
In the following list you will find a little bit of everything; adventure, intrigue, life lessons, travel tips and tricks, and plain ol’ enjoyable tales of fantastic experiences from the great wide world out there waiting for you to make your tracks.
The Best Books About Travel
- A Cook’s Tour, by Anthony Bourdain
- Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts
- Going Solo, by Roald Dahl
- Vagabonding, by Rolf Potts
- In Patagonia, by Bruce Chatwin
- A Year Of Living Danishly, by Helen Russell
- Love With A Chance Of Drowning, by Torre DeRoche
- The Way Of The World, by Nicolas Bouvier
- The Innocents Abroad, by Mark Twain
- Kim, by Rudyard Kipling
- Seven Years In Tibet, by Heinrich Harrer
- I’m A Stranger Here Myself, by Bill Bryson
12. A Cook’s Tour
A fascinating culinary travel memoir written by the inimitable Anthony Bourdain in 2001, this book will have your mouth watering and your feet stomping.
Often called the “Gonzo” of gastronomy, Bourdain undertakes a global voyage to answer a seemingly simple question, “What would be the perfect meal?”
The book is peppered with Bourdain’s blunt observations and insightful criticisms that he is never too proud to turn on himself. When Bourdain exited this world not too long ago, we all lost one of the great social critics of our time. It just happened that he was a fantastic cook as well.
A Cook’s Tour also became a TV show. Here is Bourdain in Thailand.
A Cook’s Tour hits the palate with just the right balance of heat and spice in an inspiring tale that will have even the most jaded traveler’s soul reaching for seconds.
Goodreads Rating 4.01 // Find it here.
If we are going to talk about anti-heroes, Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts, ought to be next on the list. There is a lot of debate out there about the veracity of this semi-autobiographical tale, but if even half of this 900+ page epic is true, it remains one of the greatest travel stories ever told—or lived for that matter.
Decide for yourself:
“It took me a long time and most of the world to learn what I know about love and fate and the choices we make, but the heart of it came to me in an instant, while I was chained to a wall being tortured.”
In this transcendent opening line, Roberts promises us something that he goes on to deliver over and over again: An adventure worth listening too.
Lin, an Australian who just escaped a maximum-security prison, finds himself in Bombay where he quickly dives headfirst into a culture of poverty, gangsters, crime, ex-pats, actors, and punishment. Lin finds himself as a medic in rat-infested slums, as a bodyguard for the Bombay mafia, and fighting alongside Mujaheddin guerrillas in the mountains. Along the way he learns the requisite lessons of any great tale, but he gains something more. Lin gets his life back and gives up even more.
Shantaram keeps you on the edge of your seat turning pages long after you intended to put it down. Immerse yourself in an extraordinary tale of travel and survival coated in a palpable love for the country of India and the people of Bombay.
Goodreads Rating 4.27 // Find it here.
10. Going Solo
Roald Dahl wrote Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory, Matilda, James and The Giant Peach, and many more popular works of fantastic fiction.
Most people have read at least one of these books or seen their corresponding film adaptations. Something many people have not read, is Going Solo, by the same man.
By all accounts, Dahl lived a fantastical life before becoming famous for writing dark humor for children. He was a fighter pilot in Northern Africa during WWII, survived a crash landing in the desert, got involved in espionage, then went on to co-invent a medical device and write some of the most beloved children’s fiction in history.
Going Solo, a follow up to his novel Boy, is Dahl’s intriguing account of his time as a fighter pilot in Northern Africa and Greece. Told with the same humorous poignance you would expect from him, Going Solo is an inspiring tale told by a timeless author with an inherent backpacker’s soul.
Goodreads Rating 4.08 // Find it here.
Rolf Potts is perhaps the most accomplished travel writer you have never heard of. In fact, his essay Storming The Beach, was picked up by the one and only Bill Bryson (see #1of this list). He has authored a number of best-selling books and contributed to some of the largest publications.
Having lived a large portion of his adult life on an extended trip around the world, Potts has a lot to say about the art of travel. In Vagabonding he not only brings us into his world with enigmatic insight but throws us some golden nuggets about how to navigate that world along the way.
Expect to find tips about financing your trips, choosing a destination, working or volunteering as you travel, negotiating the dangers of travel, and even how to get back into ‘normal’ life when you return.
Vagabonding is a must-read for any would-be traveler. Inside you will find straight-forward actionable advice. The beauty and utility of Vagabonding, however, you will find in the voice of an intensely aware traveler with the ability to find the heart of every moment.
Find his writing and podcasts at Rolfpotts.com.
Goodreads Rating 3.94 // Find it here.
8. In Patagonia
Originally hailed as a classic, In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin, has garnered its fair share of criticism. Chatwin’s facts have been called into question as well as the ‘colonial’ tone of his writing.
Regardless of what you think of the facts or the man, In Patagonia remains an intriguing chronicle of one mans love affair with a far off place full of mystery and history. And that is the essence of travel isn’t it?
Pick up In Patagonia and follow Chatwin and his reverent prose on a six-month journey through the spine of South America.
Goodreads Rating 3.72 // Find it here.
7. A Year Of Living Danishly
Denmark is consistently rated as one of if not the happiest nation on earth. Every wonder why?
In her witty-concise memoir, Hellen Russel uncovers what happiness truly is and how we can make more of it. She finds the overlapping qualities of seemingly opposing societies, binding them together through the power of humanity.
On its surface, A Year Of Living Danishly is a clean-cut piece of social journalism wrapped in a novel’s skin. But if you can allow Russell’s pragmatic voice to whisper in your ear you will find yourself on a wholey unique travel epic that may just change the way you see your world.
Goodreads Rating 3.96 // Find it here.
6. Love With A Chance Of Drowning
Like Eat, Pray, Love, but not as expansive; Torre DeRoche’s Love With A Chance Of Drowning brings the reader along on a journey worthy of a Hollywood screenplay. In fact, the book has its own trailer:
In this autobiographical memoir, a city girl with a deep fear of water follows a cliche (the handsome Argentine with a sailboat—Ivan) into the vast openness of the sea, her soul, and what it means to be alive.
Stay on board for breathtaking scenery and intimate confessions. DeRoche’s first memoir does not fail to stir the traveler’s imagination.
If you are looking for a romantic travel book with some substance, Love With A Chance Of Drowning is for you.
Find more of Torre DeRoche at Fearfuladventurer.com
Goodreads Rating 4.09 // Find it here.
5. The Way Of The World
One of the great travel books of the 20th century, The Way Of The World by Nicolas Bouvier chronicles the overland adventure of two friends and an old Fiat in a surprisingly profound tale that remains in a class of its own.
In 1953, Bouvier and his friend set out to travel overland from Geneva to the Khyber Pass. The vehicle of their evolution, a beat-up old Fiat. The pair work their way across the continent in a spell-binding journey full of quirky characters, dashing moments, and contagious self-discovery.
Listen to him speak about travel in this old interview. He speaks similarly to how he writes, introspective and lyrical.
The Way Of The World is not only a timeless travel memoir but a beautiful piece of historical literature that will make your feet itch for new terrain.
Goodreads Rating 4.19 // Find it here.
4. The Innocents Abroad
This list wouldn’t be complete without one of the best-selling travel books of all time; The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain.
Twain spares none of his usual wit in chronicling his journey aboard an old Civil War ship traveling throughout Europe and The Holy Land; a trip Twain himself called his ‘Great Pleasure Excursion.’
This travelogue is peppered with humor, awe, and introspective observations of what happens when cultures we live within come into contact with those cultures we live without.
A timeless piece of travel writing written by one of the greats.
Goodreads Rating 3.86 // Find it here.
In Kim, Rudyard Kipling created one of the most condensed and creative versions of all that makes us human into a few hundred pages of his signature evocative style.
Having grown up in India himself, Kipling paints a convincing portrait of an orphaned Irish boy living hand to mouth on the streets of British India. He befriends a Tibetan Lama, accompanying him on a quest for true freedom that continues throughout their lifetime.
Along the way, Kim becomes involved in the power struggles of other men, continuing his travels in an attempt to undermine the dark powers brewing in the world.
Always poignant, never boring, and written by a master, Kim is a timeless story of all that makes us whole in a world of distance and difference.
Goodreads Rating 3.72 // Find it here.
2. Seven Years In Tibet
In the early 1940s, Heinrich Harrer went to Asia intending to climb some of the highest peaks in the world. Instead, he ended up in an internment camp in India that sent his life on a path he could never have anticipated.
Harrer races against time across Tibet, making his way to the capital of Lhasa. It is here that he becomes a personal tutor and friend to the 14th Dalai Lama, painting a significant portrait of independent Tibet before everything changed.
As the title suggest, Harrer spent 7 years in Tibet. The resulting story is one of survival, defiance, love, and true companionship set amid erudite descriptions of the grandest landscape on earth. Harrer himself transforms in front of the readers eyes; begging them to evolve with him.
A travel tale not to be missed, Seven Years In Tibet is an adventure for adventurers.
Goodreads Rating 4.08 // Find it here.
1. I’m A Stranger Here Myself
One of the most famous living travel writers, Bill Bryson, brings us a different kind of travel story; one of coming home.
After living abroad for 20 years, Bryson returns to an America on the cusp of the 21st century. An America that he both doesn’t recognize and yerns to be a part of all at once.
Full of Bryson’s trademark humor, I’m a Stranger Here Myself is a story any weary traveler knows well; reconciling how your travels have changed you with a world that stays the same—or maybe you just want it too.
If you haven’t read anything by Bill Bryson, literally anything you find with his name on it is fantastic.
Goodreads Rating 3.90 // Find it here.
- What Are The Best Books About Travel To Read In 2020?
A Cook’s Tour, by Anthony Bourdain
Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts
Going Solo, by Roald Dahl
Vagabonding, by Rolf Potts
In Patagonia, by Bruce Chatwin
A Year Of Living Danishly, by Helen Russell
Love With A Chance Of Drowning, by Torre DeRoche
The Way Of The World, by Nicolas Bouvier
The Innocents Abroad, by Mark Twain
Kim, by Rudyard Kipling
Seven Years In Tibet, by Heinrich Harrer
I’m A Stranger Here Myself, by Bill Bryson
That’s our list for the best books about travel to read in 2020.
We made an effort to provide something for every type of reader. We hope whether you are on the plane to your dream destination or in the break room at work, that somewhere in these stories you find the journey you have been searching for.