There are a number of things that help feed our wanderlust, namely people’s fascinating stories, meaningful travel quotes, catchy songs, Instagrammable shots, exhilarating movies — and of course, the best travel books!
Of course, more than being amazing mediums for inspiring us to travel the world, books are also a great way to pass time during long flights and train rides, as well as a great tool for helping us understand a destination a whole lot better.
With the dizzying number of choices out there, I’m sure you’d want a shortlist of the best travel books of all time that you MUST read! So as a start, I hope that this personalized list could be of some help to you and I’ve decided to group them into two sections: novels and guide books.
To help you pack light for your travels, I have included links to the travel books’ Kindle and iPad file versions (.epub, .mobi, etc.) for you to download!
Best Travel Books: Novels & Stories
A Cook’s Tour: Global Adventures in Extreme Cuisines by Anthony Bourdain
“The journey is part of the experience – an expression of the seriousness of one’s intent.”
You can never go wrong with a work of Anthony Bourdain. He has a lot of material but this has got to be one of the best travel books that will quench your thirst not only for good (and exotic) food but also for travel in general!
After all, Anthony just has a certain way with words — honest and sometimes crass but totally engaging, that it just makes you want to pack your bags and go.
A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush by Eric Newby
This is an amazing classic about adventure and this was a joy to read as you follow the fun adventures of Eric, an inexperienced ‘walker’, who decided to do the Hindu Kush!
And in case you don’t know, the Hindu Kush is not a simple walk in the park — it’s an 800km-long mountain range hike that stretches from Afghanistan into Tajikistan.
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
“To travel is worth any cost or sacrifice.”
I’m sure you’ve already heard of this book given that it was adapted into a Hollywood movie wherein Julia Roberts was the main star. A lot of people have a love and hate relationship with this book, but I leave it up to you to decide what side you’re on!
Nevertheless, this can still be an entertaining read as you follow someone’s clumsy though quite fruitful journey to self-discovery.
Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing
“Fortitudine vincimus — by endurance we conquer.“
This may be published way back in 1959, but the tale of Ernest Shackleton as he tried to reach the South Pole is one of the greatest adventure stories you’ll ever read!
In fact, it may be non-fiction but you’ll feel utterly awed by the sheer endurance and optimism that these men have exhibited all throughout their hellish journey — it’s definitely one of the best travel books that you MUST read in this lifetime.
Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams
“The Universe is an unsettlingly big place, a fact which for the sake of a quiet life most people tend to ignore.”
The first of the 4 other books in this popular series and it might just be one of the most whimsical yet entertaining reads you’ll ever have, especially with the clever storytelling of the author!
Basically, the story starts when Arthur Dent was saved moments before Earth was destroyed by Ford Prefect, a researcher for the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy which holds all the details about every planet in the universe. Together, you’ll follow them on their journey through space which I’m sure will fuel your wanderlust even further!
In A Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson
“…an awfully large part of travel these days is to see things while you still can.”
Bill Bryson has a lot of amazing travel books and this has got to be one of the best ones that he has ever written!
In a Sunburned Country focuses on Bill’s experiences in good ol’ Australia, the ‘Land Down Under’, and you will love the self-deprecating humor that he uses (especially with the country’s famed wildlife that can easily kill you) — but of course, you will also love the knowledge he will impart and you might just go on a similar trip yourself!
Lands of Lost Borders: A Journey on the Silk Road by Kate Harris
“Your sole responsibility on Earth, as long as your legs last each day, is to breathe, pedal, breathe—and look around.”
There are mixed reviews about this book, but if you give it a try, you might just fall in love with the restlessness and thirst for adventure that the author has.
After all, it takes a lot of guts to bike the Silk Road across Central Asia! From overcoming border controls to encountering the kindness of strangers, you’ll surely be enamoured by this journey.
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
“The best teacher is experience and not through someone’s distorted point of view.“
Across the North American continent, Jack and his friend Neal went on a quest for adventure and knowledge. Take note that the story was set a long time ago, and it centers on the American ‘bohemian’ lifestyle back in the 40s so there are glaring issues of sexism and racism at some points.
Nevertheless, it’s a beautiful novel, albeit depressing and careless at times, and it will capture you with its mesmerizing moments of exploration.
Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
“It’s a great adventure, your life, and it has only just begun…”
This is one of the best travel books that will entertain you and inspire a sense of wonder for India!
Shantaram tells the story of Lin, an escaped convict who took refuge in Bombay while running a clinic in one of the city’s poorest slums. You will follow along with his encounters of love, friendship, betrayal, and poverty among many others as he tries to search for redemption. I especially love the way he describes India, as it reminds me of my adventures there as well!
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
“The simple things are also the most extraordinary things, and only the wise can see them..”
One of Paulo Coelho’s masterpieces, ‘The Alchemist’ is a best-seller for a reason — it truly is one of the most life-changing books that you’ll ever read!
It’s centered around the story of Santiago, a shepherd boy who travels from Spain to Egypt in search of a treasure buried near the Pyramids. It’s a book that might not appeal to everybody, but you will truly appreciate the underlying message about courage and chasing one’s dreams.
The Art of Travel by Alain De Botton
“The destination was not really the point. The true desire was to get away—to go!”
Every chapter of this book tells a story of its own and it’s a bit of a philosophical scrapbook per se that helps explain why people travel so that you, as a reader, can also gain a deeper understanding on why you do the same.
Alain de Botton’s work will be a hit or miss with you; nonetheless, it’s amazing how he weaves certain references and anecdotes to help you realize that there’s more than meets the eye!
The Beach by Alex Garland
“If I’d learnt one thing from travelling, it was that the way to get things done was to go ahead and do them.”
You might have seen the movie for this, but have you read the book? Because you should!
This is one of the best travel books that is mesmerizing on every page; the plot may be simple (a backpacker named Richard finds his way to Bangkok and then eventually whisked away to a secret off-limits island that is said to be a perfect utopia), but the way it is written will make you feel that you’ve gone on a spectacular adventure yourself. It turns dark at some point, but it will still capture your yearning and fuel your wanderlust!
The Cat Who Went To Paris (Norton the Cat) by Peter Gethers
This is a short yet fun novel (the first of the trilogy) that documents Peter Gethers’ life with his adorable Scottish Fold cat named Norton as they travel to Paris, Fire Island, and Manhattan — but dog-lovers shouldn’t shy away from this book because it’s MORE than just a story about a cat!
t’s funny and heartwarming, that it will just keep you wanting for more of their advnentures.
The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner
“..there is more to life than just pleasure. We want to achieve our happiness and not just experience it.”
Written by a foreign correspondent who is a self-declared ‘grump’, Eric sets out to travel the globe in search for the happiest places — the result? Some of the happiest countries include India, Bhutan, and Iceland. So, he asks himself… what makes them happy?
Read through this book and you’ll find out why! Mixd with scientific data and funny anecdotes, you’re sure to learn a lot from the world’s happiest places!
The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux
“I decided that travel was flight and pursuit in equal parts.“
This is a great travelogue of Paul Theroux as it recounts his 4-month train journey from Europe, to the Middle East, India, Southeast Asia and back via the Trans-Siberian Railway.
It’s an experience with a lot of ups and downs, as well as strange encounters. Truth be told, you might dislike the author at some points — but it dabbles a bit with realistic views. (This book actually inspired me to go on a Trans-Siberian railway adventure in the future!)
Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes
“Life offers you a thousand chances… all you have to do is take one.”
Also turned into a movie (but with a different plot altogether), this book is the story of the author who ended up buying an abandoned house in Italy’s Tuscany and began to restore it.
You will follow along as she discovers local customs given that she acknowledges the fact of how she’s an ‘outsider’ — from people to food encounters, you’ll be swept away by the poetic style of Frances’ writing.
BONUS: Other Great TraveL Novels
- Around the World in 80 Trains: A 45,000-Mile Adventure by Monisha Rajesh
- Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
- Travels with Charley in Search of America by John Steinbeck
- Turn Right at Machu Picchu: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time by Mark Adams
- Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
Are you into movies instead?
Check out these best travel movies of all time that you absolutely need to watch!
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Best Travel Guide Books
100 Hikes of a Lifetime by Kate Siber
As a correspondent for Outside magazine, Kate Siber partnered with National Geographic to share the ultimate hiker’s bucket list that is a fit for beginners and experts alike!
I absolutely love how organized this book is given that all the hikes are arranged by continent with other important info such as essential gear, hiking fees, level of difficulty, the best time to go, and many others.
Want to get off the beaten path? You should grab this book to discover 700 of the strangest and most mysterious places in the world that are natural wonders of their own right.
Some of the most curious spots mentioned are New Zealand’s glowworm caves, Turkmenistan’s hole of fire called the Gates of Hall, and many others — perfect for filling up your travel bucket list!
Although this could also be a part of the first section above (given that it is a book that retells the number of misfortunes that the author has encountered), I’ve decided to put it in this guide book section because there is definitely a LOT to learn from this book — by basically NOT doing what Lauren did, haha!
But then again, that’s just all a part of travel. Things can get clumsy and sometimes, it’s also just a matter of bad luck or pure carelessness especially if you’re new. Either way, this is quite a good read especially for those who suffer crippling anxiety like Lauren does.
How to Travel the World on $50 a Day by Matt Kepnes
Written by the famous travel blogger behind NomadicMatt.com, this book might not be a gem of a find especially if you’re already a seasoned traveler — but if you’re not, this is an absolute MUST read!
It covers a lot of basic tips and budget tips that will surely help you travel cheaper, longer and smarter.
Journeys of a Lifetime: 500 of the World’s Greatest Trips by National Geographic
Also written by National Geographic, this coffee-table-sized book is one of the best travel books that you need to have on your arsenal since it will help heaps especially when you’re trying to look for a new destination to travel to.
Partnered with stunning images, you’ll be itching to book a flight ticket after flipping through its pages!
Microadventures: Local Discoveries for Great Escapes by Alastair Humphreys
This book might just make you realize that you’re a microadventurer or someone who goes on short, simple, and close-to-home adventures.
Add this book and it will help you come up with even bigger adventures right from your own backyard and beyond — but not too far! It surely makes you see the truth that adventure is everywhere, you just need to ‘look’.
Pocket Atlas of Remote Islands: Fifty Islands I Have Not Visited and Never Will by Judith Schalansky
The title of this book says it all: it presents to you a number of remote places with all the information you’ll need — from maps (that cartography-lovers will like) to fascinating narratives.
It’s a bit ironic though because it’s a bit of an anti-travel book given how utterly bizarre and isolated these places are, but it sure leaves you to wonder while feeding your imagination!
“The value of your travels does not hinge on how many stamps you have in your passport when you get home.“
Ever wondered how you can take a long time off to travel the world?
This book (much like most other travel blogs out there, such as mine too -wink-) discusses a number of ideas on HOW you can actually do it, no matter your age, demographic, or income. It’s definitely a great introductory book to a life of travel that you can surely achieve if y ou just give it a try.
The World’s Cheapest Destinations by Tim Leffel
Likewise, you’ve probably already read a lot of travel blog posts and articles online about the cheapest places to travel in the world… but it doesn’t hurt to read through this guide as well!
After all, this has been recommended by a number of big websites such as National Geographic and Forbes.
BONUS: Other Guidebooks
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There are a HUGE number of amazing travel books out there, but I hope that this preliminary list will already give you the inspiration that you’re yearning for!