Thank the lord for books, with their magical ability to whisk us away to all corners of the world with the turn of a page. We may not always be able to travel as much as we’d like, but every lifelong bookworm knows that there’s more than one way to escape. If you’re looking for a read that will take you on a journey with no bounds, this list of the best travel books out there will feed your inner travel bug.
1. Around the World in 80 Trains (2019) – Monisha Rajesh
This travelogue follows the author on 45,000 miles of train journeys, through destinations including Korea, Mongolia and Kazakhstan. While descriptions of the views will mesmerise, it’s the accounts of fellow passengers that really bring the book to life. We’ve all been stuck next to mouth-breathers and man-spreaders on the train – the author’s accounts of those she’s initially irritated, but ultimately charmed by will have you laughing out loud. This is just the reminder you need of the glory of train travel while hurtling down the tube with your head in a stranger’s armpit.
2. Shantaram (2003) – Gregory David Roberts
While this ‘true story’ has faced backlash for taking considerable poetic licence, it remains one of the best travel books out there. The story follows a convicted armed robber and drug addict who flees Australian prison to the underworld of Bombay. Read it to be entertained by good story telling and as an upper body work out…at 943 pages, it’s one you’ll want to read on your Kindle.
3. Into the Wild (2007) – Jon Krakauer
In one of the best travel books of all time, Jon Krakauer reveals the remarkable story of Chris McCandless, or Alexander Supertramp as he later called himself. A man who, disenchanted with society, left everything he knew and walked into the Alaskan wilderness in 1992. This heart-breaking but thought-provoking read explores the motivations of those who leave civilisation behind and go in search of enlightenment through solitude and contact with nature.
4. The Penguin Lessons (2016) – Tom Mitchell
This uplifting memoir follows an expat teacher living the high life in Buenos Aires, who one day visits Uruguay and ends up saving a penguin from an oil slick. As you do. When Juan Salvador (the penguin) won’t leave Tom’s side, he has no choice but to smuggle him across the border and back to school. This moving story will remind you of the unexpected friends you’ve met on your travels and all the lessons they taught you.
5. The Kindness of Strangers (2018) – Fearghal O’Nullain
This collection of tales is written by the adventurous likes of Ed Stafford, Sarah Outen and Al Humphreys. It features daring journeys through challenging terrain, be that New Guinea, the Gobi Desert or the Calais Jungle, times that when in need, kind strangers showed up to save the day. This book will ignite your sense of adventure and restore your faith in the world, plus all royalties go directly to Oxfam’s work with refugees.
6 . Miss-Adventures: A Tale of Ignoring Life Advice While Backpacking Around South America (2017) – Amy Baker
Ever been on the receiving end of over-the-top ‘advice’ from someone you wish would just mind their own business? In Miss-Adventures, exasperated that everyone seems to think they know better than her, Amy decides to shun all advice completely. After many a funny mishap, she starts to wonder whether these folk were actually on to something. Weighing up their advice against that of known ‘clever people’ like Mother Teresa and Tina Fey, she establishes once and for all who it might actually pay to listen to. Full disclosure…I wrote this.
7. Vagabonding (2002) – Rolf Potts
If next time you head off into the sunset, you want it to be for a long stint, this classic guide to long-term travel is a must-read. As well as providing suggestions for what you need to pack and how to finance your journey, it offers insight into what you can learn by taking time out from regular life to see the world. This is the perfect motivator for those who want to see the world, but are concerned about lack of time and funds.
8. Seven Years in Tibet (1952) – Heinrich Harrer
Before this was a movie starring Brad Pitt, it was a sensational story of adventure written by Austrian mountaineer Heinrich Harrer. After an attempt to scale one of the Himalayas peaks was side-lined by the Second World War, Harrer found himself fleeing the British in India across the Himalayas to Tibet where he stayed between 1944-1951 and ended up befriending the Dalai Lama. Read this for unique insight into the heart and mind of a real adventurer.
9. Wild (2015) – Cheryl Strayed
After her mother’s death, the breakdown of her marriage and a tumble into addiction, Cheryl Strayed decided to embark on a solo walk of 1,100 miles along the USA’s Pacific Crest Trail. The book, often cited as one of the best travel books, follows Strayed as she grieves her mother and her relationship, and serves as a reminder of human resilience, the power of being alone and the inner strength born from solo travel.
10. The Art of Travel (2003) – Alain de Botton
This book from the famous British philosopher is less an exploration of where we go, and more an explanation of why we go. Eloquently exploring the overlooked and less glamourous aspects of travel, the author makes you reconsider your motivations for seeing the world. Read this to relive long-forgotten travel memories and to understand more about your desire to visit new lands.
11. Departures: A Guide to Letting Go, One Adventure at a Time (2018) – Anna Hart
Departures is a warm account of travel journalist Anna Hart’s experiences of travelling the world over the last decade. It celebrates the unexpected and sometimes down-right awful things that happen on the road – and why it’s often these moments that form our fondest memories. When you travel, you can’t plan everything – this book is a charming reminder that the best things often happen when you wing it.
12. Alone Together (2017) – Victoria Kellaway, Karen Attman, Emma Newbery
This anthology features 36 essays from women who’ve explored Latin America, a region many have been taught to fear. These honest, heart-felt and often hilarious accounts of solo female adventures capture what’s best about travelling alone, and is essential reading for anyone debating whether they’ve got it in them.
13. Three Cups of Tea (2008) – Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin
After a terrifying attempt at scaling K2, Greg Mortenson finds himself staggering dehydrated and freezing into an impoverished village in Pakistan. After being nursed back to health by the villagers, he vows to return to build a school. Clearly an over-achiever, this quickly multiplies into 55 schools, mostly for girls, across Pakistan and Afghanistan, and is set around the time of the Taliban’s rise to power. Read this to be reminded of the impact we can make in the countries we travel to.
14. The Pants of Perspective: One woman’s 3,000 kilometre running adventure through the wilds of New Zealand (2017) – Anna McNuff
In this coming-of-age memoir, adventure queen Anna McNuff runs 3,000 kilometres through New Zealand’s back country on the Te Araroa Trail. She tackles mountain passes, swollen rivers, runs up to 52km in a day and sleeps wild. We accompany Anna as she journeys to the edges of what she believes herself capable of. Read this if adventure beckons and you need a shove in the right direction.
15. Alone on the Wall: The Ultimate Limits of Adventure (2016) – Alex Honnold with David Roberts
This nail-biting foray into the mind of Alex Honnold – the world’s best ‘free solo’ climber (no ropes whatsoever) is an impressive read, even if it might give you vertigo. Alex recalls his seven most extraordinary climbing achievements, including Yosemite’s Half Dome and El Sendero Luminoso in Mexico. The book explores the nitty gritty of how and why Alex does what he does, making it an ideal choice for those feeling a pull to pursue their passions, no matter how bonkers.
16. Revolutionary Ride: On the Road in Search of the Real Iran (2018) – Lois Pryce
At the height of the tension between British and Iranian governments, Lois Pryce decided to hop on her motorcycle and set off alone on a 3,000-mile ride from Tabriz to Shiraz in Iran. Lois uncovers the heart of the country via heartfelt and laugh-out-loud accounts of interactions with Iranian people. The perfect read for intrepid travellers, keen to forge their own paths.
17. Blood River: A Journey into Africa’s Broken Heart (2008) – Tim Butcher
This book is an enthralling account of Daily Telegraph correspondent Tim Butcher’s retracing of the famous expedition of H.M Stanley, a great Victorian adventurer through the Congo. Tim’s account of his journey, the people who help him along the way and the history of the country will stay with you long after the book is done. Read this to educate yourself on a lesser-known part of the world.
18. Love with a Chance of Drowning (2013) – Torre De Roche
Written by travel blogger Torre DeRoche, Love with a Chance of Drowning sounds like something from all your chick-lit nightmares, but in actual fact is an insightful account of a woman overcoming her fears to sail across the Pacific Ocean. Her descriptions of the journey, the scenery and her experience will make you want to set sail too. Grab a copy if it’s fear that’s stopping you from booking that ticket.
19. The Caliph’s House – A Year in Casablanca (2007) – Tahir Shah
This beautifully-written book follows Shah as he uproots his family and moves them from London to Morocco for a year. We follow them as they acclimatise to a new culture, and see them negotiate bureaucracy, gangsters and even jinns, mischievous spirits intent on wreaking havoc. Read this one if you’re considering a move to an exotic location.
20. Down Under: Travels in a Sunburned Country (2015) – Bill Bryson
Frankly, if you love travel (and belly laughs), you should read Bill’s entire back catalogue, but this little ripper is one of his most-loved and frequently tops lists of best travel books of all time. Down Under follows Bill’s travels around Australia, via many a hilarious encounter with extreme weather, local fauna, and a cast of dinky die Aussies. If you’re waiting for that Aussie working visa to land in your inbox, this is just the book for you.
21. The Lost City of Z: A Legendary British Explorer’s Deadly Quest to Uncover the Secrets of the Amazon (2017) – David Grann
The Lost City of Z is a fascinating blend of history, biography and travelogue seeking to find out what on earth happened to Percy Fawcett after he entered the Amazon jungle to go in search of the Lost City of Z. This is an enlightening dive into the history and culture of a region that’s become such a tourist hotspot. It reminds us that long before boat tours and coaches delivered backpackers, the Amazon was an unknown world, that some brave souls were bold enough to enter.
22. The Geography of Bliss (2008) – Eric Weiner
After years of journeying into the world’s most frightening corners for his work as a foreign correspondent, Eric Weiner decides to spend a year visiting some happy places for a change. In this book, he journeys to the likes of Bhutan, India, Iceland, Thailand and Moldova to discover each country’s unique take on happiness and to ultimately establish who’s the happiest of us all. This is a good one for all you incessant travellers, constantly at odds with where you might be happiest in the world.
23. Travel as a Political Act (2018) – Rick Stevens
Via exciting stories from his life on the road, acclaimed travel writer, Rick Stevens explores travel as a way of opening your mind and becoming a better citizen of Planet Earth.
24. Journeys to the Other Side of the World (2018) – David Attenborough
This book pops the reader in the cagoule pocket of one of the greatest natural historians of our times and affords us insight into his travels. From Madagascar to New Guinea, Tonga to the Northern Territory, we learn about Attenborough’s interactions with people and animals in some of the most rarely visited corners of the planet.
25. Don’t go there: From Chernobyl to Korea – one man’s quest to lose himself and find everyone else in the world’s strangest places (2018) – Adam Fletcher
There are some places even the hardiest travellers choose to swerve, but not Adam Fletcher! If it’s dangerous, he’s booking a ticket. In this hysterical memoir, we follow Adam as he visits some of the strangest, and least hospitable places on the planet including North Korea, Chernobyl and Soviet-breakaway, Transnistria.
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About the author:
Amy Baker is the author of Miss-Adventures: A Tale of Ignoring Life Advice While Backpacking Around South America, and founder of The Riff Raff, a writers’ community that supports aspiring writers and champions debut authors. You can follow Amy on Twitter here.