The best books for thoughtful travel

Who am I?

I’ve traveled the world as a correspondent for the New York Times and the Washington Post but I didn’t understand the importance of travel writing until I spent five years researching the global travel industry. I read countless travel guides and travel books to understand how they shape the way we see the world. That is when I understood that the critical importance of writers who rose above the fray and captured a country, its people, culture, and landscape in travelogues. Those books are transformative, giving depth and insights while popular guides do little more than provide lists of what to do, where to go, and how to follow the crowd. If you truly believe travel gives your life new meaning, then go with these classics.

I wrote...

Overbooked: The Exploding Business of Travel and Tourism

By Elizabeth Becker,

Book cover of Overbooked: The Exploding Business of Travel and Tourism

What is my book about?

Overbooked is my investigation of the $8 trillion global tourism industry hiding behind the glamour pages of travel magazines. We all love to travel but we hate what comes with travel today: unmanageable crowds, litter, pollution, cookie-cutter destinations, and the damage to the planet.

I will show you how the industry is behind mass tourism’s assault on historic city neighborhoods, idyllic beaches, and wilderness. I take you to countries like China, France, Zambia, and Costa Rica. Some countries tame tourism to keep their cities and countryside beautiful and visitors feel welcome. By the end of the book, you’ll have a new vision of what it means to travel thoughtfully and how to avoid destroying the places we love. I’ll shift your viewpoint and reveal how this tourism juggernaut needs to be held accountable.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Coming Into the Country

Why did I love this book?

John McPhee’s book about Alaska is a classic example of the finest travel writing. He plunges the reader into all of Alaska from the landscape of wilderness to the far-flung cities and villages, writing with a reporter’s precision and a novelist’s soul. This is the antithesis of a travel guide; there are no hotel or restaurant reservations, no recommendations for the best ocean kayaking. Instead, it is a masterpiece as revelatory about Alaska today as it was when written 45 years ago.

By John McPhee,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Coming Into the Country as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Coming into the Country is an unforgettable account of Alaska and Alaskans. It is a rich tapestry of vivid characters, observed landscapes, and descriptive narrative, in three principal segments that deal, respectively, with a total wilderness, with urban Alaska, and with life in the remoteness of the bush.

Readers of McPhee's earlier books will not be unprepared for his surprising shifts of scene and ordering of events, brilliantly combined into an organic whole. In the course of this volume we are made acquainted with the lore and techniques of placer mining, the habits and legends of the barren-ground grizzly, the…

Unfamiliar Fishes

By Sarah Vowell,

Book cover of Unfamiliar Fishes

Why did I love this book?

Unfamiliar Fishes, is one of my favorite contemporary examples of travel writing because it is funny. Vowell turns her travelogue about Hawaii into a full history told with a quirky sense of humor. Nothing escapes her wit – from the greed of the early Americans who took over the island to the tourists like her trying to discover it under the layers of manufactured culture. She ends up loving the place, of course, like all the best travel writers.

By Sarah Vowell,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Unfamiliar Fishes as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the author of Lafayette in the Somewhat United States comes an examination of Hawaii, the place where Manifest Destiny got a sunburn. 


Of all the countries the United States invaded or colonized in 1898, Sarah Vowell considers the story of the Americanization of Hawaii to be the most intriguing. From the arrival of the New England missionaries in 1820, who came to Christianize the local heathens, to the coup d'état led by the missionaries' sons in 1893, overthrowing the Hawaiian queen, the events leading up to American annexation feature a cast of beguiling, if often appalling or tragic, characters.…

Book cover of Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey Through Yugoslavia

Why did I love this book?

This is the second masterpiece on my list. Black Lamb and Grey Falcon is a timeless depiction of the Balkans that does not require an update even though it was originally published in 1941. West said her intention was “to show the past side by side with the present it created,” which she does by crafting vignettes like women gossiping while selling their vegetables at market that weave into a historical sweep – travel writing of the highest order. She captured the rich but clashing cultures of the Balkans so well that when war broke out in 1993 hers was the one book journalists read to understand the depth of the conflict.

By Rebecca West,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Black Lamb and Grey Falcon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Impossible to put down' Observer
'One of the great books of the century' Times Literary Supplement

Rebecca West's epic masterpiece not only provides deep insight into the former country of Yugoslavia; it is a portrait of Europe on the brink of war. A heady cocktail of personal travelogue and historical insight, this product of an implacably inquisitive intelligence remains essential for anyone attempting to understand the history of the Balkan states, and the wider ongoing implications for a fractured Europe.

In Patagonia

By Bruce Chatwin,

Book cover of In Patagonia

Why did I love this book?

In Patagonia is a full-on adventure tale about the southernmost tip of Argentina. Chatwin’s singular writing talents transform this travelogue into a literary masterpiece. He treks through former hide-outs of famous bandits, including Butch Cassidy, retrieves forgotten legends, and mixes in stories of Welsh immigrants. Published in 1977, In Patagonia is beloved by writers as well as travelers.

By Bruce Chatwin,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked In Patagonia as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'The book that redefined travel writing' Guardian

Bruce Chatwin sets off on a journey through South America in this wistful classic travel book

With its unique, roving structure and beautiful descriptions, In Patagonia offers an original take on the age-old adventure tale. Bruce Chatwin's journey to a remote country in search of a strange beast brings along with it a cast of fascinating characters. Their stories delay him on the road, but will have you tearing through to the book's end.

'It is hard to pin down what makes In Patagonia so unique, but, in the end, it is Chatwin's…

Book cover of Down Under: Travels in a Sunburned Country

Why did I love this book?

Bill Bryson is one of today’s best travel writers with the sharpest sense of humor. He applies that wit and his curiosity to Australia in Down Under: Travels in a Sunburned Country, helping us understand that continent-sized country, its wildlife, history, and desolate landscape without boring us one minute. Published eleven years ago, Bryson cast a naturalist eye at Australia’s dry outback, with a clear-eyed description of the dry, almost alien country that seems prescient in the age of the Climate Crisis.

By Bill Bryson,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Down Under as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Every time Bill Bryson walks out the door memorable travel literature threatens to break out. His previous excursion up, down, and over the Appalachian Trail (well, most of it) resulted in the sublime national bestseller A Walk in the Woods. Now he has traveled across the world and all the way Down Under to Australia, a shockingly under-discovered country with the friendliest inhabitants, the hottest, driest weather, and the most peculiar and lethal wildlife to be found on the planet. In a Sunburned Country is his report on what he found there--a deliciously funny, fact-filled, and adventurous performance by a…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Patagonia, international relations, and Yugoslavia?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Patagonia, international relations, and Yugoslavia.

Patagonia Explore 9 books about Patagonia
International Relations Explore 245 books about international relations
Yugoslavia Explore 10 books about Yugoslavia