The best travel books

34 authors have picked their favorite books about travel and why they recommend each book.

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Among the Russians

By Colin Thubron,

Book cover of Among the Russians

To me, it was an enthralling journey written with unusual literary craftsmanship. Such a pleasure to read, but it made me feel inadequate because my travel writings are rough and raw in comparison. It doesn’t stop me from admiring Colin’s skill with words. 

Reading the book, I was immersed in another world - the final years of the Soviet Union seen through the eyes of a poetic traveller who weaves history and love of art, architecture, and culture into his tale. I loved the insights – mostly into the people and their struggle to interpret the outside world, and his own insights through the experiences of the journey, written so beautifully it’s a joy to read.


Who am I?

If I needed an excuse to be an explorer, I’d say it was inherited wanderlust. My grandparents moved to China in the 1920s and my grandmother became an unconventional traveller by mule in the wilds. My mother spent her childhood there. And much of her married life in West Africa, where I was born and raised. The wildest places fill me with curiosity.


I wrote...

Madagascar Travels

By Christina Dodwell,

Book cover of Madagascar Travels

What is my book about?

Madagascar is an island of secrets, where new species of wildlife continue to be discovered and rumors of mysterious aboriginals and natural phenomena persist in the forest. Christina Dodwell explores its least accessible corners and makes friends with its people. Her four-month journey began in the highlands where, travelling by horse-drawn stagecoach, she encounters a healer, a village poet, and families who perform bone-turning rites for their ancestors. Taboos, fetishes, and astrology weave through her travels among wood-carvers and lead to a royal meeting. Christina’s great courage, open mind, and unbounded curiosity enable her to go to places few would dare visit, and she almost invariably finds kindness and hospitality wherever she travels.

Out of Sheer Rage

By Geoff Dyer,

Book cover of Out of Sheer Rage: Wrestling with D. H. Lawrence

First, because it’s incredibly funny. Geoff Dyer set out—he says—to write a sober, serious study of D. H. Lawrence, but life, travel arrangements, random people and his own inertia kept getting in the way. The story of his odyssey doesn’t just evoke all the things about writing that we’ve always suspected (that it’s hard; that it’s easy; that we often wonder why on earth we do it; that we never question that we want to do it). It also, by stealth, evokes and explains an amazing amount about Lawrence, and why he’s a writer that so many people love—or hate—so passionately. 


Who am I?

Alongside writing, I’ve been running workshops, teaching and mentoring writers for nearly twenty years, helping people get unstuck and keep going. So I spend most of my working life thinking about creativity and writing—then suddenly I, too, couldn’t write the book I needed to write. Every book in this list is about not-writing for different reasons, in different circumstances, but between them they tell us so much about how we write, why we write, how we get writing to happen—and what’s happening when we can’t. These very different stories resonate with each other, and I hope some of them resonate with you.


I wrote...

This is Not a Book About Charles Darwin: a writer’s journey through my family

By Emma Darwin,

Book cover of This is Not a Book About Charles Darwin: a writer’s journey through my family

What is my book about?

Books about my great-great-grandfather Charles Darwin are legion, so when I agreed to write a novel about my family, I took the road less travelled: there were the fascinating real lives of Erasmus Darwin and the Lunar Society; Tom Wedgwood, the first photographer; composer Ralph Vaughan Williams and his extraordinary love story; and poet John Cornford, first Briton to be killed in the Spanish Civil War. But where among my family was a space to create a novel that would be truly my own? Caught between my heritage and my identity as a writer, the struggle nearly killed me. In the end, the only way to write about the creative lives of my family was through the lens of my own creative disaster.

Travels with Charley in Search of America

By John Steinbeck,

Book cover of Travels with Charley in Search of America

My most formative moments in life came about when I was traveling. I have always had a passion for exploring new and fascinating places. My curiosity has not always worked to my benefit, as a stint in the Foreign Legion proved, but I still live my life with a wanderlust and a mild addiction to adventure. My passion for travel and adventure stemmed from my reading habits. The best travel books open the window to novel perspectives on life, people, and attitudes. Join me. 

To hear the voice of the real USA, to smell the grass and the trees, to see the colors and the light—these were John Steinbeck's goals as he set out, at the age of fifty-eight, to rediscover the country he had been writing about for so many years. Along the way, he reflects on the American character, racial hostility, the particular form of American loneliness he…


Who am I?

In today’s tech-obsessed world, social media may well be the perfect platform to showcase the world’s beauty to armchair travelers across the globe, but travel is so much more than just getting that perfect Instagram shot. Travel should be meaningful. It should excite and inspire you, rejuvenate and ground you, educate and challenge you, and most importantly, humble you. Travel gives us our most wondrous stories, our most cherished memories, and countless irreplaceable learnings that we can choose to pay forward to others. It teaches us about ourselves and each other, it broadens our horizons, and, just like a reset button, it forces us to refocus on what matters.


I wrote...

Mutiny of Rage: The 1917 Camp Logan Riots and Buffalo Soldiers in Houston

By Jaime Salazar,

Book cover of Mutiny of Rage: The 1917 Camp Logan Riots and Buffalo Soldiers in Houston

What is my book about?

Salado Creek, Texas, 1918: Thirteen black soldiers stood at attention in front of gallows erected specifically for their hanging. They had been convicted of participating in one of America’s most infamous black uprisings, the Camp Logan Mutiny, otherwise known as the 1917 Houston Riots. The revolt and ensuing riots were carried out by men of the 3rd Battalion of the all-black 24th U.S. Infantry Regiment—the famed Buffalo Soldiers—after members of the Houston Police Department violently menaced them and citizens of the local black community. This took place over one single bloody night.

In the wake of the uprising, scores lay dead, including bystanders, police, and soldiers. This incident remains one of Texas’ most complicated and misrepresented historical events. Mutiny of Rage sheds new light on a suppressed chapter in U.S. history.

Blue Highways

By William Least Heat-Moon,

Book cover of Blue Highways: A Journey into America

Considered a travel writing classic, this book derived from a series of major changes to William Least Heat-Moon. After separating from his wife and losing his job as an English professor, he decided to drive alone in 1978 along the back roads of America, the roadways that are usually marked in blue on maps. He met an array of characters that could fill a novel, from an evangelical hitchhiker to a rural Nevada call girl. And it was all true, unlike novelized classics such as Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.


Who am I?

Like many road warriors, Kevin Shay experienced his first taste of highway travels through his family, piling into a station wagon at a young age to journey several thousand miles in a week or so. He learned how to entertain himself for long hours without an iPod or cellphone. As a journalist, he wrote travel articles for a variety of publications, as well as a travel guidebook on North Texas. He has traveled through 48 states and more than 30 countries, logging more than 200,000 miles in a variety of vehicles and his own feet. He also produced a 19-minute documentary, Searching for Something in the Middle of Nowhere, based on the Mad, Mad Trip book.


I wrote...

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Trip: On the Road of the Longest Two-Week Family Road Trip in History

By Kevin James Shay,

Book cover of It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Trip: On the Road of the Longest Two-Week Family Road Trip in History

What is my book about?

In the summer of 2013, journalist Kevin James Shay was ready for a different kind of two-week family vacation. His kids had reached the ages where they sought their independence. They had been to Disney and the likes. A single dad, Shay wanted to take his kids on a trip they would really remember. So they left the Washington, D.C., area in Shay’s trusty 2001 Honda CRV that had about 165,000 miles, with the rough idea of somehow reaching the Pacific Ocean. Covering 6,950 miles in 17 days, they set a record for the longest family road trip in a roughly two-week span, certified by RecordSetter, the Wikipedia generation's version of Guinness World Records.

The book attempts to humorously recall that odyssey, while offering historical references, tips, resources, and other information to help others plan their own Great American Adventure. 

The Geography of Bliss

By Eric Weiner,

Book cover of The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World

The USA is unique in that our Declaration of Independence identifies the happiness of citizens as a goal when organizing the country. The Geography of Bliss asks why all countries are not similarly organized. This book is a fun romp as the author visits different countries that have radically different happiness levels and seeks to find out why. A key finding from the book is that a rich cultural life increases happiness. This is consistent with my research that has shown its connections to, and experiences with, other people that account for most differences in happiness. This book made me think about what communities can do to foster social connections that drive up happiness levels. 


Who am I?

In my view, there is no bigger quest than to understand how to live a long and fulfilled life. Most of my professional life has focused on running neuroscience experiments in my academic laboratory and developing technologies for companies I have started to understand and increase happiness. I have devoted 20 years to this quest and I continue to work to build a happier and healthier world. I am one of the most cited scientists in this area and also regularly communicate to the general public through TED talks, books, magazine articles, and public lectures.    


I wrote...

Immersion: The Science of the Extraordinary and the Source of Happiness

By Paul J. Zak,

Book cover of Immersion: The Science of the Extraordinary and the Source of Happiness

What is my book about?

No one has ever raved about a boring movie, a bland customer service experience, or a sleep-inducing class. Yet, most designers of experiences fail to create the extraordinary because until very recently, there was no way to measure what people’s brains really love. Immersion offers a framework readers can apply to transform the ordinary to extraordinary. Based on 20 years of neuroscience research from his lab and innumerable uses by companies of the Immersion platform, Dr. Paul J. Zak explains why brains crave the extraordinary and shows readers exactly how to create amazing experiences for customers, prospects, employees, audiences, and learners. Creating the extraordinary used to be extraordinarily hard, but Immersion shows you how to wow people every time and create more happiness in the world.  

The Pharaoh's Shadow

By Anthony Sattin,

Book cover of The Pharaoh's Shadow: Travels in Ancient and Modern Egypt

Egyptology is a strange subject in that, even though you wouldn’t know it from the name, it really only concerns one aspect of Egypt – its ancient past – and it’s quite possible to develop an expertise in the field without having any familiarity with Egypt of the present day. One might become an expert in reading the hieroglyphic script, or in distinguishing an Old Kingdom statue from one sculpted in the New Kingdom, all without ever even visiting Egypt itself. Although this is an unintended consequence, it does rather foster the false idea that ancient Egypt is entirely unconnected from modern Egypt. But while more than a thousand years have passed since anyone worshipped the ancient gods or wrote anything in the ancient script, the two are very much connected of course – the natural environment, the land, and the climate are essentially unchanged, the modern people are the…


Who am I?

I’ve always been fascinated by history and the sense of place. That has led to a career in Egyptology, but I’ve come to realise that that fascination has been a part of my other interests whether it be Arsenal Football Club, rock music, or cycle touring. I’ve had the opportunity to travel a lot in recent years. My horizons have broadened, and I’ve come to appreciate the natural environment and man’s place in it more and more. None of the books on my list were chosen because of this – I read them because I thought I would enjoy them, but there’s a common theme linking them all – places, people, interactions.


I wrote...

Egyptologists' Notebooks: The Golden Age of Nile Exploration in Words, Pictures, Plans, and Letters

By Chris Naunton,

Book cover of Egyptologists' Notebooks: The Golden Age of Nile Exploration in Words, Pictures, Plans, and Letters

What is my book about?

This is the history of the modern science of Egyptology, of the earliest European travellers to Egypt, and the scholars who became the first in modern times to read the ancient Egyptian language. From the earliest excavators whose only interest was in digging up treasure, to the pioneering archaeologists who, later, came to realise the importance of recovering all kinds of evidence, not just the pretty things, and to preserving sites and monuments in situ.

This book is a celebration of the archives – the beautiful sketches, paintings, maps, plans, notes, and letters – of those giants on whose shoulders Egyptologists like me now stand. But it’s also a story of how Egyptologists and archaeologists have changed the landscape, destroying sites and monuments rather than simply revealing them, and restoring places to a vision of how they were, or should have been, that doesn’t necessarily reflect how things really were. And it’s a story that is largely one of European intervention in someone else’s country. Archaeology might seem like a harmless academic pursuit but in countries like Egypt it played out against a backdrop of war, military conquest, and was to some extent a part of the machinations and rivalries between European and other global powers.

Danube

By Claudio Magris, Patrick Creagh (translator),

Book cover of Danube: A Sentimental Journey from the Source to the Black Sea

On the face of it, this seems like a straightforward book. Magris traces the geography of the Danube from Furtwangen or Donauschingen in southern Germany to the Black Sea, and in so doing surveys the history of the regions through which it passes. That would be a bold enough project in its own right, but the book itself is so much more than this and is one that I’ve returned to many times since I first stumbled across it fifteen years ago. The riverine structure of the book sweeps the reader from prehistory to the twentieth century and back again, individual eddies linger on intriguing episodes – the building of the cathedral tower at Ulm, the significance of the Iron Gates – and then we’re off again on another evocative description of the river or aside on the forgotten history of Mitteleuropa. A terrific read.


Who am I?

Andy Merrills teaches ancient and medieval history at the University of Leicester. He is a hopeless book addict, writes occasionally for work and for the whimsical periodical Slightly Foxed, and likes nothing so much as reading elegantly-composed works which completely change the way he thinks about everything. (This happens quite a lot). 


I wrote...

The Vandals

By Andy Merrills, Richard Miles,

Book cover of The Vandals

What is my book about?

The Vandals explores the sudden rise and dramatic fall of a fascinating kingdom which ruled Carthage during the twilight years of the Western Roman Empire. This complete history provides a full account of the Vandals and re-evaluates the social and political structures of the fifth- and sixth-century world. It analyses a complex Vandal ‘foreign policy’, which combined diplomatic alliances and marriages with brutal raiding, an extraordinary cultural renaissance of Latin poetry, and the religious struggles that threatened to tear the state apart. The Vandals conquered North Africa, sacked Rome and inherited some of the richest provinces of the ancient world before being destroyed utterly; this is their story.

The Driver's Seat

By Muriel Spark,

Book cover of The Driver's Seat

The Driver's Seat is one of the most powerful and tightly-wound books I've ever read about being alone in a strange city, unraveling both within and without at the same time. The fever pitch that grows throughout this short text is unmatched in my reading—it strikes a tone entirely unto itself.

Who am I?

I find the experience of being at large in the world without a definite goal or obligation—that is, the state of drifting—to be a profound and intense way of communing with yourself and the place you’re in. If you’re hurrying someplace, or caught up in internal worries, you miss something about the world that only becomes clear if you let yourself drift, no matter how scary that can be.


I wrote...

Drifter, Stories

By David Leo Rice,

Book cover of Drifter, Stories

What is my book about?

Collecting a decade's worth of stories by acclaimed author David Leo Rice, Drifter is a wild trip through the occult and surreal undercurrents of contemporary life. Ever in pursuit of illumination and unholy opportunity, the characters in these stories roam from blighted Western settlements to eerie New England circuses, from the backwoods of Austria to the remotest reaches of Japan, and from seedy Caribbean islands to the shadow of the Swiss Alps.

Blessed and cursed with the freedom to transgress all boundaries-between waking and dreaming, home and exile, even life and death. Rice's Drifters operate in the shadows of our world, revealing how frayed the fabric of reality has become.

Eat Pray Love

By Elizabeth Gilbert,

Book cover of Eat Pray Love

I’m afraid this one might have lost its luster after they turned it into a mediocre film. I think it is still worth all the hype it got when it came out! Elizabeth Gilbert has a warm, engaging writing style, and I love any writer (and person) who can be honest about the good, bad, and ugly of a human life. This is a wonderful story of self-exploration and the many paths available to grow our spiritual lives. 


Who am I?

I am a licensed marriage and family therapist and have been helping addicts thrive in recovery since 2009. My first book, The Mindfulness Workbook for Addiction, has sold over 70,000 copies and been published in several countries. Books can offer inspiration, comfort, support, and relief during recovery. In my writing, as in my work with clients, I hope to offer a path to greater fulfillment and joy after addiction.


I wrote...

The Gift of Recovery: 52 Mindful Ways to Live Joyfully Beyond Addiction

By Rebecca E. Williams, Julie S. Kraft,

Book cover of The Gift of Recovery: 52 Mindful Ways to Live Joyfully Beyond Addiction

What is my book about?

If you're recovering from addiction, The Gift of Recovery offers quick, in-the-moment tips and tricks to help you cope with daily stress and stay firmly on the path to wellness. With this gentle, easy-to-use guide, you’ll learn how to navigate relationships, take time for self-care, and build a mindful, sustainable, and joyful recovery.

Deciding to get help for addiction is the first step toward recovery. But addiction recovery doesn’t happen all at once—it’s something that must be worked for, every day. Sometimes, it will be easy. When things are going well, you may not be tempted to give in to your cravings. But when life is stressful, you’ll need strategies to help you cope.

Tequila Oil

By Hugh Thomson,

Book cover of Tequila Oil

Recently divorced and looking for meaning in middle age, this endearing traveller retraces the journey he made as a wide-eyed 19-year-old that saw him drive a car from California into the heart of Mexico in the hope of making a quick buck. The naivety and optimism of adolescence, beautifully juxtaposed against the reality of age, this is a poignant tale of lost youth and unfulfilled dreams that ultimately leads the author to a peaceful conclusion.


Who am I?

Having driven a motorbike around Africa, walked through parts of India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, and ridden a horse along the Silk Road, which culminated in three travel books, a Discovery Channel film, and Wild Frontiers the award-winning travel company I set up, I think it’s fair to say I know a thing or two about travel. With over 100 countries under my belt, discovering new places and meeting new people has always been my passion. The books I have chosen here are ones that I think best communicate both a physical and a mental journey, that draw you into a story with a beginning a middle, and an end, and leave you knowing more about both a region of the world and human nature.


I wrote...

Running with the Moon: A Boy's Own Adventure: Riding a Motorbike Through Africa

By Jonny Bealby,

Book cover of Running with the Moon: A Boy's Own Adventure: Riding a Motorbike Through Africa

What is my book about?

This book tells the tale of my journey from grief-stricken man to free-riding adventurer as, following the sudden death of my fiancé Melanie, I escape a world of broken dreams by driving a motorbike from London to Cape Town and back again. As much an inner journey looking for meaning in life as a travelogue describing by 10-month, 20,000 mile, 19 country odyssey, it was a true voyage of a lifetime that ultimately delivered redemption as well as a career. Those of us that hit the open road for the first time know there is a wonderful naive freedom in not knowing what the next day, hour, even minute will bring. Looking back this was the most compelling and influential year of my life.

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