These are some of the best travel books ever (in my opinion). If you’re looking for travel inspiration, you can’t go wrong with this collection of travel stories & guides.
I’ve been traveling the world for 9 years now, and it all started after I was inspired by reading some incredible travel books.
Some of my favorite travel books are based on other people’s travel adventures, while travel how-to guides taught me that international travel is accessible to everyone, not just wealthy & retired people.
So here is my personal list of the best travel books of all time.
I’ve split the list up into two sections. My favorite travel stories/novels, and the most useful books about how to travel the world.
Once I’ve finished reading any of these books, I feel the instant urge to pack my bag and head out to explore the world somewhere new!
Well written travel books like these have helped inspire my own personal travel goals over the years — and will continue to do so.
So if you’re looking for motivation from great travel writers, or experience a travel adventure of your own, make yourself comfortable and grab a couple of my favorites listed here.
They are sure to inspire wanderlust in everyone who reads them…
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My Favorite Travel Books For 2020
Best Travel Stories & Novels
By Robert Louis Stevenson
Travels With A Donkey In The Cévennes is one of the first travel books I ever read. It takes you on a walking journey with Robert and his donkey Mosestine across a mountainous region of France.
You get to feel what traveling through 1870’s Europe was like, including the landscape, religion, and the people. Robert & his donkey don’t get along at first, but through trial and error they learn to become travel companions.
By Gregory David Roberts
Shantaram is set in the underworld of contemporary India, where an escaped convict from Australia named Lin is hiding out. He searches for love while running a clinic in one of the city’s poorest slums and simultaneously working for the Bombay mafia.
It’s one of the best-written novels I’ve read and sucks you right into an amazing story full of love, beauty, betrayal, brutality, and compassion. The book has been criticized for being more fiction than fact, however, I still highly recommend it as a great travel book. It’s incredibly entertaining and thought-provoking either way.
3. World Walk
By Steven Newman
World Walk is the story of newspaper writer Steven Newman who at the age of 28 packed his bag to start a 4 year long journey around the world on foot. He walked his way across 22 countries in 5 continents.
He shares heartfelt stories of the people he meets along the way, as well as wild adventures including arrests, wars, blizzards, wild animal attacks, wildfires, and more. A lesson of hope and love told through the exciting adventures of independent budget backpacking.
4. On The Road
By Jack Kerouac
On The Road is a classic American travel book. It’s the semi-autobiographical story of Sal Paradise (based on Kerouac himself) & Dean Moriarty’s cross-country hitchhiking and train-hopping journey across rural America in the 1940’s.
Written in a rambling diary style, and a bit hard to follow at times, Kerouac takes to the road looking for adventure, sex, drugs, and mischief. A great read for those who would like to escape the real world for a while and just go where the wind blows them.
By Paulo Coelho
The Alchemist is an international best-seller that tells the mystical story of Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd boy who yearns to travel in search of treasure. However on his adventurous quest, he finds himself instead.
This is a powerful book that inspires courage & chasing your dreams. It teaches important life lessons using entertaining stories. It helped me overcome my own fears about what to do with my life, as well as millions of other readers around the world.
By Bill Bryson
In A Sunburned Country follows Bill’s hilarious journey through the sunbaked deserts and endless coastlines of Australia, trying not to get killed by the deadly wildlife. It’s full of fun & interesting facts about the country.
It’s not your typical guidebook to Australia, but a must-read if you plan on traveling there. He really gives you a sense of the place, its quirks, and the people using some very entertaining storytelling and history.
By Rusty Young
Marching Powder is the true story of a British drug dealer’s five years inside a very strange Bolivian prison, where whole families live with inmates in luxury apartments and cocaine is manufactured.
When you spend time backpacking around the world, you sometimes find yourself in ridiculous situations no one back home would believe. This is one of those crazy stories — and one of my favorite reasons to travel.
By Peter Gethers
For the wary soul who needs a bit of extra convincing of the life-changing wonders that await abroad, there’s perhaps no better resource than The Cat Who Went To Paris. Peter Gethers’ global journeys with a cat named Norton puts a dose of adorable humor into many common travel situations.
Norton accompanies Gethers on filmmaking trips and helps convince the love of his life that he is the one. After years of adventuring the three settle in New York, Norton is one of the city’s most well-traveled felines.
By Torre DeRoche
Love With A Chance Of Drowning is the travel memoir of Torre, who reluctantly leaves her corporate lifestyle to live on a sailboat with a man she just met, and their adventure across the South Pacific together.
Along with all the challenges and wonder they experience on the trip, the book takes you on a beautiful, romantic and deeply personal journey of self-discovery. It’s very entertaining and funny, I couldn’t put it down. Chasing dreams is always scary, but usually worth it.
10. Dark Star Safari
By Paul Theroux
Theroux earned his reputation as one of the all-time great travelogue writers because he lives every word that he writes. Dark Star Safari takes readers through his voyage from the top of Africa to the bottom.
He often finds himself at the bottom of his own barrel and unsure of what will happen next. It’s an honest account by a writer that is as ‘working class’ as travel writers come. Overall, an honest if not always refreshing take on overland travel in Africa.
By Douglas Adams
When Earth is taken over and ultimately destroyed by alien ‘Vogons’, Arthur Dent makes a lucky escape as he is rescued by his friend, Ford Prefect (who turns out to be an alien researcher for the titular Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – a huge guide detailing every planet in the universe).
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is the first of a hugely popular series of books, which I would recommend to any travel lover. But you don’t have to take my word for it, the first book alone sold around 16 million copies and has been translated into 35 languages.
By Anthony Bourdain
If you are a fan of Anthony Bourdain, you will know that he spent a lot of his time in some of the world’s most fascinating places. He traveled from his hometown of New York to Tanzania and everywhere in between, soaking in every experience he could get his hands on.
‘World Travel: An Irreverent Guide’ is a collection of Bourdain’s journeys, injected with his famous frank and honest tone of voice. The book also includes essays written by his friends and family that will bring you even deeper into his stories.
By Douglas Preston
For the mystery novel fans out there, The Lost City Of The Monkey God is a fascinating medical mystery, based on a pioneering adventure into the world’s densest jungle. It is believed that this particular jungle holds immense wealth inside, but you will have to find it. The only problem is, Indigenous tribes who fled there have warned that anyone who finds the sacred city will die.
While Journalist Theodore Morde thinks that he has returned from the rainforest safely, with bags filled with artifacts, he mysteriously commits suicide and never reveals the location of the sacred city. This book will draw you in from the get-go.
By Tony Wheeler
Bad Lands author Tony Wheeler, has a fantastic way with words, as he details his travels through destinations that are often described as some of the most repressive and dangerous countries in the world. With stories about Afghanistan, Cuba, Iraq, Libya, North Korea and many more, Wheeler explores each country’s attitude towards human rights, terrorism and foreign policy.
It’s not all bad though, he shares the tales of countless locals, tour guides and travel industry workers, who bring a real insight into each country and debunk the popular myths. Wheeler also happens to be the founder of Lonely Planet, so he has gathered plenty of fascinating stories over the years.
By Eric Weiner
When Eric Weiner took a deep dive into the worlds data on happiness, he discovered that there are many other countries doing a much better job of keeping their population happy and content in their day to day lives. Traveling from America to India, with many stops along the way, Weiner documents his journey to investigate what true happiness is.
This book is a wonderful combination of travel tales, science, data and psychology, mixed in with some of Erics famous sense of humour. In his search for answers, he will teach you the key takeaways from the world’s happiest nations.
By J. Maarten Troost
Can you imagine packing up your belongings for a remote life on Tarawa in the equatorial pacific. An island that is just over 100 square miles, located right in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It doesn’t get much more remote than that! Sounds like an adventure right? That’s exactly what Maarten Troost and his fiancé did.
However, Tarawa is not what they expected it to be. From cultural differences, to the daily challenges of life on an island, such as sleeping with bugs, picking ants out of their food, defecating in the sea – this story will have every adventure traveler relating in some way shape or form.
Somehow, Maarten and Sylvia stuck it out on the island for nearly two years. Now, looking back on his time there, Maarten shares the lessons he learned in friendship, culture, and community.
By Alfred Lansing
This action-packed book details the difficult struggles of the 28 man crew onboard the Endurance ship in 1914, as they set sail for Antarctica. After almost 2 years at sea, and only 1 day away from reaching their destination, the ship was crushed by a large pack of floating ice in the Weddell Sea, leaving the men stranded on the pack ice. But it doesn’t end there – the crew continued to drift on the ice for just over a year.
That’s only the beginning of the legendary ordeal of Shackleton and his crew. Alfred Lansing will take you along on the 850 mile journey that followed.
By Kate Harris
Lands Of Lost Borders, tells the adventurous tale of Kate Harris and her bicycle journey down the Silk Road. In between her studies at Oxford and MIT, Harris set off on an adventure with her childhood friend Mel. While they pedalled for miles on end, their journey takes them to some of the remotest places on earth.
Her story is incredibly reflective of life and our connection to nature. It tackles the boundaries that we set ourselves and the importance of forging new paths, just like Marco Polo and Magellan did.
19. The Kite Runner
By Khaled Hosseini
This heart-wrenching book tells the story of Amir and his father, baba, in the town of Kabul, Afghanistan. One day, after a kite competition, Amir’s friend Hassan runs to catch their kite, but is attacked in the process and raped by a local bully. ‘The Kite Runner’ details the inner turmoil Amir struggles with throughout his life, knowing that he has betrayed his friend, by allowing the rape and never correcting his failure.
It is a story of childhood trauma, family, friendship and love, that will bring you on a course of emotions through the destructive backdrop of Afghanistan over the last 30 years.
By Cheryl Strayed
This modern day classic is based on Cheryl Strayed’s 1,100-mile solo hike through the Pacific Crest Trail. It all began at 22 years old with the passing of her mother, and her divorce from her husband, which found Strayed at the lowest point of her life. After a brief encounter with heroine, she makes the decision to rebuild her confidence, her self respect and her life.
Starting in the Mojave Desert, she slowly finds her way through California and Oregon, facing every barrier that nature can throw at her, from snakes and black bears, to epic snow fall and sheer loneliness. This story perfectly captures the biggest journey of Strayed’s life.
By Eric Newby
Fashion industry worker turned Mountaineer? After 10 years in haute couture, Eric Newby decided to invite his friend Hugh Carless to join him on a hiking trip to Afghanistan. The only issue was that Newby had little to no experience in hiking, but that didn’t seem to stop him.
This must-read book, breaks down his courageous adventure to the remote peak of the Hindu Kush in Afghanistan – a peak that had never been climbed before. Although I am sure he wouldn’t recommend it to his readers, his account of the experience is endlessly entertaining and inspiring to push yourself beyond the limits you have set within your own mind.
By Jenny Diski
With the backdrop of two cross-country trips on Amtrak, Jenny Diski writes about her experience arriving into the heart of America, while still reflecting on the scars of her past. “I travel in order to keep still” she explains in this vivid travelogue/memoir, as she dives into American culture and the demons of her past, often in the same page. Diski’s story is both captivating and relatable at a human level.
By National Geographic
Imagine a compilation of the most incredible storytellers and travel photographers all in one book! National Geographic have gathered the best trips from their writers and brought them together to create a journey around the globe.
From the world’s most famous destinations and adventures to the lesser known sojourns, this book features the ultimate list of adventures that you will want to add to your bucket list the minute you read it, from cruises around Antarctica to horse treks in the Andes and every other experience you could ever imagine.
Best Travel How-To Guides
Ok now that we’ve got some of my favorite travel novels out of the way, I also wanted to include some more useful travel books in the list too. Books to help you travel cheaper, better, or show you how to travel more!
By Rolf Potts
Vagabonding is what encouraged me to put my real life on hold to backpack around the world for a bit. This book is essentially about the process behind taking time off from your regular life to discover and experience the world on your own terms.
It won’t tell you exactly how to do it, but gives you ideas and confidence to figure it out for yourself. Many long-term travelers have been inspired by what Rolf talks about, including Tim Ferriss. I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to travel more, but thinks they don’t have enough money or time.
By Matt Kepnes
Coming from a fellow travel blogger, I’ve got to give Kepnes (also known as Nomadic Matt) props for his New York Times bestselling book How To Travel The World On $50 A Day. Matt knows what he’s talking about, and it shows as much in this book as it does on his blog.
He goes into detail on how he’s stayed on the move for so long on a shoestring budget, with tips and tricks coming to life through relatable stories. Also seeping through the pages is a heavy dose of modesty, a necessity when venturing off the beaten path abroad.
By Gregory V. Diehl
Travel As Transformation takes you on Diehl’s journey from living in a van in San Diego, growing chocolate with indigenous tribes in Central America, teaching in the Middle East and volunteering in Africa.
Through these stories, it shows you how profoundly travel can influence your perception of yourself. Diehl has spent the best part of 10 years exploring the world in countries many Westerners couldn’t even place on a map. The journey helps him find who he really is and what freedom means.
By Alastair Humphreys
Microadventures is an uplifting and original concept evolved out of the travel blogosphere and into a catchy book. Instead of pushing his readers to drop everything and hit the road full-time, Humphreys champions the weekend warrior and after-work types with this one.
Among other things, Humphrey’s excursions in his native UK are featured prominently along with tricks of the trade for quick adventure travel. After all, some of the best explorations can happen on your own side of the planet. No need to travel far!
By Lauren Juliff
In How NOT To Travel The World Lauren expertly conveys the fears of a first-time solo traveler who, prior to hitting the road, as she lived a rather sheltered life. The overarching theme is conquering fear and living your dream.
She does a solid job of discussing the emotional steps involved in her process too. I don’t know how Lauren gets into so many crazy situations on her travels, but they make for a very entertaining read!
By Jodi Ettenberg
The Food Traveler’s Handbook is an extension of Jodi Ettenberg’s excellent travel blog Legal Nomads, a go-to for all things street food (and eating while traveling in general). So it’s no wonder she’s got a top book on the subject.
Any who are gluten sensitive or have other dietary restrictions can finally rest easy as she breaks down where to go and what to avoid if you want to eat well while traveling.
Other volumes of The Traveler’s Handbook series are equally as helpful:
- The Volunteer Traveler’s Handbook
- The Adventure Traveler’s Handbook
- The Career Break Traveler’s Handbook
- The Solo Traveler’s Handbook
By Tim Leffel
The thought that exotic travel has to break the bank is an assumption as sad as it is untrue, and long-time travel writer Tim Leffel proves it in The World’s Cheapest Destinations. Active storytelling and honest facts on not only where to go but how to travel once you get there.
The key takeaway from this book is that proper research and planning, along with a willingness to see a culture for what it really is, can save you a fortune. Oh, and don’t hesitate to bargain – just be respectful when you do so.
BONUS BOOK: 100 Hikes Of A Lifetime
By Kate Siber
From short day hikes to multi-week backpacking trips, this great coffee table book from National Geographic will inspire you to get out into the wilderness on your next adventure. They highlight some of the world’s best hikes, with awesome photography and summaries for each one.
Make sure to turn to page 148 to see my own personal contribution, photography from Greenland’s Arctic Circle Trail — as they licensed some of my images for the guide. It’s well put together, and I’ve already added a bunch of hikes to my own personal bucket list for the future!
Well, that’s it for now. I hope you got some good ideas for travel books to read in 2020! I’ll keep updating this list every year with fresh options. ★
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READ MORE TRAVEL INSPIRATION & TIPS
I hope you enjoyed my guide to the best travel books of all time! Hopefully you found it useful. Here are a few more wanderlust-inducing articles that I recommend you read next:
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- Learn how to become an expert traveler with my top travel tips to help you save money, stay safe, and more.
- Curious how I make money while traveling? Here are the different ways I get paid to travel the world.
- Ok, while these travel books are pretty great, take a look at my favorite travel quotes (along with shareable images!)
- Take better travel photos with my useful guide featuring beginner travel photography tips.