Travel Books

I believe reading about the cultural nuances and the history that shapes a country is one of the best gifts we can give ourselves before traveling—it allows for more informed and considerate travels, as well as a deeper experience in the country. These books are hand-picked and provide cultural and political history of new countries, often woven through a story or personal narrative. Start by jumping to a region, then select your country, or browse the master list below the images. Below these links are general books about travel and the travel experience, but not a particular place—they are a good place to start if you’re looking for pre-travel inspiration, or a general understanding of development issues, geo-politics, and more.  :)

Jump to a Country or Region:

Africa |  Australia and New Zealand | Europe |  Middle East |  Asia | Central America & the Caribbean | South America |  United States

When you sell a man a book you don’t sell him just twelve ounces of paper and ink and glue—you sell him a whole new life. ~ Christopher Morley

Inspire Pre-Travel Wanderlust

travel inspirationeat pray love reviewgreat railway bazaaron the roadgeography of bliss

Geo Politics, History, and Culture

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Among the Russians by Colin Thubron: The author shares his compelling road-trip through communist Russia, Siberia, Georgia, Armenia, and along the Silk Road. His journey is both parts insightful and educational as the reader is taken through how history has shaped this region of the world.

United States


to kill a mockingbird

travel book

us travel book

secret life review

  • The Moviegoer by Walker Percy: The novel takes place in post-war New Orleans and to start and then wanders the United States as the character searches for some unknown. While falling into the camp of an existentialist novel, it bridges the gap from esoteric into an enjoyable read.
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald: A deceptively simple story line weaves together one of the most fascinating eras in American history—the roaring 20’s jazz age with an almost love story. Fitzgerald’s mastery of the English language create an evocative portrait of the American Dream, beautifully written, thematically solid from a literature point of view, and a piece an insight into American culture.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird (FILM) by Harper Lee: A standard read for high schoolers in America, if you’re traveling to the country, particularly the south, read this book for some insight into the racial tensions and transitional policies in the American South during the mid-60s.  The story is told from the perspective of a child, but explores some much large themes. Also, a film rarely does a book justice, but Gregory Peck’s performance, alongside young Scout, the narrator, stand out in American cinematic history.
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston: Set in rural Florida, Hurston’s novel is controversial because of her choice to use local black dialects from the time (much like Tony Morrison’s novels). The novel delves into black African American culture in a way unlike any other writer, not from the racial black-white perspective, but instead through the eyes of her characters, who happen to be black and southern.
  • The Secret Life of Bees film (BOOK) by Sue Monk Kidd: A very light and easy read, this novel tells a sweet story of a young white girl who finds a family and a life with an eccentric black family, a recipe for tension in South Carolina in the 1960s.

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  • What a comprehensive list! Can I nominate “The Hidden Europe” for the Eastern Europe category? At 736-pages, it’s the most comprehensive Eastern European travelogue.

    • Anonymous

      Wow, somehow missed this comment a few months back, but thanks for sharing your book rec, and it will definitely be added to the list asap! (And I’ll add it to my huge list of “to be read in the future” books  :)  Cheers and thank! 

      • Simply Barceolna

        Great lists Shannon and all of them is great..Thank you for sharing the books. I want all of them specially the book of from Spain. Truly rich in culture and I would like to discover more from them.

  • Anonymous

    I’m so happy I found this list. I always like to read a book related to the country I’m visiting but it’s not always easy to find books with the proper location quickly.

    • Anonymous

      Glad you found it helpful, and if you come across any great ones I don’t have mentioned, please shoot me a message and I’ll add them! :)

  • Awesome… This is a really good compilation. For India, you can also read and add the following 2 books of William Dalrymple – The City of Djinns and 9 Lives.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for sending along those recs, I’ll see about adding them to the list, then hunting them down and reading them myself! :)

  • rachelsstudiodotcom

    I just read “Across Patagonia” by Lady Florence Dixie written in 1880.  It’s good and you can read it for free on Google Books!

    • Anonymous

      Fantastic addition — I love books in the open domain, read a couple to prep for Burma that were also free, and good :) Will add this next time I update the list! Thanks Rachel :)

  • Jen

    Great list! You should read Goodbye Sarajavo- great read

    • ShannonOD

      Thanks Jen, I haven’t read that one, but will add it to the list next time I update! :)

  • Now I Can Sit With the Old Men

    Having traveled widely, as well, I love the photos on the “A Little Adrift” FB page! Margaret Bishop,

    • ShannonOD

      Thank you Margaret! I appreciate the support and wish you safe travels on your next adventure :)

  • Great list Shannon! I would also add “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho. While not
    about a specific place, Coelho writes about the wonder and the mystic of
    travel. The way travel will open up your eyes not just to the things
    you see and experience while abroad, but also what you have at home. A
    fantastic read for the solo traveler.
    PS. Keep up the great work!

    • ShannonOD

      Thank you for the rec Tony, not having The Alchemist on there was an oversight for sure. I read the book years ago and remember really loving the core message and the easy story surrounding it that made it both enjoyable and profound. I appreciate you weighing in and would love any other recs as you find good ones! Cheers :)

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  • Moira Kotowski

    What were your niece’s favorite reads on the road? We will be leaving for our year around the world on about a year and will have our 11 and 8 year olds in tow. Would love her recommendations!

    • ShannonOD

      Hi Moira! Great question, I tried really hard at first to find relevant books on the local country, but instead switched to either 1) anything she wanted to read and found interesting and 2) themes. So her favorite author hands-down right now is Rick Riordan (Percy Jackson series to start if your 11 year old hasn’t yet; she couldn’t put the books down and read all five in less than 2 months). Then, she was really keen to read the Hunger Games, which I resisted at first, but then we read it and used it as a launching point to discussing revolutions, revolutionary heroes, and Aung San Suu Kyi before we went to Burma. So, look around for topical (also listened to Bamboo People audiobook before Burma and then try to incorporate themes is my best rec. I found a couple and added to pinterest: — you have motivated me to dig around and create a child focused page like this one now! Keep me posted if you find good ones too! :)

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  • I enjoyed your well selected list. Some of my favorites include stories written by Pearl S Buck about China, Shogun (and others James Clavell wrote) about Japan and of course many by James Michener.

    • ShannonOD

      Thanks Joanne, I’m revamping the list so I’ll research the authors you rec’d (add them to my queue) and here as well! Cheers and thanks for taking the time to share some great ones! :)

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  • Michael Rasmussen

    Consider adding “Blue Highways” from William Least Heat Moon and/or “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”. Both are top notch road trip/self discovery books.

    • I will check out Blue Highways for sure! Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is definitely in these lists under the US section — it was a fantastic read. Thanks for sharing, the other one is now in my Kindle queue. :)

  • Pavithra

    Do check out “Vagabonding: The uncommon art of long term travel” by Rolf Potts and “Marco Polo didnt go there” by the same author. Lovely insightful writing which will make you want to pack your bags right away

    • Thanks for sharing and weighing in — both are great books and sound wonderful.

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  • Linda Pupova

    What a great list – I will add quite a few of these to my “to read” pile! I would suggest to add “Watching the English” by Kate Fox for UK – a great and funny book about English culture and their habits and etiquette. For China – The Good Women of China by Xue Xinran is a very sad, but fascinating book of true stories about life of different women in China in 80’s. And for travel around the world inspiration fantastic read is Jupiters Travels: Four Years Around the World on a Triumph by Ted Simon.

    • Thanks for the rec on “Watching the English” — it looks fascinating and I’ve added it to my reading queue before I head back to England this fall. And the others too, I’ll update the list and add these recs, thanks Linda! :)

  • Lorein

    Wonderful list! We came from trans-Siberian tour couple of months ago and it was a blast! I feel like that culture is my true culture, they’re honest and warm people, I love that about them. Guys from Travel all Russia suggested me couple of books and movies to help with the nostalgia, so your list will definitely help me too!

    • So glad it’s helpful! And what a great trip that must of have been — it’s still on my bucket list. And if you love any of their book suggestions, please feel free to comment with them here and I’ll add them! :)