Travel Books

Last updated on June 24, 2023

When heading on the road, reading about the cultural nuances and history that shapes a country is one of the best gifts we can give ourselves before traveling. Certain books allow 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. There is even a section for pre-travel inspiration if you’re planning a trip and looking for a good travel narrative. And there is also a section for general understanding of development issues, geopolitics, and more.  :)

Don’t ask me who’s influenced me. A lion is made up of the lambs he’s digested, and I’ve been reading all my life.

Giorgos Seferis

Best Travel Books of All Time

The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux

Train-travel enthusiasts most appreciate this fascinating account of the author’s journey across the world, but it’s an essential read for anyone planning or dreaming of world travel. Through vivid descriptions and encounters with locals, Theroux provides a unique insight into the cultures and landscapes of the places he visited, and the book is a beautiful documentation of his four-month journey by train from London to Japan and back, passing through Europe, the Middle East, India, and Southeast Asia.

On the Road by Jack Kerouac

This classic novel follows the travels of Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty as they crisscross the United States in search of adventure, kicks, and spiritual fulfillment. Kerouac’s spontaneous prose captures the essence of Beat generation counterculture, and the book remains a must-read for anyone interested in the American road trip.

The Best Travel Books that Moved Me

There are countless lists trying to suss about the best travel books of all time—the next section covers those. But here’s a list of books about the world that have moved me. Most of these were books I read just before and while traveling through the country, though others are books I’ve encountered during my long years of wandering (since 2008!) and living abroad. These are unconventional recommendations for the best travel books, but I guarantee each will shift your perspective in some meaningful way.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

A heartbreaking fictional story set in the real-life political turmoil in Afghanistan. Hosseini paints a fascinating picture of modern Afghanistan with the main characters struggles with familial and cultural obligations. This book transcends travel and is generally a phenomenal book every person should read.

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

This comes highly recommended for all India-bound travelers. An atmospheric book that takes you right into the sweltering heat of Southern India, the culture, the landscape and the people.

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 White Tiger: A Novel by Aravind Adiga

A favorite read for me; Adiga’s novel paints a picture of two very different Indias—the crushingly poor and the rising global middle class. The story sheds light on India’s cultural dynamics, globalization, and politics, and the mess theses elements are causing in modern India. It’s also a very quick, easy read.

In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Álvarez

A historical novel blending history and the true story of the Mirabel sisters, “Las Mariposas” and their fight against the Trujillo dictatorship. These four sisters worked in the underground to overthrow Trujillo and three of the four were murdered shortly before the dictatorship ended.

A Fortune-Teller Told Me: Earthbound Travels in the Far East by Tiziano Terzani

A round the world overland memoir with a focus on the human experiences and cultural discoveries from the author—both parts enjoyable and humorous.

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.

Travel Books to Inspire Wanderlust

  • Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert: A personal memoir (and now a Hollywood film with Julia Roberts), this book is a light and easy read — some people hate the narrator, while other women have been truly inspired to take a year off and explore. I found it an enjoyable beach read and far better than the movie.
  • National Geographic Simply Beautiful Photographs by Annie Griffiths: For a dose of photo inspiration, this coffee-table book is stunning and paging through this will spark new ideas on places to travel or volunteer.
  • Humans of New York: While not technically a travel book, the way that HONY shares the stories of people and places as changed the way I think about the world. Highly recommend this for travel writers looking to better understand how to engage readers on the human stories behind travel.
  • Book Lust to Go: Recommended Reading for Travelers, Vagabonds, and Dreamers by Nancy Pearl: Wonderful fiction and non-fiction book recommendations from a librarian—a surprisingly great resource!
  • Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values by Robert Persig: I read this is college and appreciated more on the road as I was on my own journey. The other nicely unifies philosophy, adventure and mystery into a palatable format and you’ll take even more out of this book the second time you read it. Pirsig’s journey across the United States by motorcycle is not a light read by any means; he delves into questions of sustainability and quality and the US is a mere backdrop to the philosophical musings.
  • Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond: A thinky read taking a global look at the geographical and environmental factors shaped the modern world.

Best Travel Books From Around the Around the World


As a continent, Africa has long fascinated me. Evolution points to Africa as a pivotal point in our collective history as civilization. The tribes and people of Africa create a tapestry of culture and humanity unlike any other place on Earth. Why read travel books about Africa? Why not. It’s a continent filled with diverse landscapes and wildlife found nowhere else on earth, then there’s the rampant development issues, human rights concerns, shifting politics and geopolitics. There are tribal histories and accounts of lifestyles entirely different than life in most Western countries. There is much to read about every country individually, but there are also phenomenal books set across the continent worthy of a read. Below are some of the best general books about Africa, alongside a few choice selections for countries popular with travelers.

  • Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Capetown by Paul Theroux: Theroux paints a picture of an Africa that few will ever encounter and in his classic style weaves the travel narrative with the internal politics and regional history shaping his journey.
  • Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad: Not the easiest read out there, but this free (public domain) novella details Conrad’s travels through the Congo with post-colonial insights, politics and attitudes.
  • Out of Africa (Book) and (FILM) by Karen Blixen: A beautiful memoir of Africa at the turn of the century as the author lives and works on her coffee plantation in Kenya – also an intriguing look at the attitudes and colonial policies of British East Africa in the 20s and 30s.
  • Green Hills of Africa and The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories (FILM) by Ernest Hemingway: Both good reads and a window into East Africa in the 1930’s along with cultural insights and history set against Hemingway’s own observations in the region.
  • Skeletons on the Zahara: A True Story of Survival by Dean King: A truly fascinating read that dates back to the early 1800’s and sets up a tale of dehydration and slavery when the narrator’s ship runs aground in Africa; ripe with historical information on the region, camel history (and who doesn’t love camels) and an engagingly epic storyline.
  • White Hunter Black Heart (BOOK) & (FILM) by Peter Viertel: It’s worth getting the book first on this one before seeing the movie. The book delves into the dark obsession the director of “African Queen” had with hunting elephants, alongside other issues, during the movie’s filming.
  • The Flame Trees of Thika: Memories of an African Childhood by Elspeth Huxley: Huxley moved from England to Kenya as a mere six-year-old and spent her childhood in Kenya at the turn of the 20th Century. The authors vivid descriptions and creative imagery in this memoir created a compelling account of the region that has inspired wanderlust in many other children and adults.
  • Too Late The Phalarope by Alan Paton: A very human look at the effects of the South African Apartheid through multi-dimensional characters struggling against the segregation and policies in effect during that time.
  • First Kill Your Family: Child Soldiers of Uganda and the Lord’s Resistance Army by Peter Eichstaedt: The author delves into the effects of the civil war in Northern Uganda and sets information and narrative outlining the LRA’s brutal policies in the region against the chaotic refugee camps and some political analysis. The views are Eichstaedt’s own opinions, and thus conclusions controversial when religion comes into play, but one of the few books highlighting the situation contemporary Uganda is facing.


My round the world travels kicked off in Australia and it was a wonderful way to start my trip. Though I didn’t do much pre-reading on the region before I left, I made up for that when I landed and scoured the bookshelves for books and films that would give me a good taste of the country’s history. For ease, New Zealand’s books and films are here too, not to imply that visiting one is like visiting the other however, because that is patently false.

  • Australia: This runs toward the typical Hollywood fare, but it’s well acted illustrates some of the previous conflicts and politics that have shaped modern Australia—all told with a romantic Hugh Jackman sub-plot and an engaging story.
  • Rabbit-Proof Fence Novel (FILM): Every traveler should see this moving film either before heading to Australia, or while you’re traveling through the country. The story centers on Australia’s Stolen Generation and the controversial aboriginal policies in the 1930s that took mixed-raced aboriginal children from their parents for “re-education.”
  • The Harp in the South by Ruth Parks: An older book that gives a look at a growing and struggling Australia when the country was first being developed. Shows a side of Sydney, and Australia, that is only an echo now.
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy (FILM): Beyond just being amazing films and I think you should read the books; each movie is filmed in New Zealand and will inspire some wicked wanderlust for this country after hours of lush green hillsides. The scenery throughout is nothing short of stunning.
  • The Bone People: A Novel: A reader recommended this one and it sounds like a fascinating way to examine the dynamics between Maori and the Kiwis, but wrapped in a narrative that is compelling and interesting to read.


Since many travelers do so regionally, I broke this list up into Eastern and Western European countries, and the great books that will help you understand how history shaped not only the country, but the interconnected history many of these countries share with their neighboring countries. Some are fun reads, others take on the more serious moments and wars that led to the people and places you’ll be visiting on your travels through the regions!

  • Balkan Ghosts: A Journey Through History by Robert D. Kaplan: Fascinating travelogue and history of the Balkan region as the author delves into the roots of some of the Balkan conflicts and how they are manifested in the modern Balkan states.
  • Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (Penguin Classics) by Rebecca West: Beautiful and lyrical book that combines the author’s travelogue with a history of the region and insights from the region right as World War II began. A compelling way to read about Balkan history though it can be hard to distinguish fact from fiction throughout.
  • The Bridge on the Drina by Ivo Andric: The book is a vivid depiction of the suffering history has imposed upon the people of Bosnia from the late 16th century to the beginning of World War I. It has been hugely well received and will give political insights to the region and Balkan and Ottoman history.
  • No Man’s Land (FILM): This black comedy satires the Balkan war and it is set in the trenches of the Bosnian-Serb conflict, set off by a compelling storyline of three soldiers trapped in the conflict.
  • A Tramp Abroad (FREE on the Kindle) by Mark Twain: A humorous tail (as you’d expect from Twain) full of anecdotes and observations from the author’s trip to Germany in the late 1800s.
  • Cabaret (Film): Cabaret is the film adaptation of a Broadway musical (adapted from a book); the movie won 8 Academy Awards and is a remarkable, fun and inspiring look at pre-war Berlin in 1931.
  • Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood: Isherwood lived in Berlin during the 1920s and 30s and his stories paint an intriguing portrait of a country experiencing the highs and lows, decadence and night clubs and a revolving door of intriguing characters. This book inspired the musical Cabaret.
  • In a German Pension (FREE on the Kindle) by Katherine Mansfield:  A collection of short stories, Mansfield lends a thoughtful perspective on Bavaria and even deeper into the German psyche as she describes and analyzes the people and situations around her.
  • Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson: Anecdotal and humorous, this is one of Bryson’s best as he journeys across Britain and shares the small town cultures he encounters as well as modern and pertinent insights. This makes a fun and intriguing read that may have you putting some of England’s small towns on your travel itinerary.
  • The Aran Islands (Free on the Kindle) by John M. Synge: The Aran Islands are a fascinating group of islands off of Ireland’s west coast – they remain today a pocket of charming Irish culture and Synge recounts stories and experiences from the islands in early 20th Century.
  • How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill: Could be because I’m Irish, but I enjoyed this read about the untold story of Ireland’s heroic role from the fall of Rome to the rise of Medieval Europe and the case made for Ireland’s preservation of knowledge through the Dark Ages.
  • Dancing at Lughnasa: A Play (FILM) by Brian Friel: This is a play rather than a book, and offers rich dialogue you can hear nearly pop off the page. I have not watched the movie, but highly recommend hunting down this short play.
  • Naples ’44: An Intelligence Officer in the Italian Labyrint by Norman Lewis: A beautiful portrait of what Naples looked like in the mid-forties where Lewis was stationed as a part of the army.
  • Under the Tuscan Sun (FILM) and (BOOK) by Frances Mayes: Fun and falls into the category of chick-lit, but gorgeous description of Tuscany and will make you wish for a summer in the golden Italian countryside as well!
  • Vroom With A View by Peter Moore: A whimsical and inspiring journey through Italy via Vespa in the 60’s – it’s a fun journey and will get you prepared to travel Italy!
  • Ghosts of Spain: Travels Through Spain and Its Silent Past by Giles Trimlett: This book stands out as a unique combination of Spanish history alongside Trimlett’s travel narrative. The book explores modern social, cultural and political history as well anecdotal nuances into modern Spanish society.
  • Spain: A Traveler’s Literary Companion: Travel through Spain with all the prominent writers and poets of the past with this intriguing book.  The book takes the reader on a tour (you should be touring with it) of places and people, told with wit and humor and a unique way to experience the country.
  • The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon: This book hit the bestseller list in Spain, and for good reason. Set in 1950s Barcelona the novel excels in storytelling and leading a reader through an experience, not just a book. The main character selects a book to protect from extinction, then faces off against other characters to ensure the words remain despite zany other characters and plot twists along the way.

Middle East

The Middle East is the cradle of civilization; the region is the seat of many major world religions, and a hot-bed of current turmoil in certain areas. Though I have only traveled to Jordan, it fascinates me to learn more about the factors that continue to shape the food, culture, history, and politics of the Middle East.

  • The Road to Oxiana by Robert Byron: A truly fascinating journey through the Middle East in the 1930’s. The author traveled at a time before Western tourists were traveling the region and provides compelling observations and some of the most intriguing accounts of Persia, Afghanistan, and Teheran as Byron traveled toward Oxiana.
  • Arabian Sands by Wilfred Thesiger: Thesiger spends five years traveling through the most remote Arabian desert regions and shares the stories, history, and challenges of tribes and friends he met along the way.
  • The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini: A heartbreaking fictional story set in the real-life political turmoil in Afghanistan. Hosseini paints a fascinating picture of modern Afghanistan with the main characters struggles with familial and cultural obligations. This book transcends travel and is generally a phenomenal book every person should read.
  • A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini: A unique and fascinating view of Afghanistan from the perspective of two generations of women trapped in their marriages and their cultural constraints.
  • Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Tim by Greg Mortensen & David Relin: A moving and personal account as Mortensen spends years finding funding opportunities and support for his work building schools in rural regions of Afghanistan. Insights into the entire Middle Eastern region and culture (and this assessment stands despite the controversies around this travel book; it’s a worthwhile and moving read).
  • A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush by Eric Newby: Surprisingly humorous, the author chronicles his journey climbing one of the most difficult peaks in the world.
  • Saved by Beauty: Adventures of an American Romantic in Iran by Roger Housden: A recent and touchingly personal look at a traveler’s journey through this misunderstood country. Housden touches on culture, politics and everyday life in Iran.


Asia is an enormous region of the world. I have traveled extensively in this area of the world so there are a lot of options, some are quirky ones I found by chance on bookshelves or were passed on to me by other travelers and thus I pass on the recommendation to you now.

  • The Beach (Book) (FILM) byAlex Garland: Now a major movie as well, the author backpacks through Southeast Asia, and Thailand in search of paradise. It’s a classic read for gap-year students heading this way and for good reason – by the end you’ll be ready to book a ticket to Asia!
  • Finding George Orwell in Burma by Emma Larkin: A detailed and thorough look at Burma throughout the past decade and the politics that have shaped the country. Book enthusiasts will thoroughly enjoy Larkin’s literary analysis of Orwell’s works and the interplay with Burmese culture and history.
  • Land of a Thousand Eyes: The Subtle Pleasures of Everyday Life in Myanmar by Peter Olszewski: A quirky first person narrative about a journalist’s year spent in Burma in the mid-90s. The narrator is easy to hate yet you keep reading anyway for his insights and perspective on the country.
  • Catfish and Mandala: A Two-Wheeled Voyage Through the Landscape and Memory of Vietnam by Andrew X. Pham: The author journeys through his Vietnam, searching down his roots and heritage by bicycle.
  • Seven Years in Tibet (BOOK) and (FILM) by Heinrich Herrer:  This book was made into a film for a reason – it’s an amazing story of a Austrian explorer’s journey from India into Tibet and the Tibetan culture and challenges while Tibet was still unoccupied.
  • Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress: A Novel by Dai Sijie: A touching novel that pulls you right into China’s Cultural Revolution and the impact it had on the country. Enjoyable and insightful, a light and fast read.
  • The River at the Center of the World, Revised: A Journey Up the Yangtze, and Back in Chinese Time by Simon Winchester: An intriguing look at modern China with beautiful narrative descriptions as the author journeys up the Yangtze River and shares cultural observations, some modern politics, and insight.
  • Kim (Kindle) by Rudyard Kipling: An old classic and a very spiritual and moving tale taking place across India. The imagery immerses you within the story of a boy, Kim, who travels across India with his guru.
  • A Search in Secret India by Paul Brunton: A wonderful spiritual journey that has been popular for decades, and for a reason. The book introduces many aspects of Indian spirituality and life that others may not, and is a great read.
  • Shantaram: A Novel by Gregory David Roberts: A popular read for India-bound travelers – the book is quite thick and details the elaborated memoirs of the author as he escaped prison in Australia, fled to India where he found himself as a doctor in the Mumbai slums and involved in the Indian mafia. It’s a page turner, a fun read, and provides an intriguing perspectives on underground India.
  • The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy: This comes highly recommended for all India-bound travelers. An atmospheric book that takes you right into the sweltering heat of Southern India, the culture, the landscape and the people.
  • Holy Cow: An Indian Adventure bySarah MacDonald: A much lighter read than the others on this list, it’s still a fun read as the author recounts her often humorous encounters and internal growth that a year of living in India foisted onto her.
  • Midnight’s Children: A Novel by Salman Rushdie: Rushdie is the Allende of the East and this book delves into magical realism as the author explores politics and culture in post-colonial India.
  • The White Tiger: A Novel by Aravind Adiga: A favorite read for me; Adiga’s novel paints a picture of two very different Indias—the crushingly poor and the rising global middle class. The story sheds light on India’s cultural dynamics, globalization, and politics, and the mess theses elements are causing in modern India. It’s also a very quick, easy read.
  • Memoirs of a Geisha: A Novel (FILM) by Arthur Golden: A stunningly lyrical and evocative portrayal of one of Japan’s most celebrated geisha’s. The book left me wishing and hoping it was non-fiction, rather than a well-researched and authentic novel giving a window into the intricate workings of the 1930s Japanese geisha culture. And the film adaptation’s cinematography alone is worth watching.
  • Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disasterby Jon Krakauer: Haunting account of the author’s ascent of Mt. Everest in March 1996 on the day a massive storm hit and took the lives of several of his traveling companions. Not indicative of all treks in the Himalayas by any means but compelling storytelling centered on Nepal nonetheless.
  • The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen: The author hikes deep into Tibetan regions of the Himalayas in search of a rarely spotted type of snow leopard. Beautifully written narrative account of nature and the journey – pick up a copy before you leave because it’s hard to find on the road!
  • The Violet Shyness of Their Eyes: Notes from Nepal by Barbara J. Scot: Much more than the travel narrative it’s billed as, the author, a Westerner teaching in remote Nepal shares insights on how Western culture is affecting Nepal – and her opinions are far from mainstream, but you’ll find yourself agreeing most of the time.
  • From Goddess to Mortal by Rashmila  Shakya: The Royal Kumari is an absolutely fascinating part of modern Nepal religious beliefs. In this autobiography, the author details her early years as a living Goddess living at a temple in Kathmandu; after six years, however, she went from Goddess back to mortal. Intriguingly innocent as the author first experiences the attention of being Nepal’s one living Goddess, contrasted sharply with her life post-Kumari status. Unique cultural insights abound!

Central America

Central America has a rich living history with the Mayan culture still very strong in Guatemala and nearby areas. Add to that stories of the Aztecs, the charming Spanish colonial towns, and a generally unified single language throughout the region and you have one of my favorite places to travel.

  • Genesis: Memory of Fire (Memory of Fire Trilogy) by Eduardo Galeano: Perhaps the most popular read for travelers to Latin America; the author is highly talented and nearly any of his books will propel you into critical thinking as you consider policies, politics, and the history in the region woven into a compelling read.
  • Popol Vuh: The Mayan Book of The Dawn of Life and The Glories of Gods and Kings (Kindle Edition): If you read one serious, non-fiction book on the Central America travel book list, make it this one. The book really is the definitive guide to Mayan history and beliefs and reading this before you leave, or while on the road will propel you that much deeper into the many Mayan temples you’ll visit while traveling Central America.
  • Time Among the Maya: Travels in Belize, Guatemala, and Mexico by Ronald Wright: Descend into the Mayan culture throughout Mexico, Belize and Guatemala in this travel narrative that dives deep into the regional culture, ancient Mayan beliefs about time, as well as a look at modern Mayan culture.
  • The House of the Spirits: A Novel by Isabelle Allende: This novel gives voice to the region with a unique flavor. Far from historical, instead read this for ventures into magical realism, Latin American family dynamics, regional political commentary, and a beautifully engaging story.
  • Es Cuba: Life and Love on an Illegal Island by Lea Aschkenas: Aschkenas fell in love with a Cuban man and moved to Cuba – as an American, her attempts to understand her new home and the nuances of Cuban culture lead to a passionate and thoughtful memoir about Cuba.
  • Our Man in Havana: An Entertainment by Graham Greene: A fictional novel, the book satires the Bautista regime that preceded Castro and provides beautiful reflections on a long-gone era in Cuban history.
  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz: A novel blending complicated family politics, significant events in Dominican history, and a compelling plot-line, this book is a thoroughly enjoyable read.
  • In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Álvarez : A historical novel blending history and the true story of the Mirabel sisters, “Las Mariposas” and their fight against the Trujillo dictatorship. These four sisters worked in the underground to overthrow Trujillo and three of the four were murdered shortly before the dictatorship ended.
  • How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Álvarez:  Álvarez paints an incredible picture of what it’s like to live as exiled Dominicans in the United States; the story unfolds through vignettes as four sisters face challenges, rebellion and hardships as immigrants and “outsiders.”
  • On Mexican Time: A New Life in San Miguel by Tony Cohan: The authors personal story spans his decade of living and traveling throughout Mexico – full of warm stories and welcoming characters alongside serious perspectives about Mexico’s rapidly disintegrating culture in the face of more and more Western influence.
  • True Tales from Another Mexico by Sam Quiñones: More recent than much of the travel literature about Mexico, the portrait Quiñones shows a side of Mexico we dissociate from when we see drug trafficking reports on the news.  The authors voice is quirky and relatable with humor and anecdotes woven throughout the story.
  • Ya Basta! Ten Years of the Zapatista Uprising by Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos and Ziga Vodovnik and others: An amazingly comprehensive collection of essays and communiqués written by Subcomandante Marcos. Learn more about the Zapatista movement and uprising in Chiapas as local indigenous cultures fought back to reclaim land, culture, and recognition.

South America

Friends have recommended these books to me, and several I have read, so although I have not yet visited South America, I am ready on the understanding front. I believe that learning about the cultural nuances, and the history that shapes a country and region 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.

  • Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel García Márquez: By far one of my favorite Latin American novelists, all of Márquez’s works are worth reading. I enjoyed this short novel, the time jumps, characters an, narrative voice and cultural familial interactions act as a gateway to the region.
  • Daughter of Fortune by Isabelle Allende: A well researched work of fiction about an orphan raised in Chile. As is normal for Allende, the literary voice is beautiful and the journey profound.
  • Lost City of the Incas by Hiram Bingham: Reader recommended book and it sounds fantastic. Bingham was a South American explorer in the early 1900s and he rediscovered Machu Picchu, among other sites.
  • Marching Powder: A True Story of Friendship, Cocaine, and South America’s Strangest Jail by Rusty Young  & Thomas McFadden: An endlessly readable first-hand account of the McFadden’s time in a La Paz prison for cocaine trafficking. Young, a backpacker intrigued by McFadden’s story petitions for his release. Put this high on your list for insight into all of South America’s drug culture and more importantly a dizzying look at Bolivia’s internal dynamics.
  • America’s Other War: Terrorizing Colombia by Doug Stokes: A must-read for Americans prepping for travel to this country; the book details American policies toward Colombia, and more importantly the effect it has had on Colombia. Insight and controversy abound, read and form your own opinions, although it’s a dry read and very anti-American policies, it’s worth hearing the other side.
  • Killing Pablo: The Hunt for the World’s Greatest Outlaw by Mark Bowden: Brush up on your knowledge about Pablo Escobar or you won’t particularly understand a some of the chatter once you land. This work details the riveting ups and downs to Escobar’s life as Colombia’s greatest drug lord of all time.
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez: Márquez’s most celebrated work, I have enjoyed nearly everything from this author. This book is set in a fictional Colombian town, delves into magical realism, and Márquez gives a beautiful voice to South America and a wonderful introduction to the region.
  • At the Tomb of the Inflatable Pig: Travels Through Paraguay by John Gimlette: A humorous history of the wars, rulers and political dynamics that have shaped modern Paraguay.
  • In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin: The authors six month journey through Patagonia to the southern most tip of South America—some of the events described are controversial claimed to be fictionalized, but even so, it’s a compelling read of the characters Chatwin meets traveling the region.


  • 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

  • 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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28 thoughts on “Travel Books”

  1. I like your blog. Learning so much! If you have not yet read, Angela’s Ashes By Frank Mccourt – it is an amazing read that will inform a reader of a lot of Irish history.

  2. 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! :)

  3. 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! :)

  4. 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

  5. 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. :)

  6. 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.

    • 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! :)

  7. 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!

    • 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! :)

  8. 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!

    • 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 :)

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

  10. 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!

    • 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 :)

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

    • 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! :)

  13. 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.

    • 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! 

      • 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.


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