I love traveling — it’s basically why I work. That, and to feed my cat. But sometimes it’s difficult to scrape together enough money to get on your way — plane tickets are murderously expensive and it can be impossible to take time off work. And that’s why, when I’ve gone through a stretch of not traveling, I like to read a travel memoir or two. If nothing else, a good travel book can help you figure out where you’d like to go when you actually have the time, money and inclination. And come on, you were sick of re-reading Eat Pray Love, weren’t you?
So we’ve compiled some of our absolute favorite travel books, so you can go around the world in 180 pages (ugh, sorry). Check out our list–along with picks from some of our travel writer and author friends–and share your favorites in the comments.
Dark Star Safari by Paul Theroux: Theroux’s travels overland from Cairo to Capetown — and all the trouble and glory he gets into in between.
Bangkok 8 by John Burdett: I have a theory about traveling and travel books, which is that the best way to get a sense of how a culture really is, is to read mystery novels set in the place where you are visiting. Bangkok 8 is a particularly vivid account of the underbelly of Bangkok as seen through the eyes a low level buddhist police officer who grew up in the brothels of Pat Pong. It answers all the questions you have while walking around Bangkok, but would never know how to answer as a tourist.
The Beach by Alex Garland: Backpack travel hay day at it’s best. We are all looking for that untouched, virgin, pristine place. They found it, it was lovely until it wasn’t. — Travel vlogger Sonia at Sonia’s Travels.)
Smile While You’re Lying by Chuck Thompson: First of all, the book is not your average travel diary — Thompson is a seasoned travel journalist, but in this book, which does offer tales from his travails all over the world — our favorite section happens to be in Thailand — the author offers a glimpse into what it’s really like to be someone who writes about traveling for a living. Hilarious and very revealing.
Everything Is Going to Be Great: An Underfunded and Overexposed European Grand Tour by Rachel Shukert: One of the funniest travel books — no, just books, period — ever. Shukert finds herself living (barely) abroad in Amsterdam, existing on the good will of friends and her wits.
Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson: I can’t read it in public, too much laughing. Bryson’s rumination on Great Britain.
Sixpence House by Paul Collins: About moving from San Francisco to a tiny village in Wales that has 1,500 people and 40 different bookstores.
Shutterbabe by Deborah Copaken Kogan: Travel the world with photojournalist Deb as she shoots history being made in Afghanistan, Romania, Russia and tons of other countries.
Travels With My Aunt by Graham Greene: ”Even though it alludes to the fact that she is, in actuality, his Mom, I love the idea of being that free-spirited and worldly aunt to one of my many nieces or nephews one day. I’d also like to think I could still find and be ready for plenty of trouble when I reach a ripe, old age.” — Ally Miola, editor-in-chief of Premiere Traveler
Death in Venice by Thomas Mann: ”A dark, classic fiction travel novel. A love letter to Venice, with it’s enchanting beauty and it’s not so enchanting decay- still you only long to be there. Fantastic characters that stand the test of time.” — Travel vlogger Sonia at Sonia’s Travels
Confederates in the Attic by Tony Horowitz: ”A simply fantastic account of Horwitz’s journey through the modern American South and how it still reflects what happened in the Civil War.” — Mike Barish, Executive Editor of Sherman’s Travel
Play it As It Lays by Joan Didion: Not exactly a travel book, but has some of the best descriptions of what it feels like to drive around Los Angeles in that gaze off and wonder where things went wrong kind of way.
The Pine Barrens by John McPhee: An exploration into the hidden treasures of New Jersey’s Pine Barren region.
Solo: Writers on Pilgrimage edited by Katherine Govier: ”I stumbled upon it accidentally, but exactly when I needed to — during a time when it was important for me to turn my whole life on its head, hit the refresh button and journey out on my own both figuratively and literally. Traveling solo will test your limits (and stretch them) and force you to overcome whatever hurdles come your way en route. It’s exhilarating. If you’re ever at a crossroads, I recommend opening this book and letting the unique voices of the writers within — and their travels — inspire you as they did me.” — Tanya Enberg, travel writer and blogger at YummyMummyClub.ca
Wild by Cheryl Strayed: Still reeling from the death of her mother, Cheryl Strayed (also author of the advice column Dear Sugar) decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail — alone, despite having little hiking experience. This is the story of what happened.
Conquest of the Useless by Werner Herzog: It’s impossible to understand how Herzog endured all the ridiculous events that happened to him while shooting “Fitzcarraldo.” He details them here, all in the familiar monotone one finds in his films.
In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin: In the mid-’70s, Chatwin visited Argentina’s Patagonian region — traveling across a harsh and rugged mountainous terrain, and exploring the people, landscape and uexpected pockets of community he found along the way.
BONUS! Everything Is Going To Be Great author Rachel Shukert’s (whose new YA novel Starstruck you should definitely check out!) favorite travel books: I always really like books that make you feel jealous and a little left out–like all these people were at this wonderful party you would never be invited to. It’s the masochistic teenager in me. For this reason, I have always loved A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway. Also Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell…which was the single biggest inspiration for me own book. David Sedaris’s essays about living in Paris are great, the way he really taps into that isolation and the weird feeling of knowing that everyone around you thinks you are stupid and treats you accordingly. That’s something everyone should feel at least once in their life. And everything by Rebecca West.