100 of the Best Ever Must-Read Travel Books
100 Must-Read Travel Books
A good travel book can inspire and stir the imagination. That goes without saying. The best travel books are those that fully immerse the reader and transport them away from the familiar routines of local life and into a different realm.
I've compiled a list of what I think are 100 reasons to travel: 100 must-read travel books you should read, each read a reason to pack a bag and hit the road.
Many of us love to travel, to experience new and faraway places. It's natural wanderlust bubbling up. But many of us are armchair travelers, venturing out as far as the living room or on odd days, the garden shed or local shopping mall!
I've done a lot of research—scouring the web, scanning magazines and journals, and best of all, reading many books.
As a nomadic type of restless person, travel has always been a necessity for me. Whether it's a walk or a hike through the local countryside or a journey out into more uncharted territory, the itch always needs a good scratching.
My first travel book read was Robert Louis Stevenson's Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes, first published in 1879. I was guided through this small book by my English teacher, Mrs Thompson, who loved RLS and France, so I couldn't go wrong!
It's got all you need in a travel book - adventure, dialogue with locals, wine and song and a donkey called Modestine, bought for 65 francs and a bottle of brandy.
I hope this list will be useful. Browse through it, I'm sure you'll come across a new author or a title you're not familiar with. Please feel free to add your own favourites as a comment.
An Early Travel Book : Goa and the Blue Mountains
One of the earliest travel books describes a journey through this special part of India. On sick leave from the British Army, Burton, soldier, explorer, linguist and intrepid writer spent 6 months off the beaten track. His book is a mix of observation, opinion and reportage - here was an unorthodox Victorian giving his own inimitable views on people and places. His London tomb is shaped like an Arab tent. A window gives views of the interior coffin camel bells and all.
Sir Richard Burton (1851)
The List of Best Ever Must-Read Travel Books (By Publication Date)
- Roughing It by Mark Twain (1879) Witty and colourful - a classic book penned by a master of the genre.
- Sailing Alone Around the World by Captain Joshua Slocum (1899) Interesting views and insights into the mind of a lone sailor.
- Sea and Sardinia by D.H.Lawrence (1921) Wonderful, evocative prose detailing nature and the locals as Lawrence travels swiftly from Sicily to Sardinia.
- Royal Road to Romance by Richard Halliburton (1925)
- Brazilian Adventure by Peter Fleming (1933) One of the first books to appear describing an actual voyage down the Amazon river.
- The Valleys of the Assassins by Freya Stark (1934)
- Road to Oxiana by Robert Byron (1936)
- A Journey Without Maps by Graham Green (1936) A powerful journal of Green's foray into the remote country of Liberia.
- Complete Book of Marvels by Richard Halliburton (1937) Originally written for children, many adult readers consider this a classic.
- Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen (1937) The book inspired a Hollywood movie with Robert Redford and Meryl Streep. Superb landscape passages.
- Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell (1938) A harrowing account of Orwell's personal involvement in the Spanish Civil war, in which he was shot. Great political insights.
- The Colossus of Maroussi by Henry Miller (1941)
- West With The Night by Beryl Markham (1942)
- A House In Bali by Colin McPhee (1947)
- Thief's Journal by Jean Genet (1949) 'Is any of this true? Who cares? It is if I say it is for I define my existential self.'
- A Visit to Don Otavio by Sybille Bedford (1953) Considered to be one of the wittiest travel books written. Bruce Chatwin thought it one of the best.
- On The Road by Jack Kerouac (1957) The iconic Beat generation's bible of restless youthful questing.
- Seven years In Tibet by Heinrich Harrer (1953)
- Arabian Sands by Wilfred Thesiger (1959)
- Lords of the Atlas by Glyn Maxwell (1961)
- Travels With Charley by John Steinbeck (1962) The author drives his French poodle dog around the USA. Attention all dog lovers.
- The Way of the World by Nicolas Bouvier (1963) A journey does not need reasons..Switzerland's very own Jack Kerouac heads off in a Fiat, in 1953, to Turkey, Iran and Pakistan.
- A Moveable Feast by Earnest Hemingway (1964)
- An Area of Darkness by V.S.Naipal (1964)
- Two Towns in Provence by MFK Fisher (1964)
- Slowly Down The Ganges by Eric Newby (1966)
- Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey (1968)
- Flash by Charles Duchaussois (1969) From France to Lebanon with drugs and carnage en route.
- As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning by Laurie Lee (1969) Delightful journey mostly on foot through Spain in 1934. Laurie Lee took only a bag and a violin.
A brilliant tale, told with zest and humour. This classic journey takes you right along the holy river of India. If you like your travel spiced with keen observation, dialogue and witty banter, you will love this book. Great read.
More Classic Travel Books
- The Black Tents of Arabia, Carl Raswan (1935) 22 years on and off amongst the Bedouin tribe.
- Kon-Tiki, Thor Heyerdahl (1948) Epic journey across the Pacific from Peru to Polynesia to prove Heyerdahl's theory of people migration.
- The Drunken Forest, Gerald Durrell (1956) Animal lover Durrell travels through Argentina and Paraguay searching for rare animals. Gets right into the skin.
Classic Travel Books - Hunter S. Thompson, Paul Theroux, Bruce Chatwin
31. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S. Thompson (1971) Gonzo prose is invented as the hellraiser Raoul Duke and his friends live it up in the desert. There was madness in any direction, at any hour.
32. The People's Guide to Mexico, Carl Franz (1972) Alternative guide book offering philosophical and entertaining insights into this most crazy of countries. New editions keep the original text.
33. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig (1974) Classic book, an Inquiry into Values, sees father and son head out on a motorbike. The real cycle you're working on is a cycle called yourself.
34. Coming into the Country, John McPhee (1976) The author travels through Alaska with pilots and settlers and politicians, people who are trying to make sense of this incredible state.
35. In Patagonia, Bruce Chatwin (1977) Beautifully drawn observations from this remote south American country.
36. The Snow Leopard, Peter Mathieson (1978)
37. The Old Patagonian Express, Paul Theroux (1979)
38. Tracks: A Solo Woman's Trek Across 1700 Miles of Australian Outback, Robyn Davidson (1980)
39. Old Glory: A Voyage Down the Mississippi, Jonathan Raban (1981)
40. Jupiter's Travels, Ted Simon (1980) A Triumph motorbike speeds around the world. Now a world wide charity!
41. Blue Highways, William Least Heat-Moon, (1982)
42. Running in the Family, Michael Ondaatje (1982)
43. Castaway, Lucy Irvine (1983) A young woman answers a newspaper ad 'Wanted, wife for a year long stay on a desert island'. More a journey into oneself.
44. The Roads to Sata, Alan Booth (1985)
45. Arctic Dreams, Barry Lopez (1986)
46. Danube: A Sentimental Journey, Claudio Magris (1986) Italian author follows the great river from the Bavarian hills to the Black Sea. Brimming with culture, history and romance.
47. The Panama Hat Trail, Tom Miller (1986) 'The man who doesn't like clouds has no business coming to Ecuador' wrote Henri Michaux in 1928. Miller's book is all about hats and the Ecuadorian lifestyle.
48. Iron and Silk, Mark Salzman (1986) Experiences of an English teacher and kung fu student in south China.
49. A Time of Gifts/Between The Woods and The Water, Patrick Leigh Fermor (1977/1986) Europe 1933.The young author is only 18 and sets out to walk from Holland to Hungary and on into the Carpathians. Wondrous prose, full of historical and cultural insights.
50. Heidi's Alp, Christina Hardyment, (1987) An English mother takes her four children on a motor tour to discover the roots of European stories. Family travelogue before the electronic age took hold.
51. The Songlines, Bruce Chatwin (1987) Poetical homage to the Australian aboriginal songs. Full of astute observations as Chatwin follows the natives of the orange dust on their walkabouts.
52. Nothing to Declare, Mary Morris (1988) One woman's traveling life, starting in Mexico and on to Honduras and Guatemala and other countries. A series of short stories with the emphasis on self discovery.
53.Stranger in the Forest, Eric Hansen (1988) The first western man to walk through the jungles of Borneo. Seven months, 4000 km, lots of escapades, lone trekking and time with the natives.
54. Video Night in Katmandu, Pico Iyer (1988) East meets West in this subtle, fast moving run through of how ancient Asian societies deal with change, pop culture and new money.
55. Equator: A Journey, Thurston Clarke (1988) A 3 year journey following the invisible line around the Earth.
56. In Trouble Again, Redmund O'Hanlon (1988) Funny, gruesome and honest. A search for the Yanomami tribe in the Amazon brings out the best and worst of O'Hanlon.
57. The Lost Continent, Bill Bryson (1989) 'I was heading to Nebraska. Now there's a sentence you don't want to say too often if you can possibly help it.' Small town pickings in the good old US of A.
58. Hong Kong, Jan Morris (1989) History and plenty of detail about the great city the British 'sold' to China.
59. A Year in Provence, Peter Mayle (1989)
60. Last Places: A Journey in the North, Lawrence Millman (1990) Lone traveller follows the Viking routes to extremely cold places. Beautiful descriptions, crazy people, slow boats.
61. The Good Rain, Timothy Egan (1990) Egan follows 19th century traveler Theodore Winthrop through the Pacific Northwest of the USA. Fishing, logging and humankind versus Nature, all in eloquent prose.
An outrageous book, full of quirky insights and some rude if funny happenings. I love this book for its attitude - Alaska or bust. Not for the faint-hearted, it rips and roars through the landscape, as you would expect for a journey which needs speed (and a good navigator). For those who love pick-ups and gritty romance.
62. The Ponds of Kalambayi, Mike Tidwell (1990) Honest account from a volunteer in the Peace Corps living in Zaire, Africa. Some soul searching moments.
63. The Edge of Paradise, P.F. Kluge (1991) A commentary on the smaller Pacific Islands where Kluge lived and worked in transitional times for the natives.
64. Motoring With Mohammed, Eric Hansen (1991) Colourful stories from Yemen and the red Sea.
65. Road Fever: A High Speed Travelogue, Tim Cahill (1991) A rip roaring record breaking drive in a GMC Sierra pick up. All the way from Tierra del Fuego to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, in just under 24 days.
66. 30 days in Sydney, Peter Carey (1991)
67. Turkish Reflections, Mary Lee Settle (1991) A reflective work evoking the mystery and beauty of Turkey.
68. City of Djinns, William Dalrymple (1993) All about Delhi. Scotsman Dalrymple carefully opens the doors of this historical, mystical Indian city and invites us in.
69. Balkan Ghosts, Robert D. Kaplan (1993) Dark historical view of the Balkans.
70. In An Antique Land, Amitav Ghosh (1993) Two stories intertwine. An ethnographer in a small modern village in Egypt traces the footsteps of a medieval slave. Muslim, Hindi and Judaism cultures beautifully wrought.
In 1908 little known Welsh poet W.H.Davies published his Autobiography of a Supertramp. Fast forward to 1996 and Jon Krakaeur's character Chris McCandless in Into The Wild signs his name Alexandra Supertramp when visiting a city hostel.
71. Bury Me Standing, Isabel Fonseca (1995) Four years amongst the Gypsies, from Albania to Poland.
72. Bad Land, Jonathan Raban (1996) A book of 'place', Montana and North Dakota. History of the homesteaders who settled to farm the vast landscape.
73. Terra Incognita, Sara Wheeler (1996) Deeply personal reflections as the author travels through Antarctica
74. Sahara Unveiled, William Langewiesche (1996) From Algiers to Dakar across the Sahara, via the Tuareg tribe.
75. Into the Wild, Jon Krakaeur (1996) A young man gives away 25000$ to charity, abandons his family, friends and his car to walk off into the wilderness of Alaska. Four months later he is dead. Hero or waster?
76. The River At The Centre of the World, Simon Winchester (1996) A 3900 mile journey up the Yangtze river. History, adventure and the complexity of the Chinese people.
77. A Fortune Teller Told Me, Tiziano Terzani (1997) 'Fly and you will die' says the fortune teller. From Singapore to Mongolia only by land and sea.
78. Full Circle, Michael Palin (1997) Around the Pacific rim in 200 days. Quirky humour from the Monty Python man.
79. Confederates in the Attic, Tony Horowitz (1998) A travelogue full of history, battle scenes and attitudes towards the American Civil War. Focuses on the southern states.
80. Galapagos: Islands Born of Fire, Tui de Roy (1998) Thirty five years worth of writings and pictures about the Galapagos islands, 'a natural laboratory of evolution'.
81. Off The Rails in Pnom Penh, Amit Gilboa (1998) Ex pats in Cambodia. The dark side of life in Pnom Penh.
82. An Unexpected Light, Jason Elliot (1999) Adventure, danger and wonder in Afghanistan.
83. In Siberia, Colin Thubron (1999) 'A bleak beauty, and an indelible fear'. Atmospheric, in depth look at this far flung country from a travel master.
84. Chasing Monarchs, Robert Michael Pyle (1999) The author followed monarch butterflies all the way from Washington state to Mexico. Landscape, natural history and gentle humour.
85. The Basque History of the World, Mark Kurlansky (1999) Get to know the mysterious Basques. A language with no origin, a nation without a country.
86. Cold Beer and Crocodiles, Roff Smith (2000) A nine month journey anti-clockwise around the coast of Australia...on a bicycle.
87. The Eighth Continent : Life, Death and Discovery in the Lost World of Madagascar, Peter Tyson (2000) Travelogue and history of this unique island. Reptiles and amphibians and fun.
88. London: The Biography, Peter Ackroyd (2000) A densely poetic history of England's capital. Ackroyd brings London to life.
89. Honeymoon in Purdah: An Iranian Journey, Alison Wearing (2000) Meet the people of Iran and the ancient Persian culture.
90. The Flaneur: A Stroll Through the Paradoxes of Paris, Edmund White (2001) All about Paris. 'You're at the centre of everything yet you remain hidden from everybody.' A flaneur is a stroller cum saunterer.
91. Looking for Lovedu: A Woman's Journey through Africa, Ann Jones (2001) A feminist travelogue. In search of the ancient tribe headed by a legendary female, starring a Land Rover and the wondrous landscapes of Africa.
92. This Cold Heaven: Seven seasons in Greenland, Gretel Ehrlich (2001) Walking through barren snowscapes, meeting the fatalistic locals, finding romance. Eating seal. Poetic experiences and awesome description.
93. River Town, Peter Hessler (2001) A volunteer's two year travelogue, memoir and journal on the Yangtze river in China.
94. You Shall Know Our Velocity, Dave Eggers, (2002) Two young men decide to travel and give 32000$ away to people in various countries. Part fiction.
95. Off The Map, Hib Chickena/Kika Kat (2002) Anarchic fun, frivolity and punkiness rule. Two hippy dips wander around Europe. Who needs money?
96. Shantaram, Gregory David Roberts (2003) Part fictional account of an escapee Australian criminal who flees to India. Focus on life in Mumbai.
97. The Places In Between, Rory Stewart (2004) Ex soldier walks across Afghanistan from Herat to Kabul encountering tribesmen and a harsh landscape. Honest account of post Taliban life in this war torn country of villages.
98. The Sex Lives of Cannibals, J. Maarten Troost (2004) Love him or hate him Troost delivers life on the island of Tarawa, Kiribati in a funny, sarcastic manner. PS No sex, no cannibals.
99. In Europa, Geert Mak (2004) 850 pages of European history and culture. Fascinating insights into the how and why Europe is as it is today.
100. Monkey Dancing, Daniel Glick (2004) Wife leaves you for another man, your brother dies of cancer. Solution? Take your 2 kids around the world, heal yourself with travel.
101. Eurydice Street: A Place in Athens, Sofka Zinovieff (2004) One year trying to become a true Athenian. Insights into Greek culture and way of life in an ancient capital.
102. Tales From Nowhere, Don George (2006) Short stories from various travel writers.
103. A Year in the World: Journeys of a Passionate Traveller, Frances Mayes (2006) A collection of short trips through Europe. Gentle, subtle, well observed.
104. Shadow of the Silk Road, Colin Thubron (2006) From Xian to Kashgar. History, religion, danger and wonderful bus rides.
105. The Geography of Bliss, Eric Weiner (2008) Journalistic travel memoir.
106. The Bull Catchers, Jim Sayles (2008) Into the Australian outback. A very real account of bull catching in a rough, tough environment.
107. Walking the Amazon, Ed Stafford (2011) The first person to walk the length of the Amazon river. Danger, depression and strength of will in this man versus Nature long distance trek through rain forest and jungle.
108. The Old Ways, Robert McFarlane (2012) A beautiful travelogue, '1000 miles along the old ways'. British author walks the footpaths and packhorse routes of long ago.
Last Word on Travel Books
Wanderlust is notoriously difficult to satisfy, but I hope some of the titles on this list have gone some way to helping you handle it.
If you have a favourite travel book that isn't on the list please feel free to add the title in the comment section.
Good reading and even better traveling.
© 2014 Andrew Spacey