Best Books to Read While Traveling – Best Books About Travel

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What’s on your travel reading list? Ask one hundred people for the best books to read while traveling and you may get one hundred different answers. There are so many great books about travel that it’s hard to narrow this list down to a few.

Sure, there are guidebooks — we use the best guidebooks we can find. But then there are the travel memoirs, the biographies, and the novels set Italy, Indonesia, and other exotic places you want to visit. There are supernatural tales set in Japan and pulp mysteries set in Mexico. Then there are the love stories and cookbooks, the instruction manuals and hilarious tales of disaster on the road. The best travel books don’t fit into a single category. They are mysteries, tall tales, and ponderous philosophical prose. They can be insightful, funny, or deeply personal — sometimes, they are all three.

cover Travel Reading List - Best Books About Travel & Best Books to Read While Traveling

Books to Read While Traveling

There’s something about reading while on the road that makes the memory of books read while traveling take on newfound meaning. Books always make great gifts, but travel guides and travel-related novels make some of the best travel gifts for men, women, and children who plan to step out into the world in one way or another.

The best travel books will somehow inform you about the place you’re visiting. Sure, the best guidebooks can help you determine the where, what and how, but the books on travel itself can also help you understand the why. Likewise, novels set in your destination give you another fascinating window into the place you’re exploring.

Each travel book and travel novel serves its own purpose, and it differs per reader. In other words, what may be the best book for me might not be the best travel book for you. By the same token, what I read today may not be an ideal book for travel next year. For example, the best book to read while traveling in Barcelona with my family may be vastly different than the best book I read while traveling in Vietnam by myself. The greatest books for travel must be determined by each person and their needs, their goals, their tastes, and their destinations. With this in mind, I created the travel reading lists below.

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Contents

Your Travel Reading List: Best Books About Travel by Category

Below is a travel book reading list which includes some of the best travel guides, travel memoirs, and destination-specific novels of all time. It’s a completely subjective list, of course. Some are my personal favorites. Other selections on this reading list are a mix of critical favorites, best-sellers, and travel books that friends and fellow travelers have recommended to me.

I’ve done my best to split up this list of best travel books into a variety of easy-to-follow categories. That said, it’s completely possible that certain travel books can fit into various top reading lists. For example, Kerouac’s On the Road is listed here as one of the best road trip books, but it’s easily one of the best travel books of all time as well. By the same token, I consider Rolf Pott’s Vagabonding one of the best books on travel — on the act of travel itself — but here it’s in the best travel books of all time category.

Best Travel Writers: Read More Than One!

Okay, one more thing before we get into my top travel book reading list. A few of the authors and travel writers you see here are listed twice, but in truth, most of these authors have at least two good books to their name. In fact, some of them have written many fantastic books, but I decided to put only one or two on my travel reading list in order to make room for others. For example, Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises is one of the best novels set in France and Spain. Yet he also wrote A Moveable Feast and many other classics. Similarly, Tim Cahill’s book Road Fever made the list because it’s one of my favorites and fits the category nicely, but his collections of short pieces/Outside Magazine features are just as much fun, if not more so.

So in the spirit of fairness, I’ve listed up some travel writer/author pages for you to explore. Surely all of the best authors and best travel writers in this post are worth looking into, but these are the ones that I would likely direct you to first.

Reading List: Some of My Favorite Authors/Travel Writers

Ok, with that out of the way, let’s look at specific books about travel and travel-specific novels worth reading.

Best Travel Books of All Time

Yes I know, I know: “The best travel books of ALL TIME? Really?!” Out of all these travel book lists, this is surely one of the most subjective. Nevertheless, when I thought about important books on travel for me, these were the first to come to mind.

Vagabonding by Rolf Potts

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Hands down, the best “how-to” book about long-term travel. Read through this and you’ll have ideas about where you want to go, what you’ll pack, and how you’ll finance it. But it’s more than that. Vagabonding puts into words what many of us travel junkies find hard to articulate. He opens a window into the mindset and attitudes of a passionate traveler. I only wished that I had found this amazing book earlier. Essential reading.

Check Price: Vagabonding by Rolf Potts on Amazon

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

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A shepherd boy from southern Spain longs to see the world. He gets his wish…and more. He seeks riches but finds something more valuable. This work of philosophical fiction is always on top-ten reading lists. You’ll see it rank for everything from best travel book to best self-help book to best book of all time. It didn’t affect me as profoundly as it did many other people, but it is still one of the best books to read while traveling.

Check Price: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho on Amazon 

The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin

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Chatwin made his name with his novel In Patagonia (also listed here), but The Songlines had a profound impact on me. While not necessarily a book strictly about travel, it justified my wanderlust and inspired me to stay on the road longer than perhaps any other travel-related book I’ve read. A mix of travelogue, autobiography, and anthropology, The Songlines is about Chatwin’s time in Australia trying to uncover truths about songs the aboriginal people use to map their way across the continent. It fascinated me when I first read it. If you think you might have been born with “the travel gene,” this book will leave you convinced.

Check Price: The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin on Amazon

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

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One of the greatest journeys ever put to paper. And one of the most fascinating worlds ever created by one human being…a world all in his head. Complete with songs, languages, and vivid descriptions of flora, fauna, and species beyond anything that came before it. I would also consider this to be one of the best travel books for kids, as well. In fact, the Audible version is supposed to be one of the best audiobooks for travel, as well.

Check Price: The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien on Amazon

Best Road Trip Books

The best road trip books go beyond the destinations and delve into the psyche of the author and the places themselves. This genre can be the best books to read while traveling overland: by car, motorcycle, or train. The best books on travel for you might be ones that utilize the same travel method. So if you’re driving cross-country by car, then perhaps a road trip story works best.

On the Road by Jack Kerouac

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What can I say about this that hasn’t been said already? One of the best road trip books ever, as well as one of the best books to read while traveling across the USA. The influence of Kerouac and the Beats are taken for granted nowadays, but they helped inspire much of the best travel literature that followed them.

Check Price: On the Road by Jack Kerouac on Amazon

Road Fever by Tim Cahill

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One of the most impressive road trips in history. In the early ’90s, the author and friend drove from the southernmost point of South America to the northernmost point in North America. In less than 24 days. Read that again. They drove 15,000 miles, across deserts, through jungles, and over mountains, in less than a month.

The first half of the book is the planning and convincing others to fund it, which is interesting in its own right. The second half takes off and doesn’t let up. I love all the Tim Cahill books I’ve read, but for some reason, this one remains in my memory the most.

Check Price: Road Fever by Tim Cahill on Amazon

Long Way Round: Chasing Shadows Across the World by Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman

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One day Ewan McGregor — yes, that Ewan McGregor — decided to circumnavigate the world by motorcycle. Then he and his friend Charley Boorman did just that. Aside from a boat ride across the Bering Strait, the duo rode over 20,000 miles over four months. This was also a TV series, but the book goes into much more depth and can be appreciated with or without the video accompaniment.

Check Price: Long Way Round by Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman on Amazon

Best Books About Travel Itself

Rather than a specific destination, these are some of the best books about the act of travel — what it means to travel, or what travel has become. Essentially, the act of traveling means to leaving behind the known and willingly explore the unknown. Now that’s deep. Or rather it can be. The best books about travel often delve into philosophical ideas At other times, they dredge the gutter for cheap laughs. Both can be rewarding reads. To my mind, the best book about traveling was already listed above: Rolf Potts’ Vagabonding. But here are a few more worthy contenders.

The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton

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Confession: I have mixed feelings about Mr. de Botton. I find some of his video segments on the BBC to be annoyingly pretentious, but his books and TED talks are another story. In The Art of Travel, he dissects many of the typical feelings an emotions involved in travel: from pre-planning to return.

Check Price: The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton on Amazon

A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit

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A strong series of semi-autobiographical essays dealing with the human capacity to move, love, and adapt. Rather than merely an inconvenience, Solnit looks at being lost as an opportunity. Or rather a series of opportunities. The writing can border on precious and overly-ponderous but offers many rewards to the right reader.

Check Price: A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit

Smile When You’re Lying: Confessions of a Rogue Travel Writer by Chuck Thompson

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Have you ever read a travel guide, then visited the same town, hotel or restaurant the guide spoke nicely about and thought “What was that writer thinking?!” If you’ve ever wondered how a dive bar or a crappy hotel received undeserved high praise, then Chuck Thompson may have some insight for you. It’s hard to tell when, where or if embellishment appears, but his stories of the travel industry’s underbelly are sharp and frequently hilarious.

Check Price: Smile When You’re Lying by Chuck Thompson on Amazon

Best Travel Books About Peril, Love, and Friendship

This is a general category of best books to read while traveling. Could be for men or women, teens or adults. For a woman’s perspective, I looked to female friends and/or guests on the Epic Education Podcast.

Into the Wild by John Krakauer

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I throw this best-seller into my list of best travel books with some hesitation. After all, our real-life protagonist, Christopher Johnson McCandless, ends up dead after four months. No, that isn’t a spoiler. This gripping true story stares unflinchingly at both the nobility and folly of living off the grid. Yet Krakauer blends autobiographical vignettes with detective-novel elements for a but that’s impossible to put down. Smart, brave and idealistic, McCandless gave away all his possessions to live in the forest. He didn’t make it, but his story says a lot about those of us who romanticize those who dive head-first into the bush.

Check Price: Into the Wild by John Krakauer on Amazon 

Tales of a Female Nomad by Rita Golden Gelman

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Divorced and approaching fifty, Rita Golden Gelman sold her stuff and headed out into the world. That was 1986. This book is her story. She has lived in Mexico, Israel, Indonesia (specifically on Bali), and many more places, with stories and insight all the way.

Check Price: Tales of a Female Nomad by Rita Golden Gelman on Amazon 

Do Travel Writers Go to Hell? by Thomas Kohnstamm

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The author gives up a lucrative career to update Lonely Planet’s Brazil guidebook. It doesn’t go well…or perhaps it does, depending on your perspective. More than just another scandalous tale of the travel industry, Kohnstamm has plenty of humor and insight between each shocking episode.

Check Price: Do Travel Writers Go to Hell? by Thomas Kohnstamm on Amazon

Love with a Chance of Drowning by Torre DeRoche

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Girl meets boy and they fall in love. Boy invites girl to sail around the world. Girl is terrified of deep water but says yes anyway. This unconventional story of love on the seven seas is one of the best books for travelers who want to see where love can take them.

Check Price: Love with a Chance of Drowning by Torre DeRoche on Amazon

Holidays in Hell by P. J. O’Rourke

What's your travel reading list? There are many inspiring books to read while traveling—or before you leave. Here’s our list of the best books to read while traveling. favorite travel books | best travel books to read | travel inspiration | travel stories | best travel books for kids | wanderlust books | travel novels worth reading | best book for travelers | novels set in italy | novels set in japan | novels set in france | travel adventure books | books about travel | travel adventure books

Back in the ’80s, satirist P.J. O’Rourke took off to visit crisis zones and see if he could find something funny in them. He found plenty. It’s a little shocking how this book both has and hasn’t aged. Many of the themes are still relevant today.

Check Price: Holidays in Hell by P. J. O’Rourke on Amazon

The Lost Girls by Jennifer Baggett, Holly C. Corbett, Amanda Pressner

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Three friends decide to leave life in Manhattan to travel for a year. They visit counties like Kenya, Vietnam, India, and Peru. Often cited as one of the best books on travel for women, although I have heard more about this from young women, as our authors took this trip in their early 20’s.

Check Price: The Lost Girls by Jennifer Baggett, Holly C. Corbett, Amanda Pressner on Amazon

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson

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Not for the faint of heart. This is a road trip book of a sordid sort. Easily Thompson’s most famous work, Fear & Loathing is now part of the culture and still the bar for which all gonzo journalism is set.

Check Price: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson on Amazon

The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost by Rachel Friedman

What's your travel reading list? There are many inspiring books to read while traveling—or before you leave. Here’s our list of the best books to read while traveling. favorite travel books | best travel books to read | travel inspiration | travel stories | best travel books for kids | wanderlust books | travel novels worth reading | best book for travelers | novels set in italy | novels set in japan | novels set in france | travel adventure books | books about travel | travel adventure books

This coming-of-age travel story describes a driven young woman who unexpectedly decides to eschew the normal career path and explore the world first. Rather than dive into a new job and new life decisions, she takes off for Ireland, where her life begins a series of profound changes.

Check Price: The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost by Rachel Friedman on Amazon

Best Travel Books for Kids

As with adults, recommending the best books for kids is tricky. There are various interests and ages levels to consider. For example, the best travel books for teens will be very different than what I’d recommend for a 7-year-old. Nevertheless, it’s my duty to point out at least a few page-turners for kids of all ages. Here are my picks for the best travel books for kids.

A Day at an Airport (Time Goes By) by Sarah Harrison

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This illustrated picture book depicts your typical airport across 24 hours: from before dawn until late at night. Each double-page spread uses a cutaway style. For example, you see both the runway and the inside of the plane simultaneously. Rock stars and politicians come and go. So do storms and flight delays. Illustrations address all of these and more of what happens at the airport, which offers good conversation opportunities for little ones.

https://amzn.to/2ShVoEY

Check Price: A Day at an Airport (Time Goes By) by Sarah Harrison on Amazon

National Geographic Kids Beginner’s World Atlas

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Just the kind of high-quality travel book that you’d expect from National Geographic. Luscious images and fun, informative text where kids can learn about different countries and cultures. Also a great section on maps: what they are, how to read them, what all the symbols mean, etc.

Check Price: National Geographic Kids Beginner’s World Atlas on Amazon

A Day at the Airport by Richard Scarry

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I loved Richard Scarry books as a kid. In fact, my mom held onto mind and gave them to my kids — weird to see my 10-year-old handwriting. Scarry’s labeled illustration books have covered everything from jobs to zoo animals. What would be more appropriate for little travelers than a book about the airport? Here you’ll find illustrations of all the things you find at the typical airport (hangar, control tower, etc) with its name in an easy-to-read font. This could make for a fun game to find these items once at the airport yourself. A great book about air travel for kids.

https://amzn.to/2KA2guV

Check Price: A Day at the Airport by Richard Scarry on Amazon

The “Mission” Series of Scavenger Hunt Books by Catherine Aragon

What's your travel reading list? There are many inspiring books to read while traveling—or before you leave. Here’s our list of the best books to read while traveling. favorite travel books | best travel books to read | travel inspiration | travel stories | best travel books for kids | wanderlust books | travel novels worth reading | best book for travelers | novels set in italy | novels set in japan | novels set in france | travel adventure books | books about travel | travel adventure books

Your child’s mission — if he/she chooses to accept it — is to find “secret” writing on monuments, “hidden” figures in famous paintings and other items to crack the code and save the day. Aragon’s Mission series is an excellent example of making education fun. Each book is laid out like a spy’s dossier. Kids are then given tasks in or near a city’s most famous museums and landmarks, where parents may plan to visit.

There are versions for six cities: Paris, Rome, Barcelona, London, New York, and Washington DC. We have only used the DC book, but it changed our visit to the capital. In fact, it kept our kids engaged and roaming through the various Smithsonian Museums for hours longer than they might have otherwise. My only regret is not using more of them before my kids aged out of them. I’d say that they’re best for tweens and under, but some teens may enjoy them, as well.

https://amzn.to/2KEkR8S

Check Price: The “Mission” Series of Scavenger Hunt Books by Catherine Aragon on Amazon

The 39 Clues Series by Multiple Authors (including Rick Riordan)

What's your travel reading list? There are many inspiring books to read while traveling—or before you leave. Here’s our list of the best books to read while traveling. favorite travel books | best travel books to read | travel inspiration | travel stories | best travel books for kids | wanderlust books | travel novels worth reading | best book for travelers | novels set in italy | novels set in japan | novels set in france | travel adventure books | books about travel | travel adventure books

This is one of the best book series for kids who love action and espionage. It follows brother and sister duo Amy and Dan Cahill and their battles again sinister forces trying to take over the world. These are great travel books for kids for a number of reasons. First of all, the story arc goes through dozens of locations around the world. A lot of the action happens in the US and Europe (France, Italy, Austria, etc). But the Cahills fight evil all over the planet, including in countries like Japan, Egypt, Morrocco, Guatemala, Cambodia, and many more. I remember my son getting even more excited when the heroes arrived in a place that he knew or had been himself.

Another reason that we think these are great travel books for kids is that there are so many of them! At last count, there were at least 25 books if you count all of the series together. Plenty to read. Finally, we liked them because they were written in a language kids understand. The characters sound like the youth of today, and I think that draws the kids in faster. If you’ve read any of Rick Riordan‘s books (Percy Jackson, et al.), then you know what I mean. In fact, Riordan is one of the many authors of this collaborative YA project.

Check Price: The 39 Clues Series by Multiple Authors on Amazon

The Atlas Obscura Explorer’s Guide for the World’s Most Adventurous Kid

What's your travel reading list? There are many inspiring books to read while traveling—or before you leave. Here’s our list of the best books to read while traveling. favorite travel books | best travel books to read | travel inspiration | travel stories | best travel books for kids | wanderlust books | travel novels worth reading | best book for travelers | novels set in italy | novels set in japan | novels set in france | travel adventure books | books about travel | travel adventure books

I love the Atlas Obscura website, which is dedicated to the weird and wonderful places in the world. Their new kids’ book is a fantastic junior version of the Atlas Obscura ethos. Beautifully illustrated, it takes kids to some of the most jaw-dropping locations in the world. There are creepy entries, like the mummified monks of Japan. But there is the magical as well, such as the crystal caves of Mexico and the underwater museum in Lanzarote, which are part of Spain’s Canary Islands.

Check Price: The Atlas Obscura Explorer’s Guide for the World’s Most Adventurous Kid

Best Food Travel Books

Any hungry travelers out there? One of the most important aspects of travel for us is food, and we’re not alone. Like any category of this best travel book reading list, I could expand this section into an entire post all its own. For the time being, however, here are three of the best books about food and travel.

A Cook’s Tour: In Search of the Perfect Meal by Anthony Bourdain

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I would be remiss if I didn’t include at least one Anthony Bourdain book in my list of what to read while traveling. Many people had a love/hate relationship with Bourdain, but I was a fan. A fan of his shows and his writing. For many, A Cook’s Tour is some of his finest work. Reading it now, you can see the larger-than-life media personality that he would become. He will be missed, but this book may be an ideal way to remember him.

Check Price: A Cook’s Tour: In Search of the Perfect Meal by Anthony Bourdain on Amazon

Moveable Feasts by Sarah Murray

What's your travel reading list? There are many inspiring books to read while traveling—or before you leave. Here’s our list of the best books to read while traveling. favorite travel books | best travel books to read | travel inspiration | travel stories | best travel books for kids | wanderlust books | travel novels worth reading | best book for travelers | novels set in italy | novels set in japan | novels set in france | travel adventure books | books about travel | travel adventure books

In today’s world, our food often travels more than we do. Our fish is from Chile, the pistachios from Iran, and today’s tomatoes arrived from Mexico this morning. Tonight’s dinner is a culinary form of the United Nations. In Moveable Feasts, the Financial Times writer Sarah Murray traces the origins of our food and how it arrives on our plate. From transporting olive oil in ancient Greece to today’s salad-in-a-bag, Murray shows how the modernization of food production and transportation always mirrors (or accelerates) progress in society.

Check Price: Moveable Feasts by Sarah Murray on Amazon

Food Traveler’s Handbook Jodi Ettenberg

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One of the best travel books for the hungry, curious and selective. Much of The Food Traveler’s Handbook is dedicated to the connections between culture and cuisine. Yet many chapters have a more practical aspect. It will help you find safe food in developing countries as well as teach you how to plan your travels around regional dishes. This is also one of the best travel guides for people with food restrictions. A must-have travel book for anyone with celiac’s disease or severe food allergies.

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Best Books to Read While Traveling in Europe

Whether you’re going to Sweden or Spain, to Ireland or Italy, here are a few of the best books to read while traveling in Europe. What’s missing from this list?

Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes

What's your travel reading list? There are many inspiring books to read while traveling—or before you leave. Here’s our list of the best books to read while traveling. favorite travel books | best travel books to read | travel inspiration | travel stories | best travel books for kids | wanderlust books | travel novels worth reading | best book for travelers | novels set in italy | novels set in japan | novels set in france | travel adventure books | books about travel | travel adventure books

A fascinating (and mouth-watering) memoir about buying and renovating a run-down villa in Tuscany. Relish her description of village life, of cooking and of the task of breathing life into an old, abandoned building. Under the Tuscan Sun was made into a very successful movie, but read the book first. One of the best books to read while traveling in Italy.

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The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

What's your travel reading list? There are many inspiring books to read while traveling—or before you leave. Here’s our list of the best books to read while traveling. favorite travel books | best travel books to read | travel inspiration | travel stories | best travel books for kids | wanderlust books | travel novels worth reading | best book for travelers | novels set in italy | novels set in japan | novels set in france | travel adventure books | books about travel | travel adventure books

Hemingway’s most famous and lauded work is one of the best novels set in Spain and one of the best books to read while traveling in France and Spain. Descriptions of Paris cafes and Pamplona’s running of the bulls will live in infamy. Hemingway’s spare and efficient writing style may be best exemplified here, leaving the reader to paint in the canvas for themselves. One of the best books to read while traveling in Spain.

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Neither Here nor There: Travels in Europe by Bill Bryson

What's your travel reading list? There are many inspiring books to read while traveling—or before you leave. Here’s our list of the best books to read while traveling. favorite travel books | best travel books to read | travel inspiration | travel stories | best travel books for kids | wanderlust books | travel novels worth reading | best book for travelers | novels set in italy | novels set in japan | novels set in france | travel adventure books | books about travel | travel adventure books

This is an exceptional book to read while backpacking or otherwise wandering around Europe. When he was young, Bryson (author of A Walk in the Woods, In a Sunburned Country and many more) backpacked through Europe with a friend. Twenty years later, he returns to many of the same places, mixing past and present with hilarious results.

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Best Books to Read While Traveling in Asia

My life of travel began in Asia. I left the USA for Taiwan in 1997 and didn’t move out of the East until 2015. It’s my favorite part of the world, and there are countless great books to read while traveling in Asia. Here are only a few.

Burmese Days by George Orwell

What's your travel reading list? There are many inspiring books to read while traveling—or before you leave. Here’s our list of the best books to read while traveling. favorite travel books | best travel books to read | travel inspiration | travel stories | best travel books for kids | wanderlust books | travel novels worth reading | best book for travelers | novels set in italy | novels set in japan | novels set in france | travel adventure books | books about travel | travel adventure books

This is Orwell’s first novel. Tense at times, darkly funny at others Orwell depicts life in British-ruled Burma during the 1930s. It’s full of interesting characters and fascinating details of Southeast Asia under colonial rule.

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The Beach by Alex Garland

What's your travel reading list? There are many inspiring books to read while traveling—or before you leave. Here’s our list of the best books to read while traveling. favorite travel books | best travel books to read | travel inspiration | travel stories | best travel books for kids | wanderlust books | travel novels worth reading | best book for travelers | novels set in italy | novels set in japan | novels set in france | travel adventure books | books about travel | travel adventure books

First off, put the movie version of this novel out of your head as much as you can. Never seen the movie? Good. Don’t. Or at least wait until you’ve read the book, as they are vastly different (and the movie sucked).

With places like Bangkok and the islands of southern Thailand as the backdrop, this novel could almost be called Backpacker Magic Realism…or something darker. This was the first of Garland’s three novels before he went on as a screenwriter for movies like 2002’s 28 Days Later, 2015’s Ex Machina and 2018’s Annihilation.

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Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

What's your travel reading list? There are many inspiring books to read while traveling—or before you leave. Here’s our list of the best books to read while traveling. favorite travel books | best travel books to read | travel inspiration | travel stories | best travel books for kids | wanderlust books | travel novels worth reading | best book for travelers | novels set in italy | novels set in japan | novels set in france | travel adventure books | books about travel | travel adventure books

Okay okay, so for many this is less of a great travel novel than a pulpy romance, but I think it could be a great book to read while traveling in Southeast Asia. That goes double if you’re visiting Malaysia or Singapore. Simply walk around Penang, downtown Kuala Lumpur or the Marina Bay Sands area of Singapore and you may see someone who inspired one of Kwan’s colorful characters.

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Best Books to Read While Traveling in Japan

I spent 13 years living in Tokyo, and it’s still my favorite place in the world. My kids were born there and we visit my wife’s family in Osaka usually once a year, so you could say that Japan is like a second home for me. So many books and articles about Japan are so far from what the place is really like. Yet some of the much of what typical Westerners are fascinated by has some kernel of truth. Choosing the best books to read while traveling in Japan was more difficult than I thought, or rather more difficult to limit, I guess. I may have to write an entire post on best books about Japan later on. Until then, here are a few.

Lost Japan by Alex Kerr

What's your travel reading list? There are many inspiring books to read while traveling—or before you leave. Here’s our list of the best books to read while traveling. favorite travel books | best travel books to read | travel inspiration | travel stories | best travel books for kids | wanderlust books | travel novels worth reading | best book for travelers | novels set in italy | novels set in japan | novels set in france | travel adventure books | books about travel | travel adventure books

You could describe this book as a love letter to “old” Japan, or perhaps as hate mail for what modern Japan has become. In many ways, it’s both. Kerr began life in Japan shortly after the war, and his descriptions of traditional crafts and life there are second to none. Kerr saw sides to Japan that few outsiders did at that time, and his stories are personal and heartfelt. That said, he would have you believe that “real” Japanese culture is dead, forever paved over and festooned with arcades and neon pachinko parlors.

There is truth in what he says, but where he sees death I saw evolution. I read this book years before moving to Japan, and I’m certain it colored my views of the country upon arrival. Yet despite his likely intentions, Lost Japan made me love the place even more.

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The Wind-up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

What's your travel reading list? There are many inspiring books to read while traveling—or before you leave. Here’s our list of the best books to read while traveling. favorite travel books | best travel books to read | travel inspiration | travel stories | best travel books for kids | wanderlust books | travel novels worth reading | best book for travelers | novels set in italy | novels set in japan | novels set in france | travel adventure books | books about travel | travel adventure books

To be honest, there are half a dozen Murakami books I could add to this list. All could be deemed best books to read while traveling in Japan. That said, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is my favorite. When I try to describe the storyline — man searches for cat, man finds more than cat — I realize it’s hard to describe. This was the first Murakami book I read, and to be honest, I didn’t like it at first. Why? Because I read it like a detective novel, where everything is clarified at the end. Instead, it’s more like a David Lynch movie where most is left unexplained. Upon second reading, I was hooked.

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Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

What's your travel reading list? There are many inspiring books to read while traveling—or before you leave. Here’s our list of the best books to read while traveling. favorite travel books | best travel books to read | travel inspiration | travel stories | best travel books for kids | wanderlust books | travel novels worth reading | best book for travelers | novels set in italy | novels set in japan | novels set in france | travel adventure books | books about travel | travel adventure books

It’s rural Japan in the 1920s, and a girl with striking gray eyes is sold to a geisha house in Gion. Memoirs of a Geisha follows young Sayuri’s life through the war and beyond. Golden’s debut novel was a best-seller for a reason. The characters were fascinating, exotic and yet relatable. The prose was easy to read yet remarkably ornate.

Sure, the book stirred controversies. For example, the woman it’s based on was far from pleased with the end result, and the movie was scorned for its lack of Japanese actors. That said, I’m a slow reader, and I tore through this book (enjoyed the movie later as well, but save it for after the last page). It may not be accurate to the letter, but overall an intimate depiction of life in pre- and post-WWII Japan.

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Number9Dream by David Mitchell

What's your travel reading list? There are many inspiring books to read while traveling—or before you leave. Here’s our list of the best books to read while traveling. favorite travel books | best travel books to read | travel inspiration | travel stories | best travel books for kids | wanderlust books | travel novels worth reading | best book for travelers | novels set in italy | novels set in japan | novels set in france | travel adventure books | books about travel | travel adventure books

Many know David Mitchell from his book The Cloud Atlas, but in Number9Dream Mitchell stays in Japan, delving into both the Tokyo underworld and the surreal realm of collective dreaming. One of the best novels to read while in Tokyo.

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A Personal Matter by Kenzaburo Oe

What's your travel reading list? There are many inspiring books to read while traveling—or before you leave. Here’s our list of the best books to read while traveling. favorite travel books | best travel books to read | travel inspiration | travel stories | best travel books for kids | wanderlust books | travel novels worth reading | best book for travelers | novels set in italy | novels set in japan | novels set in france | travel adventure books | books about travel | travel adventure books

This is a book about life, regret, and responsibility, but it’s so much more than that. The protagonist is Bird, a man who hates himself and his marriage. Then his wife gives birth to a son with serious birth defects, and he wants out. He drinks, fools around, and fantasizes about escaping to Africa, but finally comes to larger truths. It’s a heavy read, and dense with literary references (Kafka, Hemingway, etc) but a beautiful book.

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Best Books to Read While Traveling in Latin America

Our family is just beginning our exploration of Latin America, and I’m thrilled with what we’ve seen so far. After more than a year of exploring Mexico, we’ve barely scratched the surface, and trips to Costa Rica have only made us want more. Next stop for us will be Peru. Where will you go? If you’re looking for the best books to read while traveling in Latin America, I have a few to share.

In Patagonia – Bruce Chatwin

What's your travel reading list? There are many inspiring books to read while traveling—or before you leave. Here’s our list of the best books to read while traveling. favorite travel books | best travel books to read | travel inspiration | travel stories | best travel books for kids | wanderlust books | travel novels worth reading | best book for travelers | novels set in italy | novels set in japan | novels set in france | travel adventure books | books about travel | travel adventure books

While The Songlines (mentioned above) is my favorite Bruce Chatwin book, it was his debut novel In Patagonia where he made his name. It is also considered one of the best travel books of all time by many critics. Here is where Chatwin learns to evoke emotion and conjure our imagination through prose.

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The Secret Book of Frida Kahlo by F.G. Haghenbeck

What's your travel reading list? There are many inspiring books to read while traveling—or before you leave. Here’s our list of the best books to read while traveling. favorite travel books | best travel books to read | travel inspiration | travel stories | best travel books for kids | wanderlust books | travel novels worth reading | best book for travelers | novels set in italy | novels set in japan | novels set in france | travel adventure books | books about travel | travel adventure books

No to be confused with factual biographies, The Secret Book of Frida Kahlo is a novel inspired by the crates of notebooks recently found in Kahlo’s home. Using true events and real people, Haghebbeck weaves a tale of what Kahlo’s life might have been like. One of the best books to read while traveling in Mexico.

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Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

What's your travel reading list? There are many inspiring books to read while traveling—or before you leave. Here’s our list of the best books to read while traveling. favorite travel books | best travel books to read | travel inspiration | travel stories | best travel books for kids | wanderlust books | travel novels worth reading | best book for travelers | novels set in italy | novels set in japan | novels set in france | travel adventure books | books about travel | travel adventure books

A wonderful novel of food and romance, it centers on Tita, who was (quite literally) born into food. Wielding culinary skills like magic, her cooking has emotional and psychological effects.

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One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

What's your travel reading list? There are many inspiring books to read while traveling—or before you leave. Here’s our list of the best books to read while traveling. favorite travel books | best travel books to read | travel inspiration | travel stories | best travel books for kids | wanderlust books | travel novels worth reading | best book for travelers | novels set in italy | novels set in japan | novels set in france | travel adventure books | books about travel | travel adventure books

One of the titans of magical realism, One Hundred Years of Solitude is a masterful meditation on love, loyalty, and isolation. There are a lot of characters to follow in the family at the center, but a truly epic achievement. One of the best books to read while traveling in Colombia, where the book takes place.

https://amzn.to/2E0AC9Y

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What’s Missing? Tell Me Your Favorite Books About Travel

This travel reading list is just the beginning. What’s missing? What are your top travel novels? What do you think are the best books to read while traveling in Mexico, Japan, Spain and elsewhere? There are so many great travel guides, travel memoirs and travel-related novels to add. Tell me yours!

Write your favorite travel books in the comments and I might add them to the post next time I update it! Thank you!

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Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which cost you nothing. However, when you use our links, we might receive a small commission if you book a room buy some of the best books to read while traveling. This travel reading list and my opinions about the best travel books are my own and I only recommend the best books on travel that I think would be best for my readers. Whether you’re interested in the best books about travel then we hope this top travel book reading list has been helpful.

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