15 Best Travel Books of All Time

15 Best Travel Books of All Time

There are so many travel books out there, but here are a few that you can enjoy while you’re sitting at home planning your next adventure. Reading through these titles will give you the inspiration you need.

Our list includes classics as well as some newer books, and we’ll continue to update this list each year. You can read them alone while curled up on the couch or share them with your book club. Either way, enjoy these books on our best travel books of all-time list.

15 Best Travel Books of All Time

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Last Updated: April 6, 2020

15 Best Travel Books of All Time

Some of these books are fiction and some are non-fiction. In each case, we feel they’re deserving of being labeled one of the best travel books of all time. Each book will take you on an adventure to remember.

Best Travel Books Comparison Chart

Inspired by Jack Kerouac’s adventures with Neal Cassady, On the Road tells the story of two friends whose cross-country road trips are a quest for meaning and true experience.

It’s written with a mixture of sad-eyed naiveté and wild ambition and imbued with Kerouac’s love of America. You can see his compassion for humanity and his sense of language as jazz. On the Road is the quintessential American vision of freedom and hope, a book that changed American literature and changed anyone who has ever picked it up.

Why We Love It: Jack Kerouac will inspire you to quit your job and go on the road. For anyone that’s fascinated with the hippie lifestyle, On the Road by Jack Kerouac is one of the best travel books I can recommend for inspiration.

For the hordes of rootless young Westerners traveling in Southeast Asia, The Khao San Road in Bangkok is their first stop. On Richard’s first night there in a low-budget guest house, a fellow traveler slashes his wrists and bequeaths to Richard a meticulously drawn map to “the Beach.”

The Beach, as Richard has come to learn, is the subject of a legend among young travelers in Asia. It’s a lagoon hidden from the sea, with white sand and coral gardens, freshwater falls surrounded by jungle, plants untouched for a thousand years. There, it is rumored to be a communal Eden settled by a carefully selected few.

Why We Love It: This is one of the best travel books in the fiction category. If you enjoy books that keep you flipping pages until the very end, Alex Garland created just that book. It’s one of the best travel novels to enjoy while you’re at home longing for the beach.

Most people think of New Jersey as a suburban-industrial corridor that runs between New York and Philadelphia. Yet in the low center of the state is a near wilderness, larger than most national parks, which has been known since the seventeenth century as the Pine Barrens.

Although New Jersey has the heaviest population density of any state, huge segments of the Pine Barrens remain uninhabited. The few people who dwell in the region, the “Pineys,” are little known and often misunderstood.

Here, McPhee uses his uncanny skills as a journalist to explore the history of the region and describe the people and their distinctive folklore who call it home.

Why We Love It: For those that travel to the forgotten spaces, The Pine Barrens is one of the best books for travelers who enjoy folklore. The Pine Barrens looks at the people of the area, as well as the forest, and the chilling tale of the Jersey Devil.

Even though Australia harbors more things that can kill you than anywhere else, Bill Bryson adores the place.

He takes his readers on a lively ride far beyond the beaten tourist path. Wherever he goes, he finds Australians who are cheerful, extroverted, and unfailingly obliging. These beaming products of land with clean, safe cities, cold beer, and constant sunshine fill the pages of this wonderful book.

Why We Love It: If you’re always dreamed of traveling to Australia, In A Sunburned Country will give you a look into the country that you won’t find in travel brochures. He goes out of his way to show readers what’s unique about the people and the places.

In April 1992, a young man from a well-to-do family hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness north of Mt. McKinley. His name was Christopher Johnson McCandless.

He gave $25,000 in savings to charity, abandoned his car and possessions, burned all the cash in his wallet, and invented a new life for himself. Four months later, a moose hunter found his decomposed body. How McCandless came to die is the unforgettable story of Into the Wild.

Why We Love It: We were first intrigued by this book, because he graduated from Emory in our hometown of Atlanta. If you’ve ever dreamed of selling your possessions and becoming a nomad, you’ll want to read Into the Wild.

His journey is heartbreaking, and this book is impossible to put down. This is a great travel book to read if you have a long flight ahead of you.

Seconds before the Earth is demolished for a galactic freeway, Arthur Dent is saved by Ford Prefect, a researcher for the revised Guide. Together they stick out their thumbs to the stars and begin a wild journey through time and space.

Why We Love It: For those of you who love reading about places you’ll probably never visit, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is one of the best books to read while traveling alone. Douglas Adams’s writing style will keep you laughing and engaged the entire trip. And, you may see the world in a way you haven’t before.

This cult classic of gonzo journalism is the best chronicle of drug-soaked, addle-brained, good times ever committed to the printed page. It is the tale of a long weekend road trip that has gone down in the annals of American pop culture as one of the strangest journeys ever undertaken. 

Why We Love It: While not as much a travel book as an insightful look into human nature, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas will take you on a journey you won’t soon forget. Follow a journalist on a drug-filled trip to find the American dream.

Bruce Chatwin’s exquisite account of his journey through Patagonia teems with evocative descriptions, remarkable bits of history, unforgettable anecdotes of this stretch of land at the southern tip of South America, where bandits were once made welcome.

Fueled by an unmistakable lust for life and adventure and a gift for storytelling, Chatwin treks through “the uttermost part of the earth”  in search of almost-forgotten legends, the descendants of Welsh immigrants, and the log cabin built by Butch Cassidy.

Why We Love It: This book is truly a classic with part literature and part history. It’s a fascinating look into the history of South America. If you’re traveling in the area, this is a must-read travel book. It’s by far one of the best travel novels.

At 22, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother’s death, her family scattered, and her own marriage was soon destroyed.

Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life: to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State – and to do it alone.

She had no experience as a long-distance hiker, and the trail was little more than “an idea, vague and outlandish and full of promise.” But it was a promise of piecing back together a life that had come undone.

Why We Love It: If you love hiking, Wild by Cheryl Strayed is one of the best travel books for you. It’s a well-written memoir about an author whose youth and unconventional choices offer a unique look at a trip that changes her life.

Matthew Kepnes, also known as Nomadic Matt, knows what it feels like to get the travel bug. After meeting some travelers on a trip to Thailand in 2005, he realized that living life meant more than simply meeting society’s traditional milestones, such as buying a car, paying a mortgage, and moving up the career ladder.

Inspired by them, he set off for a year-long trip around the world before he started his career. He finally came home after ten years. Over 500,000 miles, 1,000 hostels, and 90 different countries later, Matt has compiled his favorite stories, experiences, and insights into this travel manifesto.

Why We Love It: If you’ve ever wondered why you travel, you’ll be able to relate to Ten Years a Nomad. This book is one of the best travel books for wanderlust.

In her early thirties, Elizabeth Gilbert had everything a modern American woman was supposed to want. She had a husband, country home, and a successful career, but still felt unfulfilled, she was consumed by panic and confusion.

This rapturous book is the story of how she left behind all these outward marks of success. She then set out to explore three different aspects of her nature, against the backdrop of three different cultures (pleasure in Italy, devotion in India, and love in Indonesia).

Why We Love It: If you’ve ever dreamed of dropping all your responsibilities and traveling, this is the book for you. While many people disliked this book because Liz comes off as whiny and self-indulgent, we found it thoroughly entertaining and relatable. Let’s be honest, many of us have also wanted to escape our own first world problems.

John’s trip to India starts awry when he finds himself looking at the sharp end of a knife in a train station cubicle. His life is saved by the enigmatic Rick, who persuades John to abandon his mundane plans.

Fast forward to Koh Pha-Ngan, where they pose as millionaires in a hedonistic Eden of beautiful girls, free drugs, and wild beach parties. Soon pursued by the Thai Mafia, they escape to Indonesia, Australia, and Hong Kong, while facing danger at every turn.

Why We Love It: If you’re looking for an adventure that shows you what not to do, The Backpacker is exactly what you need to read. Those that enjoyed The Beach will want to add this book to their must-read list.

Wherever Chelsea Handler travels, one thing is certain she always ends up in the land of the ridiculous. Now, in this uproarious collection, she sneaks her sharp wit through airport security and delivers her most absurd and hilarious stories ever.

On safari in Africa, it’s anyone’s guess as to what’s more dangerous: the wildlife or Chelsea. Whether she’s fumbling the seduction of a guide or wearing a bathrobe into the bush because her clothes stopped fitting seven margaritas ago, she’s always game for the next misadventure.

Why We Love It: Chelsea Handler is a travelers’ guilty pleasure when it comes to reading. She can be a bit abrasive at times, but her books will make you laugh out loud. Definitely one of the best books to read while traveling. Just try not to laugh out loud.

Robert Sullivan, who has driven cross-country more than two dozen times, recounts one of his family’s many journeys from Oregon to New York.

It’s his story of moving his family back and forth from the East Coast to the West Coast (along with various other migrations). The book is replete with all the minor disasters, humor, and wonderful coincidences that characterize life on the road.

Why We Love It: If you love road tripping, you’ll want to read Cross Country by Robert Sullivan. He’ll take you on a meandering journey across the country that everyone can relate to.

Born a Crime is about Trevor Noah’s childhood in South Africa. He was born to a Swiss father and black Xhosa mother, which was a crime at the time and punishable by five years in prison.  Living proof of his parents’ indiscretion, Trevor was kept mostly indoors for the earliest years of his life, bound by the extreme and often absurd measures his mother took to hide him from a government that could, at any moment, steal him away. Finally liberated by the end of South Africa’s tyrannical white rule, Trevor and his mother set forth on a grand adventure, living openly and freely and embracing the opportunities won by a centuries-long struggle. Born a Crime is the story of a mischievous young boy who grows into a restless young man as he struggles to find himself in a world where he was never supposed to exist. It is also the story of that young man’s relationship with his fearless, rebellious, and fervently religious mother—his teammate, a woman determined to save her son from the cycle of poverty, violence, and abuse that would ultimately threaten her own life. The stories collected here are by turns hilarious, dramatic, and deeply affecting. Whether subsisting on caterpillars for dinner during hard times, being thrown from a moving car during an attempted kidnapping, or just trying to survive the life-and-death pitfalls of dating in high school, Trevor illuminates his curious world with an incisive wit and unflinching honesty. His stories weave together to form a moving and searingly funny portrait of a boy making his way through a damaged world in a dangerous time, armed only with a keen sense of humor and a mother’s unconventional, unconditional love.

Why We Love It: While it’s not a book in the travel genre, it’s one of my favorite books I’ve read in 2020. It gives so much insight on Apartheid and what it’s like growing up as a mixed kid in South Africa. Knowing all this, I will definitely have a deeper appreciation when I revisit.

Listen to it on Audiobook. I love when comedians narrate their own books because it adds so much of their character.

Back in America after twenty years in Britain, Bill Bryson decided to reacquaint himself with his native country by walking the 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail, which stretches from Georgia to Maine.

The AT offers an astonishing landscape of silent forests and sparkling lakes. To a writer with his comic genius, it provides endless opportunities to witness the majestic silliness of his fellow humans.

Why We Love It: If you’ve ever wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail,  you’ll love this book. You’ll love the unique look into the area and also learn the importance of wilderness conservation.

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Can you think of any other amazing books that need to be added to our best travel books list?

Esther + Jacob

Esther and Jacob are the founders of Local Adventurer, which is one of the top 5 travel blogs in the US. They believe that adventure can be found both near and far and hope to inspire others to explore locally. They explore a new city in depth every year and currently base themselves in Las Vegas.

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