50 Best Travel Books of All Time

50 Best Travel Books of all timeWhat is it about a book that can transport you to a new destination in just a few pages? Whether you’re planning a trip or just dreaming of taking one, picking up a book about travel – or even a book that has such an evocative setting, it has the same effect, it’s one way to travel when you can’t quite get there in person.

In this list, I’ll share what I consider are the best travel books of all time. There’s be a good smattering of the top travel books that rightly deserve to be on a list like this, but there will be some more obscure suggestions from my own personal reading list, too.

Some of the books cover dark topics and while stories of war zones or former leper colonies may not, in themselves, inspire the urge to travel, the sense of place those books depict may well leave you wanting to know more.

The 50 best travel books of all time

Whether you’re after a work of fiction that can take you somewhere exotic or want to travel vicariously through the story of someone else’s travels, here’s what I think are the 50 best travel books of all time …(in no particular order)

1. The Penguin Lessons, Tom Mitchell

This is top of the list because I’ve just finished reading it this morning. It’s by far one of the most uplifting books I’ve had the pleasure to devour. Ever. About a young expat teacher who ‘adopts’ a penguin while he’s in South America, this is a true story about one young traveller’s journey to the other side of the world and the unexpected friend he meets along the way.

Where you’ll be inspired to go: Argentina

2. The Life of Pi

What do you get when you cross a shipwrecked Indian boy and a Bengal tiger for over 200 days in the Pacific Ocean? Answer: The life of Pi.  This fantastical adventure will leave you wondering how you’d cope if your travel adventures ever went that awry.

Where you’ll be inspired to go: India

3. The Bridges of Madison County, Robert James Walter

A love story like no other, perhaps it’s the free-spirited nature of the ever wandering photographer that will make you think of the open road and although not strictly as travel book, it will still make you want to put Madison County and its bridges on your travel list.

Where you’ll be inspired to go: Madison County, Indiana

4. On the Road, Jack Kerouac

No list of the best travel books would be complete without featuring ‘On the Road’ as it’s become a seminal work widely read by travellers and dreamers alike. I’ve personally not managed to get through the book, despite trying more than once…but I will perservere and get there one day.

Where you’ll be inspired to go: USA

5. Wild, Cheryl Strayed

Lost in life and looking for answers following her mother’s death, Wild is the true story of one woman’s 1000-miles walk along the Pacific Crest Trail. It’s gritty but compelling and inspiring all at the same time. Rapidly becoming one of best travel books of all time.

Where you’ll be inspired to go: on a long walk/Pacific Crest Trail

6. The Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain

Mark Twain was one of the original adventurers and the Innocents Abroad will let you travel in time to Europe and the Holy Land during the 1800s. So many travel quotes have been lifted from Mark Twain’s pages, this, together with his other travel books more than deserve a read.

Where you’ll be inspired to go: Europe and the Middle East

7. The Island, Victoria Hislop

Dealing expertly with that tough topic of leprosy, Victoria Hislop’s The Island doesn’t just educate, the vivid descriptions leave you feeling like you’ve just been to Greece on a heart-wrenching journey. A great book if you’re interested in travelling to Greece.

Where you’ll be inspired to go: Greece

8. In a Sunburned Country, Bill Bryson

I read A Sunburned Country so long ago I think it deserves another read and if you’re off to Australia, or if you’re just up from laugh, this hilarious travel book is just the job. Note: this book is called ‘Down Under’ in the UK.

Where you’ll be inspired to go: Australia

9. 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, Jules Verne

This perfectly charming work of fantasy is a fast read and although travelling 20,000 leagues under the sea is out of the question, exploring the land of ice and fire – Iceland – isn’t. One of the best books to inspire great travel adventures.

Where you’ll be inspired to go: Iceland

10. Marching Powder, Rusty Young

Something of a classic travel book amongst backpackers in South America, Marching Powder tells the true story of life inside San Pedro, one of the world’s most notorious prisons, which is located in La Paz, Bolivia.

Where you’ll be inspired to go: Bolivia

11. The Alchemist, Paulo Coehlo 

Parable meets wanderlust: the Alchemist is Paolo Coehlo at his absolute best and I doubt there’s anybody with even the slightest bit of wanderlust who doesn’t want to pack a bag after they’ve read this great travel book.

Where you’ll be inspired to go: Andalucia/North Africa/The World

12. Under the Tuscan Sun, Frances Mayes

Frances Mayes lives out the fantasy of many when she buys and restores a villa in the heart of Tuscany. Under the Tuscan Sun will leave even the most active person yearning for a simpler and slower way of life and it’s the perfect travel book to escape the modern pace of life.

Where you’ll be inspired to go: Tuscany, Italy

13. Shantaram, Gregory David Roberts

You’ll do well reading this on your Kindle if you plan to take this behemoth of a book on your travels. Pitched as a true story about an Australian ex-convict who escapes to the underworld of Bombay, questions about this travel book’s truth have since come to light but that doesn’t make Shantaram any less compelling a read.

If you haven’t got a Kindle for reading while you’re on your travels, I’d highly recommend getting one, mainly because you can . You can find out more and buy one here.

Where you’ll be inspired to go: India

14. War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy

I’m still wading through War and Peace but even before I’ve come to the end, Tolstoy’s epic about the French invasion of Russia has re-inspired my urge to visit Russia, making it a classic travel book.

Where you’ll be inspired to go: Russia

15. The Miniaturist, Jessie Burton

Despite an ending that I found disappointing (don’t worry – no spoilers), The Miniaturist is evocatively set in 17th-century Amsterdam where the merchants rule the city and trade lies at the heart of its prosperity. It may not be intended as a travel book but it made me want to return to Amsterdam.

Where you’ll be inspired to go: Amsterdam

16. The Travels of Marco Polo, Marco Polo

If you’re looking to jump into the exotic East during the Middle Ages, this is the way to do it.  Depicting a time when off-the-beaten-path actually meant something, the travels of Marco Polo will make the truly adventurous wish they could embark on their journey several hundred years ago. One of the best travel books of all time, for sure.

Where you’ll be inspired to go: Asia

17. Inferno, Dan Brown

Regardless of whether you’re into Dan Brown’s conspiracy stories, it’s hard to deny that the way he bounces his characters from one European city to another makes you wish you were right there with them, giving his fiction novels a dual success as travel books. Dan Brown’s most recent book, Inferno, is no different, taking you through Venice, Florence and on to Istanbul.

Where you’ll be inspired to go: Venice, Florence, Istanbul

18. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain

Rafting down the Mississippi River, Huck and Jim take you on a voyage through the antebellum history of the South. With this book you’ll travel in time as well as place.

Where you’ll be inspired to go: Mississippi

19. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Rachel Joyce

Finding out that an old friend is in a hospice about to die, Harold Fry only intends to walk to the post box to send her a letter but instead finds himself on a 600-mile pilgrimage through England to deliver the letter himself. A quirky travel book that will make you think about the deeper aspects of life, with a chuckle along the way.

Where you’ll be inspired to go: England

20. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S. Thomas

Long before The Hangover took to the Holywood screams, there was the epic travel book: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. It’s the story of a weekend road trip to Las Vegas that’s dipped in drugs and promises to be a rollercoaster read.

Where you’ll be inspired to go: Las Vegas

21. Discovering Beautiful: On the Road to Nowhere, Rory Miller

Gritty doesn’t even begin to cover it. If you’re tired of reading polished, well-presented travelogues, Rory Miller’s story bounces from  squats in New York to something a lot more spiritual in the Mexican desert. I won’t spoil it but there’s a hard-hitting, sadly real-life, twist in this travel book. A fellow traveller gave this book to me in a dorm room in Tel Aviv years ago. It’s currently out of print but if you want to borrow it (and shipping costs aren’t prohibitive), I’ll send you my copy.

Where you’ll be inspired to go: North America

22. Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert 

Speaking of well-polished and publicised travelogues, Eat, Pray, Love is one of those travel books you can’t escape, particularly if you’re a thirtysomething solo female traveller. Sigh. I’m generally a fan of Elizabeth Gilbert’s creativity even if I did have to force myself to read this book through to the end. It was a rare occasion when I preferred the movie. Perhaps, because it was over more quickly.

Where you’ll be inspired to go: Italy, India, Bali

23. The Beach, Alex Garland

Seeing as we’re on the topic of blazingly popular travel books – I present to you the Beach. If you haven’t read this backpacker blockbuster, go read it now. More dark and twisty than the title suggests, the pace is fast and the storyline compelling (even if some of the geography doesn’t stack up – and every traveller in Southeast Asia will tell you as much). Still, one of my travel favourite reads of all time.

Where you’ll be inspired to go: Thailand

24. Notes From a Small Island, Bill Bryson

Bill Bryson’s take on the curiosities of the tiny island I call home will have you simultaneously laughing out loud, and checking flight prices to Great Britain as you power through this travel book.

Where you’ll be inspired to go: Great Britain

25. Into the Wild, Jon Krakaeur

Sadly, I watched the film before reading the book – never the best way to do it. Nevertheless, Into the Wild is…well, a pretty wild story about one man, disenchanted with modern society who goes off to live in the wilds of Alaska with astonishing consequences. Read this travel book with comfort food to hand.

Where you’ll be inspired to go: Alaska

26. A Year in Provence, Peter Mayle

Ever wondered what it might be like to move into a centuries-old farmhouse in Provence, and survive each of the seasons it throws at you? The Year in Provence is Peter Mayle’s account of his year doing exactly that. Expect a chuckle along the way with this travel book.

Where you’ll be inspired to go: Provence

27. Last Train to Istanbul, Ayse Kulin

Love, war, the Ottoman empire, fighting families and adventures across a continent into a land unknown. I’d put money on this travel book making its debut on screen one day. Until then, settle back and enjoy the (written) ride.

Where you’ll be inspired to go: Ankara, Paris, Cairo, Berlin

28. Moloka’i, Alan Brennert

Another travel book that tackles the topic of leprosy. Also based on a real-life former leper colony, on Moloka’i island, this book is rich with Hawaiian culture and is as much about the fictional characters as it is the disease.

Where you’ll be inspired to go: Moloka’i

29.Vagabonding, Rolf Potts

If you’re hoping to build a stint of long-term travel into your life, veteran traveller Rolf Potts won’t just talk you into the benefits, he’ll show you how to do it – from financing your travels to planning your trip in this ever popular travel book.

Where you’ll be inspired to go: On a long journey

30. A Room With a View, E.M. Forster

I make no secret about the fact that Tuscany is one of my all-time favourite places and E.M Forster’s depiction of this part of Italy, at a time when female travellers had to be accompanied by a chaperone, sucked me in from the first line of this travel book.

Where you’ll be inspired to go: Italy

31: Anne Frank: The Diary of a Yong Girl

It’s not the easiest book to read due to the horrifying fact that it’s a true-life account about a young Jewish girl and her family and neighbours hiding from the Nazis in Amsterdam during World War II, but it’s a must-read for…well, everyone. Follow it up with a visit to the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam and you’ll see the tragedy behind this book in real life.

Where you’ll be inspired to go: Amsterdam

32. Seven Years in Tibet, Heinrich Harrer

This story is nothing short of fantastic. As one of the first European’s to visit Tibet and with a hell of a journey to get there (escaping India at the break out of WWII), Heinrich Harrer became confident to the Dalai Lama amongst other things during his time in Tibet. Read his adventures with awe in this fantastic travel book.

Where you’ll be inspired to go: Tibet

33. Blue Highways, William Least Heat-Moon

Inspired to travel to those barely-on-the-map locations that lie at the end of the USA’s backroads, William Least Heat-Moon gives a glimpse of American life in a way that’s very rarely seen in this long-popular travel book.

Where you’ll be inspired to go: USA

34. Three Cups of Tea, Greg Mortenson

If you want to be inspired by the story of a true hero, read the travel book Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace…One School at a Time. After climbing K2, Greg Mortenson, a homeless mountaineer decided to build a school for poor mountain villagers. That school turned into 50 schools.

Where you’ll be inspired to go: Pakistan

35. The Kindness of Strangers, Kate Adie

As a BBC correspondent since 1969, Kate Adie has a particular take on travel, particularly as she ended up mostly in war zones. From Northern Ireland to Tiananmen Square, Kate’s autobiography will inspire you in every way. One of the most gripping travel books you’ll find.

Where you’ll be inspired to go: Middle East, China, Northern Ireland and more

36. The Great Railway Bazaar, Paul Theroux

A true master of travel writing, Paul Theroux is the man behind many of those travel quotes you see flying around the internet and the Great Railway Bazaar has got to be one of his best books. Sharing, with great amusement, his journey across Asia by train, you’ll be left wanting to cancel your airfair and takes to the tracks instead.

Where you’ll be inspired to go: Asia

37. The Road to Oxiana

The sad fact is that for most of us a travel book is the only way we can ‘visit’ much of the Middle East due to the ongoing conflicts there but thanks to Robert Byron, you can take a journey through Beirut, Baghdad, Tehran and Afganistan, exploring the architecturall wonders that were a highlight of his trip in the 1930s.

Where you’ll be inspired to go: The Middle East

38. Travels with Charley, John Steinbeck

Charley’s a poodle and John Steinbeck is on a mission – to see whether he’s lost touch with America. This travel book will take you across the USA in a book that is the closest insight you’ll get into this famous author and his views on life and the country he wrote so much about.

Where you’ll be inspired to go: USA

39. The Four Hour Work Week, Tim Ferris

I was in two minds whether to put this on the list because it’s not a travel book per se and there’s a big body of people who think it’s a huge crock of shit. Nevertheless, I’d guestimate 8 out of 10 travellers have read it and so many digital nomads seek to emulate Tim Ferriss’ view that we should all be able to detach from our desks and live our lives exploring the world while only working four hours a week.

Where you’ll be inspired to go: All over the world

40. The Valley of the Assassins, Freya Stark

What more could you want from a travel book? Freya Stark, one of the world’s most intrepid and inspiring female travellers, a solo trip to the mountains between Iraq and Iran, and all on a shoestring. Oh, and did I mention the Valley of the Assassins was written in the 1930s?

Where you’ll be inspired to go: the Middle East

41. Captain Correlli’s Mandolin, Louis de Bernières

This travel book is more than just a story about an Italian officer sent to the Greek island of Cephallonia in 1941. And it’s more than a love story. It’s a book that will take your imagination right into the heart of this Greek community.

Where you’ll be inspired to go: Greece

42. Round Ireland With a Fridge, Tony Hawks

When an Irish man makes a drunken bet, you can be damned sure he’ll try to win it. The result: Tony Hawks takes himself off around Ireland… with a fridge. Hilarity ensues in this wondefully funny travel book.

Where you’ll be inspired to go: Ireland

43. Holy Cow, Sarah MacDonald

On her first trip to India in her 20s, journalist Sarah McDonald is less than enamoured with the country which she finds hot, poor and polluted. Leaving India, she lets a beggar read her palm and he tells her that she will one day return to India for love. She doesn’t believe a word of it until several years later. This travel book describes India through the eyes of someone who’s first impressions of India certainly aren’t love.

Where you’ll be inspired to go: India

44. Down and Out in Paris and London, George Orwell

The author doesn’t stray too far from his Orwellian views about poverty in society in this part fictional, part autobiographical story, this travel book is about a poor writer who brushes shoulders with the underclasses in both London and Paris.

Where you’ll be inspired to go: Paris and London

45. Long Way Down, Ewan McGregor

With a wanderlust that won’t quiet, Ewan McGregor takes to the road once again with fellow bike companion Charlie Boorman. This time they journey from the northern tip of the UK (John O’Groats) to the southern tip of Africa (Cape Agulhas) and their travel book will take you the 15,000 miles with them.

Where you’ll be inspired to go: UK to Africa

46. The Art of Travel, Allain de Botton

The Art of travel is less about where to go than why you should go. Exploring matters such as the anticipation of travel and the benefits of truly taking time to notice the stuff you see, the Art of travel is a travel book that will help you make the most of every trip you take.

Where you’ll be inspired to go: the world

47. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert M. Pirsig

If you’re looking for a travel book that’s a beautiful blend of travel – in this case, a father and son taking summer trips across the north-west of the USA on a motorbike – and philosophical introspection on how to live a better life, then this book’s for you.

Where you’ll be inspired to go: USA and deeper inside your soul

48. McCarthy’s Bar, Pete McCarthy

It’s always nice to have a rule when you travel: make friends with the locals, leave only footprints… don’t pass a bar with your name on it. And when you possess the Irish name McCarthy and you take a journey through Ireland, that stacks up to a lot of bars. This travel book will probably make you as thirsty for a pint of Guinness as anything else.

Where you’ll be inspired to go: Ireland 

49. Turn Right at Machu Picchu, Mark Adams

Hiram Bingham III was the Yale professor who rediscovered Machu Picchu but when news reports started to depict the explorer in a negative light, Mark Adams decides to retrace the steps Hiram took in 1911. If Peru is on you travel wish list, this travel book will be the perfect appetiser.

Where you’ll be inspired to go: Peru

50.The Sex Lives of Cannibals, Maarten Troost

If you don’t quite have the time or motivation to go travelling right now, and you’re looking for a good reason to stay home, check out the Sex Lives of Cannibals. Maarten is a 26-year-old who’s already disillusioned with work life so he decides to move to a remote South Pacific Island where, it turns out, life isn’t as exotic and glamorous as he had expected. In some ways, this is the anti-travel book!

Where you’ll be inspired to go: South Pacific (or stay home)

What do you think? Are these the best travel books of all time? How many have you read? And how many have I missed? Let me know in the comments below.

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50 Best travel books of all time

Article written by

Jo Fitzsimons is a freelance travel writer who has visited over 50 countries. www.indianajo.com is the place where she shares destination details, travel itineraries, planning and booking tips and trip tales. Her aim: to help you plan your travel adventure on your terms and to your budget.

9 Responses

  1. ACL Repair Surgery – What They Don’t Tell You (and My Recovery)

    […] (On the plus side, all this feet-up, stay indoors business means I’m finally catching up on some of the books on my reading list). […]

  2. tripfiction
    tripfiction at | | Reply

    What a great list, and we are definitely going to look up the first title on our list. Over on Pinterest we have been building our board of top titles for literary wanderlust, there is quite some overlap which is great!!

  3. Mike Shubic (@MikesRoadTrip)
    Mike Shubic (@MikesRoadTrip) at | | Reply

    Some great books listed. I’ve only read about a dozen or so of these. One I am surprised that you did not list is “Travels” by Michael Crichton…awesome book!

  4. Rosa
    Rosa at | | Reply

    Thanks Jo, great list. Whilst researching some of the art in “Inferno”, I found your blog!
    now, off to Amazon…

  5. Katie
    Katie at | | Reply

    Great list, looks like I have some reading to do. I’d all add On The Island by Tracey Garvis-Graves to the list. Quick and easy read that will have you questioning your next puddle jumper flight.

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