If written well, a good book can transport you just as far as a good trip. Travelling has been the subject of countless books, and it’s a fountain of inspiration that many writers have drawn from to give us some of the most beloved travel books of all time. You’ll probably find some of the titles on this list while scanning hostel bookshelves for your next travel read.
Mainstays in the genre of travel literature, these books span different destinations across the world during various points in history and tackle some heady philosophical questions that you’ve probably raised at some point during your travels. Whether you’re looking for something to inspire you before your trip to Southeast Asia or simply pass the time during your flight to Europe, these popular books make riveting travel companions.
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The best travel books, ranked
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
Originally published in 1988, many readers see Paulo Coelho’s allegorical masterpiece as an important work of travel literature. The Alchemist tells the story of Santiago, a shepherd boy who sells his flock and embarks on a journey to discover an extravagant treasure among the pyramids of Egypt.
A parable about the power of hope, following your dreams, and finding one’s destiny, the impact of this book has been felt by travellers around the world ever since its publication and it continues to be one of the most widely translated international bestsellers.
Notes From A Small Island by Bill Bryson
In Notes from a Small Island, Bill Bryson recounts the story of the tour he took around Britain before he and his family moved to the United States. Bryson’s dry wit and humorously-retold travels had long captured the interest of his readers, and Notes From A Small Island made Bryson popular in Britain; the country voted it in as the book that best represented England in 2003. This affectionate account of a farewell tour has sold over 2 million copies and is one of Bryson’s most popular books.
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The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton
This unique book is far from being a run-of-the-mill travel guide of must-see sights. If you travel a lot, you’ll love this philosophical look at travelling by Alain de Botton that cuts through the surface to confront the urge we feel to pack our bags and hop on the first plane out, and explains why sometimes a trip isn’t as great as we expected it to be. It’s a refreshing reminder of the purpose of it all, and he helps us find how to make the best of every trip with his humorous and relatable philosophy.
The Beach by Alex Garland
In The Beach, Alex Garland explores the dark side of paradise while touching on the perennial theme of seeking ideals in undiscovered places. The Beach tells the story of Richard, a young backpacker, who receives a map to a secluded island and sets out to find it. When he does, he learns that paradise is not all it’s cracked up to be. This finely-crafted debut novel was well-received, with many drawing comparisons to Lord of the Flies. It received the movie treatment in 2000 with an adaptation starring Leonardo DiCaprio, and while the movie received mixed reviews, the book remains a travel classic to this day.
Vagabonding by Rolf Potts
Rolf Potts is well-known as an expert on backpacking, and while his book contains a wealth of backpacking tips and tricks, it doubles as an insightful consideration of long-term travel. Potts persuades us that travelling long-term on a backpacker’s budget is not only feasible but that it’s a rewarding exercise in minimalism. Vagabonding aptly combines travel philosophy with useful practical information, and it’s no wonder the book has been so influential and popular amongst backpackers.
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Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
In Eat, Pray, Love, Liz Gilbert, a writer with all the trappings of success, found herself deeply unhappy with her life and her marriage. She decides to leave her life behind and take a year-long trip to Italy, India, and Indonesia to find herself. Eat, Pray, Love is the book that launched a thousand trips – its aftermath is unmistakable, and if you haven’t read this inspiring memoir already, you should.
Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
Into the Wild tells the true story of Christopher McCandless, a college graduate whose body was found in the wilderness after he hitchhiked to Alaska to live a minimal life. In his telling of Christopher’s story, Krakauer fills in the gaps of Christopher’s life and reveals everything that leads up to his decision to give away his possessions and go on his journey in search of enlightenment and rebellion. The book is an international bestseller in over 30 languages, and has been adapted many times. While travellers might relate with Christopher’s desire to go off the beaten track, Into the Wild will prompt you to think deeper about your motivations to travel and consider their consequences.
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
Quintessentially American and a defining work of the Beat Generation, On the Road is the ultimate road trip story. Based on Kerouac’s actual travels with Neal Cassady, the book is lyrical in its retelling of Kerouac’s journey through America and evocative of the 60’s culture during which this odyssey takes place. It’s one of the most well-known travel novels, and the protagonist’s desire to escape from the real world to renew his excitement and passion for life has resonated with many travellers over the years, making it a mainstay in travel literature.
The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux
The Great Railway Bazaar, travel writer Paul Theroux’s first book, is a humorous account of a journey through Europe, the Middle East, and Asia by train. Published in 1975, it recounts his intercontinental travels via train using evocative descriptions of landscape and the people he encounters. He concentrates on the train journey and covers the stations he stops in with stunning detail, making this a must-read for anyone who loves train travel.
Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
In this tome of a travel classic, a convicted Australian bank robber escapes from prison and flees to India, where he becomes entrenched in Bombay’s hidden society. Gregory David Roberts’ vaguely autobiographical story has the perfect amount of adventure and enchantment that travellers look for, and the book has been praised for its vivid, albeit embellished, portrayal of India.