It’s safe to say that books and I….we have a thing. Not only do I love reading while I’m traveling, I love reading to learn about a place before I go or just to daydream with really great storytelling.
So whether you’re a book-loving traveler yourself or you’ve got one on your gift list, here are some of the most popular and most wished-for books for travelers. I’ve curated this roundup mostly from Amazon’s bestselling travel books lists, pulling out titles that were consistent across various categories, and I sprinkled in a few of my own favorites. Some of these I’ve read (marked with an asterisk*), others are high on my “to read” list, and the rest have great reviews and are popular among travelers.
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Going into Town: A Love Letter to New York by Roz Chast – “For native Brooklynite Roz Chast, adjusting to life in the suburbs (where people own trees!?) was surreal. But she recognized that for her kids, the reverse was true. On trips into town, they would marvel at the strange world of Manhattan: its gum-wad-dotted sidewalks, honey-combed streets, and “those West Side Story-things” (fire escapes). Their wonder inspired Going into Town, part playful guide, part New York stories, and part love letter to the city, told through Chast’s laugh-out-loud, touching, and true cartoons.”
By the Seat of my Pants by Lonely Planet (various authors) – “Lonely Planet knows that some of life’s funniest experiences happen on the road. Whether they take the form of unexpected detours, unintended adventures, unidentifiable dinners or unforgettable encounters, they can give birth to our most found travel lessons, and our most memorable – and hilarious – travel stories.”
The Best American Travel Writing 2018* edited by Cheryl Strayed and Jason Wilson – “Everyone travels for different reasons, but whatever those reasons are, one thing is certain—they come back with stories. Each year, the best of those stories are collected in The Best American Travel Writing, curated by one of the top writers in the field. This far-ranging collection of top notch travel writing is, quite simply, the genre’s gold standard.”
On Trails: An Exploration by Robert Moor – “In 2009, while thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, Robert Moor began to wonder about the paths that lie beneath our feet: How do they form? Why do some improve over time while others fade? What makes us follow or strike off on our own? Over the course of the next seven years, Moor traveled the globe, exploring trails of all kinds, from the miniscule to the massive. He learned the tricks of master trail-builders, hunted down long-lost Cherokee trails, and traced the origins of our road networks and the Internet. Moor has the essayist’s gift for making new connections, the adventurer’s love for paths untaken, and the philosopher’s knack for asking big questions. With a breathtaking arc that spans from the dawn of animal life to the digital era, On Trails is a book that makes us see our world, our history, our species, and our ways of life anew.”
For the Nature Lover and Outdoor Adventurer
Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer – “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 had given $25,000 in savings to charity, abandoned his car and most of his possessions, burned all the cash in his wallet, and invented a new life for himself. Four months later, his decomposed body was found by a moose hunter. How McCandless came to die is the unforgettable story of Into the Wild.”
A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail* by Bill Bryson – “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—and to a writer with the comic genius of Bill Bryson, it also provides endless opportunities to witness the majestic silliness of his fellow human beings. A Walk in the Woods is more than just a laugh-out-loud hike. Bryson’s acute eye is a wise witness to this beautiful but fragile trail, and as he tells its fascinating history, he makes a moving plea for the conservation of America’s last great wilderness. An adventure, a comedy, and a celebration, A Walk in the Woods has become a modern classic of travel literature.”
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest* by Cheryl Strayed – “At twenty-two, 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. With no experience or training, driven only by blind will, she would hike more than a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State—and she would do it alone. Told with suspense and style, sparkling with warmth and humor, Wild powerfully captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her.”
Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders by Joshua Foer, Dylan Thuras, and Ella Morton – “It’s time to get off the beaten path. Inspiring equal parts wonder and wanderlust, Atlas Obscura celebrates over 700 of the strangest and most curious places in the world. ATLAS OBSCURA revels in the weird, the unexpected, the overlooked, the hidden and the mysterious. Every page expands our sense of how strange and marvelous the world really is. And with its compelling descriptions, hundreds of photographs, surprising charts, maps for every region of the world, it is a book to enter anywhere, and will be as appealing to the armchair traveler as the die-hard adventurer.”
Want to see all of the best travel books on Amazon?
Coffee Table Books for Travelers
Humans of New York: Stories* by Brandon Stanton – “In the summer of 2010, photographer Brandon Stanton began an ambitious project: to single-handedly create a photographic census of New York City. The photos he took and the accompanying interviews became the blog Humans of New York. In 2013, his book Humans of New York, based on that blog, was published and immediately catapulted to the top of the NY Times Bestseller List where it has appeared for over forty-five weeks. Now, Brandon is back with the Humans of New York book that his loyal followers have been waiting for: Humans of New York: Stories. Ever since Brandon began interviewing people on the streets of New York, the dialogue he’s had with them has increasingly become as in-depth, intriguing and moving as the photos themselves. Humans of New York: Stories presents a whole new group of people in stunning photographs, with a rich design and, most importantly, longer stories that delve deeper and surprise with greater candor.”
The Atlas of Beauty: Women of the World in 500 Portraits by Mihaela Noroc – “Since 2013 photographer Mihaela Noroc has traveled the world with her backpack and camera taking photos of everyday women to showcase the diversity of beauty all around us. The Atlas of Beauty is a collection of her photographs celebrating women from all corners of the world, revealing that beauty is everywhere, and that it comes in many different sizes and colors.”
Destinations of a Lifetime: 225 of the World’s Most Amazing Places by National Geographic – “Hundreds of the most breathtaking locales—both natural and man-made—are illustrated with vivid images taken by the organization’s world-class photographers. These images, coupled with evocative text, feature a plethora of visual wonders: ancient monoliths, scenic islands, stunning artwork, electric cityscapes, white-sand seashores, rain forests, ancient cobbled streets, and both classic and innovative architecture. Loaded with hard service information for each location, Destinations of a Lifetime has it all: when to go, where to eat, where to stay, and what to do to ensure the most enriching and authentic experience.”
Epic Bike Rides of the World by Lonely Planet – “Discover 200 of the best places to ride a bike in this beautifully illustrated hardback. From family-friendly, sightseeing urban rides to epic adventures off the beaten track. Destinations range from France and Italy, for the world’s great bike races, to the wilds of Mongolia and Patagonia. These journeys will inspire – whether you are an experienced cyclist or just getting started. Each ride is illustrated with stunning photography and a map. A toolkit of practical details – where to start and finish, how to get there, where to stay and more – helps riders plan their own trips. There are also suggestions for three more similar rides around the world for each story. Each piece shows how cycling is a fantastic way to get to know a place, a people and their culture.”
Social Issues in the United States
While these books aren’t strictly “travel books,” they give a glimpse into the diversity of subcultures in the United States. TV shows and news only represent a small slice of American life and culture, and I think it’s so important to engage with people whose backgrounds are different from ours…especially if we are traveling to any of these places. Learning about a place beyond the tourist sights enriches and deepens our travel experiences.
Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century by Jessica Bruder – “From the beet fields of North Dakota to the National Forest campgrounds of California to Amazon’s CamperForce program in Texas, employers have discovered a new, low-cost labor pool, made up largely of transient older Americans. Finding that social security comes up short, often underwater on mortgages, these invisible casualties of the Great Recession have taken to the road by the tens of thousands in late-model RVs, travel trailers, and vans, forming a growing community of nomads: migrant laborers who call themselves ‘workampers.'”
Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis* by J.D. Vance – “From a former marine and Yale Law School graduate, a powerful account of growing up in a poor Rust Belt town that offers a broader, probing look at the struggles of America’s white working class. Hillbilly Elegy is a passionate and personal analysis of a culture in crisis—that of white working-class Americans. The decline of this group, a demographic of our country that has been slowly disintegrating over forty years, has been reported on with growing frequency and alarm, but has never before been written about as searingly from the inside. J. D. Vance tells the true story of what a social, regional, and class decline feels like when you were born with it hung around your neck. A deeply moving memoir with its share of humor and vividly colorful figures, Hillbilly Elegy is the story of how upward mobility really feels. And it is an urgent and troubling meditation on the loss of the American dream for a large segment of this country.”
The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League* by Jeff Hobbs – “A compelling and honest portrait of Robert’s relationships—with his struggling mother, with his incarcerated father, with his teachers and friends—The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace encompasses the most enduring conflicts in America: race, class, drugs, community, imprisonment, education, family, friendship, and love. It’s about the collision of two fiercely insular worlds—the ivy-covered campus of Yale University and the slums of Newark, New Jersey, and the difficulty of going from one to the other and then back again. It’s about trying to live a decent life in America. But most all this story is about the tragic life of one singular brilliant young man. His end, a violent one, is heartbreaking and powerful.”
Walden on Wheels: On the Open Road from Debt to Freedom by Ken Ilgunas – “In this frank and witty memoir, Ken Ilgunas lays bare the existential terror of graduating from the University of Buffalo with $32,000 of student debt. Ilgunas set himself an ambitious mission: get out of debt as quickly as possible. Inspired by the frugality and philosophy of Henry David Thoreau, Ilgunas undertook a 3-year transcontinental jour¬ney, working in Alaska as a tour guide, garbage picker, and night cook to pay off his student loans before hitchhiking home to New York.
Debt-free, Ilgunas then enrolled in a master’s program at Duke University, determined not to borrow against his future again. He used the last of his savings to buy himself a used Econoline van and outfitted it as his new dorm. The van, stationed in a campus parking lot, would be more than an adventure—it would be his very own ‘Walden on Wheels.'”