The best travel books teach us something about the world in an entertaining way, helping us know more about the world around us and inspiring us to go see it for ourselves. Or do the best travel books gives us insight in where to go, what to see, and what to eat? It depends what type of travel book you’re looking for–guidebook or novel, memoir or coffee table book.
We love all types of travel books, and brought our favorites together in this ultimate list. Whether you need a guidebook or want to learn about pre-Communist Tibet, there’s a book here for you. Memoirs, novels, essays, short stories, guidebooks, coffee table inspiration, and more, covering every continent on the globe. These are the best travel books for any type of traveler–happy reading!
1. Down and Out In Paris and London
This part autobiographical travel book from George Orwell narrates the adventures of a broke British writer in both Paris and London. His life is rough, but there’s no dwelling on pity. Instead the book is humorous and insightful.
It gives readers a view of Paris and London that we don’t often see in travel books. Instead of the glamorous side, we see poverty, and learn about society along the way. The characters are lively and the book is extraordinarily entertaining, and if you like other Orwell novels you’ll appreciate the glimpses into the author’s early life.
2. My Life In France
Julia Child is known as the mother of French cooking in Ameria, and in this beautiful book we learn about her years living in France. The book was the basis of the movie Julie & Julia, starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams.
When Julia first moved to France, she spoke no French and knew nothing of the culture. Soon, she began taking cooking classes at Le Cordon Bleu and becoming a regular at local markets. A chef, and eventually teacher, was born.
This book, written by Child herself, chronicles her journey to becoming a chef, her struggles to get her first (now extremely famous) cookbook published, and her travels around France and the world. A must-read for anyone interested in culinary books or France.
3. The Alchemist
The Alchemist is not only a classic travel book, but also full of life lessons anyone can learn from.
Santiago, the story’s main character, is a shepherd boy who longs to travel away from his home in Andalusia to find treasure. When he does travel, what he finds is different and even more wonderful than he imagined.
The book is full of wisdom and a bit of mysticism, teaching readers to listen to their intuition and follow their dreams. It’s also fairly short, easy to read, and has sold millions and millions of copies worldwide.
4. Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas
Hunter S. Thompson started the style known as ‘gonzo journalism,’ which puts the author into the story as a subject. His travel book about an assignment in Las Vegas is a prime example of that style.
In Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, a writer visits Las Vegas with an attorney to cover a motorcycle race. They have a suitcase full of drugs and a red convertible, and both make for quite the story as they drive across the Mojave desert.
Aside from being a tale of drug fueled adventure and misadventure, the book is a commentary on the country in the 1960s.
5. The Innocents Abroad
Mark Twain is a master storyteller and one of America’s most beloved writers. In this travelogue, he tours Europe and the Holy Land aboard a retired Civil War ship with a group of Americans. The year was 1867, and Twain kept a journal of the trip, which he called the “Great Pleasure Excursion.”
The result is a travel story and a critique of cultures that is hilarious and gives interesting insight into Europe in the 1860s from an outsider standpoint. Particularly enjoyable is the list of southern foods he misses while away.
The book was Twain’s best-selling during his lifetime, and is still one of the best-selling travel books of all time.
6. What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding
What was Kristin Newman doing while her friends were having kids? A whole lot. She was traveling around the world, writing TV scripts, having crazy romances, and more. It’s a travel book for the person who is sitting at their day job wanting to get out, or for the person who just got invited to another baby shower and is dreading it.
Newman traveled mostly alone, though sometimes with girlfriends, and the situations she gets herself into are often hilarious, and often romantic. In the end though, she learns a travel and life lesson you’ll just have to read the book to find out.
This book could sound like one in a million, but what sets it apart is Newman’s writing. A former writer on shows like How I Met Your Mother and That ’70s Show, she knows how to tell a story, and do it in a highly entertaining way.
7. A Field Guide to Getting Lost
This travel book takes autobiographical essays that explore loss, memory, desire, trust, and most relevant to travel, place. The author looks at how we travel, how we find or lose ourselves, explores our relationship to rural and urban areas, and how we navigate.
Each story is personal, but fits into a larger theme, tying in historical facts, cultural exploration, and more. The book is hard to explain, but that’s exactly what makes it so worth reading. It’s unlike any other travel book out there.
This is one of the newer travel books on the list, but it garnered fantastic critical reviews and readers love it. It’s an instant classic.
8. Eat, Pray, Love
People love Eat, Pray, Love, and love to hate it. It’s one of the most famous travel books of the century, spurring a blockbuster hit starting Julia Roberts, yet it draws scrutiny for being cliche and for promoting the “find yourself” brand of travel that’s become so popular since its release.
I saw and enjoyed the movie but was hesitant to read the book thanks to this criticism, and due to some of the romantic storylines in the movie I found lacking. I was wrong, and after reading Eat, Pray, Love all I can say is–read it before you judge.
Some of the main criticisms I had of the protagonist after watching the movie were fully explained and remedied after reading the book. Similarly, no matter what you think of the story, Elizabeth Gilbert is a wonderful writer. Plus, it does inspire “find yourself” travel, and if you’re in need of inspiration, why is that a bad thing?
9. On the Road
On the Road is one of the best travel books ever written, and a symbol of the “Beat Generation,” a literary movement started by Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William S. Burroughs, among others.
The book tells the story of a cross-country road trip rife with unique experiences, and with a mission not only to travel across the nation, but to find meaning doing it. Readers will see Kerouac’s love of the United States, his compassion for the people in it, and probably be inspired to take a road trip of their own in search of freedom.
On the Road is also famous for its style. Kerouac senes language sort of like jazz music, blending words and sentences in a lyrical style that often disregards correct grammar. It’s widely credited with changing American literature.
10. The World’s Cheapest Destinations
Unlike other travel books on the list, this one isn’t a novel or a memoir, but it is one of the best travel resources out there. Tim Leffel has lived around the world and has a team of far flung writers who also help him understand the cost of living in different countries.
In this book, he details the 21 cheapest countries to travel, where the US dollar goes a long way. He breaks down typical prices for lodging, transport, food, and even beer. There’s also a section that tells you “what you can get for a buck or less” in each country.
With this advice, you’ll never think of travel as expensive again. It has great reviews and Leffel has a large following of travelers who turn to him for advice time and time again. Maybe you’ll be next.
11. MOON Guide Books
With so much information online, you might think you don’t need a good old travel guide book. But what happens when your phone dies? Or when you run out of international data? That’s when an actual book comes in handy.
Plus, city guides are curated–the author is usually an expert on the city, has sorted through everything possible to see, do, and eat, and has picked the best things to include in a guidebook. Carrying one saves you all the time you would spend researching online yourself.
I like the new editions of MOON guides because they break each city down by neighborhood, and focus on local tips and unique neighborhood spots rather than big tourist destinations. Famous sights are included, but there’s so much more. Exploring out of a city’s downtown gives you a much better trip experience, and learning what makes each neighborhood tick makes you feel like an expert.
12. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
When her mother dies, Cheryl Strayed feels she has lost everything. To cope, she hikes the Pacific Crest Trail. She doesn’t have much hiking experience, and she has even less money, but she makes it, and the tale she tells is one of perseverance, adventure, loss, hope, and acceptance.
Strayed is a brilliant writer, and her story will make you alternately laugh, cry, and sit on the edge of your seat with suspense. Reese Witherspoon liked it so much she turned it into a movie she starred in herself.
An instant classic travel book, Wild was named one of the Best Books of the Year when it was released by NPR, The Boston Globe, Entertainment Weekly, Vogue, and St. Louis Dispatch.
13. Notes From a Small Island
Bill Bryson is one of America’s funniest writers, but he spent much of his life in England. He writes about it in this travel book, one of many books about his observations around the world. In this particular book, he travels around Great Britain one last time before moving back to the United States, interviewing people along the way.
His observations are sharp, accurate, and very, very funny. But don’t worry, he doesn’t just make fun of the Brits. He makes fun of everyone (and in other books written around the US, of his own country as well).
It’s not just funny though. Bryson weaves plenty of history into the book, and you’re sure to learn something about Britain’s heritage, archaeology, and rise and fall of the empire.
14. 1,000 Places to See Before You Die
Need travel inspiration? Buy this book. There’s so much to see in the world and not nearly enough time to see it all, but you can live vicariously through these pages, learning about sights and activities in far off lands.
You can also visit, and if you’re planning a trip this guide will help you sort through what to see and do when you get there. You probably know of many of the most famous sights, but you might be surprised by a UNESCO World Heritage Site in a city you’re planning to visit, or attend a cultural event you might never have heard of otherwise.
1,000 Places to See Before You Die is the world’s best selling travel book of all time, and for good reason.
15. Iranian Rappers and Persian Porn
Most people would not travel by foot along the Silk Road. Jamie Maslin is not most people. After an unexpected life change, he decides to travel through Iran, a country often in the papers for disliking westerners and referred to as an enemy.
While he doesn’t interact much with the Iranian government, what he finds in the country’s citizens is something else entirely. They are warm, and excited to show him around. They drink, they just do it underground. They have relationships out of wedlock–also done undercover.
The Iranian subculture, it turns out, is a maze of contradictions. Maslin gets himself into a few debacles, but for the most part enjoys overwhelming hospitality. Follow him along as he talks his way into and out of situations, learns the meaning of friendship, explores the idea of nationality, and shows us a very different side of Iran than what’s seen in the papers.
16. A Short Walk In the Hindu Kush
The name of this book is entertaining because a “short walk” is exactly the opposite of the very long, very hard, very treacherous hiking expedition the author takes with a friend in the Hindu Kush mountains of Afghanistan. The understated, self-mocking style is what makes it such an enduring travel book–it’s been a best-seller since it was released in 1958.
Newby and his friend, Hugh, have little to no hiking experience. They take a four day course in Wales, then attempt to take one of the hardest climbs in the world. The book is written in the 1950s, a brief period where Afghanistan was safe enough to do something like hike. That doesn’t mean the pair doesn’t run into trouble with local tribes, though, but those troubles are matched by hospitality in other areas.
This is a book of adventure, full of endearing wit, and a must-read for anyone who likes a good travel story.
17. Seven Years In Tibet
This is one of the best travel books out there, and was made into a movie starring Brad Pitt. It details author Heinrich Harrer’s time in Tibet. He was one of the first Europeans ever in the country, and he met the Dalai Lama, among other adventures.
The book is set just before Chinese Communist takeover, so it’s an especially interesting time. Harrer was an Austrian mountaineer, who ended up in a British POW camp during WWII because of his German citizenship. He escapes into the Himalayas and walks into Tibet, where he becomes a close friend of the Dalai Lama.
The book gives insight into both WWII and the Chinese takeover of Tibet, while also serving as a travelogue of the natural beauty (and natural harshness) of the Himalayas.
18. The Great Railway Bazaar
No list about the best travel books is complete without a book from Paul Theroux. This railway odyssey is one of his most famous books, and continues to be popular decades after publishing.
Theroux recounts his adventure riding Asia’s historic trains. He takes the Orient Express, the Khyber Pass Local, the Frontier Mail, the Golden Arrow, the Mandalay Express, and the Trans-Siberian Express, moving from London to Tokyo and back.
Whether you plan to travel this route or just want some good armchair travel, it’s an exciting book full of observations–not only about the places he’s traveling through, but his fellow travelers as well. If you’ve heard of Theroux and want to know what all the fuss is about, this is the book to get you started.
19. Viva South America! A Journey Through a Restless Continent
Once upon a time, Simon Bolivar inspired the continent of South America to fight for independence from Spanish rule and pursue equality. Now, in Viva South America! Oliver Bach wants to know how that dream is doing.
South America is full of independent countries, yet many of those countries have slaves, or violent gangs, or corrupt leaders. He explores what “independence” really means, and wonders if liberation succeeded or failed.
Through traveling and interviewing citizens, prisoners, and more, the author takes us on a journey to a side of South America you won’t find in guidebooks, and grapples with tough questions that will make any reader–even those not planning to visit–think.
Everyone knows David Sedaris for his wry, often self-deprecating, humor and witty observations that make even the most mundane entertaining. In Calypso, which isn’t exactly a travel book but is definitely something you should read on vacation, he takes us to his beach house on the Carolina coast.
He thinks he’ll have relaxing vacations here, full of beach days and board games. He doesn’t bet on not being able to get away from himself and his own thoughts and anxieties about middle age. Luckily for us, these thoughts are often comedic, and are told in the setting of the Sea Section, the name of his beloved beach house.
According to the book’s Amazon description, it’s “beach reading for people who detest beaches, required reading for those who loathe small talk and love a good tumor joke. Calypso is simultaneously Sedaris’s darkest and warmest book yet–and it just might be his very best.”