Since we are both fervent readers, we thought it would be worth a call to other travel freaks to ask them about their favorite books that have encouraged them in their particular voyages. From those who have drawn general philosophical inspiration to travel, to those who have reveled in detailed introduction to specific locales, we offer a variety of books that may help you pick your own principles, or at least your own destinations, and hit the road.
Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, recommended by Tom of Travel Past 50 and MN Trips
I find it hard to recommend Wind, Sand and Stars too highly. I've never read Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince, so I was completely unfamiliar with the depth and insight he brings until this book was recommended to me by a friend. It has taken its place as one of my favorite books of all time.
Saint-Exupéry was a pioneering French aviator, who began flying rickety machines over the Pyrenees and Atlas Mountains in the 1930s to deliver the mail. The book's opening descriptions of the pure terror and exhilaration of crossing those mountains in fog, without radio, and without reliable instruments, and knowing that many of your colleagues have had “the final smash up,” keep you on such an knife's edge that you almost don't want the journeys to end.
But they do, mostly well. With one notable exception when Saint-Exupéry crashed at full speed into the north African desert as he was attempting to fly from France to Vietnam. The harrowing account of being stranded without water for days, not knowing exactly where he and his engineer were, and fully anticipating his death are oddly exciting and calming at once.
Spaced between his adventures, which really seem to be a spur for his philosophical observations, Saint Exupéry leaves us with an impressive body of poetic musings. You end up marking passages in the book so you can come back to them later and savor them. Such as this one: “It is another of the miraculous things about mankind that there is no pain nor passion that does not radiate to the ends of the earth. Let a man in a garret but burn with enough intensity and he will set fire to the world.”
And another: “Domestic security has succeeded in crushing out that part in us that is capable of heeding the call [to adventure.] We scarcely quiver; we beat our wings once or twice and fall back unto our barnyard.”
Saint-Exupéry was killed in 1944 during World War II. His aircraft disappeared into the wind and stars over the Mediterranean.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, recommended by Kristin of Travel Past 50
For several reasons, I associate this famous and now controversial novel with travel and adventure. It was first read to me when I was a grade school kid and my family was vacationing in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota. By day I’d explore the woods and the lake with my siblings, by night I’d fall to sleep listening to my mother reading Huck Finn.
I grew up in a town straddling the Mississippi and spent plenty of time walking and picnicking on its banks, crossing its bridges, or canoeing with the current. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn created a vivid picture for me of how the river and its people differed just a couple of states away, even midway through the river’s course.
But I was probably most influenced by the voices of Huck and Jim themselves. I could hear worlds opening up. I could feel the doubts and certainties involved when two people meet, when two cultures bump up against each other and drift off together, when young and old learn from each other, and when trust is constantly tested and established.
Living Planet: Preserving Edens of the Earth by Frans Lanting, Galen Rowell and David Doubilet, recommended by Bret Love and Mary Gabbett of Blue Ridge Mountains Travel Guide
Published by World Wildlife Fund in 1999, with a forward written by Walter Cronkite, this gorgeous coffee table book preached the gospel of responsible environmental stewardship years before the topic started trending on social media (and before social media was invented, for that matter.)
Back then, suggesting that “a rapidly growing human population has put a strain on Earth's natural resources and has wrought alarming and permanent changes in the environment” seemed so prescient, it now reads like the work of a time traveler trying to warn us of the sixth mass extinction event in which we find ourselves.
Ultimately it's not the book's slim text that proves most inspirational, but the lush photos of iconic photographers David Doubilet, Frans Lanting, and Galen Rowell. The National Geographic-published Doubilet (now age 74), Lanting (70), and Rowell (who passed away in 2002) were all nature/wildlife photography legends at the top of their game. They each had their own unique styles, from Lanting's stunning wildlife-in-action shots and Doubilet's dreamy underwater work, to Rowell's impossibly epic landscapes. But this expertly compiled collection of photos from all around the world combines their superpowers effectively, showcasing the jaw-dropping beauty of nature in such a powerful way, you'd need to have an awfully cold heart to come away ignorant of the book's core message: we who love nature and wildlife are bound by duty to protect it, both for the sake of our children and for the future of the planet.
Step by Step by Simon Reeve, recommended by Ben from Ticket 4 Two Please
You may be familiar with the television career of Simon Reeve, the British journalist and broadcaster who has been gracing British screens since the early 2000s with travel programs, documentaries and docu-series.
Step by Step is a fascinating recount of Reeve’s life. Beginning with his earliest childhood memories growing up in one of the poorest suburbs of London, to then catching his big television break off the back of some unbelievably dedicated research surrounding Al-Qaeda.
From discovering the ‘gates to hell’ in Turkmenistan, to overcoming one of the world’s deadliest diseases in the middle of Gabon, Reeve has certainly had his fair share of incredible traveling moments.
Not only does Step by Step encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and explore the world, it inspires you to do so while looking at the world differently. Reeve implores you to learn more about the places you’re visiting and dive deeper into the history of the people that make up your chosen destination.
From the rugged war zones of the Middle East, to the heartland of African jungles, Reeve has been all around the world and you can join him for many of his famous journeys in the book.
Sushi and Beyond by Michael Booth, recommended by Helen from Japlanease.com
If you’re not booking a trip to Japan by the end of this book, you’ll definitely be ordering a bowl of udon for delivery. And, when you do get to Japan, you’ll have a far greater appreciation of what makes their cuisine so special.
Booth is a food writer, but forget page after page of flowery descriptions of dishes from expensive restaurants. This trip, he’s accompanied by his wife and his two young sons, and they’re more interested in Pokemon than Ponzu.
While traveling the length of the country from Hokkaido to Okinawa, the family drop into restaurants, factories and food stores, and even massage a Wagyu cow.
The book manages to be incredibly funny but also conveys a wealth of information on the intricacies of Japanese ingredients and styles of cooking – and the general culture of the country.
His descriptions are so vivid you could be standing in the Tokyo izakaya with him on his first night. And, you’ll also find out what it’s like to eat octopus ice cream.
A must-read for foodies going to Japan but also those who just want to know what the heck to eat in Osaka.
Living In Mexico by Barbara and René Stoeltie, Recommended by Shelley of Travel To Merida
One of the prestigious Taschen art books, Living in Mexico is a photographic journey through various dwellings, homes and architectural styles of Mexico. You’ll be transported from one coast of Mexico to the other, getting a look at unique abodes and their interior decor.
In this coffee table book, you’ll find homes in Costa Careyes on the Baja California peninsula on the west coast to the east coast of Mexico where you'll see see traditional Mayan thatched-roof dwellings in the Yucatan peninsula.
In Mexico City you will see the iconic home designed by Mexican architect Luis Barragán. Done in his quintessential Constructivist style, the Barragán house and studio is one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Mexico City.
The stark contrast between one home to the next will keep you turning the pages and wanting more. Living in Mexico’s photos are a testament to the country’s bright color palette, diverse textures, and eclectic architecture styles.
Living in Mexico was done by spouses Barbara and René Stoeltie, who write and take the photos in the book. This duo also has dozens of similar books highlighting countries, regions and cities all over the globe, including Morocco, Tuscany, France and more.
Taking Off by Ty F. Clemens, recommended by Elizabeth from Three Week Traveller
Taking Off is a memoir of Clemens's year-long trip. When I read the book, I was taking a holiday from full-time traveling, but the moment I started the book, I couldn't put it down. Clemens is really funny, but what really got my attention was how our backpacking trip was somehow similar.
Reading his chapter on Vietnam, I was not only laughing but also caught myself agreeing with everything he described. His book made me feel like I was there with him, experiencing everything he experienced. He traveled all over Southeast Asia just like myself. During my break from the road, I started planning where I should go next. Taking Off gave me the idea that it was time to explore Turkey and Georgia, which I then did. His recommendations took me on a journey of the places I'd not seen. Is descriptions were so vivid, it felt like I was looking at those cities through my own eyes.
Paris by Edward Rutherfurd, recommended by Leyla Alyanak from Offbeat France
Although I was born in Paris, I left the city when I was only weeks old, so I didn’t grow up there and know vast swathes of France better than I know Paris.
But a series of books have inspired me to begin exploring the capital and the latest is William Rutherfurd’s sweeping novel, Paris, which infuses multi-generational fiction with dollops of history fed to us so smoothly we’re not always aware we’re in learning mode.
Paris is the story of several intertwined families, with stories that cross back and forth over the centuries. The beauty of this book is that it uncovers eras that aren’t familiar to us, with characters from different social classes and viewpoints that help illustrate those eras. Some historical peeks are priceless, like the backstories of the St Bartholomew’s Day massacre or the building of the Eiffel Tower. If you’re fascinated by history, this alone will have you packing your bags for Paris.
Where the novel lets me down is in its characters, which tend to be light, at times stereotyped, and largely uni-dimensional. Somehow, though, it doesn’t seem to matter because the history is exquisite, pulling us back and forth across the firmament of centuries–a dance some may find confusing, but that I found captivating.
The Dress Thief by Natalie Meg Evans, recommended by Heather Cox of WanderLust in Real Life.
Set in Paris France during the 1930s, The Dress Thief truly transports you into the world of Parisian haute couture. Following the main character Alix Gower you are immersed in the glamour, intrigue and decadence the French are infamous for. The story line romanticizes the way of life in Paris during the memorable era of the rise of some of Paris's most famous fashion houses.
The level of detail the author uses luxuriously explains all of the aspects of exquisite dress making while intertwining the techniques with Alix’s life as she struggles to make a name for herself in the fashion industry. You become a part of her inner circle as she makes important connections at the same time as keeping people at an arm's length so as not to reveal her secrets.
This book inspired in me a lust to visit Paris and experience in the present day the historic places Alix frequented.
Wild Women and their Amazing Adventures Over Land, Sea and Air, edited by Mariella Frostrup, recommended by Jessie Moore from Pocket Wanderings
Wild Women is a collection of travel writing by women from a range of backgrounds and centuries. These short stories tell tales of fearless adventurers and female pioneers, finally bringing a spotlight onto the trials and tribulations of women who broke boundaries and defied expectations in the name of adventure and independence.
From early explorers in the 1700s to modern day adventure seekers, Wild Women offers a plethora of travel inspiration for the solo female traveler. The book features 50 epic adventure stories of women who broke free of societal constrictions to seek independence, or a record-breaking journey
Wild Women includes jungle tales and mountain escapades, desert discoveries and snowy expeditions. From Afghanistan to Antarctica, Sweden to Siberia, these stories cross continents and cultures. It’s the perfect book to inspire wanderlust and a fearless approach to exploring the world as a woman.
Home by Seven by Steph Jeavons, recommended by Kat from Biker Girl Life
As a female motorcycle rider, I’m very much in the minority. As a girl who enjoys taking her motorcycle touring and exploring around the world, that’s even more true.
So it’s wonderful to find a book by another female biker, one who became the first female to ride her motorcycle on all seven continents. Yes, including Antarctica.
I love her humor, her spirit of adventure and the frank way she talks about the challenges she’s faced, including fending off unwanted (and drunken) advances, tackling dangerous roads and being in prison before the age of twenty. If there’s even a small part of you which enjoys riding bikes and having adventures, read with caution- you’ll be packing your panniers before you know it!
Into the Light by Dave and Jaja Martin, recommended by Kathryn Bird from Wandering Bird
When I quit my job to travel Europe in a motor home, there were two places I wanted to visit more than any other: Iceland and Norway. Both are because of this book.
Dave and Jaja Martin sailed around the world for years before taking their three kids north on a restored sailboat to circumnavigate Iceland for a summer. They ended up staying for several years, visiting Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Scotland, and Norway.
They experienced a totally different way of life: winters when the sun never rose, summers when the sun never set, and stared up in awe at the Northern Lights.
Their spirit of adventure and willingness to learn about other cultures shines through in this beautifully told story. Even though we travel by road instead of boat, this is a book which inspired us to live outside the normal and grab life with both hands.
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig, recommended by Jenifer from The Evolista
A suicide attempt leaves Nora suspended between life and death in a virtual library where she can try on different versions of her existence. At the beginning of the book, she is miserable and overwhelmed by regrets with the choices she’s made. The Midnight Library is a chance for a do-over to take advantage of missed opportunities that could potentially make her happier.
Interestingly, as Nora sees what life would be like if she made different decisions, it leads to alternate realities in many locations around the world like England, Australia, touring the world as a musician and even doing research in the Arctic as a glaciologist. This book is pure escapist fun that allows you to travel the world virtually. It’s a trip in itself, but instead of just visiting different bucket list destinations and beyond, imagine what it would be like in the glamorous world of a rock star or surviving a polar bear encounter as a scientist. Expect major moments of wanderlust as you circle the globe in this entertaining read.
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt, recommended by Erin Clarkson from Savannah First-Timer’s Guide
Few books are so powerful they’re able to change the trajectory of an entire city, but that’s exactly what happened when Berendt’s non-fiction narrative, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil hit the bookshelves. It landed on the New York Times Best Seller List for a whopping 216 weeks and spurred an entire travel movement to the sleepy (at the time) little city of Savannah, Georgia.
The book focuses on the intriguing story of local philanthropist and antiques dealer, Jim Williams, who was accused of shooting his much younger employee (and lover), a male escort named Danny Hansford. Although the book is centered around true events, the characters are so eclectic – and the crime so far-fetched – that it reads more like an entertaining novel.
It does a good job of highlighting the many eccentric personalities that tend to thrive in Savannah. The Lady Chablis, a beloved local transgender performance artist, and Valerie Fennel Boles, a well-known voodoo priestess, are two such characters.
Even though Hansford’s shooting occurred in the early 1980s and the book was published back in 1994, many of the places featured in it are still available for touring. Local guides are happy to take visitors to beautiful Bonaventure Cemetery or the infamous Mercer Williams House, which was the scene of Hansford’s shooting.
Gift From The Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, recommended by Terri at Female Solo Trek
Gift From The Sea can instantly place me on a deserted Florida beach combing for seashells. Published in 1955, it is a classic. The daring female aviator (and wife of Charles Lindbergh) glides into a solitary vacation far from her husband and children. This is her time alone to find balance with “life, work, and human relationships.”
The book is a meditation on life as a wife, mother, and writer. Using the imagery of seashells, she describes her harried life as a middle-aged argonaut shell who looks forward “to the freedom of the nautilus who has left its shell for the open seas.” Even though I am past the stage of rearing children, I still find her reflections inspiring as a traveler and a writer.
Take this book to a little cottage or condo by the sea. Pull out a journal and start to doodle shells and a sentence or two. Dig your toes into the warm sand. Feel the sea breeze gently caress your tense body. And let the pounding waves wash away your pandemic concerns and worries.
Exodus by Leon Uris, recommended by Anne Betts from Packing Light Travel
As a twenty-something in the early 1970s, Exodus, and subsequent books by Leon Uris, inspired my travels. QB VII encouraged visits to several Holocaust memorials, Mila 18 provided the impetus to explore where the Warsaw Ghetto once stood, and Armageddon prompted a visit to a divided Berlin. Exodus, the book that introduced me to the historical fiction of Leon Uris, fueled an unwavering desire to travel to Israel.
These plans were thwarted by the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War in 1973. I was traveling by motorcycle at the time, so we figured a side trip to Iran would give the hostilities time to quell. In Iran, we struck an agreement to trade the motorcycle for Persian carpets, and I accepted the offer of a ride to India. This would have facilitated a return to Australia and perhaps the start of a long travel drought. Gnawing at my decision was the realization that I might never have another opportunity to travel to Israel and Canada, two countries I was yearning to visit. The proximity of Israel tipped the scales in favor of delaying a return to Australia and I headed there instead in early 1974.
Exodus motivated a life-changing decision, but I doubt it would have a similar impact today. While I appreciated descriptions of the atrocities of the Nazi era and learning about the colonization of Palestine and internment of Holocaust survivors in Cyprus, what’s missing is any objective analysis of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But, thanks to Leon Uris, I traveled to Israel and the Occupied Territories, and gained a more balanced understanding as a result.
The 44 Scotland Street Series by Alexander McCall-Smith, recommended by Eileen Gunn from Families Go!
Alexander McCall Smith wrote the first Scotland Street book as a serial for an Edinburgh newspaper. Over the course of several books with titles like “The Importance of Being 7” and “The Unbearable Lightness of Scones” the residents of the Scotland Street townhouse and their friends and neighbors have become like family to me.
The streets of New Town and Stockbridge are characters in the book at much as the people. As I read these books, I wanted to ride the 23 bus with young Bertie (everyone’s favorite character) and Irene, his pseudo-intellectual headache of a mother. I wanted to stroll in Drummond Place gardens with the portrait painter Angus and his personable dog Cyril. I wanted to peruse Matthew’s art gallery before climbing the precarious stairs down to Big Lou’s for coffee and homemade shortbread, then raise a pint with these characters and others in the Cumberland Bar.
The nice thing is, I could! Scotland street doesn’t have a number 44, but on a visit to Edinburgh I did indeed stop into the Cumberland bar, walk by Drummond Place gardens and peruse Valvona & Crolla, everyone’s favorite gourmet shop. To my amusement, I even passed Irene’s floatarium walking from New Town to Stockbridge. It’s fantastic when a novel has a strong sense of place and even better when the place lives up to your imagined version of it.
The Backpacker by John Harris, recommended by Victoria Heinz of Guide Your Travel
The Backpacker is based on the true story of the author. It is full of exciting experiences, inspiring and motivating stories, including dealing with women, drugs, and traveling without a cent in your pocket.
On a holiday in India with his fiancée, Harris was left alone when she decided she not like India at all. John, however, decided to let her fly home alone and spend the remaining two weeks of the vacation on his own. He met the a free spirit named Rick in the hostel, who persuaded him to come with him to Thailand. Once in Thailand, John and Rick separated, and John met Dave, with whom he went on a search for Rick.
When the three were united after some time, they lived with three Thai women in a hut in the mountains of the island Koh Phangan. Eventually, the three had to flee and were separated. And the adventure begins again.
The Hand of Fatima by Ildefonso Falcones, recommended by Mal from Raw Mal Roams
The Hand of Fatima book will take you on a wonderful journey through scenic landscapes of Spain's Andalusia from Sierra Nevada mountains to the magnificent cities of Córdoba, and Granada, including the masterpiece Moorish palace of the Alhambra.
The book is a 16th-century love story between a young boy – Hernando, and a beautiful girl – Fatima. Hernando is a clever young man, but because he was born out of sin between a Christian priest and a Muslim woman, he is not accepted by his own community. His stepfather detests him and will do anything to prevent him from being happy – including taking Fatima as his own second wife. Can this turbulent love story have a happy ending?
Apart from enjoying the story and scenery described by Falcones, you can also learn a lot about the 16th-century history of Spain when Moors and Christians lived side by side in Andalusia.
Beyond Possible by Nimsdai Purja, recommended by Joydeep Phukan from The Gypsy Chiring
Beyond Possible: One Soldier, Fourteen Peaks — My Life in the Death Zone is the autobiography of Nirmal Purja, a Nepal born Gurkha soldier who served in the UK Special forces and eventually left the job to climb all the above peaks in the world higher than 8000 meters. Purja achieved the feat within 6 months and 6 days beating the previous record of eight years. He named his successful attempt of climbing the fourteen peaks within 7 months as “Project Possible”.
In his book, he also writes about his life prior to Project Possible. He narrates his childhood experiences with nature, his dreams and the positive mindset that helped him overcome every obstacle he has faced in the mountains and in life.
His story of the struggle, the dream, and the triumph is daunting, thrilling and inspiring at the same time. The book reflects how grit, determination, learning the right skills, self-belief and 100 percent effort can accomplish the impossible.
The book has inspired me to travel to the mountains of Nepal. Currently, I am focusing on the treks in India as preparation for mountaineering.
Leave Only Footprints by Conor Knighton, recommended by Christina from Live A Wilder Life
When researching our travels to United States National Parks, I came upon this charming memoir by Conor Knighton. Fresh from a breakup with his fiance, Knighton decides to travel to every National Park in the United States. What sets his book apart from the many travelers who have made the same journey is Knighton brings his journalist background and keen sense of observation to pull out the unique stories of each park while deftly layering in his own personal and often funny musings.
The book is fresh, relatable, and intimate. I’d recommend this book for anyone who wants to explore the National Parks beyond a standard guidebook.
Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer, recommended by Agnes from The Van Escape
If you have ever dreamed of traveling to distant and wild Alaska, after reading this book your dreams will become actions. You will turn your dream into a plan because thoughts of Alaska and Chris McCandless, the hero of the book, will return to you so persistently.
In Into the Wild we witness the drama of a young man who said “enough” to civilization and embraced nature in the deep Alaskan forest. He defied the world of his parents and society and the stereotypical need to pursue a career or raise a family. It is a story about youthful rebellion, idealism, and the search for absolute freedom. Chris had the strength and energy to pursue his dream – a journey to the Alaska wilderness.
Unfortunately, the clash with the power of nature is brutal. A young urbanite with no experience living in such extreme conditions in Alaska outside of civilization ultimatedly did not stand a chance.
The book goes deep into the heart. It teaches humility. Chris' story and the descriptions of Alaska's landscapes and nature are so memorable that you open the map and start planning your trip.
Angels and Demons by Dan Brown, recommended by Jiayi from The Diary of a Nomad
Angels and Demons is a murder mystery that inspired me to discover more of Rome. Even though the book is not primarily about travel, many plot points revolve around specific places in Rome.
In the book, we follow a nuclear physicist and a symbologist as they work together to solve a murder and to prevent impending attacks on the Vatican.
I read Angels and Demons right before I visited Rome for the first time, and it was the perfect book to bring with me as I went sightseeing around town. Many of Rome’s main attractions, such as the Pantheon, the Vatican, Castel Sant’Angelo, and Piazza Navona are featured in the book, and I even re-read those chapters in the exact spots they took place.
If you’re a fan of Italy, then pick up a copy of this thriller. Or better yet, bring it with you to Rome so that you can immerse yourself completely in the story.
The novel tells the story of a Roman water engineer, Marcus Attilius Primus, who is posted to Naples to look after the aqueduct that supplies Pompeii and other towns. The water supply has begun to fail, and there are other strange water-related mishaps, including the poisoning of a wealthy man’s prized fish. Finally, the water supply dries up completely and Attilus searches for the reason. As the novel goes on, it becomes clear that something is very wrong with the mountain…
Pompeii is a great read – exciting, absorbing and fast-paced. There’s a love story too, framed by the oncoming doom.
Pompeii is a well-researched story, with lots of historically accurate observations about everyday Roman life at every level of society. You feel like you’re reading about a real town, and when you walk the streets of the archaeological site after reading the novel, you’ll recognize lots of details from Harris’s descriptions.
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