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With a book in hand, travel becomes a two-fold adventure.

NOT ONLY ARE YOU personally experiencing a new culture – you are simultaneously seeing it through the eyes of another, during a different period in time.

Reading is a great form of entertainment and inspiration. However, for aspiring travel writers, it also serves as a necessary tool to learning the craft of writing. Books become your teachers, and who better to learn from than the legends of literature?

Who better to guide you through the streets of Paris and teach you how to make your words sing than Hemingway? What better way to learn how to recreate the details of a train ride than Paul Theroux?

Though your aching back may come to despise you for loading your rucksack with travelogues, your mind will thank you. Here is a list of 50 recommended books to choose from for your next travel adventure.

1. Death in the Afternoon by Ernest Hemingway

A necessary piece for those traveling through Spain, most especially for those planning on watching a bullfight. It’s an enviable work of journalistic skill that studies the art of bullfighting and its meaning within Spanish culture.

2. The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux

Paul Theroux’s “Great Railway Bazaar” captures the spontaneous pleasures of travel. Rich in observation and detail, this book is best read during solitary moments on a train. The route takes place from London’s Victoria Station to Asia and finally through the Trans-Siberian express. Capturing the idiosyncracies of train travel, the circumstances Theroux finds himself in, as well as the characters he encounters are a comical portrayal of life on the road.

3. Finding George Orwell in Burma by Emma Larkin

One of the most in-depths books on Burma to date. The book is simultaneously a political analysis on Burma, a literary study of George Orwell’s work, and an intoxicating travelogue.

4. When We Were Orphans by Kazou Ishiguro

This mystery novel will take you to the depths of Shanghai in the 1900′s and London in the 1930′s, as esteemed detective Christopher Banks searches for his parents, who had disappeared when he was a child. It is a startling look at loss, ambition, and the power of memory.

5. Four Corners: Into the Heart of New Guinea-One Woman’s Solo Journey by Kira Salak

An inspiring read for women travelers, as Kira Salak proves that gender is not a barrier for a life of risk and adventure. It is both a story of survival and a personal reflection on a life lived without borders.

6. On the Road by Jack Kerouac

Often touted as the launching pad for vagabonders, wherein the purpose of life is to simply “live.” It’s an iconic book that has fueled the imagination of several generations of readers. A piece of pure voltage as the characters traipse their way through America in search of enlightenment. A bible for those “on the road” in search of meaning and adventure.

7. Into the Wild by John Krakauer

John Krakauer’s study of Chris McCandles short life will shake you to the core. It’s a story of a young man who decides to give up all his worldly possessions and head towards the Alaskan wilderness. Aptly changing his name to “Alexander Supertramp,” McCandles’ unwavering dedication to the journey is both awe-inspiring and ultimately heartbreaking.

8. Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress: A Novel by Dai Sijie

Written like a fable or a tale, this book is a comical, yet touching account of life during the Cultural Revolution in China. Light in its delivery but profound in meaning, it serves as a reminder regarding the importance of intellectual freedom.

9. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

Although this book is often looked down upon by the “literarati,” it is an exciting read, especially for those planning on making a trip to the Louvre museum in Paris. Not only interesting for conspiracy fans but also a passion to read for art lovers. It is guaranteed that you will see art in a different light.

10. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

At midnight, on August 15, 1957, one thousand and one children are born possessing supernatural powers. With them, like the country, the burden of freedom weighs heavily. Not only is it a stunning work of magical realism, it’s a historical view of the hopes, dreams, and passions of post-colonial India.

11. America Is in the Heart by Carlos Bulosan

Written by Carlos Bulosan, the first Filipino to be published in the United States of America, it is the story of his migrant experiences in the so-called ‘land of plenty’ in the 1930′s. The book is about his journey through the American landscape and discusses life as an exile, dislocation, racism, and poverty.

12. Balkan Ghosts: A Journey Through History by Robert D. Kaplan

Kaplan’s ‘Balkan Ghosts: A Journey through History’ is not only a travelogue, but a political analysis of the past and present struggles within the region. He not only provides an interesting account of the Balkan peoples, but also gives insight to the roots and effects of hatred and terrorism.

13. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

The story revolves around the character of Christopher Marlow and his journey through the Congo. An important and timeless piece, especially for post-colonial studies, it poses questions on the concept of ‘civilization,’ the inner-struggle between good and evil, and colonialism.

14. Video Night in Kathmandu: And Other Reports from the Not-So-Far East by Pico Iyer

‘Video Night in Kathmandu’ is a collection of essays set in Asia from Pico Iyer, one of the most prolific of contemporary travel writers, which aims to dissect the the cross-cultural relationships between East and the West.

15. The Castle by Franz Kafka

A great piece for any traveler that has felt completely lost and alienated in a strange new city. It is an eerie novel of disambiguation as the character by the name of ‘K’ arrives as a land surveyor in an unamed village and seeks to gain entry into the castle but his path is blocked by mysterious authority figures and indifferent locals.

16. Life of Pi by Yann Martel

The character of “Pi” (Piscine Molitor Patel), a young boy from Pondicherry whose father is a zookeeper, is shipwrecked in the Pacific Ocean for 227 days. With him in the life raft are various animals, the most intriguing of which is the Bengal tiger who becomes Pi’s only friend, as well as enemy. A shocking and absorbing story that examines religion, spirituality, and the psychological effects of traumatic experiences.

17. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

A great book for those planning on traveling through the former Czechoslovakia, or even those simply seeking artistic and philosophical insight. A novel about love, desire, and the struggle between logic and emotions; it follows the lives of artists during the invasion of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact Allies in the country.

18. The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James

An absorbing masterpiece by Henry James that emphasizes the differences between America and Europe. It is the confrontation of the New World versus the Old World, where the character of the American Isabel Archer travels to Europe to find her destiny. The novel is about the search and loss of freedom and a grand overview of an American in Europe during the Victorian era.

19. The Dark Room by Rachel Seiffert

“The Dark Room” is a profound novel that recounts the events of 20th century Germany through the lives and struggles of three characters all connected by their love-hate relationship with the city of Berlin.

20. The Tale of Murasaki: A Novel by Liza Dalby

Written in the form of a diary, the book is a display of Dalby’s skill for imagination and recreating Japanese literary history. It captures the essence of Murasaki Shikibu, who wrote “The Tale of Genji” and is full of philosophical and cultural insight.

21. The Call of the Wild by Jack London

A great adventure story told through the eyes of Buck, a domesticated dog who returns to his primal nature in order to survive the harsh landscape of the Yukon. Though expressed through experiences of an animal, it is a timeless tale of tapping into the savage instincts that lay buried within all of us.

22. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thomson

A cult novel that is an account of Thomson’s drug-infused, paranoia ridden journey to Las Vegas in order to fulfill an assignment for Rolling Stone Magazine. Not only is “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” wildly entertaining as a novel, a travelogue, and a biography, but is an important study on the idea of the “American Dream.”

23. A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway’s “A Moveable Feast” is his memories, observations and experiences of living in Paris during the 1920′s as part of the “Lost Generation” of America writers and artists. It is an essential piece for those who dream of living abroad or are in the midst of piecing toghether their expatriate lives.

24. Lord of the Flies by William S. Golding

“The Lord of the Flies” tells the story of a group of British schoolboys marooned in an island and have to learn to fend for themselves. In their efforts, they create their own democracy which goes awry as violence and chaos ensues. Set in the midst of World War II, it is an allegorical tale of a society without authority and the loss of innocence.

25. Dubliners by James Joyce

“Dubliners” is Joyce’s portrayal of Ireland’s middle-class in the 20th century told through a collection of 15 stories. Written during the wake of the Irish nationalist movement, the pieces reflect the people’s search for identity and the struggles of everyday life.

26. The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling

Though mostly popular due to the Disney cartoon classic, the book is a collection of stories set in India. The book is not only interesting for children, but for adults as well, as it details the different customs and traditions in India, as well as a criticism of British colonial powers.

27. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupéry

An inspiring novella for those searching for a sense of meaning and purpose. Though largely viewed as a children’s book, “The Little Prince” is about an aviator who lands in the Sahara desert and comes to meet an alien in the form of a boy who teaches him the value of seeing the world through the eyes of an innocent.

28. Maximum City Maximum City by Suketu Mehta

“Maximum City” is Mehta’s account of returning to the India he had left behind as a child when his family migrated to New York. The author paints a picture of modern Bombay and the complexities of living between two opposing cultures.

29. In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin

One of the most creative and entertaining travelogues to date, “In Patagonia” is Chatwin’s account of trying to reconstruct the legendary adventures of his grandmother’s uncle through South America. This book, in its literary depths, historical accounts, and adventurous undertakings, set the standard for travel writing.

30. Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes

For anyone who has aspired to start afresh and ‘build a new home,’ so to speak , “Under the Tuscan Sun” is a rich and deeply moving account of her efforts to restore a villa in Italy. It is a memoir that reminds us of the sensual pleasures of food, life, and the importance of making a leap of faith.

31. Seven Years in Tibet by Heinrich Harrer

A breathtaking true story of Austrian adventurer Heinrich Harrer and Peter Aufschnaiter escape to Tibet after being imprisoned in India by the British during World War II. An insightful novel that gives an insiders account of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan way of life, that is rarely seen by outsiders.

32. Going Solo by Roald Dahl

“Going Solo” is Roald Dahl’s biography and is an account of his life as a pilot in North Africa during World War II. Not unlike his captivating children’s books, this book is rife with exciting adventures, interesting encounters, and laugh-out-loud humor.

33. I Dreamed of Africa by Kuki Gallman

Kuki Gallman’s memoir of her life in Africa is simultaneously inspiring and heart-wrenching. In the wake of a tragedy that occured in her homeland in Italy, Kuki moves to Africa with her family and lover and is about overcoming and embracing the challenges of living in a world so different than her own.

34. The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific by J. Maarten Troost

“The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific” is J. Maarten Troost’s hilarous yet discerning account of living in Tarawa for two-years. The novel touches on the romantic image of “Paradise” we often attach to island living and the sad realities that need to be acknowledged.

35. Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Marie Rilke

“Letters to a Young Poet” is a collection of letters between Rainer Marie Rilke to an aspiring young poet by the name of Franz Xaver Kappus. Not only is it inspiring to read while on the road, but also a necessary piece for those of us searching and striving to live an authentic life.

36. The Living City by Frank Lloyd Wright

For architecture buffs or those that enjoy reveling in a bustling metropolis, Frank Lloyd Wright’s vision of a Utopian city is an enthralling look into his views on society, urbanization, and freedom.

37. Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon

This masterpiece by Thomas Pynchon raises the bar for what any would-be-author would aspire to create. A postmodern epic set during the end of the 2nd World War where its protagonist, Tyrone Slothrope search for German V-2 rockets is linked with the pattern (specifically, constellation) he created to keep track of the women he has slept with. Although a difficult read, its complexity, subplots, and confusion are allegories to the challenges of the modern world.

38. The Beach by Alex Garland

After the movie of the same title came out, hoards of adventurous backpackers made their way to Thailand in search of snake blood and hidden maps. However, the book is more exciting than the film version as it highlights the travelers quest for the unknown, yet also reveals the pitfalls of exploitation travel.

39. The Size of the World: Once Around Without Leaving the Ground by Jeff Greenwald

“The Size of the World” by Jeff Greenwald is an inspiring book for travelers searching for creative ways to explore the world. It begins with Greenwald’s goal to travel the globe without leaving the ground, and before he begins his journey he posts a query in the personals section of a newspaper to find a female travel companion. Thus, the story is not only an adventurous chronicle of the 9-months spent traveling by buses, trains and boats, but also a hilarious account of the women who respond to his ad.

40. Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles

A dramatic piece of literature set in Morocco, where the desert becomes an untamed character in itself. Set in the 20th Century, the characters of Kit and Port Moresby are a married couple from New York who travel to North Africa in the hopes of re-igniting the passion in their marriage, however they must learn to battle the elements, circumstances, and sense of dislocation brought on by the “sheltering sky.”

41. Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne

“Around the World in 80 Days” by Jules Verne set the stage for the future of adventure seekers everywhere. A classic novel that begins with Londoner Phileas Fogg, who makes a £20,000 bet with his friends that he can circle the globe in 80 days with his French valet Passerpout.

42. The Road to Oxiana by Robert Byron

Written in the form of a diary, Byron’s “Road to Oxiana” is a moving account of his travels through Persia and Afghanistan. Each page never fails to entertain, as Robert Byron’s skill in painting an image of his personal experiences, opinions and encounters to the reader.

43. Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck

“Travels with Charley” is Steinbeck’s account of his journey through America during the 1960′s with his best friend, Charley the dog. His prowess as a writer is unchallenged, as he weaves together his observations of modern America and highlights the value of surrendering oneself to the journey.

44. The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain

Published in 1869, it is Twain’s travel story through Europe and the Holy Land via a pleasure cruise. A pleasure to read, not only for Mark Twain’s clever observations, but also because it highlights the relationship between the Americans and Europeans during the 19th century and how each viewed their place in the world.

45. The Book Bag by W. Somerset Maugham

An intriguing and entertaining collection of short stories by W. Somerset Maugham that include pieces set in Asia, Europe and the Americas. The tales will shock, captivate and amuse the reader as Maugham pulls the “skeletons out of the closet” of his seemingly conservative, ‘civilized’ characters.

46. The Summing Up by W. Somerset Maugham

“The Summing Up” by W. Somerset Maugham is a must-read for any aspiring writer. Maugham emphasizes that the book is not his autobiography but are his reflections on the the craft of writing and the importance of travel, literature and philosophy.

47. The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham

A novel that teaches the lessons of love as the character of Kitty, a shallow and confused socialite marries the passionate bacteriologist Walter Fane who she later cheats on with the Charles Townsend. When Walter Fane discovers her infidelity he takes her on assignment with him to China. Not only is the book about discovering the meaning of love, forgiveness and compassion, but also paints a vivid picture of China during the 20th century

48. Collected Poems 1947-1997 by Allen Ginsberg

What better way to walk the uncommon path than through the works of Beat poet, Allen Ginsberg. The voice he creates through his poems calls out for spiritual liberation and passionate causes.

49. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

An exciting read, especially for those planning on traveling by train; Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express” will have you on the edge of your seat as esteemed detective, Hercule Poirot tries to solve the case.

50. Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman

Whitman’s collection of poems in “Leaves of Grass” creates an image of America, the horror of war, and the nature of man through his raw and sensual verses.

What books would you add to the list? Leave your picks in the comments!

It all began with a volcanic eruption. Caught in a storm of ashen rain and almost walking into the ocean, Michaela Lola realized at the tender age of eight that life was meant to be an adventure. Her escapades include riding the midnight train to Marrakesh, partying with the katoys in Thailand and sampling insects in China.

WritingBook Reviews


About The Author

Michaela Lola

Michaela Lola realized at the tender age of eight that life was meant to be an adventure. Her escapades include riding the midnight train to Marrakesh, partying with the katoys in Thailand and sampling insects in China. Visit her website here.

  • Daniel Harbecke

    Brilliant list! But I would add… =) Just kidding. It’s perfect!

    Tell me you read all these, and I’ll build a temple to worship you. No, make it a library.

  • Conrad

    Great list, and many of them I already read. Still, and I know the list can be endless, I certainly would like to add “The asiatics” by Frederick Prokosch.

    I’ve reas it over and over. And I am not the only one who liked it, as it says in the NY Times Books of the times:

    WHEN ”The Asiatics,” Frederick Prokosch’s first novel, was first published in 1935, Thomas Mann described it as ”a book which has stimulated, haunted and enthralled me.” Andre Gide called it ”an astonishing feat of the imagination” and went on to praise it as ”poetic in its sensuality, witty in its melodrama, urbane in its misanthropy, incandescent in its imagery.” Albert Camus said, ”Prokosch has invented what might be called the geographical novel, in which he mingles sensuality with irony, lucidity with mystery.”

  • Karen Bryan

    It’s an awesome list and I’ve stumbled it.

  • dougdo

    Great list! Looks like I’ve got a lot of reading to consider! I’ve read about 10 of these already, 40 to go!

  • Theresa

    Interesting take on “travel” books. “Travels with Charley” is one of my favorite reads. My husband and I are heading out on a year-long RTW trip this summer, and I’m trying to read a book from or about each of the countries we plan to hit. I see a few titles on your list that I may have to check out to help me with this goal.

  • Emily Hansen

    LOVE the list….but can I please add:

    “Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert. For anyone who’s been through a really crappy divorce (and lived better than their ex-husband ever will afterwards)…and for anyone else who would love to eat pasta in Italy. Even though this is technically geared towards the female crowd, I have caught guys reading it and loving it. READ IT NOW. You’ll feel like you’re voyaging with your best friend.

    And…”(Night?)Train to Turkestan”, but some author I forget. It will make anyone want to follow Ian Fleming’s original Silk Road route.

  • Julie

    Great list. From my own list, I’d add:

    New York-related: Here is New York, by E.B. White (yes, the author of the children’s novel, Charlotte’s Web). It’s a short book written in the middle of the 20th century, and it’s every bit as relevant and accurate today as it was when it was written.

    Cuba-related: Havana: Autobiography of a City, by Alfredo Jose Estrada. While I’m still questioning the idea of a person writing a city’s “autobiography,” this book is a genre-crosser that I really enjoyed, especialy the beginning.

    City-related: The Death and Life of Great Cities: by Jane Jacobs. This isn’t a travel book per se, but it’s about how we see and live in places, which is what travel’s all about for me.

  • Tim Patterson

    Log From the Sea of Cortez by John Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts is, in my humble opinion, the best travel book ever written. I’m in Patagonia now, and very much enjoying Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle, which has chapters on Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego, in addition to the famous encounter with finches in the Galapagos.

  • ryan

    Great list. One miss: A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

  • Mike Pugh

    Nice list! I appreciate your inclusion of books that people normally don’t file under travel (i.e. Leaves of Grass, Unbearable Lightness of Being).

    But yeah, you missed Bill Bryson. He’s done more for the genre than just about anyone.

    For sheer readability, my favorite is A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle.

    I also tore through Dark Star Safari – Overland from Cairo to Cape Town by Theroux.

    Catfish and Mandala: A Two-Wheeled Voyage Through the Landscape and Memory of Vietnam by Andrew X. Pham is sensational.

    As is Somebody’s Heart is Burning by Tanya Shaffer.

    No Mercy: A Journey to the Heart of the Congo by Redmond O’Hanlon was an undertaking but hugely rewarding.

    All of Peter Moore’s books are brisk, hilarious reads (the Australian Peter Moore, not the Englishman).

    Susan Orleans’ My Kind of Place was also surprising, fun, light, quirky, and clever.

  • EvolutionKills

    Great list! I’d have to say that Wind, Sand, and Stars by Antoine de St Exupery outdoes The Little Prince as far as being an amazing travel book. Both are fantastic, of course…

  • pam

    Things I can not believe are not on this list:
    1. Alice in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass. Best travel story ever. Bad journeys, crazy characters, arrested abroad for a peculiar crime, weird stories from locals,it goes on and on.
    2. Blue Highways: William Least-Heat Moon. Great road trip in America.

  • Tim Patterson

    Good call mentioning Catfish and Mandala, Mike!

  • Merrill

    Good list, I like the mix between recent books and classics.If I had a book to add, it would be The Long Walk by Slavomir Rawicz.
    Also, the name of the valet in Jules Verne’s book is Passepartout.

  • Kango Suz

    Oh My… and I thought my bookit list was already full! Now I’ve got at least 40 more books to add. Thanks for the great reads!
    - Kango Suz

  • Amy

    What a list of books – gotta do a run to the second hand book shop tomorrow to find them.

    I recently just read Last Seen in Lhasa, that really really inspired me to go visit Tibet! (Trip in planning)

  • beth hawkins

    I would include the works of James Michener. I read Alaska and Journey on our drive from Southern California to Alaska in 1999. They really broadened my view of this last frontier state.

  • Captain Oddsocks

    Great list and it’s nice to see three writers out of the fifty from the Czech lands (Rilke, Kafka and Kundera).

    I’d have to echo Mike Pugh who mentioned Dark Star Safari; it’s easily my favourite of the Theroux books I’ve read. The only glaring omission for me is Danziger’s Travels, by Nick Danziger. Perhaps it’s just because it’s the first real travel novel I read and have kept returning to it ever since? Did you consider it for the list at least?

  • duluoz

    That list is really great. I’m french and I think that’s there is a french writer who deserves to be in that list : Nicolas Bouvier. He traveled around the world between 1950 and 1990 and wrote some great traveling books such as “L’usage du monde” and “Le poisson-scorpion”. Plus many more. I’m sure he’s been translated in English. You’re gonna enjoy it.

  • El Tigre

    Great List. I’d add Twain’s ‘Following the Equator’.

  • Critter

    Here are my books not on the list:

    Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca: Naufragios (Called Adventures in the Interior of America or something like that in English). Cabeza de Vaca was part of a Spanish expedition to Florida around 1540 or so, an expedition of 300 conquistadores looking for gold. The whole thing was a fiasco, and everyone died, except for four guys including Cabeza de Vaca who walked back to Mexico. Took him eight years to make it back. He wrote his story later.

    Tales of the Alhambra by Washington Irving. One of the most important travel books in history.

  • N. Chrystine Olson

    Great list… a few additions:
    Blue Lattitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before by Tony Horowitz

    The Journals of Lewis and Clark, and drawing from there…

    Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose

  • Young Traveller

    Great list! I will definitely be reading some of these over the summer!

    I second Eat, Pray, Love especially for the females! It is inspiring and exciting and a must read for all!

    Also Driving Over Lemons by Chris Stewart is an intriguing and hilarious travel account about a man moving to rural Spain, buying and fixing up a house (if you can call it one), and adapting to this new lifestyle. “This funny book is required for anyone who has ever dreamed of taking up the pastoral life in a foreign country”–Travel & Leisure

    Playing for Pizza by John Grisham! This is very unlike his other novels but is a must read for all football fans and males. This story about a not-so-popular NFL third string quarterback going to Italy to play American football is intriguing and eventful. Includes all the great food, football, and hot women a guy could want!

  • Daniel Harbecke

    I really don’t have a quote, but I’m trying to clear off that comment from the Thread That Will Not Die (you know what I’m talking about) from the list on the right there. Oh, okay – here’s a quote:
    “The Fates lead Him who will;
    “Him who won’t, they drag.” – Seneca.

  • Tom Lobsiger

    The Drifters – James Michener and I would say most of Michener’s work would be worthy as well

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  • Hannü

    As a traveller and a writer who’s written a travelogue, I think travelogues should be written by first and foremost travellers and not writers. Some travel books however appear to have been written almost entirely in hotel rooms and not out there, on the road.

    Secondly I think travellers should be open to and respectful of foreign cultures if not also somewhat informed. Travel writers who like to make fun of the locals or vandalise don’t deserve the name travellers. (William Dalrymple is one who isn’t worthy of the name traveller but you’ll have to get hold of the first and unabridged edition to see his deeds.)

  • Hannü

    Dialogues Tibetan Dialogues Han by Hannü is a travelogue from Tibet as well as a book of conversations with dozens of Tibetans from all walks of life in Tibet on a wide range of subjects – the Dalai Lama, polyandry, sky & water burials, the Muslims, the Han, Tibetan mastiffs, aweto, languages, thangka, Buddhism, independence and more. The most democratic and down-to-earth book from Tibet in decades.

  • benz

    I think you have to have Bruce Chatwin's the Songlines, among others. And William Vollman? And personally, I daresay Lord of the Rings.

  • Jennifer L Price

    This is a great list that I've visited several times and linked to in some of my articles and blog postings (… It's so hard to narrow it down to 50!

    I did want to make one small correction…#19. The Dark Room is not about the relationship of three characters with Berlin, but about the effect of World War II on three German citizens–not heroes or victims. I would highly recommend it as a somewhat introspective look at the other side of War. Here's a book review about it I just posted:

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  • Linda

    Fantastic list, I agree with the ones you've chosen that I've read and look forward to reading some of the others.

    My pick is "Playing tennis with the Moldovans" by Tony Hawks -so so funny.

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  • Hannü

    I'm travelling to Tibet again soon and have put Voyage d'une Parisienne a Lhassa – a copy bought in Paris – in my backpack.

    Dialogues Tibetan Dialogues Han
    - my travelogue from Tibet

  • Sha2

    I would like to add Long way down and long way round by ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman…

  • Karma

    THANK YOU VERY MUCH FOR SHARING YOUR IDEAS, MS.MICHAELA! i am basically a wannabe screenwriter working on an travel adventure( train travel to be precise..and hey keep it as a secret:)) and this article is very enlightening..thanks again

  • Jerad Kaliher

    Those recommendations have been giving me new perspective on life. Thank you!

  • Michaela Lola

    Thanks for all your great feedback and suggestions! This morning I just got the go ahead from a publisher to write a book about…books. I'm inspired by everyones comments and I really do believe that books, like travel, can enhance how we view the world. As Salman Rushdie said:

    "Literature is where I go to explore the highest and lowest places in human society and in the human spirit, where I hope to find not absolute truth but the truth of the tale, of the imagination and of the heart."

    Kind of sounds like travel too, doesn't it?

    Therefore, once again, thank you for all your comments (and keep 'em coming!). I've learned so much from the critiques and insights on the board (as well as stumbled upon so many great blogs). They definitely serve as inspiration to keep reading and writing!

  • moni

    There is a great book called "Seven Days in Lomaland" By Esther Sietmann Warner. Esther loved Africa and wrote a few novels. I have not read the others but Seven Days is Fabulous. I find it amazing that she was a woman traveling to Africa by herself in the 1950. Not many people know of her but she is just an amazing story teller. I suggest you check this book out.

  • Fiets don't fail me

    A few of my favorites:
    A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush, Eric Newby (some hilarious moments)
    An Unexpected Light: Travels in Afghanistan, Jason Elliot (won Booker prize)
    Any of Alexandria David-Neel's books: she traveled in Tibet a century ago; fascinating life story…

  • Heff

    Why isn't "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" by Douglas Adams on the list? It's absolutely perfect.

  • Craig

    I second the nomination for William Least Heat Moon’s Blue Highways. It’s about travel both physical and emotional.

  • Maru

    Its an excellent list, ive read quite a bunch of this books and i havent found any of them to be just ok reads…Obviously as a Latina i would add a few of my writers that are also great for travel in time and space!

  • Jeff

    What about “You Shall Know Our Velocity” by Dave Eggers…?

  • Scott

    Good list. I would include these:

    The Alchemist- Paulo Coelho
    Of Human Bondage- Somerset Maughan
    The Sun Also Rises- Hemingway

  • shakester

    Thanks, great list to refer to and splurge on.

    Falling Off the Map from Pico Iyer is an absolutely charming collectin of ‘Lonely places in the world’ ;
    and I just finished In Xanadu, which was a wonderful read, transported me, made me curious, and really really made me want to up and away

  • Mike Boddy

    I would like to add Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance as #51. That book was extremely inspirational to me.

  • Ryan

    I’m not sure I’m part of the “literarati”—perhaps the literati?—but reading Dan Brown is less productive (and infinitely less enjoyable) than sleeping. I do hope, at least, that the numbering of the list is not meant to be a ranking.

    Anyone looking for good “travel” literature should also consider:

    Tom Bissell’s “Chasing the Sea”
    Ondaatje’s “Running in the Family”
    Ted Conover’s “Coyotes”
    Sebald’s “The Rings of Saturn”
    Eggers’ “You Shall Know Our Velocity”
    Spalding Gray’s “Swimming to Cambodia”

    And pretty much anything by:

    Jan Morris
    Tony Horwitz
    John McPhee
    George Orwell
    Joan Didion

    Sorry, but any time I see anyone put Dan Brown on a list other than “Worst Living Writers,” I fly into a rage.

  • Katarzyna Radzka

    Fantastic list of books, I’ll be sure to check some of them out for inspiration.
    Another great author is the late Ryszard Kapuscinski, a Polish travel writer who was made ‘journalist of the century’ there. I’ve just finished reading ‘The Shadow of the Sun’ and ‘Travels with Herodotus’.

  • Tabatha

    I completely agree with Shakester that Xanadu is a great travel story.
    ‘Shantaram’ by Gregory David Roberts
    A fascinating tale told poetically by an Australian criminal come good and then gone bad again. A kind realist’s view of India.

    ‘Holy Cow’ by Sarah McDonald
    One Australian woman’s spiritual journey through India. Laugh out loud funny and yet reverent.

    (Hmm, looks like I’ve got a thing for Aussies in India. . .)

  • Will

    Okay, there’s one more to add:

    If you into these conspiracy stuff, forget Dan Brown!!! Get yourself a copy of

    ‘Illuminatus! Trilogy’ by Robert Shae and Robert Anton Wilson.

    But make sure you get past page 100, because first it’s just confusing and strange. Anyway, the more you read, the better it becomes!


  • Pamela


    They are making Shantaram into a film!

    Johnny Depp. Let’s cross our fingers.

  • Ryan

    “Life if Pi” was great fun to read. Also,I had a bit of luck last weekend when I FINALLY found a used copy of “On the Road.” I am so used to hearing the response from bookstore owners “yeah, we got a copy of that one in last Friday and it was gone by Sunday” or something along those lines.

    Orn’s Bookshop in Chiang Rai, Thailand is AWESOME! Huge selection (several languages)–great prices–friendly owner–buy/sell/trade. I know I saw a few of these books on the shelves. I picked up “On the Road” and “Walden” this last visit and will be going back soon. Check it out!

  • Tabatha Smith

    Ooo, thanks for the heads up! I hope it’s good. If there’s any actor I’d have faith in pulling it off, Johnny Depp’s it.

  • Rose

    YES! The Life of Pi is my all-time favourite read! And thanks to Merrill for mentioning The Long Walk by Slavomir Rawicz. What an incredible survival story. So many books, there will never be a list long enough to cover everyone’s idea of the “top” travel reads. I like how there is such a great mix on this list of classics and contemporaries though. I have to admit I haven’t read many of the classics! And if we aren’t restricting the list to “actual travel” I have to say the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency series is another favourite of mine.

  • Tabatha Smith

    I love the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series! I read them all in about a week I enjoyed them so much.
    I’ve got this posting sending me email updates on the comments and everyone keeps posting such good books, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to get through them all! However, I revel in the challenge to do so. Thanks Matadorians!

  • Steven B.

    Look up Richard Halliburton. He was a 20th century explorer who followed the paths of the odyssey and of different explorers in south america. His books are great and very easy reads.

  • Jana

    I will recommend Cry, The Beloved Country: Alan Patton

    Dignity and beauty, Cry, details the search to reconcile new and old ways in the rapidly changing social climate of Sth Africa post apartheid. Written from the perspective of an elderly villiage priest, so unusually humble and kind; this novel is deeply textured and utterly compelling

  • Liz

    For those interested in volunteering internationally Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder is amazing. It’s about Paul Farmer, who has started nonprofit hospitals and worked out drug treatment plans for HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis patients in developing countries.
    Also, I’m so glad Letters to a Young Poet is on the list. That book may have changed my life.
    Happy reading!

  • Rose

    I haven’t looked back to see if it’s already mentioned, but I also want to recommend “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” which has a lot to do with travel- it’s all about the characters you meet along the way. I think it might be 1st equal with Life of Pi for my favourite books.

  • Alan

    You left out “The Marsh Arabs” by William Thesiger

  • Kanye

    Yo Michaela Lola, I’m really happy for you, and Ima let you finish, but “The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy” is the best travel book of all time, OF ALL TIME!

  • DD

    Awesome list of books I have read and cherished and others I look forward to reading . . . a few of my personal favorites:

    Hearing Birds Fly by Louisa Waugh
    An African in Greenland by Tete-Michel Kpomassie
    Songlines by Bruce Chatwin
    White Masai by Corinne Hoffman

  • Greg

    Interesting list, though why stop at 50, of course.

    I think the Mother of all travel books is Homer’s Odyssey.

    Stendhal, Goethe, D.H Lawrence, and many other great 18th ,19th, 20th century writers wrote superb travel books which were at once literary and perceptive, though not all well known in the U.S.

    And then there is the whole notion that travel writing is as much imaginative as it is literal, with great poets able to transport themselves into different periods though their access to classical literature and culture.

    There is always a tendency to favor works which are closer to our time, and which to my mind will not stand the test of time: e.g. “Under the Tuscan Sun.”

    Thank you making the list as a point of departure.

    We had some travel writers provide a list of their favorite books as part of an ongoing project:

  • Granzama

    Im on line with some of your book list, but what happens with Davinchi Code? Terrible history, non historic based, totally fictioned. How about Rebecca West´s Black Lamb, Grey Falcon? or Darymple´s “From the Saint Mountain”. You must not forget Javier Reverte´s “The Lost paths of Africa”.
    Sorry but i think you must read more (and not only in English).

  • William Wallace

    I can think of a few good books not mentioned but there might be children, prudes or Americans reading this so wont mention them……..!

  • Daniel

    Of course Theroux’s been included! It’s a given. In every Theroux book, you’ll learn nearly as much about Theroux (or the character of Theroux, travel writer) as you do about the place. Maybe even more. Not necessarily a bad thing.

  • Gabrysia


  • Lance Goler

    The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton should be high on this list and a must read for anyone serious about travel, a beautifully executed book that impresses with its insights.

  • Jeff

    Unbelievable! Not one book was mentioned, of the many, by Gerald Durrell (eg., Birds, Beasts, and Relatives, about his time in Corfu; or his travel books in Africa and South America). Nor was his brother, Lawrence Durrell, mentioned. He wrote Sicilian Carousel, Reflections on a Marine Venus, Prospero’s Cell (also about Corfu) and novels with a travel theme.

  • John Krich

    As a travel writer, novelist and teacher of travel writing, I was very disappointed with this list. Your selector has enthusiasm but absolutely no knowledge and respect for categories of literature — how can books of collected poetry, novels, ethnographic studies, political reporting, etc., be “travel books” Travel writing is an oft-neglected art and there are many great examples…this list of 50 contains 4 or 5 of them.

  • Gregory Hubbs

    John Krich,

    I would have to disagree that “travel books” need to be narrowly defined. As I said previously, the Odyssey of Homer may be one of the great travel books in human history, and the imaginative travel which takes place in many works of literature transcends the physical requirements of travel. Charles Baudelaire wrote some very fine poems on travel to places he had never been, and countless writers of all types have touched on lack of distinction between physical and imaginative travel.

    Both my parents are professors, and they often decried the tendency of academics to consign human experience into artificial categories which can easily be deconstructed. I have never seen a definition of travel writing which is not nebulous on the fringes. Offer me a definition and I will demonstrate the holes in it, just as one can deconstruct any philosopher’s conclusions by looking at their assumptions.

    Categories are for computer science, science, or other pseudo-sciences, but I think are irrelevant when it comes to literature and art, with all due respect.

    That is not to say that I agree with the creation of “top x lists,” as they are ultimately subjective in nature and are a current journalistic trend designed to grab short attention spans on the part of readers on the Web, but they do provide one point of departure for discussion.

  • Lynne

    ..and for a thoughtful photographic journey across the continents, exploring through observations and reflections themes such as the meaning of travel, childhood, making a living, companionship and spirituality, our similarities and differences, see the colourful photographic gift book CONTEMPLATIONS OF MYRIAD WORLDS (, or Travel is not just touring sights, but a state of mind, which brings about lasting changes to one’s life long after the journey is over…

  • R.Sole

    Ted Simon’s “Jupiter’s Travels” has to be on any such list

  • Jennifer Tice

    Looks like I have a lot of reading to do, thanks for putting together this awesome list!

  • Gurpreet

    Hehehe – controversial, as these kinds of lists always are, so here’s my contribution to the debate (one that I expect & hope is NOT a controversial suggestion)….

    Surely ‘Kim’ should be here as Rudyard Kiplings contribution to this list instead of ‘The Jungle Book’?

  • Chris

    Nicholas Bouvier’s ‘Way Of The World’ needs to be on there for certain.

  • http://abdelhameed64 Abdel Hameed m.Sadiq

    I invite you to visit Syria.The land of peace,love,harmony,tolerance,and cradle of human civilizations.

  • Anna

    I nominate The Quiet American

  • Maxwell

    After reading Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts I have a strong desire to visit India and experience the culture there. I’m serious! The book is based on his real life experience running from the law which lead him to hide out in India. There he learns many languages, gets involved in the underworld…the book is riviting from start to finish. I read the almost 1000 page book in about 4 or 5 days. I simply couldn’t put it down. BTW, the majority of the comments on Amazon by other readers are in the 5 star range.

    This editorial I found on it’s Amazon page is spot on:
    “Shantaram has provided me with the richest reading experience to date and I don’t expect anybody to unseat its all-round performance for a long time. It is seductive, powerful, complex, and blessed with a perfect voice. Like a voodoo ghost snatcher, Gregory David Roberts has captured the spirits of the likes of Henri Charrière, Rohinton Mistry, Tom Wolfe, and Mario Vargas Llosa, fused them with his own unique magic, and built the most gripping monument in print. The land of the god Ganesh has unchained the elephant, and with the monster running amok, I tremble for the brave soul dreaming of writing a novel about India. Gregory David Roberts is a suitable giant, a dazzling guru, and a genius in full.” – Moses Isegawa, author of Abyssinian Chronicles and Snakepit
    Read more:

    India, here I come!

  • Wayne Shandera, MD

    Lawrence Durrell, The Alexandria Quartet (Justine, Mountolive, Balthazar, and Clea)
    Paul Scott, the Raj Quarter (The Jewel in the Crown, The Day of the Scorpion, The Towers of Silence, A Division of the Spoils)
    Rory Stewart, The Places In Between

  • David Perkins

    Maybe this was mentioned before, but what about Patrick Leigh Fermor’s “A Time of Gifts”?

  • http://abdelhameed64 Abdel hameed Muhamad Sadiq

    I believe that Iain Browning Books on Palmyra Petra and other ancient cities are an outpouring source for infinite knowledge.

  • Lindsay Clark

    I wholeheartedly agree. The Art of Travel is an excellent read and an artistic, philosophical journey for any traveler that’s reaching for a greater perspective.

  • Steve

    I personally enjoyed Ransom by Jay McInerney. Definitely peaked my interest for travelling in Japan and Southeast Asia even more!

  • Steve Burch

    A lot of books criminally ignored:
    The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin
    The Colossus of Marousi by Henry Miller
    many of the adventure books of Hammond Innes (such as Wreck of the Mary Deare, Atlantic Fury, Levkas Man, The Big Footprint) which have extraordinary descriptions of far away places
    The Boy Who Followed Ripley by Patricia Highsmith has an excellent section on Berlin
    Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain
    The Aran Islands by John M. Synge
    the travel writing of classical Greece by Pausanius

    the essential ingredient in travel writing is that it be written by an outsider approaching the society fresh and anew.

  • Alastair Humphreys

    Dan Brown in the Top 10?!

  • Joseph Nevadomsky

    The Da Vinci Code? How inane. No V S Naipaul, such as “The Masque of Africa,” or Eric Newby’s “A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush.” among many other great examples of outstanding trave literature.

  • Dean Snow

    Like all such lists you can add and subtract. I’m glad Theroux is there but he’s an acquired taste. “The Road to Oxiana” is fantastic, and I would add “Friar Felix at Large”. It’s an editied diary of a 15th C. monk’s pilgrimage to the Holy Land, with all of the vagaries of travel with a group at that time. I also think something by Jonathan Raban should be added, perhaps “Coasting” or “Old Glory” . His books are always as much a psychological journey as a physical one.

  • Steve

    Anything by Nicolas Bouvier (especially The Way Of The World) or Ella Maillart (The Cruel Way, Ti-Puss) should have made this list. But they are little known here in the U.S.
    Wilfred Thesiger’s Arabian Sands is a masterpiece.
    So is Terry Tarnoff’s The Bone Man Of Benares.

  • Roberts Liardon

    I love your website! Did you create this yourself or did you outsource it? I’m looking for a blog design that’s similar so that’s the only reason I’m asking. Either way keep up the nice work I was impressed.

  • Magan Alisha

    I wasn’t such a big fan of “I Dreamed of Africa”. I recommend “Born Wild” by Toni Fitzjohn myself.

  • Maroun Khoury

    The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. It’s a story about a shepherd boy who decides to travel to the Egypt from Spain. It’s quite a motivating story

  • Azad

    It’s rather disappointing reading comments of people ranting about how inadequate this list is. It shouldn’t be hard to acknowledge that different people prefer different genre of literature while traveling. Rather than carrying travel books which are more akin to manuals or guides killing the very spirit of adventure and spontaneity, this list strikes to me as one to build up the a definite kind of mood while traveling, something that you might enjoy reading outdoors or during transit between destinations. Actually I went ahead on Michaela’s recommendation and bought some books from the above mentioned titles before embarking on a long trip.. and to say the least, I was not disappointed at all ! Nice job done.

  • Azad

    I’d like to add that Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (Robert M. Pirsig) would do this list some good.

  • Danielle

    No Motorcycle Diaries? I would love to follow that trip someday!!

  • Tiffany Jelke

    I’m baffled why James Michener is not listed under here. He is known for his meticulous attention to detail on historical and geographical facts in his writings of many locales. In any case, he should be on here so I’ve added him.

  • Marija

    The Naked Tourist by Lawrence Osborne is an aspiring travel writer’s must-read. *thumbs up*

  • Mudra Rawal

    I really admire Maximum City … Shantaram is also about Mumbai… which comes in my like list!

  • Aweekofkindness

    W G Sebald – beautifully meandering collections of memory and histories merged with travalogues of europe (London, East Coast of England, Manchester, Bavaria, Czech Republic and more)

    Italo Calvino – Invisible Cities – tales of magical cities, all based on Venice

  • kasey

    this is a great list!
    but Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik is a great book about an american raising his child in Paris…makes me want to move there too

  • Brittani Sponaugle

    An absolute must is The Royal Road to Romance by Richard Halliburton. This book chronicles a young Richard  who forfeits a career for the adventure of traveling the wild world. He uncovers majesty in a world that shows no limits, and he did it all with almost no money to his name.

  • Edcheetham

    Great list, got to add Around The World In 80 Days – Julius Verne

  • Beck

     the Odyssey- Homer – especially when traveling through Greece.

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  • Paul Dorr

    “A time of gifts” Patrick leigh Fermor

  • Val

    Thank you for including Carlos Bulosan Michaela!

  • Smelosky

    Travels with Charlie #43?  This list sucks!

  • madonajone

    Alexander McQueen brought the Skull logo to the Mens fashion world. Alexander McQueen T-shirts are great pieces to wear during the summer and most t-Shirts from Jada Styles are embroidered with the famous Alexander McQueen Skull logo. If your looking for a trendy look, try a Alexander McQueen Tshirt.

  • janifawright

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  • HotelAdele

    In a sunburnt country- Bill Byson. The funniest travelogue of all time.

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  • Betty Schuldt

    I absolutely loved “Into the Wild.”  Another one that I think should be included on this list is Jim Harlan’s latest memoir, “Drifting on a Headwind.”  The book is about the author’s travels throughout some of the most remote corners of the earth.  Pretty cool book with lots of great insight on some of the coolest places on the earth, along with a great message- that we all ultimately survive on the kindness of strangers.

  • shortsale

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  • Michelle

    Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
    It’s a story about a man who escapes from an Australian prison and makes India his home.  A true story that gives serious depictions of both slum life and mafia life.  Roberts really makes you feel like you’re there.

  • Khine Nyein

    Having them all in my library in one day would be my indulgence ~~~.

  • Christine Allanson


  • Dafydd Stephenson

    I see a lot of these lists and they all seem to miss one obvious choice: One of the first English language novels and so undoubtedly the first work of English travel fiction: Robinson Crusoe. A disservice that such an amazing book is so often overlooked by compilations like this.

  • Bong Garrido

    Glad Pico Iyer is here. His falling off the map is an excellent read. Also his tropical classical essays collection.

  • James Borrell

    I would have to add ‘A Short walk in the Hindu Kush’ and ‘The Last Grain Race’ by Eric Newby!

  • Alison Jean Baker

    Not ONE book by Freya Stark. She wrote 20 travel books, which set the standard. Real shame.

  • Bryant Jaquez

    I think you should add The Idiot and the Odyssey to this list

  • Alisha Ballard

    The Alchemist

  • Fatestrip

    Two by Mitchener, Hawaii and The Drifters.

  • Grasakgirl

    Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey Through Yugoslavia is a travel book written by Dame Rebecca West

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