This year, getting a holiday gift for your travel-obsessed loved ones could be a challenge. They hardly need the ever-practical packing cubes, a shiny passport cover, or a new guidebook to a far-flung destination (unless it’s one of these places). What they need is a mental escape from the fact that they are limited in their travel choices and a plan for when they can go back to exploring the world safely. Luckily, both of these things can be found in travel coffee table books — their extraordinary photographs allow for a hefty dose of daydreaming and are sure to inspire future trips. The following seven coffee-table books will take the travelers in your life from the beautiful landscapes of the US to the wonders of the world’s architecture and the stunning wilderness of the polar regions at the turn of a page.
1. Accidentally Wes Anderson, The Book
The Accidentally Wes Anderson Instagram account (AWA) could be the dictionary illustration for the term “Instagrammable” — the photos featured are vibrant, a little retro, and perfectly framed. But they do more than quickly please the eye during a frenetic scroll; they also allow followers to travel through time, cultures, and countries.
The incredible success of the Instagram account since its start in 2017 led its founders, husband and wife Wally and Amanda Koval, to take their followers’ talent one step further — from people’s phone screens to their sitting rooms. In October 2020, AWA released Accidentally Wes Anderson, The Book, a coffee-table book compiling 200 photographs from as many locations submitted by followers. And flicking through this book, all you’ll want is to see those places and buildings for yourself. The cover alone, a photograph of the Belvédère Hotel in Switzerland, is enough to make you want to pack your bags.
Although AWA is not run by Wes Anderson or by anyone on his team, the account and Accidentally Wes Anderson, The Book honor the movie director’s aesthetic to perfection. It highlights some of the best of global architecture, art, and design with a bright color palette, symmetry, and certain quirkiness. The foreword of the book has been written by Wes Anderson himself, who is said to have been thrilled by the project.
Buy Accidentally Wes Anderson, The Book now from the official AWA website.
2. Chernobyl: A Stalker’s Guide
After visiting Chernobyl 20 times on multiple-day trips, including once covertly with a “stalker” as those who visit the area illegally are known, Darmon Richter wanted to share his love and fascination for the infamous Ukrainian city in a photo guide-cum-travelogue: Chernobyl: A Stalker’s Guide, published in September 2020.
Richter, a writer and photographer, is deeply interested in the past and present of the evacuation zone and its people, and he wanted others to learn more about Chernobyl than the usual cliché spread by the often-sensational tours of the exclusion zone. He was keen to show that there’s much more to the 1,000 square miles of the zone than devastation and sorrow, strategically placed gas masks, and rusty Ferris wheels, so he included over 100 photographs of the unexpected beauty of the site, including its wildlife, murals, buildings, stained glass, forests, and more.
Although Richter does not encourage readers to do as he did and take an illegal tour of the exclusion zone, his experience will make them want to see the site for themselves and understand it beyond the 1986 nuclear disaster to know its extraordinary past and its hopeful future.
Buy Chernobyl: A Stalker’s Guide now from FUEL publishing.
At the very start of the COVID-19 pandemic when the US was almost entirely shut down, professional photographer Brian Bowen Smith and one of his assistants hit the road. In a quickly made decision, they drove a 1958 Ford F100 and a 1993 Winnebago 11,000 miles around the country to document life during this exceptional time in US history.
Shooting in black and white, Smith got his cues from Instagram followers excited about the project. For a month, with his Leica M10 Monochrom in hand, he went where people with good ideas for a picture dictated him to go. Among many others, he captured horse-riding cowboys and happy families, empty Times Square and a masked Elvis impersonator in a deserted Las Vegas, struggling dairy farmers and hospital staff — all from the large window of his old-fashioned truck. He then compiled them in Drivebys.
Like a visual memoir of life in the spring of 2020, Drivebys has the potential to become an iconic American book, one that in a few years will take readers back to a strange and almost surreal period of time.
After seeing the difficulties experienced by the people throughout the US, Smith decided to give the proceeds from the sale of the book to Feeding America.
Buy Drivebys now from Brian Bowen Smith’s website. Both paperback ($40) and leatherbound editions ($500) are available.
4. Airline Visual Identity 1945-1975
If you miss the golden age of plane travel when the seats were large and plushy, the food was free and plentiful, and the airline ads looked like they belonged in art galleries, then you need to get yourself a copy of Airline Visual Identity 1945-1975.
Although originally published in 2014, a new and limited collector’s edition of Airline Visual Identity 1945-1975 was released earlier this fall and is filled with some of the industry’s most gorgeous airline posters that have ever existed. Because before television advertisements, low-cost airlines, and the deregulation of the airline industry in the US, all each airline could do to differentiate themselves and attract potential travelers was create beautiful, enticing posters that would make them choose TWA over Air France. Through vibrant colors and humorous, cheery, and glamorous modern illustrations hung in airports and travel agent offices, they caught people’s eyes and made them dream of faraway places.
Airline Visual Identity 1945-1975 is comprised of hundreds of high-quality poster reprints that are sure to transport you to a time when air travel was luxurious and almost beautiful.
Buy Airline Visual Identity 1945-1975 now from Callisto Publishers.
5. America the Beautiful: A Story in Photographs
Released in October 2020, at a time when America was, and remains, extremely divided, National Geographic’s America the Beautiful: A Story in Photographs is a book that works as a unifying force.
Photographs from 130 years of National Geographic archives honors the undeniable beauty of the nation, from the Alaska wilderness to the California coast, and includes words from celebrities, conservationists, politicians, and more prominent figures, across all 50 states, six territories, and Washington, DC, expressing their love for their country.
The 384-page hardcover book is a reminder that even at one of the most uncertain times in US history there’s one thing all Americans can agree on and celebrate together: their country’s spectacular nature and dazzling majesty.
Buy America the Beautiful: A Story in Photographs now from the online Nat Geo/Disney shop.
6. Born to Ice
Famous National Geographic photographer Paul Nicklen released his gorgeous Born to Ice coffee table book in 2018, but there’s never been a better time to fully appreciate the world’s polar regions and their inhabitants, whether they be humans or animals.
Because Paul Nicklen is not all just a talented photographer and storyteller, he’s also a naturalist, as well as a passionate conservationist and climate activist. While showcasing the beauty and fragility of the wilderness of the Arctic and the Antarctic, he successfully triggers inside all of his readers the need for taking action against climate change, the ardent motivation to do our part to protect the planet and all its inhabitants, and the intense desire to see, with our own eyes, the beauty of the poles while they are still there to be admired.
Buy Born to Ice now from Paul Nicklen’s official website.
7. At Glacier’s End
Before it closed to all travelers outside the EU and Schengen states, Iceland was a hot tourist destination, welcoming every year several times more international visitors than its entire population. And its popularity is due, first and foremost, to its grandiose landscapes — green hills, volcanoes, waterfalls, rugged coastlines, geysers, etc.
After taking many trips to the island nation, surf and adventure photographer Chris Burkard and writer Matt McDonald have learned to revere Iceland’s natural assets, particularly its threatened glacial rivers, which originate from the country’s highlands, an area often overlooked by visitors.
In At Glacier’s End, a gorgeous coffee-table book composed of Burkard’s aerial photos and McDonald’s words, they highlight the beauty of the Icelandic Highlands from where glacial rivers originate and advocate for the rivers’ plight as they remain unprotected and often damned.
By combining their talents, they are hoping to encourage tourists to Iceland to stray off the well-worn paths to visit the region and contribute to the conservation movement that would protect it and eventually lead to the area becoming Highlands National Park.
Buy At Glacier’s End now from Chris Burkard’s online shop.