Italian author Elena Ferrante once wrote, “It was marvelous to cross borders, to let oneself go within other cultures, discover the provisional nature of what I had taken as absolute.”
That's true of travel; it's also true of reading. Upon opening a book, you enter someone else’s mind and begin to understand that provisional nature to which Ferrante was referring.
By thumbing through bound pages, you’ll find yourself walking the Appalachian Trail with a man in the throes of a mid-life crisis, or eating your way through Basque Country, one of the world’s most cutting-edge food scenes.
You could follow a Nobel Prize winner as he drives around the country with his faithful poodle, or you could step into the mind of a surfer looking for his missing friend.
We’ve compiled this list of travel books to transport you around the world from wherever you're reading. All are available for purchase on Amazon, though we encourage you to search for them at your local independent bookstore.
How Soccer Explains The World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization by Franklin Foer
Franklin Foer’s delightful How Soccer Explains The World debuted at just the right time. Soccer was becoming truly globalized in 2004 (South Korea and Japan hosted the 2002 World Cup, and the United States reached the quarterfinals stage of that tournament), and the author sought answers on the sport’s past, present, and future. His explorations into soccer hotbeds around the globe (Glasgow, Amsterdam, London, among others) double as cultural guides. There are stories of triumph and tragedy that non-sports fans can relate to.
“An eccentric, fascinating exposé of a world most of us know nothing about.”
—The New York Times Book Review
A Walk In The Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson
One need not spin a globe and drop a pin to find the perfect travel destination. Sometimes, taking the path through the woods can be just as memorable. In A Walk In The Woods, Bryson puts his mid-life crisis on the page, humorously detailing his journey down the Appalachian Trail. He has no outdoor experience, just misplaced ambition. And the result fits the understated title: A walk in the woods doesn’t ever have to be just a walk in the woods.
“The Appalachian Trail...consists of some five million steps, and Bryson manages to coax a laugh, and often an unexpectedly startling insight, out of every one he traverses...It is hard not to grin idiotically through all 304 pages...sheer comic entertainment.”
Tales of a Female Nomad: Living at Large in the World by Rita Golden Gelman
At one point in our lives, most of us dream of ditching civilization and traveling the world. Few of us actually do it. Rita Golden Gelman leaves behind Los Angeles to embark on a years-long journey of self-enlightenment. Some of her stops are brief. Others are long. Each gives us snapshots of a woman finding herself in unlikely places: the Galapagos Islands, a small village in Mexico, and more.
“Gelman doesn’t just observe the cultures she visits, she participates in them, becoming emotionally involved in the people’s lives. This is an amazing travelogue.”
Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel by Rolf Potts
Potts has made a living—to put it one way—traveling the world on a tight budget. In Vagabonding, he’s happy to share his experiences and advice. This entertaining read doesn’t focus only on solo travel, though. All travelers will find use from its pages. It’s part memoir, part guide, and part inspirational material to let your mind wander in hopes that your body will soon follow.
“A crucial reference for any budget wanderer.”
The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World by Eric Weiner
What is bliss for author Eric Weiner? That’s the question that travels page to page here in this humorous guide. Weiner visits places around the world, those with extremes in happiness (oil-money rich Qatar, Bhutan with its Gross National Happiness index) to find out what the emotion means to them. He shines a light on these destinations while encouraging travelers to think about what they hope to get from their own trips.
"Laugh. Think. Repeat. Repeatedly. If someone told me this book was this good, I wouldn't have believed them."
―Po Bronson, author of What Should I Do With My Life?
In Search Of Captain Zero: A Surfer’s Road Trip Beyond the End of the Road by Allan Weisbecker
Fixate on Allan Weisbecker’s page-turner, and listen for the waves. In the sub-genre of surfing memoirs, In Search Of Captain Zero stands out for its humor, thoughtfulness, and reach. The tale starts with Weisbecker setting out to find his missing surfing companion, Christopher, who disappeared somewhere in Central America. The author tracks him down eventually—he was living in a rainforest—with excitement, danger, and, yes, surfing, along the way.
"A subtly affecting tale of friendship and duty. [It] deserves a spot on the microbus dashboard as a hell of a cautionary tale about finding paradise and smoking it away."
Basque Country: A Culinary Journey Through a Food Lover’s Paradise by Marti Buckley
Spain has long been a popular tourist destination for its architecture, blend of cultures, food and wine, and mix of countryside, urban centers, and pristine beaches. But you rarely hear of the Basque region, a corner of Spain with its own customs and language. Alabama chef Marti Buckley takes readers to San Sebastián and the country’s Atlantic Coast, where they learn about a unique people through the food they eat.
“Truly insider access, an authentic look at the traditions of one of the most incredible culinary regions of the world.”
—Renowned Chef José Andrés
Video Night In Kathmandu: And Other Reports from the Not-So-Far East by Pico Iyer
In the 1980s, globalization was shrinking the world faster than ever, and Western culture was encroaching upon the East. McDonald’s and mohawks, Bruce Springsteen and burger restaurants—the signs of what Iyer dubbed “pop culture imperialism” were everywhere, from Tibet to Tokyo. Even 30-plus years after publication, Iyer’s exploration of cultural identity and how travel plants the seeds of change, for better or worse, is prescient. Plus, it’ll make you want to fly east as soon as you can.
"Quick-witted and perceptive...something more than a deft and entertaining traveler's tale."
—The New Yorker
Travels with Charley in Search of America by John Steinbeck
Best known for his Great Depression-era classics, Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath, which captured the ethos and pathos of the most devastating economic downturn in American history, Steinbeck hits the road with his faithful companion, Charley the poodle, in this 1962 travelogue. Steinbeck outfits a GMC pickup truck with a camper shell, fills it with booze and snacks to share along the way, and drives around the country in an attempt to reconnect with what he called “New America.” What follows is a tender love letter to the vast, open spaces of the continent and the poetics of place.
“Profound, sympathetic, often angry . . . an honest moving book by one of our great writers.”
—The San Francisco Examiner