Reading books based in other countries is a great way to learn more about a place. The best books about travel will also inspire you to see new places.
Books are a great way to explore the world from the comfort of your own home, or wherever you may be. The best books about travel are not necessarily a country or city guide, sometimes they take the form of a great piece of fiction or even a biography. The best way to get an insight into a country is by reading books written by authors of that country, so I’ve compiled a list of some of my favourite books set in other countries.
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BOOKS ABOUT AFRICA
Everyone warned Kobie Krüger that being the wife of a game warden at a remote ranger station in South Africa’s largest national park would be an arduous move.
The heat was unbearable, malaria would be a constant danger, her husband would have to be away for long stretches, there were no schools or nearby doctors for their three daughters, and of course, the area teemed with wild animals.
Yet for Kobie and her family, the seventeen years at South Africa’s Kruger National Park were the most magical of their lives.
Now, in The Wilderness Family, Kobie recounts the enchanting adventures and extraordinary encounters they experienced in this vast reserve where wildlife has right of way.
In Unbowed, Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai recounts her extraordinary journey from her childhood in rural Kenya to the world stage. When Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement in 1977, she began a vital poor people’s environmental movement. It was focused on the empowerment of women, that soon spread across Africa.
Persevering through run-ins with the Kenyan government and personal losses, and jailed and beaten on numerous occasions, Maathai continued to fight tirelessly to save Kenya’s forests and to restore democracy to her beloved country. Infused with her unique luminosity of spirit, Wangari Maathai’s remarkable story of courage, faith, and the power of persistence is destined to inspire generations to come.
This memorable, heartbreaking story opens in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 1974, on the eve of a revolution. Yonas kneels in his mother’s prayer room, pleading to his god for an end to the violence that has wracked his family and country. His father, Hailu, a prominent doctor, has been ordered to report to jail after helping a victim of state-sanctioned torture to die. And Dawit, Hailu’s youngest son, has joined an underground resistance movement―a choice that will lead to more upheaval and bloodshed across a ravaged Ethiopia.
Rich with historical narratives, personal recollections, reflections on politics, environmental debates, social observation, and practical travel information, this honest and opinionated book is a far cry from the typically sponsored travel guide. The author’s idiosyncratic writing style and humor flavor the travel experience and impart a sense of immediacy and adventure, and resources for further information are listed in the back of the book, encouraging a personalized adventure.
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BOOKS ABOUT SOUTH AMERICA
In 1911, Hiram Bingham III climbed into the Andes Mountains of Peru and “discovered” Machu Picchu. While history has recast Bingham as a villain who stole both priceless artefacts and credit for finding the great archaeological site, Mark Adams set out to retrace the explorer’s perilous path in search of the truth—except he’d written about adventure far more than he’d actually lived it. In fact, he’d never even slept in a tent.
Turn Right at Machu Picchu is Adams’ fascinating and funny account of his journey through some of the world’s most majestic, historic, and remote landscapes guided only by a hard-as-nails Australian survivalist and one nagging question: Just what was Machu Picchu? This is one of the best books out there that will help you understand travel to Machu Picchu.
When Isabel Allende’s daughter, Paula, became gravely ill and fell into a coma, the author began to write the story of her family for her unconscious child. In the telling, bizarre ancestors appear before our eyes; we hear both delightful and bitter childhood memories, amazing anecdotes of youthful years, and the most intimate secrets passed along in whispers. With Paula, Allende has written a powerful autobiography whose straightforward acceptance of the magical and spiritual worlds will remind readers of her first book, The House of the Spirits.
Bruno Cadogan has flown from New York to Buenos Aires in search of the elusive and legendary Julio Martel, a tango singer whose voice has never been recorded yet is said to be so beautiful it is almost supernatural. Bruno is increasingly drawn to the mystery of Martel and his strange and evocative performances in a series of apparently arbitrary sites around the city. As Bruno tries to find Martel, he begins to untangle the story of the singer’s life and to believe that Martel’s increasingly rare performances map a dark labyrinth of the city’s past. Discover the best side of South America in this wonderful travel book.
Until her early twenties, Gioconda Belli inhabited an upper-class cocoon: sheltered from the poverty in Managua in a world of country clubs and debutante balls; educated abroad; early marriage and motherhood. But in 1970, everything changed. Her growing dissatisfaction with domestic life, and a blossoming awareness of the social inequities in Nicaragua, led her to join the Sandinistas, then a burgeoning but still hidden organization. She would be involved with them over the next twenty years at the highest, and often most dangerous, levels.
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BOOKS ABOUT NORTH AMERICA
This first novel in the trilogy introduces Ramsay, a man who returns from World War I decorated with the Victoria Cross but who is destined to be caught in a no man’s land where memory, history, and myth collide. As we hear Ramsey tell his story, we begin to realize that, from childhood, he has influenced those around him in a perhaps mystical, perhaps pernicious way. Even his seemingly innocent involvement in as innocuous an event as throwing a snowball proves to be neither innocent nor innocuous in the end.
The Appalachian Trail trail stretches from Georgia to Maine and covers some of the most breathtaking terrain in America–majestic mountains, silent forests, sparkling lakes. If you’re going to take a hike, it’s probably the place to go. And Bill Bryson is surely the most entertaining guide you’ll find. He introduces us to the history and ecology of the trail and to some of the other hardy (or just foolhardy) folks he meets along the way–and a couple of bears. Already a classic, A Walk in the Woods will make you long for the great outdoors (or at least a comfortable chair to sit and read in).
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BOOKS ABOUT ASIA
From a childhood survivor of the Camdodian genocide under the regime of Pol Pot, this is a riveting narrative of war crimes and desperate actions, the unnerving strength of a small girl and her family, and their triumph of spirit. One of seven children of a high-ranking government official, Loung Ung lived a privileged life in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh until the age of five.
Then, in April 1975, Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge army stormed into the city, forcing Ung’s family to flee and, eventually, to disperse. Loung was trained as a child soldier in a work camp for orphans, her siblings were sent to labor camps, and those who survived the horrors would not be reunited until the Khmer Rouge was destroyed. Harrowing yet hopeful, Loung’s powerful story is an unforgettable account of a family shaken and shattered, yet miraculously sustained by courage and love in the face of unspeakable brutality.
Catfish and Mandala is the story of an American odyssey―a solo bicycle voyage around the Pacific Rim to Vietnam―made by a young Vietnamese-American man in pursuit of both his adopted homeland and his forsaken fatherland. Andrew X. Pham was born in Vietnam and raised in California. His father had been a POW of the Vietcong; his family came to America as “boat people.” Following the suicide of his sister, Pham quit his job, sold all of his possessions. And he embarked on a year-long bicycle journey that took him through the Mexican desert, around a thousand-mile loop from Narita to Kyoto in Japan. And, after five months and 2,357 miles, to Saigon, where he finds “nothing familiar in the bombed-out darkness.”
In Vietnam, he’s taken for Japanese or Korean by his countrymen, except, of course, by his relatives, who doubt that as a Vietnamese he has the stamina to complete his journey (“Only Westerners can do it”); and in the United States, he’s considered anything but American. A vibrant, picaresque memoir written with narrative flair and an eye-opening sense of adventure, Catfish and Mandala is an unforgettable search for cultural identity. This story was one of the most inspiring i have read and is one of the best travel-related books you can ask for.
Ilija Trojanow traveled along the Ganges, from the source, where it breaks free from the eternal ice in the Himalayas, to the great cities, by boat, by bus, on overcrowded trains. He visited the great Hindu festivals and talked to those who warn of ecological disasters resulting from gigantic dams.
With reminiscences of the early days of female climbers on Everest, the deaths of fellow mountaineers, Tabei’s pursuit of Mount Tomur, a cancer diagnosis, and efforts to restore a love for nature in the surviving youth of the Fukushima earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in 2011, this beautifully curated collection of essays captures the essence of a notable time and the strength of character of one of the 20th and 21st centuries’ female mountaineering pioneers.
Traveling from the bureaucratic morass of Bombay to the ethereal beauty of Kashmir, from a sacred ice cave in the Himalayas to an abandoned temple near Madras, Naipaul encounters a dizzying cross-section of humanity: browbeaten government workers and imperious servants, a suavely self-serving holy man and a deluded American religious seeker.
This book also abounds with Naipaul’s strikingly original responses to India’s paralyzing caste system, its apparently serene acceptance of poverty and squalor, and the conflict between its desire for self-determination and its nostalgia for the British raj. The result may be the most elegant and passionate book ever written about the subcontinent.
So you think you’re a Buddhist? Think again. Tibetan Buddhist master Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse, one of the most creative and innovative lamas teaching today, throws down the gauntlet to the Buddhist world, challenging common misconceptions, stereotypes, and fantasies. With wit and irony, Khyentse urges readers to move beyond the superficial trappings of Buddhism–beyond the romance with beads, incense, or exotic robes–straight to the heart of what the Buddha taught.
A native of Bombay, Suketu Mehta gives us an insider’s view of this stunning metropolis. He approaches the city from unexpected angles, taking us into the criminal underworld of rival Muslim and Hindu gangs, following the life of a bar dancer raised amid poverty and abuse, opening the door into the inner sanctums of Bollywood, and delving into the stories of the countless villagers who come in search of a better life and end up living on the sidewalks. See the best and worst of India in this travel-related book.
Caught in the everyday reality of household life, fifteen-year-old Tsomo is suddenly called upon to travel when her mother dies. She makes her first journey to a faraway village to light the ritual butter lamps in her mother’s memory. Beginning here, her travels take her to distant places, across Bhutan, and into India. As she faces the world, a woman alone, Tsomo embarks on what becomes a life journey, in which she begins to find herself and to grow as a person and a woman.
In this extraordinary tale, Tor Baz, the young boy descended from both chiefs and outlaws who becomes the Wandering Falcon, moves between the tribes of Pakistan and Afghanistan and their uncertain worlds full of brutality, humanity, deep love, honor, poverty, and grace.
The wild area he travels — the Federally Administered Tribal Area — has become a political quagmire known for terrorism and inaccessibility. Yet in these pages, eighty-year-old debut author Jamil Ahmad lyrically and insightfully reveals the people who populate those lands, their tribes and traditions, and their older, timeless ways in the face of sometimes ruthless modernity. This story is an essential glimpse into a hidden world, one that has enormous geopolitical significance today and still remains largely a mystery to us.
A landmark in travel writing, this is the incredible true story of Heinrich Harrer’s escape across the Himalayas to Tibet, set against the backdrop of the Second World War. Heinrich Harrer, already one of the greatest mountaineers of his time, was climbing in the Himalayas when war broke out in Europe. He was imprisoned by the British in India but succeeded in escaping and fled to Tibet.
Settling in Lhasa, the Forbidden City, where he became a friend and tutor to the Dalai Lama, Heinrich Harrer spent seven years gaining a more profound understanding of Tibet and the Tibetans than any Westerner before him. More recently made into a film starring Brad Pitt, Seven Years in Tibet is a stunning story of incredible courage and self-reliance by one of the twentieth century’s best travel writers. This is a wonderful and insightful book and one of the best travel inspiring books on this list.
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BOOKS ABOUT AUSTRALIA & NEW ZEALAND
His previous excursion along the Appalachian Trail resulted in the sublime national bestseller A Walk in the Woods. In A Sunburned Country is his report on what he found in an entirely different place: Australia, the country that doubles as a continent, and a place with the friendliest inhabitants, the hottest, driest weather, and the most peculiar and lethal wildlife to be found on the planet.
The result is a deliciously funny, fact-filled, and adventurous performance by a writer who combines humour, wonder, and unflagging curiosity. Despite the fact that Australia harbours more things that can kill you in extremely nasty ways than anywhere else, including sharks, crocodiles, snakes, even riptides and deserts, Bill Bryson adores the place, and he takes his readers on a rollicking ride far beyond that beaten tourist path. Wherever he goes he finds Australians who are cheerful, extroverted, and unfailingly obliging, and these beaming products of land with clean, safe cities, cold beer, and constant sunshine fill the pages of this wonderful book. Bill Bryson writes some of the best travel books out there.
The Thorn Birds is a robust, romantic saga of a singular family, the Clearys. It begins in the early part of this century. When Paddy Cleary moves his wife, Fiona, and their seven children to Drogheda. The vast Australian sheep station owned by his autocratic and childless older sister. It ends more than half a century later, when the only survivor of the third generation, the brilliant actress Justine O’Neill, sets a course of life and love halfway around the world from her roots.
This hard-hitting novel is frank and uncompromising in its portrayal of Maori urban New Zealand society, a world of frustration, resentment, and waste. Duff is fearless in his depiction of a part of his own society that he knows well. He tells a raw, powerful story in which everyone is a victim until the strength and vision of one woman transcends brutality and leads the way to a new alternative.
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BOOKS ABOUT EUROPE
Twenty years ago, Frances Mayes—widely published poet, gourmet cook, and travel writer—introduced readers to a wondrous new world when she bought and restored an abandoned villa called Bramasole in the spectacular Tuscan countryside. Under the Tuscan Sun inspired generations to embark on their own journeys—whether that be flying to a foreign country in search of themselves, savoring one of the book’s dozens of delicious seasonal recipes, or simply being transported by Mayes’s signature evocative, sensory language
In this witty and warm-hearted account, Peter Mayle tells what it is like to realize a long-cherished dream and actually move into a 200-year-old stone farmhouse in the remote country of the Lubéron with his wife and two large dogs. He endures January’s frosty mistral as it comes howling down the Rhône Valley, discovers the secrets of goat racing through the middle of town, and delights in the glorious regional cuisine. A Year in Provence transports us into all the earthy pleasures of Provençal life and lets us live vicariously at a tempo governed by seasons, not by days.
When she was suddenly given the opportunity of a new life in rural Jutland, journalist and archetypal Londoner Helen Russell discovered a startling statistic: the happiest place on earth isn’t Disneyland, but Denmark, a land often thought of by foreigners as consisting entirely of long dark winters, cured herring, Lego and pastries. What is the secret to their success? Are happy Danes born, or made? Helen decides there is only one way to find out: she will give herself a year, trying to uncover the formula for Danish happiness.
“EXTERMINATE ALL THE BRUTES”: ONE MAN’S ODYSSEY INTO THE HEART OF DARKNESS AND THE ORIGINS OF EUROPEAN GENOCIDE
“Exterminate All the Brutes” is a searching examination of Europe’s dark history in Africa and the origins of genocide. Using Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness as his point of departure, Sven Lindqvist takes us on a haunting tour through the colonial past, interwoven with a modern-day travelogue.
Retracing the steps of European explorers, missionaries, politicians, and historians in Africa from the late eighteenth century onward, the author exposes the roots of genocide in Africa via his own journey through the Saharan desert. As Lindqvist shows, fantasies not merely of white superiority but of actual extermination–“cleansing” the earth of the so-called lesser races–deeply informed European colonialism and racist ideology that ultimately culminated in Europe’s own Holocaust.
Paulo Coelho’s masterpiece tells the mystical story of Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd boy who yearns to travel in search of a worldly treasure. His quest will lead him to riches far different–and far more satisfying–than he ever imagined. Santiago’s journey teaches us about the essential wisdom of listening to our hearts, of recognizing opportunity and learning to read the omens strewn along life’s path, and, most importantly, to follow our dreams. This is one of the best travel-related books on this list. It inspires not only travel but the need to journey to discover new things.
In this unusual travel book, Nunes, a poet and activist, writes a narrative poem about a woman’s journey to the homeland of her parents in the Azores Islands of Portugal. The parents have since homesteaded in Idaho. There is none of the travel information usually provided by a guidebook concerning hotels, etc., but Nunes describes her visit to various cities and towns.
In the process, she provides a bit of history and a good deal of emotion. It’s a pleasant journey with a note of sadness as Nunes remembers her late husband. At the end she includes some Azorean recipes, adapted by her family to family tastes. An entertaining book that gives the flavor of Portugal and the Azores.
Commissaire Georges Dupin, a cantankerous, Parisian-born caffeine junkie recently relocated from the glamour of Paris to the remote (if picturesque) Breton coast, is dragged from his morning croissant and coffee to the scene of a curious murder. The local village of Pont-Aven–a sleepy community by the sea where everyone knows one other and nothing much seems to happen–is in shock. The legendary ninety-one-year-old hotelier Pierre-Louis Pennec, owner of the Central Hotel, has been found dead.
A picture-perfect seaside village that played host to Gaugin in the nineteenth century, Pont-Aven is at the height of its tourist season and is immediately thrown into uproar. As Dupin delves into the lives of the victim and the suspects, he uncovers a web of secrecy and silence that belies the village’s quaint image.
While out on assignment, a journalist hits a hare with his car. This small incident becomes life-changing: he decides to quit his job, leave his wife, sell his possessions, and spend a year wandering the wilds of Finland–with the bunny as his boon companion. What ensues is a series of comic misadventures, as everywhere they go–whether chased up a tree by dogs, or to a formal state dinner, or in pursuit of a bear across the Finnish border with Russia–they leave mayhem (and laughter!) in their wake. I haven’t read many books from this part of the world, but this was one of the best inspirations I could have asked for.
BOOKS ABOUT WORLD TRAVEL
The Atlas of Remote Islands, Judith Schalansky’s beautiful and deeply personal account of the islands that have held a place in her heart throughout her lifelong love of cartography, has captured the imaginations of readers everywhere. Using historic events and scientific reports as a springboard, she creates a story around each island: fantastical, inscrutable stories, mixtures of fact, and imagination that produce worlds for the reader to explore.
Gorgeously illustrated and with new, vibrant colors for the Pocket edition, the atlas shows all fifty islands on the same scale, in order of the oceans, they are found. Schalansky lures us to fifty remote destinations–from Tristan da Cunha to Clipperton Atoll, from Christmas Island to Easter Island–and proves that the most adventurous journeys still take place in the mind, with one finger pointing at a map.
Planning a big trip abroad can be an overwhelming task, but this book makes it easy with in-depth advice that helps you properly plan, pack and prepare-so that you can travel anywhere with confidence. Whether you’re going away for 3 weeks, 3 months or even a year, Travel the World Without Worries will act as your trusted guide and friend through the entire process.
Gulliver, an adventurous traveler, sails through the unknown waters of seas and oceans. A storm ruptures his ship and the sailor ends up unconscious on the shore of a mysterious country. Having woken up, the sailor finds himself surrounded by tiny men, who are trying to tie him and chain him to the ground. He easily gets rid of the restraints, only to find himself dragged into the epicenter of the civil war that began because of a mere trifle. Jonathan Swift’s satiric-fantasy novel “Gulliver’s Travels” cleverly mocks human and social flaws.
Gulliver, an adventurous traveller, sails through the unknown waters of seas and oceans. A storm ruptures his ship and the sailor ends up unconscious on the shore of a mysterious country. Having woken up, the sailor finds himself surrounded by tiny men, who are trying to tie him and chain him to the ground.
He easily gets rid of the restraints, only to find himself dragged into the epicentre of the civil war that began because of a mere trifle. Jonathan Swift’s satiric-fantasy novel “Gulliver’s Travels” cleverly mocks human and social flaws. I loved these books and they are one of the best ways to inspire yourself to travel and explore the world.
It was hitting rock bottom that convinced Lauren to quit her job, sell everything she owned, and travel the world alone. It wasn’t an easy decision: she suffered from debilitating anxiety, was battling an eating disorder, and had just had her heart broken. Not only that, but she had so little life experience that she had never eaten rice or been on a bus.
She’d hoped leaving everything behind would help her find and heal herself, but instead Lauren’s travels were full of bad luck and near-death experiences. She was scammed and assaulted; lost teeth and swallowed a cockroach. She fell into leech-infested rice paddies, was caught up in a tsunami, had the brakes of her motorbike fail, and experienced a very unhappy ending in Thailand. It was just as she was about to give up on travel when she stumbled across a handsome New Zealander with a love of challenges.
WHEN IN DOUBT … TRAVEL!: HOW SOLO TRAVEL TAUGHT ME HAPPINESS, MY LIFE PURPOSE AND AWAKENED MY SPIRITUAL SELF
Alexandra has written a diary-style guide and narration of her incredible travels and unfolding spiritual journey. Twelve months of adventure, wanderlust, and healing as a solo female traveler through New Zealand, Australia, and Southeast Asia. It’s written for women, who are in doubt or hesitant to take a plunge and embark on their first time long-term travel. Alexandra firmly believes her personal experiences and life lessons learned through the journey can benefit anyone wanting to travel and dig deeper into personal development. Travel doesn’t have to be expensive, complicated, or daring. It starts with a simple thing. Making a decision to go.
In Marshall Island Legends and Stories, Daniel A. Kelin II preserves the qualities of oral storytelling in 50 stories recorded from 18 storytellers on 8 islands and atolls. This lively collection includes something for everyone: origin stories tales of mejenkwaad and other demons, tricksters, disobedient children, wronged husbands, foolish suitors, and reunited families – all relaying the importance of traditional Marshallese values and customs.
Entwined through the author’s reportage of the 1987 coups is an evocative picture of life in the islands. Thus, Kava in the Blood is also an intriguing story of hurricanes, haunted houses, and copious kava consumption, set within the dramatic landscapes and vibrant cultures of the Fiji Islands.
Mike doesn’t get why people think he’s boring. Sure, he doesn’t have many friends. (OK, zero friends.) And everyone laughs at him when he reads his essays out loud in class. And he’s never invited to parties.
But one day Tschick, the odd new boy at school, shows up at Mike’s house out of the blue. He dares him to go on a road trip with him. No parents, no map, no destination. Will they get hopelessly lost in the middle of nowhere? Probably. Will they meet crazy people and get into serious trouble? Definitely. But will they ever be called boring again?
More a guide to travel than a travel guide, Destination Earth transforms how you view travel and its relation to Life. It also provides a philosophical framework for embarking on more meaningful and purposeful travels, whether it is an around the world journey, or an exploration of a region, or even a city.
These pages are the product of the author’s unique 6.5 years continuous around the world journey, during which he visited 70 countries on 6 continents and treated the world as if it were a single destination. From Chile and Argentina to Thailand and Japan, this book explores the delicate and invisible interconnections of nations and countries, peoples and cultures, and delves deep into all aspects of travel and its transformational power. This is one of the best travel books that you can read before going on a long life hanging journey.