The Best Books To Read Before You Travel

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 insght 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. 

BOOKS ABOUT AFRICA

THE WILDERNESS FAMILY

Synopsis: 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.

WHY I ENJOYED READING WILDERNESS FAMILY

I’ve read this book at least 5 times and keep coming back to it. How would you deal with a resident cobra at your doorstep? Keeping your family safe from floods? Kobie brings Africa to life in a way that few of us will ever know with her brilliant storytelling. I’ve made all my book clubs over the years read this book. Even people who aren’t really into wildlife, have really enjoyed it. I love it so much I included it in my list of favourite wildlife books. It is one of those great books that will make you travel to the Kruger National Park.

Unbowed: A Memoir

Synopsis: 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.

WHY I ENJOYED READING UNBOWED

Kenya is a country well-known for its wildlife and beautiful landscape. But little do we think about the problems this unique landscape encounters. Wangari Maathai’s story shows you a whole new side to Kenya, one that is enlightening and inspiring. Her drive to protect Kenya’s forests and change the political climate is awe-inspiring. This story will have you thinking about the small things we can do to help to protect nature.

BOOKS ABOUT SOUTH AMERICA

TURN RIGHT AT MACHU PICHU: REDISCOVERING THE LOST CITY ONE STEP AT A TIME

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 artifacts and credit for finding the great archeological 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?

WHY I ENJOYED READING TURN RIGHT AT MACHU PICHU

Although this book is written by an American, I had to include it. Mark Adam’s journey will have you oohing, aahing and guffawing all at the same time. The book will have you telling yourself “if he can do it then so can I”. While at the same time will have you questioning how daring you really are. It’s a great book if you are planning to travel to Machu Pichu. And it will give you an insight into what doing it is like, without the creature comforts of a tour.

PAULA: A MEMOIR

Synopsis: 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.

WHY I ENJOYED READING PAULA

This memoir takes you from Peru to Chile to Venezuela. It follows Isabel Allende and her family as they moved through a turbulent time in South America. Her memoir moves between the present and the pass painting a picture of heartache and hope. It is an emotional story that will have you learning about some of South America’s most beautiful countries. And at the same time grieving with the author for the daughter that she cannot help in the present. This is one of the best books to come out of South America, painting the reality of life. It takes you through real-life accounts of life in South America.

BOOKS ABOUT NORTH AMERICA

FIFTH BUSINESS

Synpsis: 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.

WHY I ENJOYED READING FIFTH BUSINESS

The book gives you a peek into what life in rural Canada was like during the early 20th century. The protagonist moves between his present and past. This gives the reader the opportunity to fully appreciate what his life was like in a remote area of Canada. It is one of the great classics to come out of Canada. And it is a great book to read before you travel to Canada. Especially if you really want to explore the country.

A WALK IN THE WOODS

Synopsis: The Appalachian Trail trail stretches from Georgia to Maine and covers some of the most breathtaking terrain in America–majestic mountains, silent forests, sparking 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).

WHY I ENJOYED READING A WALK IN THE WOODS

As always Bill Bryson gives you a glimpse at fantastic adventure with a dose of humor added in. This time he takes on the Appalachian Trail, a grueling hike that is on most adventurers bucket list. The book is insightful and hilarious. But it also takes a look at how a trip can change your outlook on life. And can help you overcome physical and emotional adversities. It is one of the best travel books to read if your planning on hiking in the States.

BOOKS ABOUT ASIA

FIRST THEY KILLED MY FATHER

Synopsis: 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.

WHY I ENJOYED READING FIRST THEY KILLED MY FATHER

Every beautiful country in the world has a harrowing past that makes the country what it is today. In this regard Cambodia is no different. But the history of Cambodia is one of the reasons why it is one of the most popular places in Asia to visit. The book takes you through the landscape of Cambodia, places that are well-known and lesser known places, which will have you wanting to explore more of the country while appreciating the amount of perseverance the people of Cambodia had to survive the Khmer Rouge. Keep in mind that some parts of the book are violent. 

Catfish and Mandala: A Two-Wheeled Voyage Through the Landscape and Memory of Vietnam

Synopsis: 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.

WHY I ENJOYED READING CATFISH & MANDALA

The book takes you on an epic journey of enlightenment. While exploring the vast landscape of Asia, the author explores his roots and what it means to be Vietnamese. It’s an interesting story. And it gives the reader an insight into what it is to be forced to leave your homelands. And how hard it is to journey back to your birthplace. A journey to reacquaint oneself with a culture and lifestyle that is yours but foreign at the same time. This great book will have you wanting to travel through Asia on your next adventure.

BOOKS ABOUT AUSTRALIA

IN A SUNBURNED COUNTRY

Synopsis: 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 combine

s humor, wonder, and unflagging curiousity. Despite the fact that Australia harbors 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.

WHY I ENJOYED READING A SUNBURNED COUNTRIES

Bill Bryson isn’t exactly Australian I admit, but he has spent much of his time in Australia. I love that he always adds some humour to his writing. Which makes it so much more of a pleasure to read. This is one of the best travel books. The book is a guide to all the things that you need to know to survive in Australia. Which can be harsh if you don’t know how to navigate it.

THE THORN BIRDS

Synopsis: 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.

WHY I ENJOYED READING THE THORN BIRDS

The Thorn Birds is Australia’s top best selling book in history. The story opens in New Zealand. But takes you through three generations of the Cleary family who live on a fictional sheep farm, Drogheda. The story is a great read. Especially if you want to know more about the Australian outback and what life there entails. It has been recommended as one of the best books to read before you travel to Australia.

BOOKS ABOUT EUROPE

UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN

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

WHY I ENJOYED READING UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN

If you haven’t read this book or watched the movie I can’t recommend it enough. This is one of those novels that will have you dreaming of your next vacation in Italy before you even finish it. It is one of those inspiring, beautiful stories that start with heartache and turmoil and luckily have a happy ending. This is one that you’ll want to read a few times over.

A YEAR IN PROVENCE

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.

WHY I ENJOYED READING A YEAR IN PROVENCE

A year in Provence gives you more than just a view into perfect lavender fields, vineyards, and picturesque countrysides. It also gives you an insight into the culture and everyday life of Provence. It is a great book to acquaint yourself with French country life and what to expect if you’re planning to visit.

These are just some of the best books to read before you travel to another country. Do you have any favourite travel books that you would recommend?

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