17 of the Best Books to Read While Traveling

Our fellow travel bloggers recommend the books that changed their travel lives!

best books to read while traveling

If you’re anything like me, you’re constantly searching for the best books to read while traveling. In a self-serving move to fill my reading list, I asked my fellow travel bloggers to recommend their favourite travel books.

Here are the books that changed the way these bloggers travel, that inspired them to do more and to seek more, and that helped them through tough times on the road.

You can save these books for your next trip or just pick up a few now to inspire your future travels!

The Best Books to Read While Traveling

Full Tilt by Dervla Murphy

Recommended by Jane M (that’s me!), My Five Acres

Last winter, while we were housesitting in Portugal, I plucked Full Tilt off the shelf, happy to finally get to read it. I had heard about Murphy’s crazy exploits by bicycle and wanted to check them out for myself.

What’s it about?

In 1963, Murphy set out from Ireland on an old ratty bicycle with the modest goal of cycling all the way to India.

In this, I suspect slightly fictionalized, account of her epic cycling trip, she encounters pests ranging from bedbugs, to hungry wolves, to would-be rapists. With the help of her trusty sidearm, she outmanoeuvres them all.

She is funny, outrageous, and stronger than anyone has a right to be. Reading about Murphy’s adventures always inspires me to be a little more adventurous in my own travels — though I will never go to her extremes!

Who should read this book?

For anyone with a penchant for adventure on two wheels, Dervla Murphy’s Full Tilt is required reading. Reading Murphy’s book will help you realize that you’ve got nothing to fear when setting out on a modern day adventure.

Read reviews and check prices

Don’t miss our favourite place to travel in Ireland

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Recommended by Rowena, A Nomad on the Loose

Americanah is a poignant novel about the intersection of race, immigration, love, and identity. I read this while in Bali where I was constantly being asked where I’m “really” from, with implications that only Caucasians can be American.

What’s it about?

Americanah is mostly set in the United States and Nigeria, with a few parts in the United Kingdom. It’s a contemporary story that spans the last 15 years or so. The story follows Ifemelu, who emigrates from Nigeria to the United States while her high school sweetheart moves to the United Kingdom when his visa to the US is denied.

The years pass and Ifemelu, the main character and narrator, experiences different types of racism in America. These experiences tie into her love life, social life, and self-identity. Ifemelu details her experiences in her successful blog about race in America. She decides to return to Nigeria after 15 years in the U.S. and has startling new experiences when she does. She also encounters her old flame, who has also returned to their homeland and has his own immigrant experiences to share.

Who should read this book?

I’d recommend this book to anyone, especially those from more homogeneous countries who may be traveling to diverse countries for the first time. Americanah is one of the best books to read for traveling if you’re interested in socioeconomic nuances of various cultures.

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Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac

Recommended by Candiss Koenitzer, Lost Not Found

I picked up Dharma Bums on a whim as I was grabbing books for my solo Caribbean vacation. Being the first book I read on that trip, this book perfectly evoked the feeling of wandering and the desire for simplicity that led me to take my long weekend beach vacation.

What’s it about?

Dharma Bums is set in the late 1950s, with most of the story taking place in various parts of northern California, including the centre of the Beat Poet universe, San Francisco. The book is a loose semi-autobiographical account of Jack Kerouac’s own exploration of Buddhism and the Beat culture following the publication (and unexpected success) of his landmark book On The Road.

The main character, Ray Smith, is loosely based on Kerouac himself and Japhy Ryder is based on Kerouac’s friend who introduced him to Buddhism. Dharma Bums is written in Kerouac’s trademark style — a flowing freeform narrative which evokes Ray’s feelings of uncertainty. Through the story, Ray struggles to align the part of himself that loves city life with the part that finds greater meaning through the meditation of living in solitude.

Who should read this book?

This book is perfect for the introspective traveler who wants to explore how they fit into the world.

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Pol Pot: The History of a Nightmare by Philip Short

Recommended by Daniele Giannotta, Cycloscope | Bicycle Touring Planet Earth

I found Pol Pot: The History of a Nightmare on a book sharing shelf in a Phnom Penh bar. Of course I knew a bit about the Khmer Rouge and the recent history of Cambodia, but reading this book really opened my eyes to many aspects of modern Cambodia.

What’s it about?

The book tells the story of the Cambodian communist party since before its foundation in 1951, covering the decolonization of Cambodia, its enlightened years when the Khmer nation was leading the cultural renaissance of the former Indochina, through music, art, and architecture.

The people involved in the Cambodian revolution are thoroughly investigated, from their childhood, through their adolescence and youth, their studies abroad, and ideological formation. The dark period of the Khmer Rouge’s rule is described in detail, a shocking account of one of the most horrifying periods in world history. This book is universally acclaimed as the best book ever written about the Khmer Rouge, and deservedly so.

Who should read this book?

This is one of the best books to read while traveling to Cambodia but I would say it’s a must-read for all those traveling to countries of the former Indochina.

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If you’re heading to Cambodia, don’t miss our favourite adventure in Cambodia

Shogun by James Clavell

Recommended by Jonathan, The Royal Tour

Shogun is my favourite book of all time. It sparked in my young self a love of history and a desire to see it in action in any way I could. I have read it at least five times, and enjoy it just as much each time as I did the first.

What’s it about?

The book takes place in imperial Japan at the beginning of the Tokugawa Shogunate. It is about an English sea captain who is marooned there amidst the political struggles between different factions vying for power. He tries to adjust to the strange land, its language and customs, and attempts to survive and find a new beginning. The book features an array of characters including samurais, ninjas, geishas, and more, set in a vivid world that invites you to truly experience this period in history.

Who should read this book?

Anyone interested in learning more about Japan.

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The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb

Recommended by MexicoCassie

I love how beautifully The Farseer Trilogy is crafted. The characters aren’t perfect but they are so real. I’m not normally into fantasy but the tales are gripping and the characters feel like part of my life now.

What’s it about?

The books are set in the Six Duchies, an imaginary land. They follow the life of one man, Fitz, as he works as an assassin for his uncle, the king. It sounds cheesy but really isn’t at all. Fitz’ personal life is as tricky as his professional life, and Robin Hobb’s skillful writing interweaves the two parts of his main character’s life seamlessly.

Who should read this book?

This trilogy is perfect for any traveler with a long journey to while away!

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Seven Years in Tibet by Heinrich Harrer

Recommended by Andra, Our World to Wander

For me, Seven Years in Tibet was the perfect travel companion during my 28 days of trekking in the Sagarmatha National Park in Nepal. I devoured it each evening before going to sleep. And some days I would wake up and read it during breakfast, within view of Himalaya’s giants.

What’s it about?

The book depicts Herrer’s amazing story of his escape from a British internment camp in India and his journey through Tibet. He finally reaches Lhasa in 1946 and settles there. You then get immersed in what life in Lhasa was like before the Chinese invasion.

You learn about the Tibetan culture, you discover the traditions that used to define this amazing land, you get swept away by the essence of Mahayana Buddhism. You smile when you discover the Tibetans’ way of building — they will stop each time they see a worm on their shovel, just to pick it up and put it in a safe place. And yes, you get a glimpse of the Dalai Lama’s childhood. Herrer’s way of interacting with locals and getting integrated into their society is truly remarkable. His stories about life in Lhasa are a mix of history, culture, adventure, friendship, and spirituality.

Who should read this book?

I would recommend this book to any traveler who is curious about an astonishing culture. Travelers who have a special connection with mountains will not want to put it down.

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Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

Recommended by Campbell & Alya, Stingy Nomads

The first time I heard about Into the Wild was in a hostel in Barcelona, where we watched the movie based on the book. Later, while traveling in Central America, I got to read it and it had an influence on the way we were traveling. We decided to go more ‘wild’, bought a tent and started hiking and hitch-hiking. By the end of our Latin American adventure we had hitchhiked through most of South America and did some pretty wild unguided hikes in the region.

What’s it about?

The book was inspired by a real story that took place between 1992 and 1994. The main character, Alexander Supertramp (not his real name) is a talented and smart guy from a prosperous family who, after his graduation, decided to give all his savings to charity, packed as few possessions as possible, and went traveling through US. It took him two years to get to Alaska, his final destination. He worked along the way, hitchhiking between places, sleeping on streets, and finding himself in some tough situations.

Who should read this book?

Backpackers, adventurous travelers.

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What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding by Kristin Newman

Recommended by James, Portugalist

What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding is one of the funniest memoirs I’ve read in a long time. It’s also one of the most inspiring books that I’ve read. Newman’s passion for travel is contagious, and after reading this book it’s almost impossible not to head to your favourite travel website to book your next adventure.

What’s it about?

What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding is a memoir written by comedy writer Kristin Newman (How I Met Your Mother, The Neighbors). In it she shares her adventures in South and Central America, and her brief relationships with the attractive men that she met there. Naturally, given that Newman is a comedy writer, the book is incredibly funny. But, as well as funny, Newman remains open and honest as she recounts her phobia towards commitment and career, and shares why she puts travel ahead all of these things.

Reading the book, I was jealous of Newman’s adventurous spirit which takes her to all sorts of wonderfully exotic places and into highly entertaining situations. Her ability to throw caution to the wind and simply travel (alone) will inspire many wannabe solo female travelers.

Who should read this book?

All travel-lovers — whether solo travelers, couples, or even those who have been traveling for a long time — are likely to appreciate this inspiring travel memoir.

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The Backpacker by John Harris

Recommended by Craig O’Brien, Vagabond Disposition

For me, The Backpacker truly captures the essence of the out-of-the-ordinary, crazed backpacker journey. I read it about a year or so into my original backpacking career, and because I had recently visited a few (exact!) physical locations from the book, I felt a connection to the story and to the overall vagabond spirit that encapsulates the novel.

What’s it about?

The book is set at the turn of the century in several different locations, starting first in India, then for a good deal of the story in Thailand, and after that, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Northern Territory of Australia, and finally Hong Kong.

Beginning in India, John is on a short holiday with his (later, ex) girlfriend, who is having an utterly miserable time. In a grotty bathroom in suburban India, John runs into Rick, with whom he seems to strike an instant, nearly metaphysical chord. After not many words said, Rick convinces John to ditch India (and his girlfriend!) and join him in pursuit of true hedonism in Thailand.

Their tale continues to the island of Koh Phangan, where the pair become a trio with the addition of Dave. Together, the three indulge fully in the pleasures of paradise. Deep, serious, and life-threatening trouble awaits, which forces them on a non-stop run through Southeast Asia, eventually landing on the northern shores of Oz. The rest is left to you, vagabond reader!

Who should read this book?

This book is perfect for the budding backpacker.

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Holy Cow: An Indian Adventure by Sarah Macdonald

Recommended by Heather Rader, Ohio Girl Travels

After visiting India, I found myself trying to comprehend the chaos and spirituality that encompasses this beautiful country. Reading Holy Cow after my trip helped me better understand India’s incredible characteristics and made me appreciate my amazing Indian adventure even more!

What’s it about?

Journalist Sarah MacDonald backpacked through India in the late 1980s, which left her with less-than-fond memories and she believed she had no reason to ever return. Eleven years later, she found herself moving to India where she discovered the trials and tribulations of living in one of the most populated and polluted cities in the world. Readers will find her witty writing endearing as she takes you on her soul-searching adventure through India.

Who should read this book?

This book is perfect for any traveler who has ever visited, or dreams of a trip to, India.

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Find out what surprised us most about traveling in India

Total Immersion: The Revolutionary Way To Swim Better, Faster, and Easier by Terry Laughlin

Recommended by Jub, Tiki Touring Kiwi

Total Immersion changed my travels and my life. Having grown up in New Zealand, I was never able to swim a length despite taking swimming lessons. I’ve spent a lot of my travels in Southeast Asia but I always avoided beach locations — not being confident in the water was embarrassing and it was easier to avoid the situation. Fortunately, I spent a week at a friend’s place with a pool this year, implemented all the strategies in the book, and can now float endlessly and swim well enough to say “Yes, I know how to swim.” I came across this book after hearing that Tim Ferriss learned how to swim this way.

What’s it about?

The lessons start with you at the side of the pool. You start by learning the basics about how to float, then each step builds on top of the last. The book explains how you should feel and what positions you need to get into. At the end of the book, you won’t be the fastest swimmer ever, but taking your time to go through the steps allows to build a foundation to swim confidently.

Who should read this book?

This a book for anyone who loves the idea of an island vacation and doing water activities, but cannot swim confidently. This was me, and while I snorkelled a couple times and surfed, honestly I was stupid and put not only myself in danger but friends as well. Now that I can swim with greater confidence and can float, I’m happier in the water and can safely go out in water above my shoulders.

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Wanderlove by Kirsten Hubbard

Recommended by Sky, Sky vs World

I read Wanderlove when I was a senior in high school and ready to go on an adventure to Central America, just like the main character of the book. I connected with the main character and the plot so much that I actually have a tattoo related to this book.

What’s it about?

Wanderlove is about a girl just graduating high school who signs up for a group tour through Guatemala. She ends up ditching the restrictive group (everyone is years older than her) when she meets a few backpackers in Guatemala who encourage her to get off the beaten path and truly experience the country. She travels through Guatemala and Belize, discovering a whole lot about herself. And, there’s a cute boy.

Who should read this book?

Young solo travelers or those who want to take their first trip.

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A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

Recommended by Jillian Greenawalt, Greenawalts Travel

A Walk in the Woods opened my eyes as to what opportunities lie out in the world, and out of doors. Bill Bryson, his companion, and the people he encounters on the trail are just ordinary people. Some are in shape, many aren’t, but they all have goals, and are putting one foot in front of the other in order to accomplish them and learn more about themselves.

What’s it about?

The Appalachian Trail is around 2200 miles long and runs from Georgia, in the southeastern US, north to Maine, the most northeastern state. The author, Bill Bryson, has decided to thru-hike (walk the entire length of trail on one trip) from Georgia to Maine. He invites a friend of sorts and they set off on an epic journey.

Bill Bryson is known for his witty writing and he does not disappoint. He comments on the history and upkeep up the trail, bears, shelters, and the people he encounters along the way.

Who should read this book?

Anyone. Whether or not you are an “outdoorsy” traveler, A Walk in the Woods is an entertaining and witty read.

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Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts

Recommended by Steffi, Beach Bum Adventures

I read Shantaram, an epic adventure novel, when I was a teenager and so began my interest in India. I have since read so many more books about India but as this was the first one, it’s one of the most important to me.

What’s it about?

Shantaram is based on a true story of an Australian man who escaped from prison in Australia and managed to smuggle himself onto a flight to India. It details all his experiences there: living in a slum; joining the Mumbai mafia; falling in love; learning about religions and spirituality; and even fighting for the Mujahideen in Afghanistan.

Who should read this book?

Any traveler who wants to be inspired to visit India and learn about all the incredible experiences this country has to offer.

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All Over the Place: Adventures in Travel, True Love, and Petty Theft by Geraldine DeRuiter

Recommended by Meg Frost, Frost + Sun

It’s so easy to let rough times keep you down. Reading Geraldine DeRuiter’s debut book is an excellent reminder that when life gives you lemons, make batch after batch of lemonade. Oh, and don’t forget to laugh about when it’s all done, too!

What’s it about?

All Over the Place is set, well, all over the place! This hilarious book is a collection of personal stories from American travel blogger, Geraldine DeRuiter.

After Geraldine was laid off from her job, she started tagging along with her husband when he traveled for work. Eventually she started blogging about it so her husband could remember where they’d been.

All Over the Place uses the same tone and laugh-til-you-cry storytelling that Geraldine is known for on her blog. Many of the stories take place during the early years of her wildly popular blog, The Everywhereist, like the time she and an eco-friendly hotel toilet duked it out. Others recount more frustrating times, like when she was diagnosed with a brain tumour.

No matter what life throws in her way, Geraldine always has a unique way of working around it — and laughing about it later. And you’ll be laughing alongside her!

Who should read this book?

If you’re a traveler with an excellent sense of humour and love a good laugh, you’ll enjoy All Over the Place.

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A Room with a View by E.M. Forster

Recommended by Jane M (that’s me!), My Five Acres

I first read A Room with a View when I was in high school and it’s been my favourite book ever since. It was only recently that I realized just how much Forster’s descriptions of traveling in Italy inspired my own travel style.

Don’t miss my post Everything I Know About Travel I Learned From A Room With A View

What’s it about?

Set in the early 1900s, the novel opens as Lucy Honeychurch, a sheltered upper-class English girl, gets her first taste of travel abroad. Chaperoned by her far-too-proper aunt and surrounded by other English travelers, Lucy’s spirit is stifled and her travels are underwhelming.

Enter George Emerson, the love interest, who believes in following his heart, instead of behaving as society dictates. The novel follows Lucy’s transformation while also providing sharp commentary about English Edwardian society.

Who should read this book?

Anyone who loves literary novels, Italy, or intelligent romance.

Read reviews and check prices (you can get the Kindle version for free right now!) →

What books inspired you to travel? Which books do you read again and again when you’re on the road? What’s your perfect beach book? Please share in the comments.

  Happy mindful adventures, Stephen & Jane

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If you're anything like me, you're constantly searching for the **best books to read while traveling**. In a self-serving move to fill my reading list, I asked my fellow travel bloggers to recommend their favourite travel books.

Please Pin if you like to read!

2 comments

  1. Comment by Jillian

    Jillian Reply December 5, 2017 at 11:37 am

    This is a great list of reads! Adding them to my TBR list, for sure. Thank you for letting me contribute!

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane December 8, 2017 at 3:22 am

      Thanks so much for you contribution – I now have enough to read to get me all the way through the holidays!

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