We asked our fans on social media what their favorite travel books are. Here are your answers.
Books have the power to inspire travel, whether that’s a physical trip or something that happens in our own imaginations. From suggestions for tried-and-true travel memoirs from the likes of Anthony Bourdain to beloved children’s books, here are your answers. These are your favorite travel books, ever.
The Books for Young Travelers
Many of our social media followers mentioned children’s books. Babar and Madeleine taught us how to travel in style, and Eloise taught us how to find a chic hotel. According to one reader, their original literary travel inspiration came from “Flat Stanley, whose teacher folded him up and mailed him around the world!” A surprising number of people very sweetly talked about their school textbooks, from elementary school social studies classes on ancient civilizations to graduate-level courses in Art History featuring Henri Cartier-Bresson. One reader says that inspiration came from their 7thgrade World History textbook: “When I flipped it open and saw the Hagia Sophia in all its glory, I knew I had to go there one day…and I have—twice!”
And speaking of school, our reader submissions mentioned many books that might grace a high school English syllabus. These are the kind of books everybody should read once in life.
There were mentions of Gulliver’s Travels, Watership Down, The Hobbit, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn—some of the first literary adventures we’re introduced to in school. Some of the most famous American authors of the 20th century were cited, like John Steinbeck (Travels with Charley), Jack Kerouac (On the Road), and Ernest Hemingway (The Sun Also Rises).
But classics from across the pond weren’t left out, with two mentions of Jane Austen. One reader said they were particularly inspired by “Pride and Prejudice and the trip they take to Bath.”
The Usual Suspects
Travel writing is, of course, its own genre and unsurprisingly, books written by professional travelers (or professional writers who travel) topped the list. These are the prolific writers who have spent their whole career exploring the world and writing about what they’ve discovered.
Travel writers past and present were mentioned: Bill Bryson, Jacques Cousteau, Paul Theroux, Bruce Chatwin, Jules Verne, Patrick Leigh-Femor, and Gerald Durrell.
Travel writing has a whiteness epidemic, and that’s evident in these suggestions. There was only one female travel writer on the list, Rosemary Mahoney, and no travel writers of color. (If you’ve got a recommendation for a great travel memoir or nonfiction book that is NOT written by one of these old white dudes, please send me an email at [email protected] I’ll put a list together.)
Though not a traditional travel writer, James Michener was the author mentioned most across our channels, with his novel The Drifters cited multiple times. Other books of his that gave our readers itchy feet were Iberia and Tales of the South Pacific.
So many of you admitted that you loved Eat, Pray, Love. If you add up the people who mentioned the polarizing “chic lit” memoir and the people who probably wanted to mention it but might have been too embarrassed to do so, Elizabeth Gilbert would outrank James Michener as the most praised author.
Travel memoirs have a way of transporting us not just to a place, but to a feeling. Seeing the world through somebody else’s eyes is second only to seeing it for yourself, and the countless memoirs that our readers suggested can attest to this fact. Some of your favorites were A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle and Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes.
There were also some memoirs that, while not as well-known, still deserve our attention: Kiss the Sunset Pig by Laurie Gough, Little Saint by Hannah Green, Only in Spain by Nellie Bennett, and The Stone Boudoir by Theresa Maggio. One reader says that “Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea inspired me to visit Sanibel Island, Florida.”
We also can’t ignore the intersection of music and travel. (Being in a band means being on the road, after all.) One reader cited Roadshow by Neil Peart from the band Rush as their travel inspiration.
The Love Stories
Romance was a common theme in your favorite travel books, which makes sense—travel is not just about a destination, but the people we meet (and sometimes fall in love with) along the way. Romantic fiction by Danielle Steele and Rosamunde Pilcher made the list, and there were more than a few votes for the Outlander series. Another reader mentioned Beneath the Marble Sky by John Shors, a novel about a monument to love, the Taj Mahal. It was one of only a handful of books that our readers suggested that’s not about Europe.
The Food Stories
Like love, food is a more-than-significant part of travel. It’s probably the number one reason why we’ll brave a 14-hour flight in economy class. Likewise, some of your most inspiring travel books are about food. Anthony Bourdain was of course mentioned (Kitchen Confidential might have made him famous, but No Reservations: Around the World on an Empty Stomach has probably inspired the most trips). Other foodie favorites include Pasta, Pane, Vino: Deep Travels Through Italy’s Food Culture by Matt Goulding and Two Towns in Provence by food writer M.F.K. Fisher.
The Books I Personally Loved
I was very happy to see a few of my favorites in our reader suggestions.
Perhaps the person who suggested Galapagos by Kurt Vonnegut—a creepy and beautiful sci-fi novel about human evolution–hasn’t read the book or meant this as a joke, but in the off-chance that they’re being sincere, I think we’d be friends. (What’s your favorite Vonnegut, new friend? Mine is Slapstick.)
I couldn’t resist participating in our audience questions with a suggestion for the book that inspired me to see the world, West with the Night. It’s a memoir by Beryl Markham, a badass female bush pilot in Kenya who was the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic from East to West. Look her up, because she is an absolute icon. (And if you’re interested in the story but novels are more your style, pick up Paula McClain’s Circling the Sun.)
If you dream of India, Shantaram, although sometimes ridiculous, will have you booking a plane ticket ASAP to discover the dangerous and delightful magic of Mumbai for yourself.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette? is a modern classic that takes you on a wild trip to Antarctica. And as cheesy as it sounds, Moveable Feast is Hemingway at his best, capturing Paris at its best.
The Ones I’ve Never Heard of That Are Now on My List
There were a few books that our readers suggested that I had never heard of, but after a quick google search, they’re now on my reading list.
I’m perennially intrigued by Russia past and present, so suggestions for Michael Strogoff: The Courier of the Czar by Jules Verne and The Bronze Horsemen by Paullina Simons caught my eye. Like the Jules Verne book, many of the ones I hadn’t heard of are very old, including The Silent Gondoliers by William Golding (author of The Princess Bride!), which once reader says “instilled in me a desire to visit Venice.” The Complete Book of Marvelsalso caught my attention—go read the sweet and heartfelt reviews on Amazon and you’ll want to buy it, too.
That said, I love a good page-turner, so The Lost Girls by Heather Young looks like it’s going to be my next beach read. As one reader said, “It was like an incredible journey around the world that I just didn’t want to end!”
Your answers to our question also led me to discover the British national treasure that is Agatha Raisin, who seems like a mix between Bridget Jones and Agatha Christie. Thank you, dear readers.