Whether you’re back home and in need of inspiration, curious about a destination, these books help you for your travel need. In these all books, you can find the adventure, inspiration, and also history.
It is written in the eighth century B.C, it is the sequel to the oldest work of western literature: The Iliad and it recounts hero Odysseus’ return from the Trojan War, which was supposed to be a short trip back to his homeland of Ithaca, turns into an epic ten-year adventure. It is a classic story.
This book showed me a new approach to travel, something that did not have to be postponed until you might be too old to enjoy it, but something that could be done right now for a lot cheaper than you think. This book is both practical, inspirational, and highly recommended by me.
Henry David Thoreau
Henry David Thoreau who graduated from Harvard about two hundred years ago -and rejected society’s expectations- to go live in a cabin in the Massachusett’s woods that he built with his own two hands.
Thoreau worked just a couple weeks in a year in order to buy the essentials that he needed in order to spend the rest of the year walking, writing, and thinking deeply on the meaning of life. His writings on frugality are required reading for anyone who wants to work less and live more.
Wild is the true story of Cheryl Strayed who attempts to recover from the death of her mother and a divorce, by walking a thousand miles along the Pacific Crest Trail, from California’s Mohave Desert to the border of Canada. Cheryl did it completely alone with no training and comes uncomfortably close to some very dangerous encounters along the way. Her story of perseverance became an instant best seller and was turned into a feature film starring “Reese Witherspoon” in 2014.
A Walk in the Woods
Bill Bryson’s hilarious account of his two thousand mile backcountry journey from Maine to Georgia along the Appellation Trail. Bryson is a great travel companion. He is a reluctant adventurer with a very rye sense of humor but its complemented with his descriptions of the history and ecology of the places he’s passing, not to mention his unforgettable characterizations of the people he meets along the way.
Few writers have achieved the legendary status of Jack Kerouac, the restless vagabond novelist who broke free from the confining shackles of 1950s America to found “The Beat Generation”, the counter-culture predecessors to “The Hippie Movement”.
My favorite of Kerouac’s novels is the Dharma Bums about his search for Zen Enlightenment in California’s Sierra Nevadas Mountains. But, his most popular book is On The Road, a slightly fictionalized version of his travels across post-war America, looking for weed, wine, women, and jazz. Kerouac’s tales of hitch-hiking, rough camping and truth-seeking redefine what it means to be young, free, and full of soul.
Marco Polo is perhaps the most famous traveler of all-time. He was born in Venice, Italy in 1254. The son of a merchant, he left Italy to travel across all of Asia overland, eventually becoming the guest of the Mongol emperor of China, Kublai Khan, and returning to Europe 24 years later to tell the story to Europeans who knew virtually nothing of the outside world.
His books sparked Europe’s interest in China and India. This book is interesting because these days there’s no shortage of Chinese tourist in Venice or Italians on the Great Wall of China. It was a historic encounter, but if you cannot get into the original text, check out the two-part series. It’s dramatized, can be boring at times, but it puts this historic encounter of east and west into some colorful perspective.
Ibn Battuta, a 21-year-old legal student from Morocco goes on Pilgrimage to Mecca and returns 24 years later. His travels take him all across North Africa, Egypt, The Middle East, The Caspian Sea, India, China, and South East Asia. The Travels of Ibn Battuta is a fascinating insight into the medieval Muslim world from a perspective that the people very rarely hear in the west.
The Alchemist is like a fictionalized inspirational version of the real-life story of Ibn Battuta. It tells the story of Santiago, a boy from Southern Spain, who one night dreams about the pyramids in Egypt and sets off on a journey across North Africa to see them. It is fictional, but the lessons about how life is a journey will resonate with anybody seeking a deeper purpose in life.
Pico Iyer bursts into the ranks of travel writing history with his 1989 travel log: Video Night in Kathmandu. Iyer was born in Britain to Indian parents and raised in California. And his third culture upbringing lends his travel essays incisive insight into foreign cultures. This book is a post-modern classic tale of his journeys from Bali to Burma and all the backpacker dives in between. To get a better taste of Iyer, check out his Ted Talk.
Another classic on backpacker culture in Asia is Holy Cow by Sarah MacDonald. A journalist who follows her lover to New Delhi and goes through all the stages of culture.
Shantaram, an epic story based on the true life of author Gregory David Roberts, a former criminal who escaped from maximum security prison in Australia to hide in the slums of Mumbai eventually joining the Indian underground mafia and smuggling guns to rebels in Afghanistan.
The most talented and prolific travel writer of the last century must be Paul Theroux whose most well-known book is “The Great Railway Bazaar”, a travel log about the most epic train journey of all time. From London to Tokyo via the Trans-Siberian, the Khyber Pass Local, and the Orient Express. Theroux has a unique style that blends astute observations with wordy dialogue and a misanthropic world view that makes him the doer traveler that you hate to love.
Eat Pray Love
One woman’s search for everything across Italy, India, and Indonesia. Eat Pray Love is the true story of how author Elizabeth Gilbert dealt with a midlife crisis divorce and depression by selling all her possessions, quitting her job and hitting the road for a year of solo travel. As the story progresses, Elizabeth finds herself by eating in Italy, studying with a guru in India, and eventually finding love and balance in Bali.
Into The Wild
Into The Wild is a true story of Chris Mccandless, a young American who abandoned the life of privilege in order to hitchhike across the country in search of freedom, only to be discovered dead in the wilderness of Alaska a few years later. It is written by adventure journalist Jon Krakauer and adapted into a major motion picture by Sean Penn, this book is powerful and sad.
The Innocents Abroad
Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain’s hilarious dispatches from a steamship trip to Europe and The Holy Land shortly after The American Civil War. Twain lampoons his countrymen’s provincialism in a way that many modern readers read as racist. But the book’s ultimate conclusion is Twain’s most famous quote: “That travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrowmindedness”. Innocents Abroad is Twain at his funniest and is a guaranteed laugh even 150 years later.
Winterdance, the story of what happens when a total rookie attempts the world’s toughest endurance race. The Iditarod, 1150 mile winter dog sled race across the frozen tundra of Alaska.
The Poisonwood Bible
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver is the fictional story of a fervent Baptist missionary family from Georgia who moves to the Belgian Congo in the 1950s. Three decades abroad challenge their faith, their unity, and their preconceptions about Africa and America’s role abroad.
The Angry Wind
The Angry Wind, my favorite travel log from one of my favorite travel writers, Jeffrey Tayler. Jeff is a polyglot, an intellectual giant and a talented journalist who has canoed down the Congo, rafted through Siberia, and in this book traveled across the Muslim nations of the Sahara by camel shortly. Jeff blends current events, history, and adventure like non-other. Read any of his books and you’re guaranteed to learn something about our planet.
Four Corners is written by Kira Salak, the amazing story of the first woman to solo travel across the entire length of Papua New Guinea. She does it on foot and in a canoe, and that alone is an incredible feat. But to be done by a 24-year-old solo female traveler makes it that much more amazing.
It is widely regarded as one of the best motorcycle travel books of all time. It tells the true story of Ted Simon’s four years, 126,000 Km journey through forty-five countries on a 1970’s Triumph Tiger. He starts in Europe and makes his way all the way back via the Hippy Trail in Afghanistan and the wilds of Kenya.
The Motorcycle Diaries
The Motorcycle Diaries by Ernesto Che Guevara. The collective journals of Che’s infamous journeys from Buenos Aires to Florida on a 1939 Norton motorcycle. The book traces the experiences that transformed him from a 23-year-old medical student in Argentina to an armed revolutionary in Cuba willing to fight for the poor and die for a unified Latin America.
Barbarian Days is a new book by surfer, journalist and war reporter, William Finnegan. The book chronicles, William Finnegan’s experiences as a first generation surf explorer. He grew up in the 1960s in Hawaii, before following the endless summer to some of the most remote corners of this planet. The book chronicles his life long search for unchartered, unsurfed waves from Polynesia to Madagascar and everywhere in between.
Tracks, a book by Robyn Davidson, which documents her solo trip 1700 miles across the outback of Australia with only the company of her four camels and one dog. For those of you who don’t know Australia is also with poisonous snakes and scorpions and all sorts of creepy crawlies. Not to mention, the desert there is one of the largest and most remote in the world.
It is written by Bruce Chatwin. Songlines are the verbal maps of Aboriginal Australians that are passed down from generation to generation through songs. The book is also a meditation on a theme that runs throughout Chatwin’s work and the roots of restlessness and why some people prefer to travel. It’s also about the conflicts between settlers, in this case, the British, and those who prefer to wander.
Wayfinders is written by Nat Geo Explorer in residence, Wade Davis. Davis is a traveling anthropologist with a powerful message. Aboriginal societies hold important ancient wisdom that is being ignored by western society at our own peril. And that modern development is causing these cultures to disappear before our very eyes.