The 10 Best Travel Books in the World

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Throughout the years there have been many amazing travel books written.

The best travel books are the ones that draw you in to their world completely, show you a new side of the world and inspire you to get out there and see it for yourself.

The best ones also document both physical and spiritual journeys (simultaneously), and will fill the time on a long bus, plane or train ride.

Here’s a list of 10 great travel-related books out there at the moment (in no particular order):

‘On the Road’ by Jack Keroac
On the RoadWritten in 1957, ‘On the Road’ inspired a whole generation of travelers and is often cited as a ‘true American classic’.

The book stars Sal Paradise (who is modeled after Kerouac) and his hero Dean Moriarty; a traveler full of life and adventures, the living epitome of Beat.

The story follows Sal and Dean as they leave New York City to head west where they find ‘jazz, sex, generosity, chill dawns, and drugs’, and it is certainly one of the best travel books ever written.

‘The Motorcycle Diaries: Notes on a Latin American Journey’ by Che Guevara
Motorcycle DiariesThis book is the now-legendary story of Ernesto “Che” Guevara’s eight-month motorcycle trip across South America during 1951-52.

This book (now a motion picture) follows a 23 year-old Guevara and records his thoughts, political ideas and adventures.

Che starts this book as a young medical student and ends it as a revolutionary. His time in South America (where he witnessed and met many underprivileged people) fueled his desire for change.

‘The Alchemist’ by Paulo Coelho
The AlchemistA story all about following your dreams and dealing with the setbacks you will inevitably encounter along the way.

‘The Alchemist’ is a story so universal and relatable that it has sold over 35 million copies worldwide and has been published in over 63 different languages.

The story is of a young shepherd from Spain who dreams of vast riches. He is inspired to follow his dream (through a chance meeting with a king) and heads off to Egypt in search of treasure.

‘The Alchemist’ is one of those rare books that two people can read and take something completely different away from it. It seems to be written in such a way that it can relate to just about anyone – no matter what stage of their life they’re at.

As Madonna said: “The Alchemist is a beautiful book about magic, dreams and the treasures we seek elsewhere and then find on our doorstep”.

‘A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail’ by Bill Bryson
A Walk in the WoodsBill Bryson is a well known (and fantastic) travel writer, and this top 10 list could’ve been a list of ten of his books, such is the quality of his writing.

‘A Walk in theWoods’ documents Bryson’s ‘rediscovery of America’ as he journeys across the Appalachian Trail (which stretches from Georgia to Maine and includes some spectacular scenery and terrain).

Throughout the book, Bryson talks about the people he meets along the way, the history of the trail and draws us right into the experience as if we were walking the trail alongside him.

‘The Beach’ by Alex Garland
The BeachMost people will probably know this book because of the major motion picture (starring Leonardo DiCaprio) that succeeded it (although the book is significantly different from the film version).

‘The Beach’ takes place on a mythical island off the coast of Thailand. The island is known about by only a few backpackers, each of whom is determined to keep their paradise a secret.

The book makes you think about man’s constant search for utopia and paradise, and how the act of finding it often leads to its extinction.

‘Into the Wild’ by John Krakauer
Into the WildJohn Krakauer’s ‘Into the Wild’ is almost a modern day ‘On the Road’. Based on a true story, the book follows the life of Chris McCandles, who, upon finishing college decides to donate his life savings to charity, give up all of his possessions and head west towards Alaska.

After aptly renaming himself to Alex ‘Supertramp’ McCandles, we witness Alex hitchhiking, riding the rails and working on a farm (among other things) in an attempt to experience the world en route to his ultimate goal of living in the Alaskan wildnerness.

McCandles’ story is a brave and inspiring one, but is also heartbreaking at times (as his family have no idea of his whereabouts or wellbeing).

As well as being one of the best travel books ever written, ‘Into the Wild’ has also been made into a motion picture and is well worth watching.

‘Around the World in 80 Days’ by Jules Verne
Around the World in 80 DaysJules Verne’s legendary book about traveling (written in 1873) follows Phileas Fogg (along with his trusty helper Passerpout) as he attempts to circumnavigate the world in just 80 days.

Their travels take them to some of the world’s most interesting places (such as Egypt and the Suez Canal) and this story (since adapted to numerous films and TV series’) has inspired generations of travelers everywhere.

Being one of the very first great travel books ever written, ‘Around the Wolrd in 80 Days’ set the benchmark for future authors everywhere.

‘Michael Palin’s Hemingway’s Adventure’ by Michael Palin
Hemingway AdventureMichael Palin is one of the great travel writers and is often understated and underappreciated. As with Bill Bryson, Palin has been on numerous adventures and has written several excellent books, making it hard to choose just one for this list.

In this book, Palin decides to follow in the footsteps of one of his great traveling heros: Ernest Hemingway. Palin’s admiration for Hemingway throughout the book is clear and infectious, and sees him traveling across Italy, Spain, Paris, Africa, Cuba and the USA.

Palin’s typical English charm, wit and politeness endear him to the audience and make him the perfect vessel for vicarious travelers.

‘Seven Years in Tibet’ by Heinrich Harrer
Seven years in TibetThis classic tale tells the story of Austrian mountaineer Heinrich Harrer’s escape from India in 1943. During his escape, Harrer was forced to trek across the Himalayas and take shelter in Tibet (hence the name of the book).

Harrer describes his time in Tibet (including being mentored by the Dalai Lama) and his observations of their culture.

Originally published in 1953, ‘Seven Years in Tibet’ is a classic travel book, and a real insight into what Tibet used to be like (before the Chinese invasion in 1950).

‘Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel’ by Rolf Potts
Vagabonding‘Vagabonding’ is perhaps the best travel book ever written (in my opinion), and is the one that has helped and influenced me more than any other.

Rolf Potts’ book isn’t a fictional travel story or an autobiography. Instead, it’s a highly engaging and educational guide, and is a must read for anyone interested in long-term world travel.

Potts discusses how to finance your travels, how to adjust to life on the road, working and volunteering overseas, how to handle adversity while traveling and how to re-assimilate back into ‘normal’ life.

Potts also talks about the right mindset a traveler should have in order to get the most out of the experience and add value to the world around them.

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  • Andy

    Nick,

    This is a great list. I would venture another book for 11-20 next best books for travel..”Meetings with Remarkable Men” by G.I.Gurdjieff. which is travelogue plus a wee bit of philosophy.
    Andy.