Best Travel Books: Must-Reads to Inspire Wanderlust (Updated!)

written by local expert Anna Faustino

Anna is a co-founder of Adventure in You and has been traveling the world for the last 9 years. She has spent time living in Thailand, Mexico, Indonesia, and Spain and is our local expert in these areas. Her expertise on travel, gear, and building businesses have been featured on Foundr, Business Insider, Yahoo Travel, and more.

This coming year, both my partner Tom and I are committed to reading at least two books every month. Slightly ambitious, yes. Doable? Definitely.

This year, I will be alternating between business and start-up books but naturally, travel books are on the top of my list. Every time I put down a travel book, I am left inspired, in awe, and often just itching to pack my bags and go.

Whether you’re just looking for some travel inspiration or want to scratch a few books off the list this year, here are a few of my personal recommendations on the best travel books to inspire your inner wanderlust.

Lastly, for those vagabonds like me who sadly don’t have room to store and lug hard copies of books, I am also attaching the links to download them for your kindle/ iPad. Happy reading and I hope you enjoy them!

Quick Answer: Best Travel Books

Here are our recommendations on the best travel books to inspire wanderlust. Read on to get a glimpse of what each book is about!

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The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost | Rachel Friedman

“I imagine the people whose lives are most intertwined with mine, and I realize life has gone on without me. The planet has not imploded because I, the girl who has always done what is expected of her, decided not to, just this once.”

I love this book mostly because it’s so relatable!

Rachel Friedman is the typical goody two shoes who has lived all her life by the books. On a whim, she decides to buy a ticket to Ireland where she met a free-spirited Australian girl who inspires her to travel to Australia and South America.

It is a funny and honest memoir of how she breaks free from her shell as she travels across three continents, learning how to live in the moment.

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On the Road | Jack Kerouac

“The best teacher is experience and not through someone’s distorted point of view”

Naturally, no best travel books list would be complete without Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. The book’s whimsical storytelling will transport you through America post-World War, bringing you back to the golden age of exploration.

It is a mix of poetry, jazz, travel and drugs, taking you through a rollercoaster of emotions.

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Shantaram | Gregory David Roberts

“Sometimes we love with nothing more than hope. Sometimes we cry with everything except tears.” 

Although this was a pretty hefty read (it took me a while to plow through it), it was definitely a fascinating read.

Based on an Australian bank robber and heroin addict who escapes prison and flees to the slums of Bombay India, Shantaram is a mix of both fact and fiction. In India, he recovers from his addiction, ends up opening a local clinic, working for the Bombay Maffia, then becomes a guerrilla in the war against Russia in Afghanistan.

While parts of it are true, the story takes you to a world of wonder, fear, and contempt.

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The Beach | Alex Garland

“Trust me, it’s paradise. This is where the hungry come to feed. For mine is the generation that travels the globe and searches for something we haven’t tried before. So never refuse an invitation, never resist the unfamiliar, never fail to be polite & never outstay the welcome. Just keep your mind open and suck in the experience— And if it hurts, you know what? It’s probably worth it.” 

First things first, the book is so much better than the movie!

Alex Garland has nailed the feeling of why travelers go off the beaten path, in search of a place they can call paradise. This book can evoke a serious case of wanderlust as he transports you to a time before mass tourism has taken over Thailand.

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Southeast Asia Adventure Guides | Anna Faustino (me!)

No best travel books list would be complete without mentioning a few of our OWN books. So excuse the shameless plug but if you’re heading to Southeast Asia, check out our Adventure Guides.

Our guides will give you the inside scoop on the best things to see and do based from our years of experience traveling around Southeast Asia. From the best beaches and islands to visit, all the way down to the best mountains and scuba diving spots. If I say so myself, they are pretty epic!

View Our Adventure Guides!

Southeast Asia Adventure Guides Atlas Obscura | Joshua Foer, Dylan Thuras, Ella Morton

While this doesn’t really fall under the travel fiction category, I love, love, LOVE this book.

Atlas Obscura features some of the lesser-known places in the world that range from weird to obscure. It’s a bucket list for hardcore adventurers and travelers who are sick of the usual “I want to see the Eiffel tower while in Paris”.

It features the Gates of Hell in Turkmenistan, a bone museum in Italy, and other off the beaten path destinations. It’s inspiring, badass, and everything we love about obscure travel. Really, check this one out, guys!

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The Lost Girls | Jennifer Baggett, Holly C. Corbett, Amanda Pressner

“Were the paths that we were heading down the right ones for us- or were we simply staying the course because we thought we should? Was the road most frequently traveled the one that we wanted to follow?”

This memoir is a light and easy read, written by three friends in their mid-twenties who leave their corporate jobs in New York to pursue their dream of traveling the world. It takes them to ashrams, hostel hookups, and everything else that falls in between long-term travel.

While it won’t win the Pulitzer and is not one of the most well-written things I’ve read, it’s lighthearted and entertaining.

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In a Sunburned Country | Bill Bryson

“As the saying goes, it takes all kinds to make the world go around, though perhaps some shouldn’t go quite so far around it as others.”

Known for his hilarious humor and knack for shedding light on traveling to a new place, this award-winning author has perfectly captured the essence of Australia. Bill Bryson tells it all — from dangerous critters, stunning beaches, to the strife and history of the aboriginals.

I enjoyed this book as it really puts a twist and brings a humorous perspective to traveling Australia. His approach is factual, interesting, and really really funny, without resorting to the usual stereotypes of “I’m-from-Australia-and-I-love-beer”.

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Into the Wild | Jon Krakauer

“Happiness [is] only real when shared.”

Unlike most books turned into movies, I actually loved the film. But the book is as inspiring and gripping.

Krauker walks you through the life of Christopher Johnson McCandless, otherwise known as Alexander Supertramp, who gives away his life savings, burns all form of identification, and travels to the Alaskan wilderness. The book was dark, full of idealism, and moving to a point that it will keep you up at night – a must read if you like outdoor adventure books!

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Wild | Cheryl Strayed

“I’m a free spirit who never had the balls to be free.”

Gaining popularity after being recognized in Oprah’s book club, and becoming a New York Times Bestseller, Wild is an honest memoir about how travel can spark change, closure, and a new beginning.

After hitting rock bottom, the author takes on the Pacific Crest Trail, from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon and all the way to Washington State, on a quest to find herself.

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Wanderlust | Elizabeth Eaves

“Travel is life-changing. That’s the promise made by a thousand websites and magazines, by philosophers and writers down the ages. Mark Twain said it was fatal to prejudice, and Thomas Jefferson said it made you wise. Anais Nin observed that “we travel, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls.” It’s all true. Self-transformation is what I sought and what I found.”

Recounting her tales which spans over 15 years of travel across 5 continents, the author speaks honestly about her love of exploration as she finds herself amidst a string of lovers, travel, and life in the unknown.

I love the honesty that the author conveys as well as the strong voice urging others that it’s okay to live an unconventional life.

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Backpacker Business | Nikki Scott

Breaking away from the usual fiction travel genre, I really enjoyed reading this book as the author shares her journey to Southeast Asia which brought about the birth of a successful business, Southeast Asia Backpacker Magazine.

Nikki fondly recounts tales of travel and frustration as she tries to launch a business in Asia — something I can definitely relate too. It’s a good mix of hilarious travel insights which are very relatable (hands up if you’ve been on a chicken bus) and practical business woes.

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Marching Powder |Rusty Young

“Even though I only met many of these people once, I knew that they were real friends. You know how? I had nothing to give them. I couldn’t give them money, I couldn’t give them status, I couldn’t take them to fancy places and buy drinks for them. All I had were my stories and who I was, and that was enough for them to want to stay in contact. For the first time in my life, that was enough.”

Marching Powder is an interesting read about an English drug smuggler, Thomas McFadden, who was arrested in Bolivia and thrown in San Pedro Prison.

The book gives you a glimpse of prison hierarchy, drugs, and surviving life inside the prison. Everything from the production of top notch cocaine, to how he ended up making a living by giving backpackers tours of the prison.

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Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas | Hunter S. Thompson

“Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run, but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world. Whatever it meant.”

Before Hollywood and Johnny Depp made this book popular, it had already been making its rounds as an epic travel book full of tales of adventure and mischief clouded by the flurry of drugs and alcohol.

The book is extremely well-written, and witty, perfectly summing up the recklessness of the character as he searches for the elusive “American dream”.

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Turn Right at Machu Picchu | Mark Adams

“If you’ve ever thought, ‘The new Times Square is delightful but would be even better if it were more claustrophobic and nearly impossible to leave’, the Aguas Calientes is calling your name.”

Travel writer Mark Adams was on a quest to rediscover Machu Picchu, much like Hiram Bingham did 100 years ago. After visiting the place with his son, following the regular tourist trail, he decided to hike, camp, and explore his way through this region.

The book is a good mix of historical facts, timelines, and humor.

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Long Way Down | Ewan McGregor & Charley Boorman

Inspired by their first book The Long Way Round, the duo share their tales from their motorcycle trip from Scotland to South Africa.

I loved the first book and enjoyed this one as well. What I love most is that they aren’t pretending to be travel gurus or writers. They are just two down-to-earth people looking for adventure.

This travel book is perfect for anyone who loves motorcycles and exploration.

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The Alchemist | Paolo Coelho

“And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

One of my favorite travel books of all time, The Alchemist taught me the lesson of listening to your heart and not being afraid to dream. The story revolves around an Andalusian shepherd boy who yearns to travel the world.

As cliche as it sounds, it’s a book about self-discovery, spirituality, subtly reminding you of what’s important in life.

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Eat, Pray, Love | Elizabeth Gilbert

“The Bhagavad Gita–that ancient Indian Yogic text–says that it is better to live your own destiny imperfectly than to live an imitation of somebody else’s life with perfection.” 

This much-loved book was made into a movie, and even if you’re familiar with the movie version starring Julia Roberts, the book is worth a read.

Elizabeth Gilbert takes us along on her search for self-discovery across the world. Set in Italy, India, and Bali, she shares her personal struggles and how each country and culture taught her something about herself. Wise, witty, and deeply personal, this book has particularly struck a chord in many women.

Her insightful memoir will inspire you not only to travel, but also to find your own journey to becoming your best self!

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Into Thin Air | Jon Krakauer

“But at times I wondered if I had not come a long way only to find that what I really sought was something I had left behind.”

Want an inside look into an adventure gone wrong? In May 1996, disaster befell mountaineers on Mount Everest as a storm unexpectedly hit. Krakauer himself was on the summit, and this book recounts the catastrophe.

This personal account accurately relays the challenges and emotional struggle of climbing Everest, highlighting just how difficult a proposition it is. The dramatic tension builds when the storm hits, and Krakauer honestly recounts the human errors that led to the loss of life.

Gripping, terrifying at times, and absolutely riveting, this is one of the best books on mountaineering.

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Vagabonding | Rolf Potts

“Thus, the question of how and when to start vagabonding is not really a question at all. Vagabonding starts now. Even if the practical reality of travel is still months or years away, vagabonding begins the moment you stop making excuses, start saving money, and begin to look at maps with the narcotic tingle of possibility. From here, the reality of vagabonding comes into sharper focus as you adjust your worldview and begin to embrace the exhilarating uncertainty that true travel promises.”

If the thought of packing up and leaving to travel for an extended period of time has ever crossed your mind, this is the book for you! Rolf details the joys of slow and long-term travel, and shares his reflections on what he’s learned along the way.

What’s more, there are lots of useful advice on how you can begin your own vagabonding adventure!

Both inspiring and empowering, this is a must-read for anyone who has the yearning to travel long-term.

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The Great Railway Bazaar | Paul Theroux

“Travel [is] flight and pursuit in equal parts.”

Traveling by rail has its own special charms, and Paul Theroux deftly crafts an engaging story of his own travels in The Great Railway Bazaar. Set in the 1970s, he shares his experiences traveling from Europe to Asia by train in a four-month journey.

This classic travel book is a look back into a time where you’d be traveling without Google Maps, the internet, or tons of guidebooks. Peppered with anecdotes of the people he met and the encounters he had, this book will remind you that travel is as much about meeting people as it is about seeing new places.

The Great Bazaar Railway will make you feel like you’re right there with Theroux, exploring the world in the 1970s.

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Under the Tuscan Sun | Frances Mayes

“Splendid to arrive alone in a foreign country and feel the assault of difference. Here they are all along, busy with living; they don’t talk or look like me. The rhythm of their day is entirely different; I am foreign. ”

Fall in love with the Italian countryside in Under the Tuscan Sun. If you’ve seen the Hollywood take on this book, you may still want to read this as the movie differs quite a lot.

Frances Mayes paints a beautiful picture of Italy; its sights, sounds, people, and food. You’ll be enticed by her anecdotes of small town life in Italy and its leisurely pace of life. Before the end of the book, you’ll be yearning to visit Tuscany!

An added plus for foodies: there are recipes included so that you can try your hand at making those delicious-sounding dishes!

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Seven Years in Tibet | Heinrich Harrer

“Wherever I live, I shall feel homesick for Tibet. I often think I can still hear the cries of wild geese and cranes and the beating of their wings as they fly over Lhasa in the clear, cold moonlight.”

Set in the 1940s, this classic adventure story follows the experiences of Heinrich Harrer, an Austrian mountaineer who escapes a British internment camp. He ends up in Tibet and becomes a tutor to a young Dalai Lama.

It’s a story in two parts. The first is a harrowing tale of escape as Harrer shares the struggles he faced in getting to Lhasa. The second, Harrer’s personal observations about Tibet and its people as well as the Chinese invasion of Tibet.

This book holds valuable insights into a Tibet that no longer exists. Harrer’s love for the country, its culture, and its people will stoke the same feelings in you as well. A must-read.

PS: It’s better than the movie version!

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How Not to Travel the World | Lauren Juliff

Travel is not always a bed of roses, and Lauren’s book shares the ups and downs of the travel life.

Told with humor and honesty, this is a courageous tale of a woman facing her fears head on — and living to tell about this! Lauren’s misadventures will make you laugh and cry, and they’re totally relatable for anyone who’s ever been on an extended trip or backpacking.

If you’re in need of some inspiration and motivation to step out of your comfort zone and see all that the world has to offer, this is the travel book for you!

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Other Travel Books Worth Mentioning

  • The Penguin Lessons | Tom Michell: An uplifting tale about a young teacher and a penguin (yes, a penguin!) that’ll also make you fall in love with Argentina.
  • The Art of Travel | Alain Botton: For the moments when you need a reminder on why we travel.
  • Medium Raw | Anthony Bourdain: Take a food tour around the world with Bourdain!
  • Lands of Lost Borders | Kate Harris: Follow Kate as she spends a year cycling the Silk Road.
  • A Walk in the Woods| Bill Bryson: Tag along as Bill and his buddy attempt to conquer the Appalachian Trail.

Hopefully, this list has given you some inspiration to beef up your travel reading list. If you’re looking for travel books for kids, check out this list for more inspiration.

Do you have any other favorite travel books? Let me know in the comments below!

Looking for more travel inspiration? Check out our other articles to get you moving

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Travel Books | Looking for books to inspire you? Here are a few MUST READ travel books to inspire wanderlust.

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12 thoughts on “Best Travel Books: Must-Reads to Inspire Wanderlust (Updated!)”

  1. For me, a travel book that inspired me to quit my job and move to Caribbean for two months, it was “Tracks” by Robyn Davidson. Hope to go to Australia one day!

  2. Thank you for the list! Some I have read already, I think “Lost Girls” goes into my “to-read” list on Goodreads 🙂

  3. I had always been drawn to Travel books, but The Alchemist was the first book that truly inspired me to travel! Such an amzing book! I love this list!

  4. I’ve committed myself to reading 52 books this year (supposedly one a week) so have been on the look out for some new travel related books. Some of these I’ve never heard of before but look so interesting, particularly Shantaram. Amazon keeps suggesting Atlas Obscura for me “based on my interests” so maybe I should give that a go too! Thanks for sharing such a great list 🙂

  5. I read The Alchemist on my first trip abroad 🙂 really good book.
    All of the other books I have not read (I have seen the movies of the famous ones), so thanks for sharing. Now I am going to buy some of these books for the next year 🙂


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