8 min read

It can be challenging (heck, next to impossible these days) to replace the feelings that come with booking your next trip, heading to the airport, ordering room service, or staying in your swimsuit all day. However, there’s something to be said for taking a mental vacation. 

The best part? You don’t need to invest in a ticket, just a good book. 

When you’re surrounded by exciting books to read, you can transport yourself to another place, even in just a few pages. Between descriptive copy and your limitless imagination, you get to picture what it feels, tastes, and smells like to take a safari through the Serengeti, sleep in a villa in Provence, and walk the beach in Seychelles. If COVID-19 has left you less than inspired, we’ve got you. Ahead (and in no particular order) are 20 books to read to travel for an armchair adventure — talk about literary wanderlust. 

Adventure Books

Honouring High Places: The Mountain Life of Junko Tabei, Junko Tabei

Junko Tabei was the first woman to climb Mount Everest, so it’s just natural that she was inspired to pen a memoir about her scary experience back in 1975 — and she didn’t stop there. She went on to be the first woman to climb the Seven Summits as well. Considering she never had any interest in sports whatsoever when growing up, she’s proof positive that anything is possible as long as you put your mind to it. Outdoor enthusiasts and adventurists will appreciate this engaging collection of personal stories.

Arabian Sands, Wilfred Thesiger

Arabian Sands follows Thesigers’s incredible journey through the “Empty Quarter” of Arabia — a trip he was inspired to take because he was repulsed by the Western world’s malleability and severity. This captivating read is an invaluable resource to understanding what life is truly like in the modern Middle East. You’ll easily be able to visualize what it would be like to set out and explore the exotic deserts of Arabia. 

Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found, Suketu Mehta 

Mehta gives the reader an insider look into Bombay as only a local could. He unravels individual stories that range from the rivalry between Hindu and Muslim gangs to hidden Bollywood retreats to villagers who wound up on the streets despite coming to Bombay to live a better life. Candid, heartwarming, and at times, funny, you’ll have a hard time putting this book down. 

Travels with Myself and Another, Martha Gellhorn 

Were you looking for a true-life adventure book? Travel the globe with Gellhorn, a journalist who covered some of the most massive military conflicts the world has ever faced. Using humor and razor-sharp insight to tell her experiences, you’ll quickly learn what a fearless badass she was. After all, she did take a trek through Africa alone, hung with hippies in a water tank on the Red Sea, and traveled through China by boat and horse amid the Sino-Japanese war, among many other adventures. Gellhorn also could seduce a man without even trying — including Elanor Roosevelt’s secret lover and Ernest Hemingway (referred to as “another” in this collection of essays), who eventually became her husband.

Wild, Cheryl Strayed 

If modern adventure books are your thing, there’s Wild, yet another story about a personal tragedy inspiring a trip to help heal the mind and soul. After losing her mother and a divorce that prompted self-destructive tendencies, Strayed decides to take a solo hike to the Pacific Crest Trail (one of the most extended and most challenging treks in the country) despite having no experience roughing it in the great outdoors. With only a heavy backpack strapped to her tiny body, she begins her voyage in the Mojave Desert in Southern California. She encounters several people along the way who help her on her journey to self-discovery.

The Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain

Mark Twain was undoubtedly a pioneer adventurer before his time, so if you wish to take a trip into the past, The Innocents Abroad will take you throughout Europe and the Holy Land in the 1800s. It’s one of the best travel novels to lose yourself while reading it. There are countless quotes taken from Mark Twain’s works, and this captivating read is full of them. Ironically, this is one quote that is still very relevant today: “We wish to learn all the curious, outlandish ways of all the different countries so that we can ‘show off’ and astonish people when we get home. We wish to excite the envy of our untraveled friends with our strange foreign fashions, which we can't shake off.” Kind of sounds like early day social media, no? 

Heartwarming Books

The Penguin Lesson: What I Learned From a Remarkable Bird, Tom Michell

Love a good animal story, especially if it’s true? Us, too. This heart-warming book is about a young expat teacher named Tom Michell whose life changes while working as an assistant master at a prestigious boarding school in South America — but not because of his career. One weekend, while in Uruguay, he rescues a penguin from an oil spill. While Michell’s goal was to release the bird back into the wild, the penguin had other plans, and the rest is history. Based on what happens next (we’re not going to spoil it for you), it’s almost hard to believe this is a true story — but the fact that it is makes it all the more enjoyable. 

The Alchemist, Paolo Coehlo

A worldwide best-seller, The Alchemist is considered one of Coehlo’s best books. This enchanting story follows an Andalusian shepherd boy (Santiago) from his homeland in Spain to the Egyptian desert. His goal? To find a buried treasure in the Pyramids, of course. However, he meets some interesting people along the way. Aside from serving up a hearty dose of wanderlust, this book forces the reader to look for the treasures within themselves, much like Santiago. 

A Year in Provence, Peter Mayle

Most of us would be ecstatic to spend a week in Provence, let alone an entire year. Experience the Luberon region for a year with Mayle and his wife and two dogs. Of course, they hole up in a 200-year-old stone farmhouse where they experience goat racing, the stunning change of seasons, second to none regional cuisine, and everything else Provençal life has to offer. 

Romance Novels

A Room With a View, EM Forster

Fed up with the narrow-mindedness, arrogance, and snobbery of the Victorian era, Brit Lucy Honeychurch flees to Florence during a time when women travelers had to be accompanied by a chaperone. Though engaged, she falls madly in love with George Emerson, a common Italian man who would be deemed socially unsuitable by her peers. Tuscan setting aside, this is a beautiful story of self-exploration. 

Love With a Chance of Drowning, Torre DeRoche

While all can enjoy this memoir, those with a fear of water will appreciate it even more. Travel blogger Torre DeRoche shares her experience about falling fast and furiously for an Argentinean man in San Francisco, only to learn he’s about to take a trip around the world on his tiny sailboat. The problem? DeRoche is terrified of deep waters — but she wasn’t about to give up so quickly. 

Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert 

Even if you’ve seen the movie a hundred times, there’s no denying that the book inspired solo travel and soul searching long before the story hit the silver screen. Author Elizabeth Gilbert is the actual woman who went on a three-month adventure of a lifetime in India, Rome, and Bali. Whether or not you can identify with someone who needs to go off and find themselves is irrelevant. The captivating writing truly transports you to these three beautiful destinations, each bringing a different experience to the table. The book is also a reminder that we need to be mindful and present — who couldn’t use that lesson right now? It’s definitely one of the top books to inspire wanderlust. 

Inspiration Books

On the Road, Jack Kerouac

For the most part, the U.S. is one place that you actually can travel in for the time being, and seriously, what’s more American than taking a road trip? If you’re looking for beautiful inspiration, this legendary novel strikes a balance between freedom, curiosity, and the quest for finding the true meaning of travel. It’s undeniably an exciting book to read.

The Pillars of Hercules, Paul Theroux 

Think you know the Mediterranean coast? Think again. With no planned itinerary, Theroux visits charming villages and beautiful beaches unscathed by tourists — and even travel writers. A phenomenal storyteller with a knack for detail, you’ll feel as though you’re traveling right beside Theroux on his 18-month trek. 

Wanderlust: A Traveler’s Guide to the Globe, Moon Travel Guides

Not only does this guide cover destinations, but also specific things to do and see, such as the best wine and hiking trails, stargazing spots, markets, street food, ancient cities, national parks, and everything and everywhere else in between. It’s the inspiration you need to help plan your next (and much-needed) vacation after, quite possibly, having to cancel your last one. 

1,000 Places to See Before You Die, Patricia Schultz

Have you read the latest edition of this famous travel book? If you were a fan of the first one, you’ve got to get your hands on this oversized guide. As if Shultz’s writing wasn’t enough to make you immediately want to purchase a plane ticket to a faraway land, then the 1,000 Instagram-worthy photos will. It’s the perfect read for dreamers and doers alike. It manages to target a myriad of emotions from the travel experience, including inspiration, passion, awe, curiosity, happiness, and nostalgia. 

The Art of Travel, Alain de Botton

Many travel books tell you where to travel, but this one tells you why and how you should — and no, de Button doesn’t sugarcoat anything. From the most exciting moments to the most stressful, de Button reminds us to look at the travel experience as a whole instead of handpicking specific moments that you believe define your trip. 

Happy Travels: Adventures of a Solo Traveler, Stewart Alexander Nobel

Don’t wait until you find the perfect travel companion to pack your bags. This comprehensive guide features 42 short stories, 113 destinations, 24 countries, and 918 gorgeous photos to inspire your next (or first) solo vacation experience. 

Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel,  Rolf Potts

There’s nothing more depressing for a person who loves to travel than knowing you only have two weeks out of the entire year to see the world. This book will teach you how to make certain sacrifices to live a more nomadic lifestyle from mindset to budget. Even if that’s not something you can do at this exact moment in your life, there’s no harm reading it because you never know when your situation (or state of mind) will change. 

How to Travel the World on $50 a Day, Matt Kepnes 

Money can be tight for a trip any time of the year, let alone during (and after) a global pandemic. With that said, this New York Times best-selling book from travel blogger Nomadic Matt is an absolute must for anyone who wants to travel on the cheap without compromising their experience. BBC even called the book “The bible for budget travelers,” and rightfully so. Who couldn’t get on board with a tagline like, “Travel cheaper, Longer, and Smarter.”

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