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20 Books about Traveling that will Give You Serious Wanderlust

Updated on May 8, 2017

I had just returned from my very short vacation and it immediately hit me. I was back at work, back to my dreary white desk and the impersonal folders that always seemed to cover it. Don't get me wrong. I love my job. But there's nothing quite like sipping a Mojito under the gentle rays of an April sun.

Surely enough, the process of work-rest-work took over my schedule and any memory of the sandy white beaches that I had come to know during the last vacation vanished.

I did not despair, however, as I decided to indulge myself in a private and affordable form of escape – books. Here’s a list of the top 10 books about traveling that will give you serious wanderlust.

Vagabonding by Rolf Potts
Vagabonding by Rolf Potts

1. Vagabonding

by Rolf Potts

Starting our list strong, Rolf Pott’s book is a declaration of support for any independent spirit that finds himself or herself trapped in a cubicle. He offers no safety net, no rules of conduct and no usual recommendations meant for sightseeing.

Faithful to its title, Vagabonding cherishes adventure, self-discovery and going off the beaten track, making it ideal for those of us in need of relaxing.

2. Notes from a Small Island

by Bill Bryson

Bryson’s 1995 book on Great Britain, meant for the American public, is starkly different. Rich with humorous descriptions, Notes from a small island surprises the day-to-day habits and happenings specific to the British Isles. These are small bits that pass as uninteresting to the British but which greatly amuse tourists and travelers. Most importantly, it also contains references to the local culinary aspects, as we already know that some rules can be applied almost everywhere.

The Innocents Abroad, or The New Pilgrims' Progress
The Innocents Abroad, or The New Pilgrims' Progress

3. The Innocents Abroad, or The New Pilgrims' Progress

by Mark Twain

Representing his bestselling book during his lifetime, Mark Twain’s 1869 travel book details his journey aboard the vessel Quaker City. Filled with a different type of humor altogether, it’s a must-read for those who are already familiar with the writer’s more famous works.

Within its pages, Twain’s trademark style of storytelling fits right in as a witness to the clash between the upper class British tourists and the foreign environments they encounter.

4. The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific

by J. Maarten Troost

Toorst’s 2004 book belongs to a unique breed of travel books – the ones that can be read by couples.

Recounting the two years spent by the author and his girlfriend on the Tarawa atoll in Kiribati, The Sex Lives of Cannibals challenges our preconceptions regarding less known places and introduces us to a culture that is very different from our own.

Burma Chronicles by Guy Delisle
Burma Chronicles by Guy Delisle

5. Burma Chronicles

by Guy Delisle

Guy Delisle’s 2007 Burma Chronicles is not exactly a book. It’s a graphic novel. Visiting Burma with his wife Nadège, who worked for Médecins Sans Frontières, Guy gets to know his neighbors.

Curious of the Canadian tourist, the isolated people of Burma-Myanmar are skillfully described in this humorous novel. Burma Chronicles would make the perfect introduction material to a reader that’s not familiarized with travel books or travelogues.

6. A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush

by Eric Newby

Already a travel classic, Newby’s book takes us from our climate-controlled offices to the cliffs of Afghanistan’s Nuristan mountains.

Not limited to recounting facts and issuing recommendations about certain places that we should visit, A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush is ridden with suspense and danger, as any attempt at hiking a mountain. It will keep the reader on the edge of your seat.

Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster by John Krakeuer
Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster by John Krakeuer

7. Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster

by John Krakeuer

Staying in the snowy and deadly land of mountain climbing, Krakeuer’s nonfiction book Into Thin Air centers around the most famous mountain on Earth – Mount Everest. Gripping and relentless, its pages tell the story of the death of eight climbers and the injuring of several others during an unexpected storm.

Deeply touching, the book shows the human ambition to conquer seemingly impassable barriers and the cost of failure.

8. Dark Star Safari

by Paul Theroux

Despite their subject, few travel authors manage to observe and keep within their works as many details as Paul Theroux. Dark Star Safari represents the literary product of his trek from Cairo to Cape Town via any wheeled and road-worthy means of transportation. Theroux not only looks around himself, but also above, enriching his travels with meaningful spiritual experiences.

The desert is his shrine, his haven for thought, the barrier that separates him from the suffocating grasp of civilized society. Theroux takes a pause from day to day life and his book allows his readers to do the same.

Arabian Sands by Wilfred Thesiger
Arabian Sands by Wilfred Thesiger

9. Arabian Sands

by Wilfred Thesiger

The desert, with its alluring curves and warm breezes, also fascinated explorer and travel writer Wilfred Thesiger. In his 1959 book Arabian Sands, the author recollects his travels across the world’s largest contiguous sand desert, the Rub’ al Khali, also called the Empty Quarter.

During his travel, Thesiger observed the Bedouin way of life, which preserves many of the practices developed thousands of years ago, despite the developing world around them.

10. Under the Tuscan Sun: At Home in Italy

by Frances Mayes

If the cold mountains and the sandy deserts fascinated us, American author Frances Mayes takes us to more familiar grounds in Italy’s region of Tuscany. Combining traveling with memory and fiction, the book represents an attempt to cherish legacy and family while rediscovering yourself.

Her topic and style are especially appealing to the American audience, as it tells the tale of finding one’s own roots in the “old country.”

Catfish and Mandala: A Two-Wheeled Voyage Through the Landscape and Memory of Vietnam
Catfish and Mandala: A Two-Wheeled Voyage Through the Landscape and Memory of Vietnam

11. Catfish and Mandala: A Two-Wheeled Voyage Through the Landscape and Memory of Vietnam

by Andrew X. Pham

Catfish and Mandala by Andrew Pham is another book popular with the American audience. Thought-provoking and intense, the author’s bike voyage in his “old country” is rich in recounts of people, places and reactions.

Born in Vietnam but raised in the US, and thus looked upon as a stranger in both lands, Andrew traveled the Pacific Rim, discovering his roots. In addition, he found bits and pieces of himself along the way.

12. First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers

by Loung Ung

One cannot visit Asia without getting a sense of its past, and that includes the tragedies. First They Killed My Father details life during the Pol Pot regime, under whose short, yet terrible rule, 25 percent of Cambodians died.

Through the eyes of a child, Loung Ung presents a frightful image of an entire society submitted to the Khmer Rouge. Thus, a trip to Cambodia, even if only imaginary, awakes even more fascination to the reader.

What Makes You Not a Buddhist
What Makes You Not a Buddhist

13. What Makes You Not a Buddhist by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse

Staying in Asia for just a bit longer, What Makes You Not a Buddhist is not like any other travel book. Appealing to the spiritual side, its pages overflow with images of a world that most of us have never known.

Different not just in culture, but in thought and outlook on life, Asia presents itself in this book as a unique land. However, if most travel books focus on a certain part of the world, this one focuses on you, the reader, and how you experience the world, and it’s not only for those of us who are religious.

14. Naples ’44 – An Intelligence Officer in the Italian Labyrinth

by Norman Lewis

Republished in 1985, Norman Lewis’s recount of wartime Italy is riveting and powerful. It describes a place a beauty, looked at with envy by both European and world powers, turned into a battlefield.

Rich in descriptions of the unmatched Italian architecture coupled with thrilling spy stories, Naples ’44 is a book that takes you through time.

Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell
Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell

15. Homage to Catalonia

by George Orwell

Europe’s history is abundant in war. In fact, for much of human history, war was for most people the only occasion with which they would travel. Of course, there’s not much sightseeing when you’re fearing for your life.

Taking part in the Spanish Civil War, Orwell was not much interested in the picturesque scenery of the country, although those descriptions aren’t missing either. Instead, he keeps a travelogue which shows another side of Spain and the Spanish. Homage to Catalonia is dedicated to a land which deeply impressed the author of 1984.

16. Among the Russians

by Colin Thubron

On the Eastern edges of Europe a proud country stands, with its people, history, culture and above all its scenery long attracting the attention of world travelers. In Among the Russians, Thubron takes a closer look at the people of this continent-sized country.

Scouring Russia from the Baltic to Georgia by car, the author provides insights into the lives and activities of the people he meets and observes along the way.

Travels with Charley: In Search of America
Travels with Charley: In Search of America

17. Travels with Charley: In Search of America

A little closer to home, Steinbeck’s adventures with his companion, the French poodle Charley, in the south of the United States, cannot be forgotten. Starting out with a hefty dose of humor, primarily due to his adorable sidekick, the acclaimed author manages to captivate the reader.

With each flip of the page, we are introduced to an environment that is both familiar and foreign at the same time. 1960s United States might seem like a foreign country to some of the younger readers, but it can be easily discovered in Travels with Charley.

18. One for the Road

by Bjørn Christian Tørrissen

One for the Road might be the ultimate travel book. Reuniting the author’s travel experiences from all corners of the word, it will fill you with jealousy and then give you hope. The reason for that is that it includes advice and recommendations for traveling on a budget.

And it’s not what you would expect in terms of destinations either. Tørrissen’s journal slash book details his trips to less frequented places of the word such as the frozen Antarctica. If you’re a travel enthusiast, be sure to not miss this book.

Bad Lands by Tony Wheeler
Bad Lands by Tony Wheeler

19. Bad Lands

by Tony Wheeler

Written by the Lonely Planet founder, Bad Lands takes us to a series of countries ruled by the most non-democratic regimes on earth. In Iran, Saudi Arabia and North Korea, to name just a few, we join Wheeler as he interacts with each country’s official and overly serious guide and its people.

More than that, the author signals how seriously misunderstood some of the reclusive places he visits are, and shows them in a new light.

20. The Motorcycle Diaries

by Che Guevara

Ernesto “Che” Guevara has been the subject of innumerable books, papers, reports and studies dealing with his political and military exploits. In this 1992 memoir that follows a young and idealist Che, fresh out of medical school, we discover another face to the Marxist revolutionary that was he was to become.

It was during this very journey that Che first saw the social injustices, humiliation and persecution present in South America, marking his the rest of his life.

With these books, I was armed with sources of adventure, self-discovery, suspense and wonder before nature. My own fading memory of the vacation, spent either in a hotel or desperately trying to find my way across identical streets with a needlessly enlarged map was gone. It was soon replaced by the images pouring out of the books, refreshing and empowering me with every second.

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