“Good writing travels the world even without a plane ticket.” Susy Guese
You may be an armchair traveler or stuck between round-the-world trips, when a book about travel finds and inspires you. That’s what this list is about. It’s a small, chaotically curated selection of publications that have crossed my path over the past 12 months.
Don’t look for guidebooks here. There are many other great resources detailing every place on the planet that you’d care to visit online and in print. (See a few linked below*)
I read at home, on the road, on airplanes, train and road trips. Electronic readers seem like a good idea that I haven’t graduated to yet. There’s something about ink and paper that relaxes me – might be having to spend most of my day in front of a monitor!
A good bit of story about a simple or exotic place can pull me in to a world and far from my own. I’m there with the author or wish I were. Great travel writing prompts me to explore new places, savor phrases and foreign words, create pictures and itineraries in my mind that I hope one day will materialize.
A Bakers Dozen of Travel Books
So much is published every year but I’ve honed down this list to 16 with a few notes on why I’ve included each one. It’s an eclectic bunch. Some of these books have come to me as gifts, one I first saw as a galley, some called to me in used book stores or at culinary events.
See if any match your own list and suggest omitted titles. I look forward to expanding the library.
1. The Best American Travel Writing 2014
This has been my go-to inspiration for great writing for years. It’s a moveable feast – easy to read through a story, put the book down and savor, before diving into the next course. Famed travel writer, Paul Theroux is editing the 2014 volume about ‘places we’d never set foot in but are glad someone else did.’
2. The Global Soul – Pico Ayer on Jet Lag, Shopping Malls and the search for home.
British born to parents from India, Pico has been inspiring travelers since 1986 with his books and articles. This isn’t his most recent work but may resonate with those of us who are befuddled about where home actually is when we find it wherever we are. I actually saw him speak recently and in another lifetime perhaps I’ll be so calmly eloquent. He’s a prolific writer, so explore his other volumes.
3. The Art of Travel – Alain de Botton
Somehow this heady collection of essays reeled me in even though Botton is more a philosopher than travel writer. The way he manages to pair writers and artists with aspects of travel illuminates all.
Chapters on Anticipation, the Country and the City, the Exotic, etc. are considered in a very subjective manner that’s like sipping a satisfying wine without tumbling into inebriation. His writing is a bit affected by his Swiss-British background and his old soul belies his youth. New endeavors have taken him to founding the School of Life in London, a social enterprise determined to make learning and therapy relevant in today’s uptight culture. His goal is to help clients learn “how to live wisely and well.” I’m good with that.
4. The Voluntourist – Ken Budd
Written just before voluntourism, volunteerism, or the like, became a travel meme, Ken launched into volunteer work after his father’s sudden death and his own grief over not being a father. You squeeze into his backpack for each of his trips in six countries, all challenging and affirming. It’s funny, touching and made me want to make my travel mean more.
5. The Unconventional Guides – Chris Guillebeau
I think of Chris as a philosopher-prince and started following his blog several years ago when he was on a mission to visit every country before he was 35. Each flight delay, visa trauma, and cold dawn drew me into the quest and isn’t that what great writing does best? His books are also full of examples from other passionate non-conformists around the globe. Any time I think I won’t make my travel dreams materialize, his common-sense suggestions reel me back into faith.
6. American Borders – Carla King, Solo Circumnavigation of the United States on a Russian Sidecar Motorcycle
Carla rides long, far and most often on her own. She’s been a solo motorcyclist in Europe, across China and the States. Her stories of breaking down, human kindness, loneliness and the exhilaration of the open road might not inspire you to run out and buy a Harley, but you’ll know someone who has and thrive on her adventure.
7. They Eat Horses, Don’t They? Piu Marie Eatwell – The truth about the French
If we believed everything written about the French they’d be a country where the women never get fat, don’t shave, drink wine with every meal and smoke non-stop. Piu has lived in France over ten years and quietly set about investigating the truth of 45 rumors about the country. What she details is hilarious and surprising through historical investigations, statistics, photos and expert questioning. An enlightening book for anyone intent on knowing a true reflection of France.
8. Forks – Alan Karl, A Cookbook about the quest for culture, cuisine and connection
This is one of those rare books that slides between genres and makes you giddy with exploration. Alan started off on a quest (theme much?) to visit five continents by motorcycle that lasted three years. He didn’t know he was going to create a cookbook travelogue at first. I first saw the galleys from the trunk of his car and applauded when his Kickstarter campaign overwhelmed his goals. Now this large, gorgeous book is out in time to catch the culinary tourism craze, in this case well deserved.
9. Freeways to Flip Flops – Sonia Marsh, A gutsy family’s year of living on a tropical island.
This is a reality tale for those of us with dreams of expat living. When Sonia and her husband decided to quit their materialistic, suburban life in California bringing along their three school-age sons, they were full of ambition and idealism. What happened over the months convinced them that paradise doesn’t have to be a world away.
10. Falling in Honey – Jennifer Barclay, How a tiny Greek island stole my heart
Jennifer goes into soul-baring detail about how she left Canada, created a digitally independent work-life, rode through heart-break and is managing to thrive in a completely new culture. It’s a sensual reflection of an independent spirit intent on finding her own way. Reassuring stuff for the rest of us!
11. Kafkas Last Love – Kathi Diamant
Not just a detective story uncovering the woman who inspired Kafka’s final days and sheltered his work, this is also a story about Kathi Diamant’s journeys to Poland and back home to the U.S. Discover what led her to go and what was revealed.
12. Tattoos, Hornets, Fire – The Millennium Sweden
If you loved reading Stieg Larsson’s Dragon Tattoo trilogy and yearned to understand the stories disjuncture with the sunny Sweden of cruise brochures, this book is a visual guide. The large format book is a non-linear tour of the country as seen by two celebrated photographers known as the Hilton Brothers.
13. Drivetime Yoga and Flytime Yoga – Elaine J. Masters
As an author myself, I’d be at fault if I didn’t suggest the travelers on your gift lists might find some comfort and ease in the Drivetime Yoga and Flytime Yoga books. Indie Excellence Award winning, Drivetime Yoga is a two CD audio book.
The recent, Flight Bite cards, included with the Flytime Yoga Booklet in a Passport Wallet give three short techniques that can make flying much more comfortable 90 seconds at a time.
*Online guidebook resources include:
Lonely Planet, Frommer’s, Fodors, Rough Guides
Check out online travel guides and blogs, Trip Advisor and Social Media travel sites like Tribber, GoGoBot, Jetsetter, etc.
Some of these suggestions are affiliate links via Amazon.com and the top photo credit: Samantha T. via photopin cc
My favorite travel book of all? Tales of a Female Nomad by Rita Golden Gelman – pure gold for solo female travellers, and the thinking woman’s Eat, Pray, Love
That sounds like a good one for my reading list. Thanks for sharing.
Wow that’s a great list of books! Thanks for putting it together for us.
You’re so welcome. Hope you get a chance to read great work in the coming year.
Nice selections! And I might actually consider buying and reading the first two, The Best American Travel Writing 2014 (I have a previous edition of this) and The Global Soul by Pico Ayer. Thanks for the suggestions.
Thanks for writing Carole. I’m slowly working my way through Pico Ayer’s books. He always inspires me.
You are a life saver… I now have the christmas gift for the girl who has everything, well except a copy of Kafkas Last Love.
Thanks, Mark, got me giggling and I hope your ‘girl who has everything except ‘Kafkas Last Love’ enjoys it!
Some of these sound like great books, I just wished I got out from behind a computer screen long enough that I was a reader and not just a browser of books
I don’t get as much time to read as I’d like either but we can still browse, dip into stories and return again and again. No files to manage!
Such a great reading list and all of these are prefect as a Christmas present – well I would be very happy if someone got me one – Vagabonding is also a great book for those looking at long-term travel. I really like the sound of “The Art of Travel” going to check that out for sure
I’ll check out Vagabonding for sure. Thanks.
I’ve traveled far and wide around the world through reading and I have to thank you for a new list to work my way through. I’ve read a few annual versions of, “The Best American Travel Writing” and will have to add the 2014 edition to my e-reader (great for us travelers). I think I’ll start with, “They Eat Horses…” which sounds like a lot of laughs!
Hi Anita, I’ll jump on that e-book reader next chance to go on a long journey. Hate heavy carry-ons! ‘They Eat Horses…’ is an enlightening book. Hope you enjoy it.
This is an extensive list Elaine. I missed my 2014 goal for number of books read. By April, I because I bit bogged down with other duties that I completely fell off the wagon. Thanks for the recommendations. I will add these to my goal for next year.
Thanks, Reginia, for your comments. I do like reading and some of those on my list are still in progress! Hope to read more in 2015 as you do.
Always on the lookout for new travel tomes, fantastic list!
So glad you like the list, Brianna. Maybe you can suggest a few for me to add next year!
What a great list of books, and it comes at a perfect time. I’ll be heading out to my winter retreat in less than 2 weeks, and plan a couple months of good reading. I love paper as well, but electronic books have made there way into my life. I’ll probably be moving countries next year, and am slowly trying to find homes for the paper books I have accumulated over the years here in Korea.
Moving’s a great time to pass the old books on and start a new library. I envy you a winter retreat.
I haven’t read any of these! I’m a huge book nerd so will add these to the list 🙂
Glad to hear you found something new!
Wow, what a great list of travel related books! I love to read and are at the moment traveling around Asia with five (!) books in my backpack. Ah, so heavy! 🙂 But they are totally worth it. You gave me a lot of tips of even more books to buy the next time I get to a decent book shop. Love book shops, and I am really looking forward to getting to Bangkok for Christmas and indulge in the big book shop there.
Will definitely check out several of these books. The “Forks” sounds really interesting with the combination of traveling and cook book. Will also check out your Drivetime Yoga and Flytime Yoga! I do yoga regularly and love it, so the idea of doing yoga to help making flying more comfortable is great! Thanks for these awesome book tips!
You’re so welcome, Maria. It’s a lot to carry books on the road. Don’t you love book exchanges that pop up? I’ve found some of my favorites by chance at hostels and hotels just waiting for new readers. So appreciate your kinds words.
I love this list – It is a keeper! I was just googling on Sunday what book to get for friends who travel. Thank you for taking the time to put this together.
So glad you liked the list. I hope you find something worth collecting and diving into.
These all look great for inspiration! I do find it easier to travel with my Kindle than hard copies, though~
I’m sure once I get on the Kindle bandwagon that will be my go-to tech for reading on the go. Just not there yet!
Great list! If I were an author considered for the compendium, I’d await Theroux’s evaluation of my work with a great deal of trepidation. 🙂
No kidding, Betsy! Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be in the anthology?