I’m the kind of person where if I go a whole month without getting on a plane, it’s kind of an accomplishment. I feel most content when I’m headed somewhere new with a good book in my hands.
There are lots of “classic” travel books, but here I’ve listed some of my personal favorite books to read on the road. Whether you actually spend much of your time wandering around the globe, or you just dream of travel and adventure, these books will appeal to your inner wanderer and leave you thirsting for new places, new faces, and new experiences.
1. Istanbul: Memories and the City by Orhan Pamuk
I found this book on a friend’s bookshelf shortly before I was due to leave for Istanbul, so of course I picked it up and started to read. I was hooked almost immediately. In this beautiful, poetic, thoughtful book, Orhan Pamuk weaves stories of his childhood growing up in Istanbul with tales of the history of the city itself. Whether you’ve been to Istanbul or not, this book will have your heart aching to be there.
2. Shark’s Fin & Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China by Fuchsia Dunlop
I actually read this book for a class I took, but it wasn’t your usual assigned reading. In her memoir, Fuchsia Dunlop tells her story of living in China, learning Chinese and learning the art of Chinese cooking while traveling to many different parts of the diverse country. Not only will you want to visit China after reading this, your mouth will be watering for some spicy Sichuan food.
3. On the Road by Jack Kerouac
You can’t really call yourself a traveler until you’ve read this classic from the Beatnik generation. In this book, you’ll follow Dean and Sal on their bus riding, hitchhiking, road tripping wanderings all across the United States and even into Mexico. The characters are colorful, charming, and flawed, and in the plot there’s never a dull moment. I can bet by the time you finish this, you’ll be planning a road trip.
4. The Lost Books of the Odyssey by Zachary Mason
When it comes to traveling, I guess Odysseus would have to be the traveler par excellence after his famous 10-year journey at sea (against his will, of course, but it still made for a great story). In this book, Zachary Mason explores all the other ways the story of The Odyssey could have gone. What if Odysseus arrived home to find nothing there? What if in his old age he went out to sea again and found everything changed? Every chapter of this book is another “What If” – intriguing, mysterious, and thought-provoking.
5. The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh
Appropriately, I read this book just before I left for India. The story starts with a young Indian boy, the last to survive of his family, trying to make it in Burma in the shadow of the Glass Palace. We follow him as he becomes part of the dangerous teak trade, as well as the exiled Burman royal family as they settle in India. Their stories weave together between Burma, India, and Malaya in complex and interesting ways, all set against the constantly-shifting backdrop of early 20th century South Asia.
6. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
I found this well-loved book of mine in a small bookshop in Bangalore and proceeded to read it while riding around on trains all over southern India. Later in my travels when I had run out of reading material, I read it again while wandering around Spain. And I’m still not tired of it. This delightful book tells the story of the mayhem that ensues when the Devil visits Moscow. Need I say more?
7. You Shall Know Our Velocity! by Dave Eggers
Dave Eggers has gotten some talk recently, and it’s for good reason. His books are full of a unique type of energy that will have you eagerly turning the pages, and then maybe jumping up to buy plane tickets. In this book, two friends travel the world trying to give away a huge pile of money that one friend inherited and feels he doesn’t deserve. Rather than globetrotters, these guys are more like globe-sprinters, making for a fast-paced, diverse, interesting read that takes you from the United States to Africa to Eastern Europe and back.
8. Siddartha by Herman Hesse
Herman Hesse’s classic tale of the spiritual wanderings of Siddhartha makes for the perfect train-ride reading. Siddhartha and his friend Govinda wander through ancient India, searching for the path to enlightenment. Though this book is quite short, it’s very thought-provoking. If you have a kindle, you can get a deal from Amazon and get the eBook version for only $0.99.
9. Wanderlust by Troy M. Litten
Alright, I’m sort of cheating on this one, because you can’t actually read it exactly, since this is a photo book. But it’s still completely worth checking out. Troy M. Litten takes you on a visual journey all across the globe with photographs of the little things – signs, cups of coffee, hotel rooms, and other things many travelers overlook. It’s enthralling to discover how these little things are slightly (or very!) different all over the world.
Wherever your next adventure might take you, make sure you don’t leave home without a good book.