Shelter-in-place, self-isolation, quarantine — the hottest crazes of 2020 to sweep the planet! Whatever your jam at the moment, one thing’s for certain — it ain’t no joy ride! Fortunately, there are a ton of great travel books out there for escaping the current craziness for a while. We’ve put together a travel reading list of some of our favorites, sure to please travelers and travel dreamers of all persuasions.
If you’re like us, you may be pining for the mountains, the beach, or really anywhere beyond your own four walls. That might not be our (or your) reality right now, but that doesn’t mean you still can’t escape on a [virtual] travel adventure!
These are just some of the books that have inspired (and continue to inspire) me to travel over the decades. Check ’em out and let us know if we missed any from your own travel reading list.
Travel Reading for Itchy Feet:
20 Inspiring Travel Books
1 ▸ Jupiter’s Travels, Ted Simon
Four Years Around the World on a Triumph motorcycle
One night in the late 70s, Ted Simon hopped on his Triumph motorcycle in the driving rain and never looked back.
From his home in the UK, he rode 63,000 miles over four years, covering fifty-five countries on an epic journey that would eventually take him clear around the world in a time when it was virtually unheard to do such a thing.
This is the book that inspired me to take up riding over a decade ago and would define the way I approach travel for years to come.
There’s no doubt Jupiter’s Travels should be at the top of any independent traveler’s travel reading list.
This book will inspire you to travel to: EVERYWHERE
2 ▸ Rite of Passage, Lonely Planet
Tales of Backpacking ‘Round Europe
A collection of brilliant, inspiring, and real life stories from first-time backpackers in Europe.
If you’ve ever dreamed of ditching the grind for a while or wondered what it’s actually like to be a budget backpacker wandering through Europe, this is one of the best travel books to get you started.
This book will inspire you to travel to: EUROPE
3 ▸ The Beach, Alex Garland
One of the most cherished and beloved backpacker novels of all time, set in Thailand, The Beach will both inspire and terrify you, weaving a suspenseful and thought-provoking story that speaks to the best and worst of our shared humanity and never-ending quest for paradise.
Whether you loved the movie or not, this book should be at the very top of your travel reading list.
This book will inspire you to travel to: SOUTHEAST ASIA
4 ▸ The Shadow of the Sun, Ryszard Kapuscinski
A stunning and gripping personal account from a Polish journalist who found himself covering some of the most significant events and figures at the end of colonial rule across Africa.
Beautifully written, inspiring, and haunting all at once, this is required travel reading for anyone who has ever dreamed of traveling in Africa.
Required reading for anyone longing to go beyond the usual safaris and package tours and do more than just scratch the surface of this incredibly diverse and complex continent.
This book will inspire you to travel to: AFRICA
5 ▸ The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien
Or There and Back Again
A classic tale of an unlikely and reluctant adventurer who sets out on an epic quest leaving behind everything he has ever known to confront his darkest fears.
So much more than a children’s story, The Hobbit is a true adventurer’s tale and an inspiration for anyone who has ever grappled with stepping out of their comfort zone and stepping with both feet into the great unknown.
This book will inspire you to travel to: THE UNKNOWN
6 ▸ Into the Wild, Jon Krakauer
Recommended to me by a close friend in my teens, this was one of the first true non-fiction contemporary travel books I ever read. It’s a challenging story to digest with no clear resolution, which is perhaps what makes Into to the Wild so compelling.
As with independent travel (and life), there are no clear answers in this book. But Krakauer’s painstaking attempt to reconstruct a young man’s final epic journey, and the angels and demons that inspired him to live a life literally on the brink, make this read a worthy journey in itself.
This book will inspire you to travel to: ALASKA & BEYOND
7 ▸ Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
One of the finest pieces of travel reading ever penned, Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is a damning assessment of the destructive obsessions of imperialist powers at the turn of the twentieth century. A gripping and thought-provoking tale that is as relevant now as it was over a century ago.
This book will inspire you to travel to: CENTRAL AFRICA
8 ▸ Turn Right at Machu Picchu, Mark Adams
One of the past decade’s true classic travel reads appearing on many a best-of travel reading list, Turn Right at Machu Picchu is a hilarious turn-pager penned by a decidedly unadventurous writer with insanely adventurous ambitions to re-recreate, step-by-step, Hiram Bingham’s original 1911 expedition to Machu Picchu.
This book will inspire you to travel to: PERU / MACHU PICCHU
9 ▸ On the Road, Jack Kerouac
Perhaps the most famous literary work to come out of the Beat movement of the 1950s, On the Road is an institution in itself, and a must-read for anyone with itchy feet or a nonconformist spirit.
Get ready to head cross-country on a bohemian adventure quite unlike no other in a time and place on the precipice of tectonic social change.
On the Road is both a love letter and a critique about the best and worst of mid-century America.
This book will inspire you to travel to: USA, COAST TO COAST
10 ▸ Vagabonding, Rolf Potts
An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel
The undisputed bible of independent shoestring travel, Vagabonding is an essential step-by-step resource for anyone who has ever dreamed of casting off the bowlines of the traditional 9-5 and setting out for something new.
Whether you’ve envisioned a journey of a few weeks or a few years, there’s no doubting that this is where to start.
Since first exploring Southern and East Africa in the mid-2000s, Vagabonding has remained at the top of my reading list of best travel books, and I highly recommend it be on yours as well!
This book will inspire you to travel to: ANYWHERE
11 ▸ Dark Star Safari, Paul Theroux
Overland from Cairo to Cape Town
A primary inspiration for our own Cape Town to Kampala sojourn, Dark Star Safari is an epic and thought-provoking journey down the length of Africa by any means necessary.
A passionate journalist and documentarian, Theroux takes the pulse of many nations via local African residents, aid workers, missionaries, and other travelers to paint a vivid and compelling picture of a continent in transition.
This book will inspire you to travel to: AFRICA
12 ▸ In a Sunburned Country, Bill Bryson
A laugh-out-loud diary of exploring the Land Down Under through the always observant and self-deprecating Bryson.
If you’ve ever dreamed of visiting Australia (or want to relive your travels while chuckling for hours), there’s no better guide to whet your whistle than Bill Bryson. And In a Sunburned Country may be Bryson at his absolute best.
This book will inspire you to travel to: AUSTRALIA
13 ▸ The Backpacker, John Harris
Panned by some critics as a repackaged The Beach, The Backpacker is a riveting and skillfully executed travelogue in its own right that even claims to be a true story!
The Backpacker is Harris’ own detailed account of traveling with a group of friends who find themselves in truly unbelievable circumstances in Thailand, Hong Kong, Australia, and beyond.
This book will inspire you to travel to: EAST ASIA & OCEANA
14 ▸ The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway
One of the greatest American journalists and travel writers of all times, Hemingway notoriously globe-trotted on his own terms, documenting his exploits in his unique and incomparable voice.
The Sun Also Rises may very well be his purest attempt at creating a lasting work of travel fiction. Set in 1920s Paris and Spain, this classic American novel introduced Spanish bullfighting to a global audience and helped secure Hemingway’s place as a literary master.
This book will inspire you to travel to: PARIS & SPAIN
15 ▸ Our Man in Havana, Graham Greene
These days, Our Man in Havana doesn’t make a lot of travel reading lists, which is a shame, because it is perhaps one of the most influential Cold War travel novels of the twentieth century. It’s also one of the funniest.
Think Cuban spy thrillers can’t be funny? Take this classic for a spin and you may think twice.
This book will inspire you to travel to: CUBA
16 ▸ Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson
What can I possibly say about Treasure Island that hasn’t already been said? Like The Hobbit, this classic is one of those reads that frequently finds itself relegated to the children’s section but has just as much if not more to offer adult readers — particularly those who crave high adventure in all corners of the globe.
This book will inspire you to travel to: THE HIGH SEAS!
17 ▸ Travel as a Political Act, Rick Steves
If you’re pining after something contemporary with an actionable message, you won’t want to miss Rick Steves’ Travel as a Political Act.
Steves’ mantra is “change the world one trip at a time,” and this collection of stories from Steves’ long and acclaimed career as a travel writer and TV personality shows how you can do just that, through travel to places often vilified by governments and the media.
It’s worth noting the tall proceeds from the sale of the book are donated to support the work of Bread for the World, a non-partisan NGO aimed at ending global hunger.
This book will inspire you to travel to: EUROPE, MIDDLE EAST & BEYOND
18 ▸ Seven Years in Tibet, Heinrich Harrer
It’s hard to top the historical significance at the heart of this travelogue, as few travel authors have witnessed and experienced what Austrian mountaineer Heinrich Harrer did during his seven years in Tibet in the 1930s and 1940s.
For one, how many Westerners can claim to have been so close to the Dalai Lama, himself, in his formative years during the Chinese invasion of Tibet? Harrer’s unique perspective and voice breathes life into historical events that, eighty years on, continue to impact our world today.
This book will inspire you to travel to: TIBET (CHINA)
19 ▸ Long Way Down, Ewan McGregor
Eighteen countries. Five shock absorbers.
Two bikers. One amazing adventure…
Jupiter’s Travels may have sealed the deal on my interest in riding, but it was Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman’s original mini-series, Long Way Round, that got the ball rolling.
This is the accompanying book to the follow-up mini-series that follows superstar celebrity McGregor and adventurer-friend Boorman from the northernmost tip of the UK to the southernmost tip of Africa, by motorcycle. An epic adventure not to be missed!
This book will inspire you to travel to: SOUTH AFRICA, SCOTLAND, AND ALL POINTS IN BETWEEN
20 ▸ Sailing Alone Around the World, Joshua Slocum
A Personal Account of the First Solo Circumnavigation of the Globe by Sail
Though well over a hundred years have passed since Joshua Slocum penned this account about his epic adventure around the globe in a small sailboat, it still resonates with travelers and free spirits in the twentieth century.
Slocum was, among other things, the first to circumnavigate the earth alone under sail. Fortunately for us, he also had an attention to detail and keen sense of storytelling as well, making Sailing Alone Around the World a classic piece of literature in its own right.
This book will inspire you to travel to: SAIL AROUND THE WORLD & DEFY THE ODDS
And That’s Our Best Travel Reading List for Itchy Feet
Which of your favorite travel books did we miss? Let us know in the comments below.