We may not be able to physically venture far right now, at least in the conventional sense. But despite travel bans and self-isolation, books are always there to feed our wanderlust and take us on a journey across the world. A good travel book is one that takes us the furthest away, only judged by the sheer distances they take our imaginations and how they inspire us to travel, hike, or even fly -- these are the things that matter when it comes to travel books.
As you’re staying home right now with all flights cancelled, who’s to say we’re confined to the walls of our home? Sometimes, reading a book can transport you to extraordinary pockets of landscape, wildlife, and culture across the world -- which can be as transformative as the journey itself. Travelogues are books that transcend time and place, to bring the actual experience of traveling to the reader. You can tag along fellow travelers or spend some time chronicling their experiences of traveling the world.
These are 8 must-read travel books to transport you to another world while you’re staying at home. So prepare for a serious case of wanderlust and some travel inspiration for when all of this is over and we’re back to exploring anywhere other than our living room.
THE RINGS OF SATURN, BY W.G. SEBALD
When James Kay, editor of Lonely Planet, was asked about his favorite book, he chose this one which doesn’t quite fit into any genre. W.G. Sebald’s book about a walking tour of the English county of Suffolk blends intriguing descriptions of the places and people he encounters. The narrator explores the coast, but takes us along a mental journey that is far greater, including meditations that range from the history of herring fishing, to colonialism in the Congo, to the reign of a Chinese empress. The Rings of Saturn introduces a philosophy for travelers that want to scratch beneath the surface of a destination. The lesson learned is to take it slow, seek out stories, and strive to be a more thoughtful explorer -- because who knows where this might lead you?
FULL TILT: IRELAND TO INDIA WITH A BICYCLE, BY DERVLA MURPHY
Murphy has written dozens of travel books, dwelling on destinations like Cuba, Laos, Romania, And Cameron, but her 1965 debut book remains her best known work. This book tells all about her solo bicycle expedition all the way to Delhi. “Within a few weeks my journey had degenerated from a happy-go-lucky cycle trek to a grim struggle for progress by any means,” Murphy said about her journey. Encountering wolves, broken ribs, and sheer heat exhaustion, this is based on her daily diary across frozen Europe and through Persia and Afghanistan, over the Himalayas to Pakistan and into India, during one of the worst winters in memory.
A MOVEABLE FEAST: LIFE-CHANGING FOOD ADVENTURES AROUND THE WORLD, EDITED BY DON GEORGE
Some live to travel, and some travel to eat. But this book is a compilation of short stories from famous chefs, writers, and foodies from around the world -- the perfect mixture of travel, cultures, and cuisines. From chicken on a Russian train, to barbecues in America and couscous in Morocco, this book is all about the food we have on the road which not only nourishes us physically, but also spiritually. Celebrating the riches of food with a 38-course feast of true tales set around the world, and reading them will give you a glimpse of the culture and induce a serious case of food-lust.
UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN, BY FRANCES MAYES
The pages of this book takes you on a trip to the Tuscan countryside in Italy. With a lyrical look at life, the traditions, and the cuisine of Tuscany, this book is about a woman who opened up a wondrous new world when she began restoring an abandoned villa in the spectacular Italian countryside. Based on a memoir about living in an abandoned villa in rural Cortona, this book went straight to number one on New York Times Bestseller list when it was first published in 1996 only to remain so for over two years. It's the next best thing, only after a trip to the actual Italian countryside, but we'll take it for now.
UNLIKELY DESTINATIONS: THE LONELY PLANET STORY, BY TONY AND MAUREEN WHEELER
Written by the founders of Lonely Planet who have produced travel guides to just about every corner of the globe, they’ve boldly traveled to where no other traveler has ventured. This book is a mix of autobiography, business history, and travel book, it traces their personal story and the evolution of their business starting from the 1970s in England. They share some of their unrivaled travel and business anecdotes when they were hassled by customs, cheated by accountants, and banned in Malawi. Their memoir reveals the true spirit of adventure that has made the specialists of guiding adventurers and forever changed how we travel.
THE CALIPH’S HOUSE: A YEAR IN CASABLANCA, BY TAHIR SHAH
Inspired by the Moroccan vacations of his childhood, Shah, an English travel writer, decides to buy a house in Casablanca and make an exotic dream come true. This is a story of his family’s move from the gray London to the sunny Moroccan city of Casablanca. At age thirty-six, he’s trying to make home of this foreign country, packing up his life and moving into Dar Khalifa, a crumbling ruin of a mansion by the sea in Casablanca that once belonged to the city’s caliph, or spiritual leader. The twist is that in Morocco an empty house is thought to attract jinns, invisible spirits unique to the Islamic world. From elaborate exorcism rituals involving sacrificial goats to dealing with gangster neighbors intent on stealing their property, the Shahs must cope with a new culture and all that comes with it. Following the writer on his travels throughout the kingdom, from Tangier to Marrakech to the Sahara, we discover a world of fierce contrasts that any true adventurer would be thrilled to call home.
THE GEOGRAPHY OF BLISS, BY ERIC WEINER
‘One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World’. Weiner had spent a decade reporting from discontented locales as Iraq, Afghanistan, and Indonesia. So, the admitted grump undertook a year’s search around the globe looking for “unheralded happy places.” The result was this book of laugh-out-loud funny and philosophical journey of true contentment. Not to spoil, but the happiest places on Earth apparently include some unexpected destinations. Although the question of what makes people happy remains unanswered, Weiner wonders whether it’s the freedom of the west, the simple ashrams of India, or the glittering shopping malls of Qatar. Both revealing and inspirational, the best thing about this hilarious trip across four continents is that for the reader, the "geography of bliss" is wherever they happen to find themselves while reading about Weiner’s interactions with locals and interesting cultural experiences.
EAT, PRAY, LOVE: ONE WOMAN'S SEARCH FOR EVERYTHING ACROSS ITALY, INDIA, AND INDONESIA, BY ELIZABETH GILBERT
A travel classic, Eat, Pray, Love, is a story about a writer’s pursuit of pleasure, spiritual devotion, and what she really wanted out of life. Based on Gilbert’s journey when she turned thirty, she was consumed with confusion and a crushing depression. To recover, she got rid of her belongings, quit her job, and undertook a yearlong journey around the world -- all alone. This book is the absorbing chronicle of this journey across Rome, India, and Bali. It’s a moving memoir of self-discovery and what can happen when a woman stops to live in imitation of society’s ideals. It is certain to touch anyone who has ever woken up to the unrelenting need for change.
THE YEAR OF LIVING DANISHLY: MY TWELVE MONTHS UNEARTHING THE SECRETS OF THE WORLD’S HAPPIEST COUNTRY, BY HELEN RUSSELL
Ever wondered how's living in the happiest place on Earth? That's Denmark, not Disneyland surprisingly. Helen Russell was forced to move to the happiest nation on Earth with a chance to find out why the Danish people are so happy. On her quest to discover the secrets of their happiness among all the dark winters and the pickled herrings, this book is a funny journey of exploring where the Danes get it right or wrong, and how we can live a little more Danishly ourselves. This book is informative, hilarious, self-deprecating, and tells a great story of someone trying to fit in.
WILD: FROM LOST TO FOUND ON THE PACIFIC CREST TRAIL, BY CHERYL STRAYED
At a low point in life, Strayed decided to follow on the most impulsive decision of her life. With no prior experience of training and only driven by blind will, she takes off to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State—and she would do it alone. The story is told with suspense and a hint of warmth and humor, capturing the terrors and pleasures of a young woman’s journey against all odds that will ultimately heal her.