Some of the world’s best writers are also world travelers. What happens when you combine adventures with new people and places with a fantastic writer? A great book is born.
Although you may tend to pack your travel bag with a guidebook and a sweeping novel, it might be time to try a different type of travel reading. Seek out books that are set in the place you are visiting. What can be better than reading a book set in a vineyard in France while you are visiting that very French countryside? Who better to take along on a long road trip than Jack Kerouac?
List of travel books by great writers
Here is a list of travel books by great writers. You’ll still need that guidebook and your GPS, but you will gain real insight into the places you are visiting by reading these writers’ perceptions.
Travel books – The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain (1869)
Mark Twain is at his humorous best in this classic work about Americans touring Europe in the 19th century. The book is based on a series of newspaper columns Twain wrote when he was visiting Europe and the Holy Land on a group tour.
His conversational style of comic travel writing influenced many of today’s writers, and the book is still fresh and funny today.
Favorite quote: “In Paris they just simply opened their eyes and stared when we spoke to them in French! We never did succeed in making those idiots understand their own language.”
Travel books – A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson (1998)
On the face of it, this book is a travelogue of a newbie hiker and his experiences on the Appalachian Trail. Filled with humor and detailed description of the sights, sounds and people he meets along the way, A Walk in the Woods is far more than a travel book, however. It probes deep into the American psyche, into friendship and overcoming challenges and what it means to be in the wilderness when all around you are the conveniences of modern life.
Favorite quote: “Life takes on a neat simplicity, too. Time ceases to have any meaning. When it is dark, you go to bed, and when it is light again you get up, and everything in between is just in between. It’s quite wonderful, really.”
Travel books – Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne (1873)
The story of Londoner Phileas Fogg and his wager of £20,000 (about £1.6 million today) with his rich gentlemen friends that he can circle the globe within 80 days has captured the imaginations of generations of reader. Although frequently copied, Verne’s entertaining classic remains unsurpassed as an adventure travel book.
Fogg makes the trip with his French valet, Passepartout, and the two men overcome insurmountable obstacles and relying on everything from elephants to wind powered sledges, to win the bet.
Favorite quote: “Why, you are a man of heart!”
“Sometimes,” replied Phileas Fogg, quietly. “When I have the time.”
Travel books – In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin (1977)
Chatwin was inspired to visit Patagonia by a reddish piece of sloth skin that was in his grandmother’s curio cabinet when he was a boy. This unforgettable book takes us along for the journey as he attempts to recreate his grandmother’s uncle’s travels through South America. The author uses a mixture of humor, history, geography, family lore and amazing detail and description.
You’ll want to back your bags for South America when you read this book. Better yet, take the book along to read when you visit to Patagonia.
Favorite quote: “There was no sound but the wind, whirring through thorns and whistling through dead grass, and no other sign of life but a hawk, and a black beetle easing over white stones.”
Travel books – Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck (1962)
John Steinbeck was 58 years old and in search of the real America when he set out on the road with only his poodle, Charley, for company. “I’ve lost the flavor and taste and sound of it,” Steinbeck remarked. “I’m going to learn about my own country.”
Along the way, the celebrated writer reflects on his country and its racial divides, the kindness of strangers and the loneliness life can bring. It is a book that is full of truths and wisdom that are still relevant and important half a century later.
Favorite quote: “The redwoods, once seen, leave a mark or create a vision that stays with you always. No one has ever successfully painted or photographed a redwood tree. The feeling they produce is not transferable. From them comes silence and awe. It’s not only their unbelievable stature, nor the color which seems to shift and vary under your eyes, no, they are not like any trees we know, they are ambassadors from another time.”
Travel books – On the Road by Jack Kerouac (1957)
This mostly autobiographical novel about a group of young friends bumming their way across the United States has inspired many readers to hit the road in search of adventure.
Often listed as one of the best novels of 20th-century American literature, On the Road launched the Beat Movement, and the book has influenced writers, artists and musicians. Full of rich details about Post World War II America, the book is essentially about freedom and the restlessness of youth.
Favorite quote: “Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.”