Best of Travel Books

There are a lot of travel book "best of" lists out there, I know. And some of those lists might include very popular titles like the books of Bill Bryson or Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. I wanted to suggest some that maybe aren't as popular or at least weren't well-known to me. (Also, I was a literature major which means that from time to time I can't help but want to throw my book opinions out there.)

General Travel Guides

  1. Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel by Rolf Potts
    I know this book has been reviewed on countless other sites. It's pretty much the independent backpacker's bible. The book makes long-term backpacking seem really accessible and acts as a great motivator to get "on the road" yourself. I highly, highly recommend it even if you're only thinking about going on a backpacking trip. If you have already done some independent traveling, it's a really validating read.
  2. No Shitting In the Toilet: The Travel Guide For When You've Really Lost It by Peter Moore
    This book is a fun, easy, and sarcastic read that talks about when backpacking goes bad: travel scams, dirty hostel rooms, bad food, diplomatic misunderstandings and more. If you've ever had any of these things happen to you, it's comforting to read about the wacky misadventures of Aussie author Peter Moore.
  3. A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit
    One of my favorite books of all time. A Field Guide to Getting Lost is actually a series of autobiographical essays in which Solnit, a fantastic writer, explores humanity's ways of navigating the world. She links personal experience with contemplation of a variety of subjects from the nature of storytelling to the importance of place in memory. 

Food & Travel

On the Noodle Road: From Beijing to Rome, With Love and Pasta by Jen Lin-Liu
(Warning: this book may make you very hungry). If you love travelling and eating local cuisine, this book is for you. And if you love pasta and all things noodle, this book is for you. After a trip to Rome, author Jen Lin-Liu began to wonder about the history of the noodle. Was there any truth to the myth that Marco Polo brought noodles to Italy along the Silk Road from China? In order to find out, she decides to travel overland along the old Silk Road, stopping to not only try but learn local cuisine along the way. I really enjoyed reading about her journey, especially because she visits Central Asia, a very under-traveled region of the world.

Illustrated Travel

You Can Never Find a Rickshaw When it Monsoons: The World on One Cartoon a Day by Mo Willems
Before he became a beloved children's book author, Mo Willems took a year-long backpacking trip around the world and, like the title says, drew one cartoon a day. His sketches are insightful, funny, and entertaining. 10/10 would recommend.

Multi-Country Travelogues

  1. The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World by Eric Weiner
    Eric Weiner, a self-described grump, is inspired by the annual United Nations World Happiness Report to visit some of the countries on the list. Along the way, he tries to find the answer to a perplexing question: just what makes them so damned happy?
  2. Falling Off the Map: Some Lonely Places of the World by Pico Iyer
    Pico Iyer is a prolific travel writer. Falling Off the Map is a compilation of Iyer's impressions of some of the world's most isolated countries.
  3. Bicycle Diaries by David Byrne
    Yes, that David Byrne. In this travelogue, we follow David as his creative endeavors take him across the globe. This book is also a love letter of sorts to bicycles; David flies to and fro with a fold-up bike in tow.
 The smallest public library I've ever seen on the Coromandel Peninsula of New Zealand.

The smallest public library I've ever seen on the Coromandel Peninsula of New Zealand.

Travelogues (at least partially) Set in Tibet:

When I first put together a list of my favorite travel books so far, I realized that three of them (four if you also count On the Noodle Road), are set in Tibet for at least some of the book. Either books about Tibet are really common in the travel genre, or I've somehow read a disproportionate amount of books about the Himalayan region. Either way, I really liked all of these books.

1. Lost On Planet China: One Man's Attempt to Understand the World's Most Mystifying Nation by J. Maarten Troost
This book is chock-full of humorous impressions of China by Dutch-American author Troost. I read it before going to China and did feel as though the country had been somewhat "demystified."
2. Seven Years In Tibet by Heinrich Harrer
Seven Years in Tibet is a historically significant travelogue that portrays the nation before the 1950 Chinese invasion. Harrer describes in detail the customs of what was, at the time, one of the most remote and isolated cultures in the world.
3. Himalyan Passage: Seven Months in the High Country of Tibet, Nepal, China, India, and Pakistan by Jeremy Schmidt
Author Jeremy Schmidt decides to take a trip with his friend, photographer Patrick Morrow, and their wives through the Himalayas. All four travelers are experienced mountaineers who ultimately walk, bike, and bus their way through five countries. This is a true adventure travelogue. More than that, though, it's a really fascinating glimpse into an era when these regions were more accessible.

On my "To-Read" list:

I've barely scratched the surface of the genre, it seems. I definitely want to read Jen Lin-Liu's first book and more travel books by Pico Iyer, J. Maarten Troost, and Peter Moore. I've read a few essays by the classics like Paul Theroux and Bruce Chatwin but haven't yet read their travelogues. Also, I want to read more written by female travelers like Judith Fein, Kira Salak, or Robyn Davidson.

I know all the links for books I've included are for Amazon, but I'm honestly not trying to push you into buying through them - at all. I just find that linking to Amazon is a good way to show you more info about the books and give you the chance to read reviews all in one go. I encourage you to support your local library or independent booksellers.