I’ve always thought that reading a good book is the nearest you can get to travelling without leaving home. Books can bring a place to life, whether it’s somewhere close to home or thousands of miles away. Over years of reading I’ve travelled around the world and through time from within the pages of a book. So I’m sharing 30 of my most wanderlust-inspiring reads.
My favourite books for travellers are a real mixture – fiction and non-fiction, old and new, classics and easy beach reads. But what they all have in common is that they transport you to another place. They might educate or inform you, but they’ll all make you want to see more of the world. Hopefully there’s something in here to inspire your wanderlust too.
30 wanderlust-inspiring books for travellers
1. London: A Travel Guide Through Time (Matthew Green)
A travelogue through space and time, this book takes you through the history of London using six snapshots in time. Each era was picked for its impact on the city, all the way from the medieval period to the end of the Second World War. The book follows the same streets and uses the characters who live and work there over the years to tell London’s story.
2. The Year of Living Danishly (Helen Russell)
What makes the Danes some of the happiest people in the world? A British journalist tries to uncover their secrets when she moves to rural Jutland. She struggles with the long dark winters living in the middle of nowhere. But there are lots of lessons in happiness we can learn from Denmark, from getting work/life balance right to the joys of a hygge-filled winter.
3. Love With a Chance of Drowning (Torre DeRoche)
The real-life adventure of a writer and ‘fearful adventurer’ who gives up her city life to sail across the Pacific in a tiny two-person sailing boat with her Argentinian boyfriend. She’s well out of her comfort zone but faces up to her fears and discovers some amazing places along the way – it’s one that’ll have you daydreaming of palm-fringed South Pacific beaches.
4. New York (Edward Rutherfurd)
Part history lesson and part imagination, this book weaves together real people and events with the story of a fictional family through the generations. It starts with Dutch settlers arriving in New York and travels through 400 years up to 9/11. Along the way you learn a lot about New York, from how different areas got their names to the people who made the city great.
5. The Outrun (Amy Liptrot)
A true story of girl who retreats back to the Scottish island where she was born when her hedonistic life in London starts spiralling out of control. After a stint in rehab she swaps booze-filled nights for wild swimming, bird watching and astronomy as she tries work through her past mistakes and make a new life for herself in one of the remote Orkney islands.
6. On The Map (Simon Garfield)
As a self-confessed map geek, I was always going to love this tour around the world through cartography. It transports you from early explorers’ sketches to Google Maps and tells the stories that go with each map. It’s full of fascinating details, including the made-up mountains that appeared on maps for years and the phantom streets hidden in the London A–Z.
7. The Atlas of Us (Tracy Buchanan)
A round-the-world trip of a book which interweaves the stories of a woman searching for her mother after the Boxing Day tsunami with a travel journalist whose journal she finds. It takes you across the globe from Thailand and the red heart of Australia to war-torn Serbia and snowy northern Finland. Secrets are uncovered and lives are changed along the way.
8. Last Train to Istanbul (Ayşe Kulin)
A Second World War tale based on real events, this is the story of a Turkish Muslim girl who marries a Jewish boy and moves to Paris. When the Nazis invade France, can they escape in time? A group of Turks come up with a crazy plan to send a train to take them and others out of Paris to Istanbul, and it’s a tense race against time to see if they can pull it off.
9. Shantaram (Gregory David Roberts)
Where Southeast Asian backpackers have The Beach, backpackers in India have Shantaram. Reading this 950-page epic tale of an Australian escaped convict who is sucked into the Bombay underworld is a right of passage. It’s a true(ish) story that combines crazy adventures with a deep love of India. Readers either love it or hate it, but it’s definitely not boring.
India | Memoir | Buy online
10. In A Sunburned Country (Bill Bryson)
I could have picked any book by travel writing legend Bill Bryson, but this tour through the Land Down Under has to be my favourite. As ever he has a great eye for the little details that bring a place to life, from Australia’s deadly wildlife to its bizarre history. It’s written with a light touch and plenty of humour, but you also learn a lot about the country as you read.
Australia | Memoir | Buy online
11. Pole to Pole (Michael Palin)
Another much-loved author – and British national treasure – is Michael Palin, who’s gone from Python to world explorer. In one of his classic adventures from 1991 he travels through 17 countries from the North Pole to the South Pole. The book’s a journal of his journey as he takes on extremes temperatures, political upheaval, public transport and a broken rib.
World | Memoir | Buy online
12. The Lewis Trilogy (Peter May)
Uncover the dark side of Scotland’s Outer Hebrides in this trio of crime novels – The Blackhouse, The Lewis Man and The Chessmen. They feature an Edinburgh detective investigating a murder on the island where he was born and facing his own past. Each case twists and turns, but it’s the bleak landscape and the descriptions of island life which really make the book.
13. Wild Swans (Jung Chang)
The bestselling story of three generations of women in 20th-century China – the author, her mother and grandmother. It tells of their bravery and will to survive in a tough and turbulent time in history, mixing personal stories with the history of China. It’s long and sometimes tough to read, but it’s a real insight into the country and its people under Communism.
China | Historical memoir | Buy online
14. Ticket to Ride (Tom Chesshyre)
Travel around the world on the rails in this exploration of 49 of the world’s most interesting train journeys. It features everything from the Trans-Siberian Express to India’s toy trains through the mountains, and will give you plenty of fodder for your rail travel wishlist. But it’s the characters he meets along the way that make you feel like you’re in that train carriage with him.
15. How Not to Travel the World (Lauren Juliff)
A travel blogger and self-confessed walking disaster with no common sense takes on anxiety and a food phobia to travel the world. This memoir’s a bit of a change from the usual tales of the wonders of travel. Instead it takes you through a string of misadventures, from monkey attacks to being sat next to a dead body. But it shows you that if Lauren can travel, anyone can!
16. Snowblind (Ragnar Jónasson)
Scandi-noir meets Agatha Christie, Snowblind follows a rookie police officer who’s been posted to Iceland’s most northerly town, Siglufjörður. With 24-hour darkness and snow storms cutting off road access, there’s a real feeling of claustrophobia which gets worse when a body is found. It’s the first in a series of five Dark Iceland books set in the area.
17. The Temporary Bride (Jennifer Klinec)
A real-life food love story from one of the world’s lesser-known countries – Iran. A Canadian cookery school owner travels to Iran to learn the secrets of Persian cuisine. But she ends up in an culture clash love story after she falls for a local man, despite the fact that they could be arrested just for being seen together. It’s a delicious eye-opener to life and food in Iran.
18. Walk the Lines (Mark Mason)
Take an overground journey of London’s underground in this exploration of the city’s streets. Each chapter follows a different Tube line as the author walks the route above ground. It’s a mix of historical details and funny anecdotes from the journey, as he searches for the soul of the city while travelling from the well-known to the most obscure parts of London.
19. The Secret Wife (Gill Paul)
Fact meets fiction in this story about the Russian Royals. It takes the real-life story of the Romanov family and adds a ‘what if’. Life and politics in Russia in 1914 is brought to life with lots of well-researched detail. But the personal story keeps it easy to read, tied in with a modern-day woman who uncovers the mystery when she’s left an old cabin in the Adirondacks.
20. Wild: A Journey from Lost to Found (Cheryl Strayed)
An American woman tackles the trauma of her mother’s death and a marriage break up by taking on the Pacific Crest Trail across the USA. It’s a 1100-mile trek from the Mojave Desert to Washington State, she’s doing it solo, with a monster backpack and not a lot of hiking experience. But when she’s not battling the elements or her own body, it’s a healing journey.
21. Half of a Yellow Sun (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)
This powerful book weaves together the story of three people in the lead up to the 1960s civil war in Nigeria as the region of Biafra tries to claim its independence. It features big issues like race, class, colonialism and love, with a backdrop of the heartbreaking horrors of war and famine that took place during this dramatic period in African history.
Nigeria | Fiction | Buy online
22. The Miniaturist (Jessie Burton)
An atmospheric tale of life in 17th-century Amsterdam. A young country girl is given a model house to furnish when she marries a rich older merchant, but she gets more than she expected when the miniatures start to arrive. There’s a eerie feel as the mysteries of the miniaturist unfold, as well as an insight into life – and the position of women – in Amsterdam’s Golden Age.
23. The Glass Palace (Amitav Ghosh)
Over five years of research went into this historical novel – and it shows. It starts during the British invasion of Burma in 1885 and follows two families as their lives intersect over the next 100 years until the start of the Second World War. You learn about a lot about the impacts of colonialism on southeast Asia as the characters travel through Burma, India and Malaya.
Burma/India/Malaysia | Historical fiction | Buy online
24. Marrakech Express (Peter Millar)
Pour a cup of mint tea and take a tour through Morocco by train. This British writer was inspired to explore the country by the 1969 Crosby, Stills and Nash song ‘Marrakech Express’. We follow him everywhere from the madness of the Marrakech souks to the ancient Roman ruins at Volubilis, with evocative descriptions of the sights, sounds and smells of Morocco.
25. No 1 Ladies Detective Agency (Alexander McCall Smith)
This feel-good, gentle read is the first in a series of 19 books featuring the indomitable Mma Precious Ramotswe. She deals with everything from missing husbands to witch doctors as the number one (and only) female detective in Botswana. The book are fairly short but they’re full of colourful characters and locations, and the author’s love for the country shines through.
Botswana | Fiction | Buy online
26. What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding (Kristin Newman)
A US sitcom writer eschews marriage and kids, and escapes whenever she can to see the world solo – falling in love with destinations (and men) around the world. It’s a bit like listening to a friend confessing their crazy exploits over a bottle of wine. There’s plenty of sex and booze but there’s a real message too about how we become different people when we travel.
27. The Garden of Burning Sand (Corban Addison)
John Grisham comes to Zambia in this crime thriller inspired by big real-life issues around poverty and the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa. An American NGO lawyer and a Zambia police officer team up to investigate an attack on a young girl with Down Syndrome. But they uncover police and political corruption that stretches across Zambian society.
28. My Brilliant Friend (Elena Ferrante)
This bestseller by a mysterious unknown author is the first in a series of four ‘Neapolitan Novels’. It follows two childhood friends growing up in a tough, poor area on the edge of Naples in the 1950s. It’s full of poverty, rivalry, family feuds and the highs and lows of female friendships. With a new TV version coming soon this series is only going to get bigger.
Italy | Fiction | Buy online
29. Hokkaido Highway Blues (Will Ferguson)
A look below the surface at the people and culture of one of the world’s most interesting countries. A Canadian writer chases the cherry blossoms by hitchhiking 1800 miles up the west coast of Japan. Everyone warns him that Japanese people won’t pick up hitchhikers, but they’re proved wrong as he completes his journey, one ride and one interesting character at a time.
30. The Signature of All Things (Elizabeth Gilbert)
A real change in pace from the author of Eat, Pray, Love. This epic story takes you around the world from South America to Tahiti through the eyes of the Whittaker family. From enterprising Henry Whittaker to his daughter Alma – a scientist and early feminist, determined to make her own way in the world, but who’s much better with plants than she is with people.
What are your favourite books for travellers?
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