41 Most Captivating Books about Travel, Culture & Adventure

Unfortunately, another winter of disrupted plans is upon us. If your travel plans were ruined and you’re now aching to feel like you’re anywhere else other than your couch, here is a list with a variety of different books that should soothe your travel-yearning soul. Or maybe you’re still able to travel. If that’s the case, then one or more of these books about travel is the perfect companion for you. From fictional bestsellers to inspirational memoirs and guide books, it’s easy to find your new favorite travel book of all time on this list. 


FICTION BOOKS ABOUT TRAVEL

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho (Desert travel)

book cover for the alchemist

The Alchemist is the story of an Andalusian shepherd boy who seeks out his destiny by traveling from his homeland in Spain and to Egypt in search of treasure. It’s the perfect adventure travel book with a main character that you’ll hope finds everything he’s looking for in the North African desert. It’s the kind of inspirational tale that inspires wanderlust and some introspective spirituality in all who read it. [Buy the book online]

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia ★ (Mexico travel)

After she accidentally frees an ancient Mayan God of Death, Casiopea Tun embarks on an odyssey across Mexico during the Jazz Age. This fantasy fiction book reminds the reader that Silvia Moreno-Garcia, author of books like Mexican Gothic and Velvet Was the Night, can do no wrong. As soon as you’re done reading Gods of Jade and Shadow, you’ll want to book a flight to the Yucatán or Mexico City. The vibrancy with which Moreno-Garcia writes makes these beautiful locations come to life in front of you. On a personal note, this is one of our editor’s favorite books of all time. [Buy the book online]

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter (Italy Travel)

If you want to imagine yourself along the Italian coast, then Beautiful Ruins is the book for you. The story covers several decades, connecting various characters, including an American starlet, to a little seaside town on rocky cliffs. It’s a great book that you’ll want to read on the beach or, hopefully, on the plane en route to Italy because by the end of this book you will be aching to visit Cinque Terre. [Buy the book online]

Less by Andrew Sean Greer

Less is a book about travel hidden within a love story, a satirical takedown of the American abroad, and an adventure. Novelist Arthur Less decides to avoid an ex-boyfriend’s wedding by attending literary events all over the world. As usual, when you try to outrun your problems, they tend to catch up to you. Arthur visits several different countries in this acerbically funny tale that will make you wish you had an excuse to get out of town and see the world ASAP. [Click to buy the book]

We All Loved Cowboys by Carol Bensimon (Brazil Travel)

Cora and Julia had a falling out years ago, but are repairing their friendship on a road trip through Brazil. We All Loved Cowboys is a fun short read and the girls travel through small towns across the country, exploring not only their home but each other. They end up learning why they really stopped talking. You will be googling recommended road trips through the Brazilian countryside by page 100. [Add the book to your cart]


World Culture & History Travel Books

Turkish Awakening by Alev Scott

EDITOR’S PICK: If you’re you’re ever traveling to Turkey (and you should), be sure to read Turkish Awakening by Alev Scott. Caught in the crosshairs of civilizations and pivotal history, Turkey is a complex country with thousands of years of cross-cultural layers. Scott guides you around Turkey through the lens of a multicultural Turkish-British traveler as she reconnects with her Turkish heritage.

You’ll make better sense of modern Turkey today through her funny storytelling and understand things like why the taxi drivers are particularly aggressive, the impact of Turkish soap operas, and why Ataturk is so beloved. I was already enchanted with Turkey and Istanbul. But after reading her book? I fell in love! Contextualize your travel experience through this captivating book. [Click here to buy the book]

Also be sure to read our Turkey travel guides, such as: (1) the best places to visit in Turkey, (2) how to enjoy 10 Days in Turkey, and (3) iconic things to do in Istanbul.

The Last Days of the Incas by Kim MacQuarrie (Peru travel/ history)

EDITOR’S PICK: After living in Peru for five years, historian Kim MacQuarrie retells the underrated history of the Incas and the tragic history of Spanish colonization. Francisco Pizzaro’s brutal conquest of the region of Peru is often romanticized but this novel goes deeper than the white-washed propaganda. The Last Days of the Incas is especially a must-read for those of Latin American heritage to understand how colonization led to the genocide of many of our ancestors throughout the Americas–as well as facets of pre-Hispanic history that have been kept from us. [Read the book here]

Finding George Orwell in Burma by Emma Larkin (Myanmar Travel)

EDITOR’S PICK: Traveling to Myanmar back in 2017 was a transcendent experience for me. I visited the country years after it had reopened to tourism and the authoritarian military had relinquished some power to the newly democratically elected Aung San Suu Kyi. So as I traversed around the profoundly beautiful and complex country, I curiously picked up the book Finding George Orwell in Burma.

In this political travelogue, author Emma Larkin traces the steps of George Orwell throughout Burma (now known as Myanmar) and the historic events that have transformed Myanmar today. This book is another example of how meaningful storytelling that incorporates history can more richly connect you to a destination in an unforgettably visceral way. [buy the book here]

Dogs of God by James Reston Jr. (Spanish Inquisition & Latin America)

EDITOR’S PICK: Dogs of God changed the way I saw not just Latin America, Spaniard history, Sephardic Jews, and the Moors… but also myself as a Dominican-American. This is a part of history they glaze over in school but that could change us all profoundly if they really delved into the period.

Right before the Spanish colonizations set sail for the Americas, the Spanish crown had intiatived the Spanish Inquisition. After 700 years of Moorish rule in Iberia, Queen Isabella implemented the mass killing and exile of Jews and Moorish Muslims. With the money that was stolen from that, they funded Christopher Columbus’ voyages to brutally conquer much of the Americas.

Don’t go to Latin America or southern Spain without reading this book first. And if you’re of Latin American descent, this book is especially a must-read for you, too! It is the perfect read for a book club. [Buy the book here]

The Lost City of Z by David Grann (Amazon Jungle)

David Grann is one of my favorite non-fiction writers. He is most known for his book, Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI. Martin Scorcese directed the film adaptation, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, that comes out in 2022. However, Grann’s debut book is this one: The Lost City of Z

It tells the story of Percey Fawcett, a British explorer who disappeared in 1925 in the Amazon in search of a fabled lost city. Grann details Fawcett’s obsession with the lost city in great detail, as well as his journey through the jungle that he attempts to recreate. Fawcett’s obsession led to his and his son’s disappearance, but for the rest of us, it just inspires a desire to traverse one of the last truly wild places left on this Earth, the Amazon. [Buy the book here]

Overground Railroad by Candacy Taylor (USA Black Travel)

Candacy Taylor opens Overground Railroad with a personal story about her stepfather traveling through the south in the 1950s. Too often, many of us forget how privileged we are to be able to travel, let alone to travel safely. The Green Book, a Black travel guide to the United States, is back in the social conscious partially due to the movie of the same name that came out in 2018. It’s also because of the tirelessly hard work by writers and academics like Taylor, who takes the reader on a road trip through the United States and describes how Black motorists traveled in the mid-twentieth century. [Click here to buy the book]

Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall ★

Prisoners of Geography will change the way you see countries and geography as we know it. From natural borders to genocides due to colonization’s disruption of borders, this book connects the dots that were swept under the rug by the European colonizers.

Marshall succinctly explains why geography influences geopolitical relationships. It’s also a great book if you want a baseline understanding of how the mountain ranges you hike in eastern Europe or the rivers you boat down in southeastern Asia affect countries on the global stage. [Buy the book here]

Editor’s Note: This book has a fantastic audiobook narration. I truly had a blast listening to it. And it further shaped my perspective of the “border issues” and “ethnic tensions” imposed upon our countries from colonization. [Buy the audiobook here].

The New Confessions of an Economic Hitman by John Perkins ★

John Perkins is now a reformed Economic Hit Man (EHM). His updated edition of the bestselling book The Confessions of an Economic Hitman, is the perfect travel book for 2022. Perkins takes us around the world in the 60s and 70s, back to when he worked for the American government manipulating and taking down governments and other countries. Basically, these are the confessions of his economic “hitman” work.

In addition to that, he also explains how the corporatocracy, a vast network of corporations, banks, colluding governments, and the rich and powerful people tied to them, maintain the world’s status quo today. It’s revelatory and explosive and the perfect travel companion to better understand the state of the world. [Buy the book here]

Havana Nocturne by T.J. English (Cuba travel)

Editor’s Pick: Havana Nocturne is one of the best accounts of the Cuban Revolution and a side of it people often overlook: the American mob which reigned in Havana until Fidel Castro. This fun, captivating, and terrific read tells not only the history of the mob, but the political entanglements on the island at the time. It connects the dots with Batista’s coup in 1952 and American corporations abuse on the island which added to the tensions which would eventually lead to one of the most historic revolutions. By the way, this is also an excellent audiobook! [get the book here]


Funny Travel Memoirs

What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding (Best Seller)

Kristin Newman decided to use her atypical schedule as a television writer to her advantage. So she spent every year traveling the world, having romantic “vacationships,” and experiencing culture shock. One of my favorite travel books of all time, What I Was Doing While You were Breeding make readers want to jump out of their boring routine and grab life with both hands. Most books describe locations, but Newman describes experiences, conversations, and interactions so viscerally that it’s easy to see yourself falling in love with a former Argentinian priest too. [click to buy the book]

A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail (Hilarious)

At least one of Bill Bryson’s books is found on every best travel book list for a reason. His stories about walking in the United Kingdom, Australia, the United States, and more are perfect reads for a leisurely train or bus ride in the country. Bryson’s book about his journey on the Appalachian Trail, a 2,200-mile trail along the east coast of the United States, is filled with dry humor, charming history lessons, and too many bears for comfort. 

Editor’s Note: I did the audiobook version of A Walk in the Woods and was cracking up! The narration coupled with hilarious writing makes for the perfect oral storytelling. Also, relatably, I think we’ve all traveled with that inexperienced but outgoing bestie!

Do Travel Writers Go to Hell? by Thomas Kohnstamm

Do you read the Lonely Planet books and think to yourself “how do I get this job? I could do this.” In Do Travel Writers Go to Hell? Thomas Kohnstamm details what life was actually like for a Lonely Planet tour guide book writer in the early 2000s. The breakneck speed at which he travels through Brazil trying to meet deadlines is insane and his refreshing honesty over how he cut corners is completely understandable. You’ll either finish the book and decide you still want to be a Lonely Planet writer or you’ll prefer sticking to a more leisurely travel schedule. [Buy the book here]

Gaysia: Adventures in the Queer East by Benjamin Law (LGBTQ Book)

An Australian, son of Asian immigrants, and self-described Gaysian, Benjamin Law travels across Asia seeking fellow Gaysians. Law’s stories in Gaysia are hilarious and entertaining as he takes the reader to Tokyo’s drag clubs and then to Malaysia, Myanmar, and India. Law also ensures that amidst the laughs, readers understand that exploring gay culture through travel can be rewarding, enlightening, and community-building. [get the book here]

Cruising Attitude by Heather Poole (Flight Attendant Memoir)

Sometimes, all we want is a light, quick journey through somebody else’s life while we’re sipping a cocktail next to the pool. Cruising Attitude is the perfect read for that vibe. Heather Poole’s book describes ridiculous passengers, her anxiety over drink service, and insider information to the airline industry. Don’t look for depth or a vicious takedown of the morally grey airline industry here, just an enjoyable, stress-free couple of hours walking in Poole’s sensible heels as she travels the world as a flight attendant. [buy the book here]


Adventure Memoirs

Afropean: Notes from Black Europe ★

Afropean is a riveting adventure travel book. Johny Pitts recently trekked across Europe meeting fellow Afropeans, Europeans of African descent. Pitts is a brilliant writer, leading the reader on a journey through Black Europe, an often unseen side of the continent. It’s a must-read travel book that brings Paris, Lisbon, Moscow, and more to life in a way not typically seen. As he connects with other Black Europeans, Pitts finds that there might not be a universal community as he expected, but he’s going to continue exploring. [buy the book here]

Into Thin Air (Climbing Mt. Everest) ★

Jon Krakauer is a prolific non-fiction writer. He’s written Missoula, Under the Banner of Heaven, and more. His first book Into Thin Air is a detailed account of the 1996 Mount Everest disaster, the third deadliest Mount Everest season to date. Krakauer was on assignment for Outside magazine that season and expected to recount a typical Mount Everest climbing journey. Instead, it was a devastating trek that resulted in several peoples’ deaths. 

Krakauer’s descriptions are exquisitely detailed. Unfortunately, nobody will ever know exactly what happened to some of the climbers. Several of the survivors, including Krakauer himself, were delusional and hallucinating because they had run out of oxygen and were near death. [buy the book here]

Tracks by Robyn Davidson (Australia Travel) ★

Did you know there are camels in Australia? Thousands of camels. Robyn Davidson prepared for two years by training camels and learning how to survive in desert conditions in Alice Springs, Australia. Alone, she treked with four camels and a dog across 1,700 miles of Australian outback in the 1970s and learned how to confront foolish lecherous men and terrifying animals. Davidson’s journey in Tracks describes the toxic masculinity she experienced and the insidious racism against Aboriginal people that she witnessed. By the time Davidson arrives at the Indian Ocean, she’s not the same woman who left Alice Springs, and neither is the reader. [get the book here]

Thru-Hiking Will Break Your Heart by Carrot Quinn (Pacific Crest Trail)

The Pacific Crest Trail is a place of self-reflection for many, including Carrot Quinn. In Thru-Hiking Will Break Your Heart, Quinn asks herself the same thing I ask myself every time I drop my phone on my face in bed, “Am I addicted to my phone?” Quinn decided to strap on some hiking boots to answer the question. This nonfiction book encourages readers to think about what they’re really seeking when they hike through mountains, deserts, and woods. Is it distance from technology, oblivion from a too-loud world, or something else? [buy the book]

Around the World in 80 Trains by Monisha Rajesh (World Train Travel)

Monisha Rajesh and her fiance go on a journey, meeting characters and seeing the world from the windows of 80 trains. Around the World in 80 Trains is the perfect read, mixing laughs and history, especially when Rajesh describes the train ride through North Korea. Rajesh also wrote Around India in 80 Trains so if train travel is your favorite mode of transportation, than Rajesh might be your new favorite travel writer. [buy the book here]

Tales of a Female Nomad by Rita Golden Gelman

Rita Golden Gelman wrote one of the original contemporary female travel books: Tales of a Female Nomad. When she made the decision to leave Los Angeles and travel the globe at 48 in 1986, Gelman remembered how to have fun. It’s something that’s easy to forget when people become adults. Gelman traveled to different countries all over the world and embraced dreams she had long since buried. [buy it here]

Bicycle Diaries by David Byrne

If you’re a musician who dreams of biking around the world– then Bicycle Diaries is the book for you. David Byrne, the lead musician of Talking Heads, relays his stories of biking through major cities around the globe. In his collection of essays, David Byrne shares his biking stories and adventures. He also reminds us how the automobile industry has ripped much of our country apart with highways and unbikable/unwalkable infrastructure; instead of providing spaces for community. [buy the book here]


Inspirational Non-Fiction & Memoirs

The Black Penguin by Andrew Evans

Andrew Evans was a young gay kid in Ohio who thought he had his life planned out for him within the Mormon Church. Things didn’t go the way he planned so when he was shunned by his church and family, he took off on a journey around the world. The Black Penguin is a travel book is a reminder that sometimes travel can heal deep emotional wounds and free people to be who they really are, especially when they’re pushed out of their comfort zones. [buy the book here]

Traveling with Pomegranates by Sue Monk Kidd & Ann Kidd Taylor

Writer Sue Monk Kidd and her daughter were both at major turning points in their lives. They took a trip together and sought out delight and joy in their surroundings in the different countries they visited, as well as each other. Traveling with Pomegranates is not only for mothers and daughters but for anyone looking to use a journey as a way to deeply connect with others. [buy it here]

An Indian among los Indigenas by Ursula Pike (Indigenous Memoir)

This recently published travel memoir is by Ursula Pike, a member of the Karuk Tribe. Pike joined the Peace Corps and traveled to Bolivia where she grappled with herself and those around her about what it means to be a victim of colonization and imperialism, but also a possible enforcer and/or representative of it. Pike’s stories in An Indian Among Los Indigenas about her time in Bolivia are smart, witty, and challenge readers to analyze what large-scale aid organizations actually represent in today’s day and age. [click here for the book]

Wanderland by Jini Reddy

Travel can be magical and Jini Reddy looks for that magic in the wanderlands of Britain. Reddy seeks out a way to connect with Britain’s natural landscape in this travel memoir. A child of immigrants, Reddy wants to connect with her birth country and learn about the lore of this tiny island. From coast to coast, Reddy ends up learning more about herself and why she seeks out this connection. Wanderland will inspire you to find ways to connect with your homeland’s history. [get the book here]

Two Trees Make a Forest by Jessica J. Lee (Taiwan culture/travel)

After Jessica J. Lee found her grandfather’s hidden memoir, Lee travels to Taiwan to better understand her family’s journey from China, to Taiwan, then Canada. Lee’s descriptive treks across Taiwan by foot and bike are charming and bring the island to life for the reader. Two Trees Make a Forest is a beautiful story about a child of immigrants learning about her family’s past and herself. [buy the book here]

Looking for Transwonderland by Noo Saro-Wiwa (Nigerian heritage travel)

Noo Saro-Wiwa is a British-Nigerian author who returned to Nigeria after 10 years away. Her father, activist Ken Saro-Wiwa was killed in Nigeria. Saro-Wiwa decided to return and learn about the country that her father had loved so much that he lost his life for it. In Looking for Transwonderland, she takes the reader on a trek across Nigeria from the chaotically charming Lagos to the eastern mountain range. Saro-Wiwa realizes that her frustration over the often corrupt and inefficient country doesn’t negate her love for it or its people, and allows her the opportunity to better understand her father than ever before. [buy the book here]

Radio Shangri-La by Lisa Napoli (Bhutan travel)

Bhutan is not a well-visited place. It’s small and isolated in the Himalayas. Lisa Napoli moved to Bhutan to help start the country’s first youth-centered radio station right when it was becoming a democracy. Napoli’s description of a country that reports its success in terms of Gross National Happiness (GNP) is effusive. Radio Shangri-La is an inspirational memoir that is perfect at capturing the beating heart of a country, culture, and people. [buy the book here]

Waiting for Snow in Havana by Carlos Eire (Cuban Revolution) ★

Editor’s Pick: Waiting for Snow in Havana is a powerful retelling of Carlos Eire’s childhood in Cuba before and during the Cuban Revolution. The Cuban Revolution is a political hot topic with those who support it, others who vehemently oppose what happened, and people like you and me who acknowledge the nuances. This is the side of the Cuban emigre’s perspective. For the other side, read Havana Nocturne. Both are excellent books!


Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

Eat, Pray, Love changed the book world. It was also the beginning of the “single white woman has the privilege to find herself in developing countries” trope that is partly why there are so many single, white, female travel books and blogs. Elizabeth Gilbert has talked about the accidental movement she created in earnest and even mocks her young self that wrote this memoir. It’s also a hell of a fun read. Gilbert is an excellent writer. She puts you in Naples eating a pizza, in an ashram meditating, and falling in love in Indonesia in a way that feels effortless. 

It’s a bestseller that changed the memoir game and was a crucial step towards more women getting their travel memoirs published. It might also inspire you to go to Indonesia and see if your version of Javier Bardem is waiting for you. If he isn’t, just go and eat a lot of pizza. You’ll feel better. [Buy the book here]

Wild by Cheryl Strayed (Pacific Crest Trail)

The Pacific Crest Trail is a daunting 2,650 miles hike through mountains, desert, and woods. It is a lot even for a seasoned hiker. Cheryl Strayed was not a seasoned hiker but took to the wilderness in hopes of soothing her broken spirit. In Wild, she describes the scenery, her painful feet and back, and the other people she meets along the trail in vivid detail. It’s an inspiring piece of storytelling that doesn’t glorify any of the naive decisions she made, but allows the reader to understand how walking can soothe a broken heart. [click here to buy book]

The Motorcycle Diaries by Che Guevara

In addition to being a revolutionary figure, Che Guevara was a writer. His memoir, The Motorcycle Diaries, details the journey he and a friend took through South America in the 1950s. They rode their motorcycles across the continent, seeing a world they only previously knew from books. The trip would shape Guevara’s personal and political life, thus influencing the world today. It’s not just a book about travel, but about a young man seeing how U.S. imperialism and European colonization are lasting cultural legacies throughout Latin America. [click to buy the book]


Learning How to Travel Guide Books – Tips & Hacks

How to Travel the World on $50 a Day by Matt Kepnes

Matt Kepnes, more commonly known as Nomadic Matt, has been a force in the travel blogging world for over a decade. There are thousands of guide books out there, but Kepnes’ is worth the recommendation because of his experience traveling for long periods of time on a budget. Travel the World on $50 a Day is the book for you if you’re looking to embrace the digital nomad lifestyle, but aren’t sure how to financially and logistically handle all that long-term travel. [buy now]

Vagabonding by Rolf Potts (Long-Term Travel)

Rolf Potts was traveling long-term before you could use Google Maps to get around. Potts’ world travel guide: Vagabonding, is the kind that sparks a fire under your butt. It makes you want to get off the couch or out of the office chair and figure out how to make that 6-month trip through Southeast Asia happen. Potts has done it all – from volunteering to working to vacationing on these long trips so he has advice covering all the different ways you can make long-term travel dreams come to fruition. This is hands down one of the best books about traveling long-term.  [Buy the book here]


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: LEAH WERSEBE

Leah is a TV aficionado and a recovering 9-5 office worker. Her permanent home is in New York, but she has traveled to over 25 countries in search of the perfect latte. In 2022, she’s temporarily living in Galicia, Spain. Leah loves being in debt so has degrees from universities in international politics, film, and wildlife conservation. Follow her on Twitter at @LDWersebe.


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6 thoughts on “41 Most Captivating Books about Travel, Culture & Adventure

  1. Juli says:

    Such an extensive list! A few titles I’ve read but many are new to me. Always great to learn about book suggestions as I love to read at home and when traveling. Thanks.

  2. Terri says:

    I love that you gave us such an extensive list. I have read a number of these books but I can’t wait to try others. I really want to read Wanderland by Jini Reddy.

  3. Krista says:

    I’m always on the lookout for some travel themed reads. I see quite a few on your list that I’ll definitely be looking into buying.

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