This content was updated for accuracy and relevance on December 25th, 2021.
Let’s admit it: when we’re at home, in our comfort zone, with guaranteed WiFi access, we’re often more likely to scroll the night away on our phones than to reach for a book.
That said, if there’s any time to opt for this analog form of entertainment, it’s when we’re traveling. When you pick the right read to take with you on your journey, any new location can hold the potential to be fresh and exhilarating.
Whether you’re taking a well-deserved vacation, schlepping out of town for a work trip, or are learning how to become a digital nomad for the long-term, here are our top wanderlust-inspiring reads so you can simply grab your travel fanny pack and a book and be comfortable for hours on end while traveling.
By the way, if you are wondering, “what is a digital nomad,” we’ve written about this topic in detail!
Best Travel Guide Books
Chances are you’ve done most of your trip planning online, but having a hard copy of a travel guide can be a lifesaver if you’re short on battery or just intent on getting around the old-fashioned way. They’re also ideal for squeezing in last-minute planning on your plane ride sans service!
Here are four of the best tried and true contenders to get you from point A to point B without your phone.
- Lonely Planet Guides – Some of the most trusted travel guides in print, the Lonely Planet series is perfect for trips to new countries where you’ll be covering a lot of ground. Lonely Planet Guides offer expert advice for the logistical side of traveling abroad while leaving plenty of room for you to make your own discoveries.1
- Fodor’s Guides – Fodor’s Travel Guides are optimal for trips to cultural hotspots and metropolises where you plan on doing a lot of sightseeing. If your trip includes museums, monuments, or nightlife, Fodor’s will give you a host of itineraries to whisk you around the most iconic cities and regions on the planet.
- Rough Guides – If your destination is more on the rugged side, Rough Guides are for you. The Rough Guide series is ideal for intrepid wanderers who want to travel cheaply and safely while steering clear of tourist traps. If you’re planning on packing a pair of hiking boots into your suitcase, go with a Rough Guide.
- Bradt Guides – If you’re traveling somewhere your grandmother has never heard of, check to see if it’s been covered by the Bradt Travel Guide series. From Bratislava to Sao Tome, Bradt guides are fantastic picks for travelers venturing well off the beaten track who want a primer for what to expect—culturally and logistically—before they land.
They may look similar, but not all travel guides are created equal. Depending on what you have planned for your next excursion, you’ll want to pick the series best suited to your budget, traveling style, and what you’re looking to get out of your trip.
The Best Books for Every Kind of Travel
Beyond planning your itinerary, travel is a great opportunity to disconnect from your daily routine, reconnect with yourself, and find new inspiration in the world around you.
And the right book can be an ideal conduit for new ideas and shifts in your perspective.
So, what should you read on your next trip? We’ve sorted our ideas by transit type and genre to give you some inspiration for your upcoming journey.
The Best Books to Read In-Flight
Unless you shell out for on-flight WiFi, your flight represents the rare opportunity to unplug from the world wide web and dive deep into a book without distractions (aside from the occasional crying baby or snoring row-mate).
Make the most of your time in the air with the following reads.
- A Week at the Airport: A Heathrow Diary by Alain de Botton – Your next favorite travel book. While spending time at the airport may seem like one of the less spectacular parts of your journey, Alain de Botton can provide a new perspective on your next flight. After spending a summer as the Writer-in-Residence of London’s famed Heathrow airport, de Botton penned this engrossing, observant read on the infinite people and passages that animate air travel.
- The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World by Eric Weiner – Why is Finland consistently ranked the happiest country in the world, you ask?2 Travel writer Eric Weiner’s The Geography of Bliss sets out to explore the pursuit of happiness beyond American soil to discover why some countries are statistically happier than others. The book tours destinations from Denmark to Moldova with humor, curiosity, and intelligence—a thoughtful reminder that true paradise is a state of mind. Read this book and see your destination through new eyes.
The Best Books to Read On a Road Trip
Okay, you might be more interested in podcasts for road trips rather than books, but quiet nights spent at motels that are far off the beaten path provide the perfect opportunity for reflecting on the storied tradition of the American road trip.
- On the Road by Jack Kerouac – This classic novel by Beatnik writer Jack Kerouac is a bonafide road trip bible. Though with Bluetooth and GPS modern road trekking is a decidedly different experience than Kerouac’s account, On the Road is a foolproof choice if you want to travel back to the hippie days while you’re cruising down the open road.
- Overground Railroad: The Green Book and the Roots of Black Travel in America by Candacy Taylor – A fascinating read for the nonfiction lovers, Overground Railroad takes a look at what road tripping was like for Black Americans traveling before the Civil Rights Movement. If you’re a history buff and looking for an intelligent, seldom-told perspective on car travel in the U.S., Taylor’s book is a sterling companion for your next road trip.
The Best Books to Read By Rail
In contrast to cars, train rides provide ample opportunities for the bibliophiles among us. Take one of these reads to the dining car to supplement your time spent watching the scenery go by.
- Around the World in 80 Trains: A 45,000-Mile Adventure by Monisha Rajesh – Monisha Rajesh accomplished quite a feat by traveling around the world entirely by train. This book documents her remarkable journey spanning 45,000 miles (double the earth’s circumference!) through disparate lands from England to North Korea to Kazakhstan. This well-rounded read is full of plenty of humor, hijinks, and heart.
- The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux – This 1975 travelogue is regarded as one of the best travel books of all time. Paul Theroux shuttled across continents all by train, from Europe to the Middle East to Southeast Asia. The Great Railway Bazaar is a classic choice for wanderers who are a bit of a hippie at heart.
The Best Books to Read for Solo Travels
Whether you got inspired by Eat, Pray, Love or you’ve been globetrotting solo for years on end, solo travel is a great opportunity to focus on you. Take travel inspiration from classic travel literature for the traveler striking out alone.
- A Woman Alone: Travel Tales From Around the Globe, edited by Faith Conlon and Ingrid Emerick – If you’re about to embark on an independent adventure, you’re in good company. This collection compiles an array of vivid accounts from solo women travelers from all walks of life to every corner of the world, from Russia to Thailand to India.
- Alone Time: Four Seasons, Four Cities, and the Pleasures of Solitude by Stephanie Rosenbloom – If you’re planning an urban excursion on your own, Stephanie Rosenbloom might be the perfect companion for your trip. She takes readers along through four iconic metropolises—Paris, Florence, Istanbul, and New York±and shows us how exquisite it can be to explore a new city in our own company.
The Best Books to Read for Conscious Travelling
What’s the difference between a tourist and a traveler? How can you pay respect in a locale you know next-to-nothing about? Up your IQ as a traveler with these reads.
- Beyond Guilt Trips: Mindful Travel in an Unequal World by Anu Taranath – As thrilling as it is to venture into the great beyond, there’s also an ethical dimension to travel and tourism. Taranath writes from personal travel experience on how Westerners can navigate foreign countries with greater self-awareness. No matter where in the world you’re headed, this read is an excellent one to get a headstart on before arriving at your destination.
- World Travel: An Irreverent Guide by Anthony Bourdain – Who better than beloved culinary connoisseur Anthony Bourdain to whisk you around the world from plate to plate? A sensitive, engrossing writer, Bourdain was also a master traveler with plenty of advice for traveling with kindness and conscience. Even if you’re just heading out of state, Bourdain inspires you to see every place with a fresh pair of eyes and a healthy appetite.
The Best Books to Read for a Touch of Humor
Want to laugh out loud on your next trip? We’ve got the perfect reads for you.
- Falling Off the Map: Some Lonely Places of the World by Pico Iyer – Pico Iyer is one of the most prolific modern travel writers. Falling Off the Map is a great travel novel for trips off the beaten track, bucket list trip, or any occasion you’re looking for a funny, excellent read if you find yourself in the middle of nowhere.
- Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris – The titular essay in this collection concerns David Sedaris’ foiled quest to learn French as an American in Paris, but the complete collection contains tales from France to the U.S., all of which will leave you in stitches.
The Best Books to Read Like Eat, Pray, Love (but aren’t Eat, Pray, Love)
Want a warm, funny, and heart-rending travel book that makes you feel what it is to be human? Fans of Eat, Pray, Love will also fall for these books.
- Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed – Wild is a poignant, inspiring memoir that tells the story of finding self-love in the wake of tragedy. Strayed tells the story of her solo epic journey hiking the West Coast’s Pacific Crest Trail as a 22-year-old, making for a courageous, inspiring account of loss, redemption, and hiking the long way home.
- Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle, by Dervla Murphy – Dervla Murphy may be one of the most extraordinary women to ever hit the road on a solo This memoir documents her journey through the Himalayas–via bicycle–through Persia (now Iran), Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. From weathering blizzards to facing off with a pack of wolves, Murphy belongs in the pantheon of the greatest female travelers of all time.
Keep Reading and Carry-On with BÉIS
Whichever title you opt for at the bookshop, a gentle reminder to stash your chosen bookish companion in your carry-on—not your checked suitcase—before a long flight!
For fashion-forward, impeccably crafted, and affordable travel accessories, check out BÉIS Carry-On and Rolling Travel Luggage line to prep you for your next journey. Our functional (and gorgeous) pieces like the travel fanny pack and backpacks are perfect for storing books and other necessities with you while you’re exploring, keeping you prepared and polished no matter the destination.
If you're looking for more popular travel novels check out these authors:
- Gregory David Roberts
- John Steinbeck
- Robert Byron
- Bruce Chatwin
- Peter Mayle
- Alex Garland
- Colin Thubron
- Ernest Hemingway
- Paulo Coelho
- Elizabeth Gilbert
- Jon Krakauer
- Rick Steves
- Bill Bryson
- Connie Willis
- Victoria Hislop
- Stephen King
- Audrey Niffenegger
- Eric Newby
- Ken Grimwood
- Hunter S Thompson
- Peter Matthiessen
- Freya Stark
- Rolf Potts
- Chris McCandles
- Book Riot. How to Pick the Best Travel Guidebooks. https://bookriot.com/best-travel-guide-books/
- CNN. This country has just been named the happiest in the world. https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/worlds-happiest-countries-2021/index.html