Budget Travel

10 Books Every Traveler Should Read

These must-reads chronicle unique journeys, and each is guaranteed to inspire.

Traveling is a wonderful way to explore the world, especially when it challenges you to step outside your comfort zone. Whether your trip is a spiritual quest or a physical adventure or a simple rest-and-refocus getaway, being somewhere totally new can inspire introspection and imagination, as well as open you up to meeting new people. Most have heard of Eat Pray Love and Wild, but there are so many other wonderful books that may not be on your radar. With that in mind, we have selected ten must-read books for travelers. From a classic about a female explorer who charted unknown territory to collections of travel writing by renowned writers, we guarantee that these books will spark your wanderlust.

1. Alone Time: Four Seasons, Four Cities, and the Pleasures of Solitude, by Stephanie Rosenbloom    

Rosenbloom, a travel columnist for the New York Times, revels in the possibilities of traveling solo by spending time in four cities: Paris, Istanbul, Florence, and New York. She recounts her experiences in vivid detail, which are cleverly interwoven with interesting facts that reveal each city’s culture and history. She emphasizes the importance of solitude and what can be learned from it, including the value of slowing down and an appreciation of things that often go unnoticed.

2. To Shake the Sleeping Self: A Journey from Oregon to Patagonia, and a Quest for a Life With No Regrets, by Jedediah Jenkins

On the eve of turning 30, Jenkins decides to quit his day job and cycle south, from the coast of Oregon to Patagonia. What follows is an adventure that challenges his notions of both faith and identity. It is written in soul-stirring prose that that makes you feel like you are pedaling right alongside him, experiencing the vast and varied terrain of Central and South America. Like a modern-day On the Road, this is for anyone who wonders about the path not taken.

3. Without Reservations: The Travels of an Independent Woman, by Alice Steinbach

Penned by a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Without Reservations is the literary equivalent of sitting down to a cup of tea with a good friend and hearing all about her travels through England, France, and Italy. Steinbach has a unique ability to self-examine and mindfully observe the behavior of others, as well as an attitude that is ideal for traveling solo—she’s unhurried, open to new experiences, yet also calmly cautious. She writes of her love for sending postcards to herself from each destination, in order to capture the moment and savor the memories later.

4. The Way of Wanderlust, by Don George

Don George is a remarkable travel writer, and this collection begins with the 1977 essay he published in the since-shuttered magazine Mademoiselle about climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. Considering the different types of travel that one may seek, George divides the book into three sections: pilgrimages, encounters, and illuminations. In these essays he crisscrosses the globe from the Galapagos Islands to Japan to Greece, forging deep emotional connections with the people he meets.  

5. The Valleys of the Assassins: and Other Persian Travels, by Freya Stark

Published in 1934, Stark’s memoir recounts the experiences of a single woman traveling the unknown, unmapped lands of the Middle East with local tribesmen as guides. Like a real-life Indiana Jones, Stark was both courageous and unflappable, often using her wits to help her out of potentially dangerous situations in an area that was largely inhabited by bandits. A true pioneer of her time, she explored places that intimidated even the bravest of men.

6. Far Flung and Well Fed, by R.W. Apple   

After reporting from the battlefields in Vietnam for the New York Times, R.W. Apple became a food writer for the paper, and in his quest to delve into the “gastronomic trenches” (as he put it), he traveled to some of the most exotic locales in the world. With more than 50 food-centric travel essays, Apple takes the reader to Europe, South America, Asia, and the U.S. Whether it is trawling through the waters of the Chesapeake Bay in search of the perfect soft-shelled crab or devouring dim sum in Hong Kong, Apple was always ready for a culinary adventure. 

7. The World: Life and Travel 1950-2000, by Jan Morris    

This collection of travel writing by renowned Welsh writer Jan (formerly James) Morris spans the second half of the twentieth century. From accompanying Sir Edmund Hillary on the first successful summiting of Mt. Everest in 1953 to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Morris was an eyewitness to history’s milestones. She puts these world events in context with her travels and is able to eloquently capture the essence of the places she visits.

8. Sun After Dark: Flights Into the Foreign, by Pico Iyer    

In search of the road far less traveled, Iyer visits places such as Cambodia, Oman, Tibet, and Bolivia. With his trademark philosophical approach and poetic observations, he meditates on the nature of travel itself and on the inner journeys one takes during their external wanderings. It's a collection of travel stories, essays, and profiles of such figures as the Dalai Lama and the Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen.

9. Looking for Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria, by Noo Saro-Wiwa    

Noo Saro-Wiwa was born in Nigeria and raised in England, and every summer she reluctantly travels back to her homeland. But after her father, activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, was killed there, she doesn’t return until ten years later, at which point she attempts to reconcile her feelings about Nigeria. More than just a travelogue, Saro-Wiwa combines history with current affairs and observations of daily life during her travels through the country.

10. The Solo Travel Handbook, by Lonely Planet

For any type of solo traveler—newbies and veterans alike—this guide by Budget Travel's parent company handles it all, from planning your itinerary to dealing with issues that come up on the road to trip ideas for inspiration. It incorporates suggestions on managing your money, ways to meet people and stay connected, and encouragement for those who may be hesitant to travel solo. An invaluable guide that will help you to stay safe and enjoy your trip.

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