It’s true no matter what your experience: travel transforms you. Whether you’re headed out on a beach vacation with family or a months-long international backpacking trip, you’ll return home different from how you left it. This is the magic of travel writing captured in the best travel books: expressing the transformative nature of travel and encouraging readers to do the same.
In this ultimate guide to the best travel books, we share the most page-turning books to inspire your next adventure. You’ll find everything from a book of the photography of Egypt’s great treasures to an inspired guide to the best places for a quiet, zen escape from the hustle and bustle. No matter which of these inspiring books you choose, they’ll have you packing your bags in no time.
This post contains affiliate links that may reward me monetarily or otherwise when you use them to make qualifying purchases – at no cost to you. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. For more information, please read our disclosure policy.
12 (Must-Read!) Travel Books
1. Motorcycle Diaries, Ernesto “Che” Guevara
One of the world’s great road trip stories, Motorcycle Diaries (Diarios de Motocicleta) is taken from the personal journals of Ernesto “Che” Guevara as he traveled by motorcycle from Buenos Aires up the spine of South America. Covering some of the continent’s most unique destinations, his stories inspire travel to unique spots, but more than that, they speak to the transformative experience of travel.
More than just a travel story or journal, the pages of Motorcycle Diaries speak to Guevara’s transformation from a well-to-do Buenos Aires medical student to one of the most important and revolutionary political figures in the Americas. It’s a story of being changed by travel, one that every traveler can relate to – whether you agree with his philosophy or not!
Motorcycle Diaries is required reading for travel to South America, but perhaps even more important as a book to read for travel to Cuba. When traveling to Cuba and seeing Che’s image anywhere and everywhere you look, having this unique peek into the root of his political transformation is one of the best ways to understand the Cuban Revolution.
2. Quiet Escapes: 50 Inspiring Destinations to Find Your Zen, Emma Thomson
Travel isn’t always about the biggest and brightest: it’s also about finding refuge and peace to recharge and renew. From deep in the Ecuadorian Amazon to city breaks with peaceful escapes among chaos, Emma Thomson’s Quiet Escapes: 50 Inspiring Destinations to Find Your Zen covers some of the best destinations and travel experiences for this quiet contemplation we all need.
Get ready to be inspired: you’ve likely never heard about the majority of these special spots and unique travel experiences. Thomson’s travel stories read like the perfect mix of aspiration and inspiration, with just enough practical details to get you started planning your own retreat.
Offering both a new travel philosophy and the practical inspiration to get you there, Quiet Escapes is an exceptional addition to your travel book collection or a fabulous gift for any traveler on your holiday gift list.
3. Treasures of Egypt: A Legacy in Photographs from the Pyramids to Cleopatra, Ann R. Williams
With all the stunning photography and unique storytelling you’d expect from National Geographic, Treasures of Egypt: A Legacy in Photographs from the Pyramids to Cleopatra is the ultimate ticket to some of the most unique artifacts and impressive destinations from bucket list Egypt.
Published to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the rediscovery of King Tut’s tomb, this hardcover book is itself a treasure. Treasures of Egypt is so much more than just a coffee table book or a photography anthology. It documents in living color and with inspiring story clues to long-lost ancient relics, countless expeditions and discoveries, and of course, golden treasures emerging from desert sands.
Whether you’re planning your own trip to Egypt, hoping to inspire the next generation of little archeologists or travelers, or just looking to appreciate some of the world’s treasures from the comfort of your own home, Treasures of Egypt will get you there. It’s also an incredible gift for the traveler in your life.
4. 36 Hours World: 150 Cities from Abu Dhabi to Zurich, The New York Times
With detailed yet easy-to-read itineraries for the perfect long weekend in favorite cities around the world like Bogotá, Dakar, and Beijing, 36 Hours: World is the ultimate travel inspiration in the form of a beautiful book that will live permanently on your coffee table. It’s so good it will never make it to your shelf.
Travel newbies will appreciate the expert insights, while more seasoned travelers will find inspiration for their next off-the-beaten-path getaway. Stunning photos and personal stories make it engaging even if your next trip is more in the dream stage than the planning phase.
36 Hours: World is just the beginning: The New York Times has countless books in the 36 Hours series, including unique options for weekend trips in Europe, and regional U.S. and Canada versions to inspire road trips and long weekend drives.
Use regional versions like 36 Hours: Latin America and Caribbean (my favorite!) and 36 Hours: Asia and Oceania as the backbone for some incredible itineraries to take you around the world.
5. Mi Cocina: Recipes and Rapture from My Kitchen in Mexico, Rick Martínez
If there was ever a cookbook to include on a list of the best travel books, it’s this one! Mi Cocina is Rick Martínez’s love story of the beauty and diversity of Mexico and an anthology of the very best of Mexican cuisine.
Mi Cocina shares recipes from all around Mexico, breaking down the book into chapters based on regions of the country to best map the unique tastes, flavors, and traditions found throughout the country. From staples like tortillas and beans to more elaborate dishes, Mi Cocina shares it all in an accessible way no matter how much you know about cooking – or Mexico!
Consider this cookbook meets travel book the perfect way to travel without leaving home or the perfect inspiration for your next trip to Mexico.
6. World Travel, Anthony Bourdain
Offering a unique mix of travel guides, fascinating stories, words of advice, and travel philosophy, all in his unique voice, World Travel is both an inspiration and reflection from one of the travel greats. You don’t need an excuse to pick up this book: it’s a page-turner covering Bourdain’s favorite spots, from backpacker favorites to destinations you couldn’t even dream of.
Obsessively watching his shows through the years shaped my own travel philosophy immensely. At a time when most travel shows were making formulaic guides to European cities, Anthony Bourdain was careening his way through off-the-beaten-path destinations and having incredible cultural experiences most viewers never imagined.
World Travel captures that same lightning in a bottle and is a must for travelers whether you’ve ever had the joy of living vicariously through the travels of Anthony Bourdain or not.
7. Catfish and Mandala: A Two-Wheeled Voyage Through the Landscape and Memory of Vietnam, Andrew X. Pham
On a journey of both self-discovery and escape as a Vietnamese-American refugee living in the United States after the Vietnam War, Andrew X. Pham’s Catfish and Mandala is a must-read travelogue and compelling, award-winning story. From the desert of Mexico to Korea and Japan before arriving “home” in Vietnam, Pham’s journey was as long and varied as it was deep, bringing readers along for the humbling journey.
Pham’s writing speaks to the experience of immigration and redefining the meaning of home. Whether you’ve experienced immigration first-hand or not, this story has important lessons about movement’s impact on people and society – something everyone should know a bit more about.
8. Take More Vacations, Scott Keyes
Travel is much, much more affordable than most people realize. The book Take More Vacations is here to help you crack the code to affordable travel, if you want to, well, take more vacations – no matter your travel budget.
From Scott Keyes, the founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights, comes one of the best books you can read if you’re looking to get into travel hacking, but the idea of points, credit cards, and loyalty programs makes your head spin.
Explaining the (surprisingly simple!) principles that have made Scott’s Cheap Flights among the very best in the business at saving you money, Scott’s stories are worth their weight in gold. After you read Take More Vacations, you’ll never plan a trip the same way again. You’ll just be planning more of them.
9. Riding the Iron Rooster, Paul Theroux
What is it about travel – by motorcycle, bicycle, car, or, in this case, train – that makes for the most lasting and engaging stories? Paul Theroux’s Riding the Iron Rooster captures that magic in a travel story worth a visit, whether you’re headed around the world to China or just around the corner.
While Theoreux’s experience in China is not recent – so much has changed in China since he captured it – reading his account of his experience in China is still enlightening, sometimes hilarious, and thoroughly fascinating. Get a glimpse of stunning landscapes, complicated history, and profound people through the eyes of a master storyteller.
Paul Theroux is a legendary travel writer, and his The Great Railway Bazaar: By Train Through Asia is absolutely canonical among travel books. It’s another absolute must as you build your library of travel books. Whether you pick up his more famous works or the lesser-known gems, you can’t go wrong with his unique voice and unforgettable stories.
10. The Catch Me If You Can: One Woman’s Journey to Every Country in the World, Jessica Nabongo
The first black woman on record to visit all 195 countries in the world, Jessica Nabongo shares her story in The Catch Me If You Can. This much-loved book is a unique mix of memoir, travel guide, and inspiration for your own adventure.
Organized chronically by country visited, each chapter offers a snapshot of a country, a time, and an experience. The Catch Me If You Can makes for a unique story from a fresh and inspiring travel voice that will leave you wanting more.
11. Travel Anywhere (And Avoid Being A Tourist), Jeralyn Gerba and Pavia Rosati
From the creators of Fathom, Travel Anywhere (And Avoid Being a Tourist) is much more than just a collection of travel tips – it’s an invitation to the adventure of travel, no matter if you’re headed around the world or around the corner.
Travel Anywhere is a unique collection of travel stories and recommendations that shares classic bucket list destinations, hidden gem hotels, remote escapes, and more. More than just a list of favorites, it also includes tips for travel planning, responsible travel, how to *actually* get off the beaten path, and more.
The photos alone will have you packing your bags and buying a ticket.
12. How to Move Abroad And Why It’s The Best Thing You’ll Do, Jessica Drucker
If you’re an avid traveler looking for your next big adventure, or just even a newbie considering a life change, you’ll want to pick up How To Move Abroad. This guide covers everything from the dreamy details about choosing a destination and how to make the most of your new travel base to the more granular details like paying taxes and finding a job abroad or remote work.
You’ll love Jessica Drucker’s personable, friendly style – no dry, boring bits here, even when it’s time to dig into numbers and the more challenging realities of living abroad. Highly recommended for expats, digital nomads, and those considering this lifestyle, How to Move Abroad is a great addition to your arsenal of travel books if you’re looking at staying on the road a little longer than before.
Books for Travelers
Whether you’re just dreaming of your next vacation or getting started planning, picking up one of these must-read travel books will inspire, inform, and guide you. From memoirs to more practical city guides, travel writing comes in many shapes and sizes but serves the same purpose: transforming us, just as we’re transformed when we travel.
Carley Rojas Avila is a bilingual New York-based travel writer, editor, content marketer, and the founder of the digital travel publications Explorers Away and Home to Havana. Carley is an expert on all things Latin America, the Caribbean, and Cuba, having lived and worked in four different countries in the region. Her writing has appeared on the Associated Press wires and in Travel + Leisure, Yahoo, MSN, Euronews, The Weather Channel, and more. When she's not writing about her travels, find her front row at a Bad Bunny concert, befriending street cats, and taste-testing every pizza in Havana.