Every product is carefully selected by our editors. If you buy from a link, we may earn a commission.

Seeking Travel Inspiration? Make Your Starting Points These 30 Great Books

Near to far, adventure is filled with stories of conquests, scientific discovery and crazy things.


Editor’s note: Literature is a never ending sea of inspiration for us here at GP. As such, we’ve updated our list of best travel and adventure books with 10 new recommendations. Contribution by Peter Saltsman and Jack Seemer.

Somewhere between your morning commute and much-deserved coffee break, you probably dreamed about getting on an airplane and going somewhere (anywhere!), aching for adventure and the promise of a life well lived.

We’ve all been there, longing to see the world beyond our reach, perhaps even ready to set off for the remote and distant corners of the globe. Well, the joke’s on us. At this point, someone has probably beaten us there and no doubt almost died (or, for that matter, actually died) in the process. But man’s penchant for exploration — crazy, reckless, often death-defying exploration — has yielded some pretty good literature over the years, which is a damn good consolation prize. These are stories of conquests, scientific discovery, and jut generally of brave, often foolish men and women doing the things most of us wouldn’t dare. Sit back, read on, and thank god you don’t have to go through any of the shit that happened to them.


In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin
In 1974, Bruce Chatwin, then a relatively unknown journalist for The Sunday Times Magazine, traveled to South America, resigning with a brief telegram mailed home that read, “Have gone to Patagonia”. Chatwin spent six months there, inspiring this travelogue. Experimental in form, the book is perhaps best classified as creative nonfiction, comprised of 97 short vignettes (ranging from factual anecdotes to folklore) of the people, places and tales he encountered during the adventure. $12

A Sense of Direction by Gideon Lewis-Kraus
Living aimlessly in Berlin, writer Gideon Lewis-Kraus jets off to attempt three historically diverse pilgrimages by foot — the Camino de Santiago in Spain, the Shikoku Pilgrimage in Japan and the Rosh Hashanah kibbutz in the Ukraine — connecting the narrative of his experiences with existential musings on life’s greater, and not so great, purposes. The result is a text author Dave Eggers calls “a very honest, very smart, very moving book about being young and rootless and even wayward”. $11

The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux
Paul Theroux first published The Great Railway Bazaar in 1975, and it instantly became recognized as a modern classic of nonfiction travel writing. The text follows Theroux’s four-month train ride from London to Southeast Asia, then back again via the Trans-Siberian Railway. It’s at times witty and humorous, but Theroux shines best in his sober observations of eccentric personalities he meets along the way. $12

The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton
Swiss critic and scholar Alain de Botton weaves a personal travelogue into five abstract essays that cover different aspects of travel, from the experience of departure to return. His well-read breadth of knowledge comes through in insightful connections he draws, for example, between the desolate landscapes of Edward Hopper paintings and his own reading of hotels and gas stations he encounters on the road. $12

Mani by Patrick Leigh Fermor
During his lifetime, Patrick Leigh Fermor was considered by many to be the greatest travel writer in Britain. One of his earlier works, first published in 1958, Mani chronicles Fermor’s travels to the isolated peninsula at the southernmost tip of Greece (where he eventually settled later in life). Though the book is often seen as a companion piece to Fermor’s other Greece volume, Roumeli: Travels in Northern Greece, Mani stands apart as one of Fermor’s best-crafted examples of blending historical research of a place with acute, firsthand observation. $10

The New Granta Book of Travel
23 stories make up this definitive anthology from Granta, the publication that was once (and largely remains) a venue for great travel writers, including Paul Theroux and Bruce Chatwin. There’s an introduction by Jonathan Raban, and each story, though different in scope and style, shares an element of engagement with the act of embedding oneself in a foreign place or culture. $11

The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen
An early pioneer of LSD, which later inspired a life-long devotion to Zen Buddhism, Peter Matthiessen brings a rich spiritual tone to the form of travel writing, including observations on the relation of self to place. The Snow Leopard is the account of a two-month journey to Nepal, where Matthiessen, along with the naturalist George Schaller, attempt to catch a glimpse of the rarely seen snow leopards that live in the Himalayas. The book won several awards when it was published in 1978, including two National Book Awards in categories of “Contemporary Thought” and “Nonfiction”. $10

Blue Highways: A Journey into America by William Least Heat-Moon
In February of 1982, writer William Least Heat-Moon lost his job and wife on the same day. He then set off across America in a van named “Ghost Dancing”, taking only back roads. His travelogue of the experience, accompanied by the photos he took, has been compared to Jack Kerouac’s On the Road — except “far better”, according to The New York Times. $10

The Way of the World by Nicholas Bouvier
The mission: drive an old, rickety Fiat from Geneva, Switzerland, to the Khyper Pass bordering Afghanistan and Pakistan. Niclas Bouvier was 24 years old when we made the trip with his friend, the artist Thierry Vernet (who is credited for the accompanying illustrations), documenting the trip in his journals which, years later, bore The Way of the World. Bouvier wrote of the journey, “You think you are making a trip, but soon it is making — or unmaking — you”. $13

Video Night in Kathmandu by Pico Iyer
Tibet, China, India and Thailand are the settings of Time writer Pico Iyer’s Video Night in Kathmandu, a collection of 11 essays that together chronicle Iyer’s travels in what he dubs the “not-so-far-East”. The influence of Western culture is evident, strange and hilarious in form, especially when he encounters the film trade of India, where films such as Rambo get rehashed with nuances of local flavor. $13

In Trouble Again by Redmond O’Hanlon
A semi-famous British explorer, writer and Darwin scholar stumbles his way through the dark and largely mysterious (yes, even by the 1980s) rain forests of Venezuela. Now you get why the title’s so foreboding. $11

Through the Brazilian Wilderness by Theodore Roosevelt
Clinton started a charity and Dubya paints portraits of his dogs. What did Teddy Roosevelt, perhaps the nation’s most macho President, do after his term? He hitched up his stirrups, threw on a giant hat and set off for South America in the name of scientific discovery. Your move, 44. $9

In Brightest Africa by Carl Akeley
Akeley was a bona fide explorer, but he’s best known as the philanthropic taxidermist who almost single-handedly created (and populated) the African Hall at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. These are his diaries. They’re a little racist, but other than that you can learn a lot. $40

Travels With Charley by John Steinbeck
On the Road is for confused teenagers and grown men with Grateful Dead patches on their backpacks. Steinbeck is one of America’s all time great prose stylists, and this is his story of driving across his great country. Recently it’s been criticized for being heavily fictionalized. So what? Embellishing stories only makes them better. $9

A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush by Eric Newby
Newby is one of the sharpest, funniest travel writers in print. His first book takes him to a remote corner of Afghanistan where, in 1956, no Englishman had set foot for more than half a century. Not ballsy enough for you? He also drives perilously through Turkey, befriends a dubious companion and climbs a 20,000-foot mountain. $11

Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey
Abbey’s writing about his time as a National Park Ranger is much less Yogi Bear and much more Walden. He is at peace in the desert of the American Southwest, and after reading his stories it’s easy to think we could be, too. $7

In Search of King Solomon’s Mines by Tahir Shah
Solomon’s Mines, where the king sourced the gold for his Temple in Jerusalem, are like a cursed, semitic Holy Grail. Many have searched for them, none have succeeded. Tahir Shah goes on a quest to Ethiopia to find them and, as you can imagine, very little good comes of it (except, of course, this book). $18

Young Men and Fire by Norman Maclean
In 1949, 13 firefighters died in the storied Mann Gulch forest fire in Montana. In 1992, Norman McLean set off on an adventure to figure out what the hell happened out there. The results are riveting. $12

The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain
Next time you’re reminiscing about that backpacking adventure you and your college roommate took through Italy, remember that you weren’t the first American to go abroad. Mark Twain wasn’t either, but he was definitely one of the funniest and most perceptive—especially when he gets to the Holy Land. $5

The Green Hills of Africa by Ernest Hemingway
All the gin swilling and abortion equivocating of his fiction aside, this is the book that made Hemingway famous as a dirty, rugged big-game-hunting man’s man. And also a man of letters—much of the book concerns his often profound and sometimes meandering thoughts on writing. $14

Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Saint-Exupery delivered the mail. Back in the early days of aviation, this meant flying treacherously across the Andes, crashing in the Sahara and, it turns out, making some good friends along the way. He lived through a lot, but what’s most amazing about this book about the early days of aviation is Saint-Exupery’s overwhelmingly optimistic and enlightening worldview. $12

Going Solo by Roald Dahl
Ever wondered what kinds of things Roald Dahl saw that made him dream up James and the Giant Peach? In Going Solo, he writes about his time as a fighter pilot with the Royal Air Force during World War II. $6

Fighter Pilot by Paul Richey
Richey and his RAF squadron were some of the first in the air after war was declared in 1939, and in 1941, after being shot down (for the fourth time) and deemed unfit to fly, Richey published Fighter Pilot based on his wartime journals—even as the war raged on around him. $27

West With the Night by Beryl Markham
It’s unfair to think men had all the adventures. Beryl Markham grew up in Kenya and made her living as a bush pilot. She was the first person to fly across the Atlantic east to west—though that solo flight is only one of the many adventures she writes about. $10

The Spirit of St. Louis by Charles Lindbergh
Lindbergh is an American hero, justly celebrated for his game-changing 1927 transatlantic flight. He’s also a Pulitzer Prize-winning author thanks to this genius autobiography, an hour-by-hour account of his delirious 33-hour flight that most people thought he’d never make. $17

Into the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick
In 1820, the whaleship the Essex sank in the Pacific Ocean after an unfortunate run-in with a giant sperm whale. The surviving crew tried to get to South America in their tiny whaleboats and the rest, as they say, is history. Or in this case, it’s a ridiculously absorbing and cinematic history book. $13

Kon-Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl
Historical reenactments aren’t usually a good idea, especially when they involve sailing hundreds of nautical miles across the Pacific Ocean on an anachronistic raft. But Heyerdahl’s quest to prove the possibility of a long-ago Polynesian migration is fascinating. And in this case, the movie’s almost as good as the book—it won the 1951 Oscar for Best Foreign Feature. $5

The Voyage of the Beagle by Charles Darwin
Darwin is best know for On the Origin of Species, but as a piece of literature it’s kind of boring—all science and no actual discovery. The Voyage of the Beagle is based on his 1831 expedition, and it’s part natural history journal, part captain’s log, containing the seeds of his theory of evolution and the full extent of his seasickness. $9

The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger
Fishing is hard. Nature’s a bitch. If you’re scared of open water, do not read this book. $11

The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard
Even in 2013 it’s nearly impossible to get to Antarctica. A century ago, the trek was downright suicidal. In fact, most of the crew of the British Antartctic Expedition of 1910-1913 never made it back. Thankfully Apsley Cherry-Gerrard did, and wrote this dizzying memoir in 1922 about discovery, hard work and survival. $10

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below