April 15th, 2015

The Most Inspiring Travel Books of All Time

Looking for some travel inspiration to feed your wanderlust? Try reading one—or all—of these amazing travel books. 

Looking for your next great read? With summer upon us, it’s always good to have a stable of great books on hand for long afternoons lounging in the sunshine. Even better if those books feed your wanderlust! The following tomes are some of the most inspiringtravel books of all time, and well worth a read.  

On the Road (Jack Kerouac)

The so-called “Bible of the Beat Generation,” the culturally prominent group of ‘50s writers, has been inspiring young people’s wanderlust for over half a century. It’s not only one of the greatest travel books of all time, On the Road is considered one of the English language’s finest works in general. In this fictional story, characters inspired by Kerouac and his real-life friends blaze the United States in a dizzying whirlwind of jazz music, female company, and illicit substances. Its unforgettable prose is sure to stick with you. 

Travels with Charley: In Search of America (John Steinbeck) 

John Steinbeck set out in 1960 with his French poodle on a journey to find the “New America” and to write a travelogue. His concerns about what he found, namely massive technological advancement and environmental destruction, do not detract from the beautiful writing in his book. The fact that Steinbeck was dying when he made the trip is important; it frames the story with the author’s longing to see his country one last time. Reading the book in the 21st century, it’s also fascinating to see just how much the country has changed. 

In Patagonia (Bruce Chatwin)

This book, referred to as a travel masterpiece by many, chronicles Chatwin’s journey down the Amazon’s Rio Negro, the largest blackwater river in the world, to Ushuaia, the world’s southernmost city. In Patagonia is divided into 97 sections of varying length (some as short as a paragraph). Chatwin delves into the themes of nomadism in human life, having encountered nomads on his own travels. 

Wild (Cheryl Strayed) 

One of the more recent additions to the travel book canon, Wild is especially inspiring for being one of the few major travel books written by a woman. Strayed tells the true story of her 1,100-mile hike on the Pacific Crest Trail, a journey that took her through the Mojave Desert and much of California, but also closer to herself as she dealt with the fallout of grief and personal life challenges. The writing itself is gorgeous, and the theme of finding oneself through travel is a universal one that can appeal to people of all ages. 

The Great Railway Bazaar (Louis Theroux)

Theroux, a pioneer of the so-called“hippie trail”, went on a railroad journey through Europe, Asia, and the Middle East that brought him face-to-face with a jumble of cultures and traditions. His voyage, which he recounts in this true narrative, also took him on some of the world’s greatest train lines, including the Trans-Siberian Railroad. 

Coasting: A Private Voyage (Jonathan Raban)

Raban’s ode to the 4,000-mile journey he made in a restored sailboat is a beautiful reflection on his childhood, and on life in England under Margaret Thatcher. Raban used only an old-fashioned compass, and made his way by visually navigating the coastline. Unbelievably, he did it all by himself. Raban’s determination and unwillingness to quit parallels his own personal development, as he admits before the journey he was quick to pull up his personal anchor and drift around aimlessly.

The Beach (Alex Garland)

Garland’s work may be partially responsible for the trend (that persists even today) of young adults taking time off to spend a year in Southeast Asia and “find themselves”—and discover a legendary beach of unadulterated beauty in the process. His novel lavishly depicts the beauty of Thailand, and the ongoing adventure of attempting to track down paradise on Earth. The meaty plotline about backpackers and drug smuggling is just a bonus.

Your turn, readers. What travel books have inspired you?

Shannon O’Donnell is a long-term traveler on the road since 2008; she travels slowly and supports grassroots tourism along the way. She published The Volunteer Traveler’s Handbook and foundedGrassrootsVolunteering.org to help travelers connect with ethical volunteering and travel opportunities.  

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by Shannon ODonnell

Shannon O'Donnell is a long-term traveler who has been on the road since 2008; she travels slowly and supports grassroots tourism along the way. She is an acclaimed travel speaker and works with universities and businesses all over the U.S. to talk about supporting developing countries.

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