In our world today—where travel is a temporary impossibility—we find ourselves turning to books (and movies) as the next best mode of transportation. With the selection below, you'll find yourself jetsetting to the cobblestone-streets of Rome. You'll spend time in Denmark and India, sip wine in France and whiskey in Scotland. You'll marvel at Japan's iconic cities, and the one and only New York. And for a brief period of time, you'll forget about anything that's weighing you down, instead letting words transport you elsewhere.
So without further ado, these are 15 of the best travel books to spark your wanderlust.
By Julia Child
It’s impossible not to feel an affectionate warmth towards Julia Child while reading My Life In France, an autobiography co-written with her husband’s grand-nephew, Alex Prud’homme. Because while this “6-food-2-inch… rather loud and unserious Californian” is best known for introducing French cuisine to American homes, this book revealed a far more intimate expression of her deep love for and fascination of France — from the undeniable “joie de vivre” that so charmed Child, to the language, geography, literature, art, and, of course, sublime gastronomic culture. If it’s possible for words to nourish you, Julia Child’s do just that.
By Anthony Doerr
While Doerr is perhaps best known for his Pulitzer Prize-winning, #1 New York Times bestseller, All The Light We Cannot See, he also penned a stunning memoir about his experience on a year-long writing grant in Rome—a grant he was accepted into the very day he returned home from the hospital with his wife and newborn twins. During his time in one of the world's most enchanting cities, he visited the same piazzas, temples, and ancient cisterns as Pliny, Dante, Keats, and other storied writers who came before him. He visited the Pantheon with his twins on a cold December day in anticipation of snow falling through the oculus, and he experienced the warm hospitality (and parenting advice!) of countless bakers, butchers, and neighbors who made Rome feel like home.
By Paulo Coehlo
Originally published in 1988, The Alchemist is an allegorical novel that follows the adventures of a young Andalusian shepherd named Santiago, who's in pursuit of treasure at the Egyptian pyramids. Along the way, he meets several people who influence the trajectory of his "Personal Legend"—from the man who robs him of all his money to the Arabian girl he falls in love with who agrees to marry him only once he has completed his journy. The novel, which has become a modern classic, explores the theme of destiny, and how the universe conspires to make your wishes come true.
By Helen Russell
Despite their long, cold winters, the Danish are some of the happiest people on earth. To find out why, London-based journalist Helen Russell settled in the remote, rural peninsula of Jutland. It was here where she explored Danish childcare, education, taxes, sexism, food, interior design, and more—all of which she recounts (positives AND negatives) in poignant detail in The Year Of Living Danishly. Russell also provides concrete, actionable tips for people around the world to take a cue from the happiest country on earth and start living a little more Danishly themselves.
Another book that explores happiness in the context of travel? The Geography Of Bliss.
By Ernest Hemingway
Hemingway's classic, posthumously-published memoir takes place in post-World I Paris, during les années folles (or the Roaring 20s) when he was a struggling expat writer married to his first wife, Hadley. It was during this time that creativity of the arts was at an all-time high, as Hemingway rubbed shoulders with the likes of Sylvia Beach, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, Alice Toklas, and more. Be sure to write down the specific bars, cafés, hotel, and apartment addresses that Hemingway includes—some can still be found in Paris to this day.
By Steve Newman
Freelance journalist Steven Newman decided, at age 28, to backpack around the world (solo). He left from his home in Bethel, Ohio, and embarked on a four-year-long adventure across the length or width of 21 countries on five continents—all while writing for an enraptured newspaper audience of over a million. Along the way, he was met with everything from wars to blizzards, encounters with wild boars to bandits—but also with the graciousness and hospitality as strangers welcomed him and told him their stories.
7. On The Road
By Jack Kerouac
This 1957 novel tells the story of Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty—alter egos of Keroac and his real-life friend, Neal Cassady, respectively—who embark on cross-country road trips in search of meaningful experience in their lives. Selected by Time magazine as one of the 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to 2005, On The Road explores the themes of freedom and hope under the backdrop of Americana/jazz culture of the mid-20th century.
By Anthony Bourdain
Fans of the late Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations will enjoy this part-culinary, part-travel memoir that inspired the hit TV show. It recounts his adventures across France, Portugal, Russia, Morocco, Vietnam, Japan, Mexico, Cambodia, Spain, and California—the goal of which was to find the answer to one question: "What would be the perfect meal?"
By Miranda Kennedy
In Sideways On A Scooter, author Miranda Kennedy's recounts her formative years spent living as a journalist in India—covering everything from the conflicts in Afghanistan and Pakistan to the role of women in this rapidly developing country. She details the Herculean task of renting an apartment as a single woman, along with the friendships, love affairs, and losses that marked her time abroad, altering her otherwise Westernized notions of everything from food and clothes to marriage and family.
By James Clavell
Shogun is the first novel in James Clavell's world-renowned Asian saga. It takes place in the precarious year of 1600, when a man by the name of John Blackthorne, whose dream it is to be the first Englishman to circumnavigate the globe, has his ship blown ashore in Japan. It's here where he encounters two pivotal characters: Toranga, a feudal Japanese warlord who is steadfast in his own quest for power, and Lady Mariko, a Catholic convert torn between conflicting loyalties to the Church and her country, who ends up falling in love with Blackthorne. Many of the novel's characters are based on real-life counterparts, and in 2018 FX announced that they'd be releasing a miniseries based off the 1975 novel.
11. Cloud Atlas
By David Mitchell
Cloud Atlas tells the story of Adam Ewing, an American who embarks on a journy from the Chatham Isles to California in 1850. Along the way, Mitchell—who is also the New York Times bestselling author of The Bone Clocks—introduces readers to six interconnected and nested stories that extend across time and space. There's the tale of Dr. Goose, who treats Ewing for a rare brain parasite, Robert Frobisher, a bisexual composer based out of Belgium in the 1930s, Luisa Rey, a reporter on the West Coast in the 1970s, and more. The narrative then reverses back through centuries and space to return to its starting point, revealing how the characters' fates ultimately intertwine.
By Iain Banks
Whisky connoisseurs and novices alike will find themselves enraptured by Iain Banks' journy by car, ferry, and bicycle down Scotland's rugged golden road in exploration of his country's rich heritage of whiskey. Along the way, he visits both large, established distilleries and small, family-run operations to better understand the drink that has become synonymous with Scottish culture.
13. New York Diaries
Edited by Teresa Carpenter
In order to full encapsulate the history and spirit of New York, Pulitzer Prize winner and New York Times bestselling author Teresa Carpenter spent hours upon hours scouring the archives of libraries, historical societies, and private estates to select journal entries that span four centuries—from the 1600s to the present day. The compilation starts on January 1 and continues chronologically day-by-day throughout the year, presenting a diverse and compelling portrait of this iconic metropolis. It features diary excerpts from the likes of Walt Whitman, Andy Warhol, George Washington, Gertrude Vanderbilt, Mark Twain, Alexis de Tocqueville, Theodore Roosevelt, Edgar Allen Poe, Henry Hudson, Dorothy Day, Thomas Edison, Albert Camus, and more.
By Kermit Lynch
Lauded by The New York Times as "one of the finest American books on wine," Adventures On The Wine Route tells Kermit Lynch's story, as he travels throughout France—from the Loire to Bordeaux, the Languedoc to Provence, the Rhone to the Côte d'Or—in pursuit of "the essence of the wine world." He visits vineyards and cellars both large and small, believing in his heart that... "one cannot appreciate French wine with any depth of understanding without knowing how the French themselves look at their wines, by going to the source, descending into their cold, humid cellars, tasting with them, and listening to the language they employ to describe their wines."
15. Ugly Americans: The True Story of the Ivy League Cowboys Who Raided the Asian Markets for Millions
By Ben Mezrich
When the young-20-something Princeton grad, John Malcom, received a mysterious phone call promising him a shot at a fortune in Asia, he packed his bags and moved halfway across the world to begin his life as an expat trader in the cutthroat Asian underworld. What followed was a Hollywood-worthy (Kevin Spacey's production company, Trigger Street Productions, purchased film rights to the book) saga of sex-and-drug-fueled business deals with billion-dollar portfolios, culminating in a penultimate deal the likes of which had never been seen before.