12 Inspiring Travel Books

You have probably heard the saying, “The world is a book, and those who don’t travel only read the first page,” but before I ever got on my first flight, it was the pages that transported me to far-flung destinations so different than my own. They fueled my imagination and set me on a path of exploration. Books inspire us to look beyond our lives and to see the world in a new light. Whether they make you want to hit the road or simply change your perspective from the comfort of your couch, they are invaluable to life’s journey.

As a writer and traveler, I am on a perpetual hunt for great books that inspire travel. So, I asked my mentors, colleagues, and friends to suggest their favorites. Here’s what they recommended:

1)  On the Road by Jack Kerouac

1Perry Garfinkel, Author of Travel Writing for Profit & Pleasure and New York Times Contributor said:  

“I know many would not categorize it as travel lit in the traditional sense. But as a kid growing up in New Jersey, whose longest trip through high school was Pittsburgh to see Pitt, which had accepted me for college, that book, when I read it in college, by which time I think I went to Florida once to visit my grandparents, widened my horizons. Aside from the underlying Zen message (which I did not get intellectually but sensed intuitively, viscerally), I also was a kinetic person and the idea of being on the move as an almost spiritual journey cum picaresque adventure spoke to me. When I was writing Buddha or Bust, I reread it and “got” the Zen part so profoundly I was tickled by how little I understood that aspect 30 years earlier.”

2) Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story by John Berendt

2Katelyn Salvato, Speech Pathologist said: 

“My cousin had a destination wedding in Savannah, Georgia and she included the novel Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. By transforming a truth-is-stranger-than-fiction murder mystery into a narrative, the author animates Savannah with characters from different niches of its uniquely Southern society. When I recall the book, I remember how eccentricity, superstition, lying, and classism seemed charming. If I return to Savannah someday and find that they offer hokey tours to cash in on the book’s popularity, I would totally go on one!”

3) Galapagos by Kurt Vonnegut

3Tod Emko, Founder of Darwin Animal Doctors, a volunteer run animal clinic in the Galapagos, said:

“Although it’s preposterous fiction, I absolutely adore Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Galapagos. In the book, Vonnegut describes outlandish scenarios unfolding on an equally outlandish setting, filled with vampire birds and human-seal animals. Only after you visit the Galapagos – and specifically Wolf Island which is where the vampire finch lives – do you realize how much this fantastic archipelago can inspire creativity to go wild, as this is a place where you’ll believe anything is possible.”

4) Black Beauty by Anna Sewell


Allison Argo, Emmy winning Filmmaker of ArgoFilms who travels the world creating documentaries about wildlife, said:  

“That book shaped my future. I think all children possess empathy and have the ability to identify with other species. I think Black Beauty legitimized this for me and allowed me to carry that empathy into my adult life. The fact that I see each and every creature as an individual – not simply as “a horse” or “an elephant ” — is evident in all of my films. I can’t help but imagine that Anna Sewell planted these seeds when I was just a child. She continues to be one of my heroes today!”

To read about Allison’s latest film PARROT CONFIDENTIAL PBS Nature film, click here.

5) The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway

5Adrienne Gurman, Writer said:

The Sun Also Rises by Hemingway made me want to learn about Spanish culture – everything except the bull fighting of course.”

The novel is about about a group of American and British expats who travel from Paris to the Festival of San Fermín in Pamplona to watch the running of the bulls and the bullfights.

6) Death in Varanasi by Geoff Dyer


Jimmy Wohl, Writer said:

“I just read Death in Varanasi by Geoff Dyer. It’s the 2nd half of a book that starts with Jeff in Venice. Dyer captures not only the spirit of Varanasi in vivid, insightful detail, but presents a character that embraces Varanasi’s ethos. He transforms from a slightly stuffy travel writer observing the backpacker, spiritual tourist, religious/death culture of Varanasi, into a quasi-mendicant, not unlike the aghoris he’s surrounded by. I’ve been to Varanasi twice, and I can say that Dyer succeeds with written words what I have always been trying to explain about this magical, unique city.”

7) Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

7Emily Wilant, Fordham Global Outreach Coordinator said:

“I read this book while I was on GO! Guatemala trip and although it’s about the slums of Mumbai, it helped me be more present to those I was working with in the community. It puts things in perspective, that the poor are everywhere and live similar yet different circumstances.”

8) Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn


Also recommended by Emily:

“Not only is this my favorite book, but it chronicles the many organizations and women battling for the rights of women and children worldwide. It’s sad but hopeful. What’s also great is there’s an index of organizations in the back of the book with a description and whether they take volunteers.”

9) Killing Yourself to Live by Cluck Klosterman


Scott Josephson, Engineer said:

“You know how celebrities gain close to martyr status after death? Klosterman takes trips to some of the most tragic locations in rock ‘n’ roll history, searching for meaning — if it encompasses death at all. Truth be told, the book is more of a soul search for the author itself — but what road trip isn’t? — and he ultimately discovers what he is seeking even in spite of himself.”

10) A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

10Deborah Huso, Writer said:

“…because it made me laugh out loud repeatedly when I was all by myself.”

(It’s one of my favorite books also. In fact, it was one of the first books that made me take up travel writing. My latest favorite of his is In a Sunburned Country)

11) Wild by Cheryl Strayed


Beth Worton-Pederson, Teacher said:
“It was amazing!  She talks about her solo journey of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.  It really made me want to go hiking. So brave to do what she did.”

12) In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin

12Alli Sinclair, Novelist said:

“The one that inspired me on my travels in Argentina was In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin. He has an amazing ability to weave in historical events without the reader even noticing they are having a history lesson. His writing style captures my imagination and when I travelled South America, Bruce Chatwin’s book was never far from my mind.”

What’s your favorite? Leave in a comment.

Published by Lavanya

Lavanya Sunkara is a writer, animal lover, and globetrotter based in New York City. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Travel + Leisure, Architectural Digest, Fodor’s, Forbes, USA Today and many more in a career spanning ten years. She covers travel, eco-lifestyle, culture, pets, and wildlife conservation.

5 thoughts on “12 Inspiring Travel Books

  1. Jimmy Buffet wrote a musical Don’t Stop the Carnival based on the Wouk book (which was a transformative work at the time, although now seems cliched — it CREATED the cliche) the musical BOMBED but Jeannie and I LOVED It — ot world premiered a the Coconut Grove playhouse, as did Waiting for Godot — I also saw there James Earl Jones and Christopher Plummer as the BEST Iago in Othello —- god, I Love Miami

  2. I’ve read all these except the Boo book which I will get on — trust me — LOLITA — the greatest American road novel!

  3. Great list. About six years ago, I went to Savannah and did the cheesy book tour. It was fantastic! I can’t remember the tour company, but it was a woman driving us around in a big car- just three of us were on the tour. Even though we were sitting right next to her, she used a microphone and was very dramatic- very much a local character. We went to the Mercer House, Forsyth Park and Bonaventure Cemetery..also a bunch of smaller locations. It was a very memorable tour and highly recommended. Savannah is one of the most beautiful cities that I have ever visited.

  4. One favorite of mine is Don’t Stop the Carnival by Herman Wouk. Amazon’s plot description: It’s the story of Norman Paperman, a New York City press agent who, facing the onset of middle age, runs away to a Caribbean island to reinvent himself as a hotel keeper. (Hilarity and disaster — of a sort peculiar to the tropics — ensue.) It’s a great, funny read for anyone who has a love of the Caribbean as I do…or anyone who thinks they want to be in the hotel business!

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