17 Best Travel Books to Give You Intense Wanderlust

We’re here to introduce a riveting collection of the best travel books for your 2020 reading-list!

Before photo ops for social media and moving documentaries, books allowed us to indulge our curiosities about travel. By revisiting this age-old storytelling method, we travel far into time as well to see how early adventurers made their way around the world. We learn about the people behind the camera and those within photographs; there is a story gift-wrapped in the details, musings and dialogue.

The Best Travel Books

As we work down this list, you’ll quickly realize the vast approaches towards travel.

Some follow rigid itineraries with a focus on monumental historical sites; others prefer slow meandering along secondary roads and small town stays. Then there are those who fill pages with funny anecdotes, telling us about the communities they meet. Some good travel books pen out the challenges, both mental and physical, while some other write about quiet reflection and realizations.

Travel writing is about so much more than just descriptive prose; it challenges life attitudes and stereotypes.

If you’re set for a weekend on the beach or in a cozy cabin, pack one of these odes to travel. If you’re staying at home, enjoy familiar comforts while reading about thrilling journeys. These famous travel books speak of possibilities wherever you may be.

From year-long travel diaries to seasoned traveler’s advice, to tips on budget travels and cartoon tales, these are essential to your 2020 travel books list.

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1. 1000 Places to See Before You Die, by Patricia Schultz

There is no need to build a database of places to see because Patricia Schultz has already done that for you.

1000 Places to See Before You Die is a map in words – it takes you from natural landscapes to individual homes and cultural events.

Each chapter covers a different region, spanning between Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Australia and the Pacific Islands, United States and Canada, Latin America, the Caribbean and Bahamas.

You’ll find no greater checklist.

I haven’t been everywhere but it’s on my list.

Susan Sontag

One of my favorite travel quotes.

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2. Around The World in Eighty Days, by Jules Verne

A hard-cover to paperback classic, this book no doubt inspired many journeys made on a wager.

French author Jules Verne piggybacked the excitement surrounding 19th century advancements in rapid transport, which included the First Transcontinental Railroad in America, the expansion of the Indian railways and movement through Suez Canal.

The famous story takes us dreaming across the seas by steamer and incorporated the above-mentioned transports as part of the characters’ scheduled itinerary. What follows is an 80-day dash across the world as our protagonist, Phileas Fogg, aims to win the wager with £20,000 at stake!

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3. Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel, by Rolf Potts

Long-term travel, also known as slow travel, has been gaining traction as nomadic bloggers emerge in the 21st century pursuit of identity and self-actualization.

A decade long wanderer, Rolf Potts reveal the losses and gains when one throws away a stable home for the roads.

In his book are practical lessons, such as budgeting and minimizing possessions, but the most valuable insights lie with how one’s relationship with material goods change when one has no home.

There are also lessons on community and self that only long-term travel can unveil, and he shares them all through honest recollections.

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4. The Adventures of Tintin, by Hergé

Belgian reporter and adventurer Tintin rove about the world with his loyal dog Snowy in 24 comic albums, released between 1929 and 1976.

The genius behind their adventures was Hergé, whose series would go on to produce films, games, cartoons and more adaptations.

The combination of clean drawings, well-developed stories and great characterization will have you sucked into whatever action or political intrigue Tintin is mired in.

Spicing up the traditional storytelling with colorful illustrated panels, The Adventures of Tintin is one for visually-driven, adventure-seeking travelers.

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5. The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho

As we all know, sometimes the best part of travelling isn’t the destination but the journey itself.

Paulo Coelho addresses this in The Alchemist, introducing a character who embarks on a journey for treasure. Only, as millennials speak of with a whimsical sigh, he ends up “finding himself”.

In a time where everyone is desperate to find direction in their life, this story acts as a reminder that there is a lot more to living than just checking off accomplishments.

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6. The Caliph’s House: A Year in Casablanca, by Tahir Shah

For an engrossing, unusual pick off the shelves, Tahir Shah’s The Caliph’s House: A Year in Casablanca will have you guessing “what comes next?” to the very end.

The story revolves around Shah’s relocation of his family from the routine London life to carefree Casablanca, only to find that reality isn’t quite as beautiful as memory. Yet despite the troubles that come non-stop, you’ll find yourself riveted by the life that seeps out of his every word.

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7. A Tourist in the Arab Spring, by Tom Chesshyre

Sometimes travel writers become the voice of a local community too.

Tom Chesshyre took on the role of confidant as he traversed post-uprising Libya, Tunisia and Egypt to try understand how life had changed for its people.

It takes persistence to ask questions and courage to share those answers; he has in a way, become the platform on which North Africa shares their story.

If you’re interested in history and cultural shifts, this book may be your top pick.

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8. The Art of Travel, by Alain de Botton

It is easy to be lured in by the aesthetics of travel – it is freeing, interesting and promises change. But Alain de Botton endeavors to unveil the mundane moments that make travel an experience, and to answer the persistent question of why we seek it so.

The Art of Travel isn’t a manual on how to travel so much as a philosophical look into its appeal. Next time you travel somewhere, take the time to think about why you’re excited and what it is you’re really seeking; the answer might surprise you.

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9. In a Sunburned Country, by Bill Bryson

If you’ve got a foot into travel literature, Bill Bryson would be a familiar name.

This time delving into the sunburned territory of Australia, his book cycles through the off-beat trails, mining towns and coastal points.

Marvel and fear the wildlife that Australia is known for, while enjoying Bryson’s stories and trivia of these lesser-known parts.

If you’ve only been to the big cities, let the book inspire you to explore the land that lies between them.

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10. The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien

There’s no modern epic as fantastical as The Hobbit apart from the rest of Tolkien’s works, as it weaves a tale of magic rings, dragons, always-hungry halflings and forces beyond control.

It is only part of the extensive lore that defines Tolkien’s much-loved series, but the book in itself is a self-contained adventure.

Join Bilbo Baggins and his crew of rowdy dwarves as they seek out legendary treasures, only to find a legendary creature guarding it.

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11. The Travel Book: A Journey Through Every Country in the World (Lonely Planet)

Need we say more regarding this book?

Finally, Lonely Planet has consolidated their travel expertise into a single travel guide book to take us through every country in the world.

Featuring photography spreads, two-page profiles and interesting statistics, the heavy book is a shortcut to learning the to-do’s, when to visit and cultural bites.

Anyone interested in travel should own this compilation as the ultimate reference book! Don’t just flip through the pictures either; scan each profile before planning your trips for a general starting point.

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12. How To Travel The World On $50 A Day, by Matt Kepnes

The bible for budget travelers, How To Travel The World On $50 A Day offers more than just easy money-saving tips and off-beat destinations.

Experienced nomadic blogger Matt Kepnes outlines detailed pricing and destination information so you know exactly where your money can go, without skimping on rich cultural experiences.

It is a great book in general for travel hopefuls as it shows that travel isn’t just for rich people; anyone can achieve their travel dreams with some careful planning.

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13. Microadventures, by Alastair Humphreys

Who said you had to travel far or travel long for it to be memorable?

Alastair Humphrey’s propose a solution for those of us who can’t afford a vacation overseas: microadventures.

He defines it as something that is “short, simple, local, cheap – yet still fun, exciting, challenging, refreshing and rewarding”.

Get out of the house and find things to do nearby, the books tells us, challenge yourself enough in the space you can access and it will still be an adventure. Adventure is a state of mind.

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14. How NOT To Travel The World, by Lauren Juliff

Deciding a clean break was necessary during a down phase at home, Lauren Juliff had excitedly joined the league of women backpackers out in the world in search of self-healing.

But what followed was a disastrous trip made worse by no experience and heavy anxiety; it was a year filled with every terrible tourist experience you can imagine.

Yet, the book does little to dissuade you from travels.

The upbeat tone and honest personal growth will encourage you to seek your own journey, disasters and all. If she could survive it all, so can you.

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15. Travels, by Michael Crichton

Authors put a lot of themselves into their writing, and Michael Crichton poured much of his entirety into Travels.

Detailing his move from Harvard medical studies to a writing career and the ennui that follows, this book isn’t just about climbing Mayan pyramids and burrowing into Rwanda jungles.

It is a personal account of how travel made him question his views, to broaden his understanding of the world and his place in it.

If you’re looking for a sometimes funny, sometimes self-effacing but mostly raw telling of personal growth through travels, this book is it.

And the author is the guy who wrote my favorite book, Jurassic Park, so …

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16. Dave Barry Does Japan, by Dave Barry

Infusing the book with his sharp wit and light-hearted stories, Dave Barry explores Japan with hilarious commentary.

Checking off classic activities like karaoke, public baths and practicing bowing etiquette, he deals with culture shock that many tourists can relate to.

Don’t take the book too seriously!

It isn’t written to accurately explain or portray Japanese culture, simply a comedian’s take on his visit.

Those who have been to Japan before may find it an extra fun read as it speaks from a realistic tourist point of view, although really, it is a book for everyone.

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17. Lands of Lost Borders: A Journey on the Silk Road, by Kate Harris

Forget the romanticized texts and practical tips – it is time to meditate on the realities of travel, discomfort, wildness and all.

Kate Harris questions what it means to travel as she forays into the Silk Road on bicycle, pondering if we have uncovered it all.

Her travelogue delves into the often forgotten spaces and makes you think about why some places are revered over others. Does history not happen everywhere? What borders discourage us from the lesser-known?

Lands of Lost Borders: A Journey on the Silk Road is an introspective read that belongs on our shelves.

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Things We Learn About Travel and Books

These 17 best travel books have proven just how multifaceted travel is.

From practical money concerns to life lessons, travel challenges our notion of how to live by exposing us to new situations and environments.

Then there are the philosophical and spiritual aspects to contend with: Can travel heal me? Why do we get the urge to move? What is it about going somewhere that seems like a solution to my problems? Does travel really give us more clarity?

Yes and no.

Travel is what you make of it. As these authors have shown us, it’s not so much about the places themselves then how you react when there.

Introspection comes from you. And if you’re not sure how to start challenging your world views, here are 17 guides offering different insights and methods.

If you’ve read any of these books or have other favorites, comment with the title and author! Let us know what you liked about them and what insights they’ve left you with.

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