Travel is a huge part of my existence and reading inspiring travel books is one of the main reasons for my neverending wanderlust. From other people’s stories of adventure and lives lived in foreign countries to tales of a convergence of cultures, they inspire my own dreams of chasing the next grand adventure.
I’ve put this list together of 15 of the best travel books. These are some of my favourite inspiring stories. So even if you can’t travel at the moment, you can be inspired by these books to begin dreaming and planning for your next trip.
These are all non-fiction or biographies. You’ll find personal endeavours on long-distance hikes, stories of exploring places far less travelled and a search for a greater understanding of different cultures. I hope these travel books will inspire your next adventure!
Best travel books to inspire your next adventure
Into the Wild – Jon Krakauer
This is a classic adventure book and is a must-read for anyone who is looking for an inspirational story (albeit with a tragic ending). The book is about a young man who abandons his normal life, sells all of his possessions and hitchhikes to Alaska where he walks alone into the wilderness. It’s perfect if you’ve ever dreamt of running away and living a life off the grid, or you’re just looking for a story that will inspire your next outdoor adventure.
It’s since been made into a great movie too (which is currently on Netflix)!
Buy Into the Wild on Amazon here.Into the Wild
In the Himalayas – Jeremy Bernstein
You won’t find this book on any other blog on the best travel books. It’s quite obscure and is getting pretty old now. When my mum got it for $2 at an op shop and brought it home, she told me to give it a go. Surprisingly, it turned out to be one of my favourite books that I’ve recently read!
It was originally published in 1989 but the most recently updated version is 1996. It details the author’s adventures through Nepal, Tibet and Bhutan over a number of different trips in the 1980s. It’s mostly about trekking, as his trips to these countries were usually as part of a trekking expedition, but it also details some of the history and politics of these Himalayan countries.
It might not sound so appealing, but the reason I found it such an interesting book to read was that Bernstein is writing about these countries in the 1980s when tourism and trekking were only just emerging in this part of the world. I found it especially fascinating to read about Nepal, and how much trekking and climbing has changed the country. If you’ve been to any of these countries recently, I think the book will mean so much more because the comparisons you can draw from these places, from then to now, is remarkable.
This book can be hard to find but you can buy it on Amazon here.In the Himalayas: Journeys Through Nepal, Tibet, and Bhutan (Touchstone)
Wild – Cheryl Strayed
This book needs no introduction. I’m pretty certain that it features on almost every list of the best travel books to read. For those who don’t know, Strayed walked the 1100 mile long hike known as the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in the US alone in 1995 after a tumultuous few years of her life.
With no training or experience, she completed the trek through sheer determination and it ultimately helped change her outlook on life. It’s an incredible story of personal triumph and is an inspiring read, perhaps more so for females. The book has since been turned into a great film with Reece Witherspoon and it’s inspired a huge wave of solo female thru-hikers. It’s also been credited for making the PCT one of the world’s most sought after long-distance treks.
Buy Wild on Amazon here.Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
Touching my Father’s Soul – Jamling Norgay
I could easily make this list with books just about the Himalayas. I’ve read countless stories on trekking and climbing amongst the world’s highest peaks, but this is one of my favourites. Rather than being just another foreign trekker or climber, it is the story of Jamling Norgay, the son of legendary mountaineer Tenzing Norgay, who was the first person to summit Everest along with Edmund Hillary.
It tells the story of Jamling’s own successful ascent of Everest as part of a team on the 1996 IMAX expedition. It was a devastating season for climbing as eight people died in a blizzard and a further four people died on their attempts. However, it’s more than just a story of his climb. Jamling weaves through memories he has of his father and provides an insight into the world and realities of being a Sherpa. He also talks a lot about the clash between culture and commercialisation of the climbing industry, which seems even more pertinent today.
Buy Touching My Father’s Soul on Amazon here.Touching My Father’s Soul: A Sherpa’s Journey to the Top of Everest
Ubuntu – Heather Ellis
This is an epic adventure by a solo female traveller. Ellis took off from Durban, South Africa on her Yamaha TT600 at the age of 28 and rode across Africa. She rode up the eastern side of the continent, across the middle, along the western coast and finally to the Sahara where she finished her African odyssey. Although written more recently, the trip took place in the 1990s, but it’s still a great read about a female traveller living a daring and courageous life.
I’m slightly biased as the author now resides in the same area that I live, but it’s a story that will inspire anyone to go out and explore the world. It’s also a great insight into travelling on the African continent, a huge place that is far less travelled.
She’s also written a sequel to this book, Timeless on the Silk Road: An Odyssey from London to Hanoi, which details her motorbike trip after Africa, as she heads back towards home.
Buy Ubuntu on Amazon here.Ubuntu: One Woman’s Motorcycle Odyssey Across Africa
Radio Shangri-La – Lisa Napoli
A slightly different type of adventure story, Radio Shangri-La is written by Lisa Napoli who took up an opportunity to help start the first youth-orientated radio station in Bhutan. She tells about her life living in the happiest kingdom on earth, at a particularly important time when Bhutan was slowly accepting more outside influence.
It’s not necessarily a startling story, but Bhutan is one of the most fascinating countries in the world and this is a rare glimpse at what the country is like from the perspective of an outsider living there for an extended time.
Buy Radio Shangri-La on Amazon here.Radio Shangri-La: What I Discovered on my Accidental Journey to the Happiest Kingdom on Earth
Walking the Nile – Levison Wood
One of the greatest adventurers of the last decade, Levison Wood has done all sorts of wild expeditions. This was his first long, overland adventure and he both wrote this book and produced a documentary series about it.
He begins this trip in Rwanda in 2013 at a tiny trickle of water that is believed to be the very source and beginning of the mighty Nile River. From there he walked for nine months and over 4000 miles to the Mediterranean Coast in Egypt following the longest river in the world. It’s an epic adventure and will inspire you to dream big.
Buy Walking the Nile on Amazon here.Walking the Nile
Tracks – Robyn Davidson
This has since become an iconic story. This is the memoir of Robyn Davidson, a woman who trekked solo across 1700 miles of Australian desert with four camels and a dog. She first set off in 1977 from Alice Springs, where she’d worked the previous couple of years training camels. She trekked west and eventually arrived at the coast after crossing the relentless landscape of central Australia.
Her story was first published in an article for National Geographic before Davidson finally decided to write a book. It’s since been turned into a great movie too.
It’s a story of survival and nomadism and a determination to fulfil one’s dream.
Buy Tracks on Amazon here.Tracks: A Woman’s Solo Trek Across 1700 Miles of Australian Outback
Badlands – Tony Wheeler
An adventure through countries far less travelled, this book is written by Wheeler, one of the founder’s of Lonely Planet. He recounts his time spent as a tourist in countries often considered part of the Axis of Evil. Through Afghanistan, Albania, Burma, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea and Saudi Arabia, he questions how bad these countries really are and debunks some of the misconceptions about these often misunderstood countries.
Whether you’re interested in world politics or travelling to places far off the beaten track, this is a witty insight into countries that very few people choose to visit. However, it was written in 2011, so obviously some of this has changed since then with countries like Myanmar and Cuba opening up to tourists.
Wheeler has since written a sort-of sequel to this book in 2013, Dark Lands, where he travels to other troubled nations to try and understand our complex world. In that book he travels to Palestine, Zimbabwe, Pakistan and the Congo.
Buy Badlands on Amazon here.Badlands: A Tourist on the Axis of Evil (Lonely Planet Travel Literature)
Lands of Lost Borders – Kate Harris
I’m all about solo female travel books obviously, and this is one of the newest on this list of inspiring travel books. This is a memoir of Harris’ journey by bicycle across the Silk Road with her childhood friend Mel.
It’s not only a story of personal adventure and exploration of remote landscapes but Harris also reflects on the history of science and exploration and the connection of humans to the natural world. It’s the ultimate read for anyone interested in bike-packing, female travel and the Central Asian countries of the fabled Silk Road.
Buy Lands of Lost Borders on Amazon here.Lands of Lost Borders: A Journey on the Silk Road
Taliban Shuffle (Whiskey tango foxtrot) – Kim Barker
This might be a little odd to include on this list of the best books about travel, but I think it’s still relevant for anyone interested in adventurous lives. This is the story of a female journalist as she covers Afghanistan and Pakistan in the post-9/11 world.
Barker begins as a newbie and learns to navigate the sometimes bizarre world of war reporting and foreign correspondents in Kabul during the time when the world’s eyes were mostly on Iraq. It mostly appeals to women, as she shares her honest experience as a female in such environments.
Like many of the other books to read on this list, it’s also been turned into a movie called Whiskey, Tango Foxtrot by Tina Fey.
Buy Taliban Shuffle on Amazon here.Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (The Taliban Shuffle MTI): Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan
Balcony Over Jerusalem – John Lyons
This book is a fascinating memoir about living in Jerusalem by a leading Australian journalist, John Lyons. Lyons lived in the city for six years as The Australian‘s main Middle East Correspondent. He recounts his time navigating the complex politics of the region through various interviews with top officials to reporting on spontaneous eruptions of violence in Gaza to being interrogated by Egyptian police.
It’s not all about heavy politics though, as Lyons also talks about what it was like to live in such a volatile region with his family and how they navigated life in a foreign country. It’s a really interesting read and gives a basic understanding of the complex situation in the Middle East.
It can be controversial at times as with almost any personal opinion on the Israel-Palestine conflict. You don’t have to agree with everything Lyons writes, but it’s still an interesting first-hand account from a different perspective in the region.
Buy Balcony Over Jerusalem on Amazon here.Balcony Over Jerusalem: A Middle East Memoir
Deep Field – Tom Bamforth
This is another slightly less travel-specific book, but a story about working in foreign countries nonetheless. I often find stories of people who work in other countries almost as interesting and inspiring as those simply about travelling through places.
This is about Bamforth’s life as an aid worker across various frontlines and disasters that he has responded to. From post-earthquake Kashmir to war-torn Darfur, Bamforth travels as a relief worker to wherever he’s needed.
It’s as much about the countries he’s working in as well as a broader picture of global politics and the humanitarian aid industry. Yet, I found his honest writing really compelling and I would recommend it to anyone interested in off-beat and troubled places.
Buy Deep Field on Amazon here.Deep Field: Dispatches from the Frontlines of Aid Relief, from Pakistan to Kazan, the Punjab to the Pacific
The Land Beyond – Leon McCarron
To finish the list, I’m sneaking in another adventure book about walking. This is a relatively new book written in 2017 of McCarron’s journey through the Middle East on foot. From Jerusalem, McCarron follows various walking trails with local guides as he tries to navigate the diverse landscape and complex politics of the region.
He reflects on politics, religion and personal endeavours as he encounters Bedouins and walks through ancient ruins. He ultimately finds hope and a shared humanity, despite being in one of the most hostile environments in the world. For anyone who likes overland adventures and is interested in the Middle East, this book is a must-read.
Buy The Land Beyond on Amazon here.The Land Beyond: A Thousand Miles on Foot through the Heart of the Middle East
Let me know what your favourite travel books are in the comments!