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Blog may inspire me and Instagram fuels my wanderlust, but there’s nothing quite like getting lost in a travel book.
With my phone turned off and my laptop put away I can actually quiet my mind and sink deep into someone else’s epic tale. If you’re in the mood to do the same, you’ve come to the right place.
I’ve read a lot of travel books in my time, but these eight stand out as some of the best of the best and I know you will enjoy them!
The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World
Goodreads rating: 3.83
Buy it here or Listen free with Audible
Eric Weiner is an journalist and NPR correspondant. He traveled around the world in search of happiness and each chapter shares his findings in a variety of countries that define happiness in different ways.
It’s quite easy for travel writing to devolve into condescension or self absorption, but Eric balances occasional insights with a light and often hilarious tone throughout.
Honestly, this may just be my favorite on this list of travel books and if you’re only going to read one this year, The Geography of Bliss should be it.
No Way Down: Life and Death on K2
Goodreads rating: 3.95
Buy it here
If you liked Into Thin Air then you need to read No Way Down, the true story of one of the deadliest days in climbing history.
K2 in Pakistan is the second highest mountain in the world and stakes her claim by killing almost one out of every four climbers who attempt to reach her peak.
In 2008, 11 climbers died during a disastrous summit attempt. New York Times reporter Graham Bowley pieces together the story and uncovers the fatal mistakes that led to its tragic end.
Grandma Gatewood’s Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail
If you liked Wild by Cheryl Strayed, you’ll definitely enjoy Grandma Gatewood’s Walk.
First, she’s from my home state of Ohio, so you already know she’s a bad bitch. Second, this is a 100% true story. After enduring years of abuse from her husband and raising 11 kids, Emma Gatewood set off in 1955 to hike the Appalachian trail alone.
Although I’m not a huge fan of her (sometimes over) reliance on the generosity of others, it’s still a fascinating tale and a seriously impressive accomplishment at the age of 67 . Sprinkled with bits and pieces of the history and development of the trail over time, all in all this is a book that any hiker or traveler should definitely read.
The Lost City of the Monkey God
This alone was enough to make me buy the book, but add in a lost city, an ancient curse, a vicious debate in the archaeological community, and an incurable disease and you’ll quickly find it’s impossible to put this travel book down.
Whether you believe Douglas and the team really discovered the fabled lost city or not, this fascinating glimpse into history really cannot be missed.
Endurance: A Year in Space, a Lifetime of Discovery
I like to think of myself as pretty adventurous, but there’s one place I’ll never travel: outer space. I’m both intrigued and terrified of the idea so Endurance caught my immediate attention.
Astronaut Scott Kelley spent an entire freaking year living on the International Space Station. His tales of near disaster, personal sacrifices, and scientific discovery weave together a great read including both the history of space flight and his hopes for future exploration.
This is one of those books I regularly had to put down to tell Daniel the crazy new fact or anecdote I just read. Space really is the final frontier, and Scott Kelley is the undisputed expert in his field (and a surprisingly good writer as well).
Marching Powder: A True Story of Friendship, Cocaine, and South America’s Strangest Jail
Like all the others in this list, Marching Powder is the true story of a British drug smuggler. Caught with cocaine in his luggage at the airport, Thomas McFadden was sent to prison in La Paz, Bolivia.
Once there, he found San Pedro prison is anything but ordinary. Families of the prisoners live inside and it has it’s own real estate system with cells bought and sold on the market. Restaurants and shops are also run inside along with an entire cocaine factory.
Unbelievably, McFadden made money by inviting tourists to come see the prison and even spend the night inside. If you’re planning to backpack the Gringo Trail in South America, Marching Powder is sure to come up in conversation so make sure you read it before you go.
Alone on the Wall
Alex Honnold is a free climber, which means he rock climbs without any ropes or safety equipment. He’s traveled all around the world scaling mountains that should honestly be impossible. Alone on the Wall was released in 2016 and details his seven greatest achievements up to that date.
I just saw Free Solo, the new National Geographic movie that chronicles his quest to solo climb El Capitan in Yosemite – it was amazing. Alex is one of the most interesting people alive today and I already know Alone on the Wall will make the archives as one of my favorite travel books.
Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders
Goodreads rating: 4.24
Buy it here
The Atlas Obscura website is an awesome resource for every traveler.
It details strange and unique places to see in every country around the world and I love to check it before heading anywhere new. In the past, Atlas Obscura has helped me visit both the futuristic Biblioteca Vasconcelos and the Tepoztlan Ruins in Mexico.
Now, they have a coffee table compilation of the best of the best.
While this isn’t necessarily a travel book to sit down with and read straight through, I like to pick it up every now and then and I’m slowly working my way through the whole thing. It’s a great gift for any travel lover in your life and a practical guide to the strangest wonders of the world as well.
Get 2 Travel Books FREE!
Sign up for a 30-day free trial with Audible and get two audio books completely free. Everything on this list is included in the offer except for Atlas Obscura and No Way Down. Still, that means you can start listening to any of these six titles right now:
- Alone on the Wall
- Marching Powder
- The Lost City of the Monkey God
- Grandma Gatewood’s Walk
- The Geography of Bliss
I’ve read seven of the eight travel books on this list and can safely say I recommend them to day dreamers and adventurers alike. These true stories inspired and amazed me, and I know they’ll do the same for you.
PS looking for more travel gifts, products, and gear? Check out my list of 20 perfect travel gifts and don’t miss my reviews of the backpack I’ve lived out of for years and the travel water bottle I can’t live without!