As any traveler knows, travel changes you in ways you never could have imagined. And the next best thing to experiencing it yourself in a dream destination is to take a virtual journey through a museum, travel movie or well-crafted tale. That’s where the very best books about travel and self discovery come in. They make great gifts for travelers!
From well-loved travel classics to modern romantic adventures, this list of favorites by travel writers has it all…whether you are simply looking to add a little more joy and wanderlust to your daily life or actively planning a future trip.
Heros’ quests. Memoirs. Stories of personal redemption. Confidence builders for solo female travel. It’s all here! Settle in for a memorable read.
Books about World Travel
Synopsis: In Cheryl Strayed’s personal memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, the author shares her personal experience hiking more than one thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. All alone. With no prior hiking experience or training.
With a bad marriage, bad decisions, and a trail of broken family relationships behind her, she commits to moving forward with her life. One step at a time down the trail.
She starts in San Diego and over many months makes the trek north despite bears, swarms of insects, bad weather, and even a lost hiking boot. Through sheer will, she moves across the Mojave Desert, up the state of California and Oregon all the way to Washington State. And over the course of those many steps, she comes to know herself in surprising new ways.
Why I recommend it: If you’ve ever dreamed of testing your limits—just you against nature—you’ll find this a compelling read to restore your faith in new possibilities, even when the world seems against you.
This is a great book about travel and self-discovery to pack for your next outdoor adventure. Cheryl Strayed’s true grit is a testament to how the human spirit can overcome almost anything. Get it on Bookshop here or on Amazon here.
Chris | Explore Now or Never
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2. The Pilgrimage
Synopsis: The Pilgrimage is a self-discovery and adventure novel written by Paulo Coelho. It’s one of the best books for travelers. The story follows Paulo’s physical and spiritual journey along the popular seven hundred kilometre Camino pilgrimage from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Santiago in Spain to complete his master training and find his sword.
Why I recommend it: Paulo Coelho’s books never cease to amaze me in the way they encourage me to question reality and ponder my own spiritual journey. The pilgrimage is one of his earlier works and a book I go back to time and time again because of its meaningful quotes and passages.
The theme of self-discovery and the importance of life are described in everyday interaction with people on his Camino and the simple things he observes. One of my favourite quotes from the book is: “We always have a tendency to see those things that do not exist and to be blind to the great lessons that are right there before our eyes.”
This is just so true. It’ a gentle reminder to pay attention and avoid making assumptions. I especially love how he regularly talks about death and its inevitability and how recognizing this enables us to truly live. Get it on Bookshop here or on Amazon here.
3. The Motorcycle Diaries
Synopsis: We say that travels shape us. That cannot be more true than in The Motorcycle Diaries by Che Guevara. It’s a classic tale of discovery that led Ernesto Guevara on a motorbike road trip through Argentina, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, and even Miami, USA. It’s a wonderful book about travel adventure.
It’s discovery of his own country, a continent he only knew from books, and lwhat living conditions of workers are really like. It’s also a discovery of himself, of who he was meant to be and his legacy to the world.
Why I recommend it: Who knows exactly what happens in our brain when we read a book? Of course, we reflect and ponder and make decisions.
But who knows how much it influences our later life? Who knows if reading this book in my teens led me indirectly to my South America backpacking trip 15 years later?
Written during his travels in 1952, The Motorcycle Diaries was only published in 1993, before being made famous by a movie in 2004. I’ve read the book once and seen the movie twice, long before and shortly after exploring the continent myself.
This story has shaped me. Get The Motorcycle Diaries on Amazon here .
Anthony | Green Mochilla
Read more on gift ideas for travelers:
• 17 best travel subscription boxes
• Travel subscription boxes for foodies
• The best gifts for traveling men, women, and couples
4. A Room with a View
Synopsis: A Room with a View by E.M. Forster is a coming of age story set in the late 1800s. English woman Lucy Honeychurch visits Italy on a traditional “Grand Tour” and discovers her true spirit.
Lucy is chaperoned by her fussy aunt, who tries frantically to protect her from experiencing anything other than art and history. But Lucy’s senses are awakened by the Italian people and their vibrant, passionate culture as well as other travelers she meets along the way.
Why I recommend it: A classic novel that has stood the test of time, A Room with a View perfectly captures the beauty and soul of Italy. I’ve read it countless times for its romantic descriptions of Florence and Tuscany and the way E.M.Forster portrays the Italian spirit.
Readers who love to travel easily relate to the nervous excitement Lucy feels as she peels back the layers of the places she visits. Lucy discovers much about herself and encounters many situations that confront her idea of what she believes to be true while she tours Italy.
Ultimately, I believe that is why many of us travel—to discover new places and learn more about ourselves. Read this book to open your heart to magical Italy but also to remind yourself of the transformative powers of travel. Get it on Bookshop here or on Amazon here.
Katy Clarke | Untold Travel
5. Eat Pray Love
Synopsis: In Eat Pray Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia, author Elizabeth Gilbert famously shares her radical post-divorce decision to try on a crazy new life as she embarks on a round-the-world journey and quest for ultimate truths.
Lost and confused at the beginning, she begins by eating her way through Italy and then spends time in an Indian ashram learning the gift of meditation. She finds her happy ending in Indonesia where she, at last, arrives at inner peace and, coincidentally, true love.
Why I recommend it: While Eat Pray Love is dismissed by some as making it seem like a plane ticket is the fastest route to enlightenment, I’ll always think of it as a delightful adventure in self-discovery, one that shares the best of how connecting with people and places can turn your world upside down and open your horizons in all the best ways. It remains one of the best books to inspire travel. Get it on Bookshop here or on Amazon here.
Chris | Explore Now or Never
6. Time Was Soft There
Synopsis: In Time Was Soft There by Jeremy Mercer, Canadian crime reporter Jeremy Mercer goes on the run and ends up in Paris, broke and alone after receiving a death threat from a disgruntled criminal.
By chance, he finds out about an English language bookstore on the banks of the Seine that’s run by an eccentric octogenarian who lets writers and other lost souls sleep in his store for free.
For the next five months, Jeremy lives in the Shakespeare and Company bookstore with an ever-changing cast of artists and misfits, learning about life and about himself along the way. He even finds a way to help George Whitman, the aging owner, continue his legacy and keep the bookstore open.
Why I recommend it: I actually lived inside Shakespeare and Company myself for a short time in 2001, just a few months before the author’s arrival. Reading this book sent a wave of nostalgia washing over me and made me realize that the bookstore is a truly magical place, one that I hadn’t fully appreciated when I was there.
But those who have never been there will also find this a fascinating read. You’ll also be happy to know that Shakespeare and Company is still open, now run by George Whitman’s daughter Sylvia.
It’s a little more modernized now, and even has an attached café serving delicious vegan and vegetarian food in Paris. But it still offers shelter to anyone who’s willing to help out for a couple of hours and read a book a day for as long as they stay. Get it on Bookshop here or on Amazon here.
Wendy Werneth |The Nomadic Vegan
7. Travels with Charley
Synopsis: The tattered pages of my copy of Travels with Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck is my favorite book to flip through while on a plane ride or long road trip. There’s something about how John Steinbeck describes his journey that makes you grin as you reminisce about similar travels or folks that you’ve met serendipitously.
The memoir, at its core, is about an intrepid journey that Steinbeck takes with his trusty poodle Charley through America’s diverse landscape. Along the way, Steinbeck tries to uncover the underlying identity all Americans hold dear.
My favorite, dog-eared passage is about my home. How Steinbeck describes the excessive niceties, prolonged greetings and unique drawl of my home state leaves me laughing at all the things I’ve always considered “normal.”
Why I recommend it: Though lacking glowing praise and certainly not considered one of Steinbeck’s best literary works, Travels with Charley is definitely one of the sincerest reads about understanding cultural identity and the quirky baggage each of us carries.
Steinbeck takes a step back and celebrates what connects us and how our communities flourish because of that. Travels with Charley serves as a reminder that underneath all the buzz behind travel, we all ache for intimate connection. Get it on Bookshop here or on Amazon here.
Martha Lueders| Quirky Globetrotter
8. Tales of a Female Nomad
Synopsis: In Tales of a Female Nomad, author Rita Golden Gelman decides to change up her upscale LA lifestyle and sell everything to travel the world and become a nomad. At the age of 48 and dealing with the aftermath of a marriage that fell apart, she decides to go after a long-held dream to travel the world.
But, she doesn’t just visit places, she embraces the cultures by staying for a while, in essence, becoming a part of their families and lives. Each place she visits changes her in little ways that make it hard to adjust when she comes home to visit her children between trips.
She relays, in wonderful detail, her experiences trying to dine solo for the first time in Mexico, living in a Royal Palace in Bali, and even falling in love again.
Why I recommend it: Tales of a Female Nomad is a true inspiration for digital nomads and women in general. A reminder that no matter what your age, you can change your life and embrace a new direction.
This is one of the best fiction books about travel. will also offer you some great insight into cultures you might never have considered exploring and help you to approach travel as so much more than a vacation. Get it on Bookshop here or on Amazon here.
Heather Raulerson | Raulerson Girls Travel
9. Into the Wild
Synopsis: One of the iconic travel books about self-discovery is undoubtedly Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. It follows the story of Christopher McCandless who, after finishing college, decides to give away his savings and hit the road traveling across the USA.
His journey takes him to different cities and towns where he meets like-minded people before ultimately ending up in Alaska where he dreams of living purely off the land. The story was also made into a movie directed by Sean Penn in 2007.
Why I recommend it: While few people in the world choose to travel in the extreme manner that McCandless did, the protagonist’s desire to escape conventional life and live a life on the road is something that will surely resonate with many travelers around the world.
His interactions with fellow humans, spontaneity on the road, and desire to live among nature and without material possessions makes this a great read for people looking for inspiration and courage to begin their own adventure. Get it on Bookshop here or on Amazon here.
Michael Rozenblit | Books Like This One
10. What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding
Synopsis: In What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding, author Kristin Newman focuses on one woman’s journey through society norms and expectations. She describes her escapist mentality —running away from relationship problems and job issues—to foreign countries.
While traveling, she talks about her slow travel mentality vacationing in most regions for months on end and developing what she coins “vacationships”: relationships that only last a vacation.
Some say this book is a bit of a brag on how many foreign men the author bedded, but my view is that she helps readers weigh the pros and cons of navigating relationships on the road and goes against the tide of conventional beliefs that all relationships end in marriage.
Why I recommend it: Ultimately, What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding is an entertaining memoir that shares one woman’s experience solo traveling and immersing herself in local cultures while she learned more about what she wanted in life.
There are not too many honest books about female sexuality as it’s still an uncomfortable subject for some. (Just read the negative reviews of this book).
Putting sex and female awakening aside, this is a great read for a quick light-hearted confidence boost for any solo female travelers nervous about a first trip abroad. Get it on Bookshop hereor on Amazon here.
Amy Dodd | Oceans to Alpines
11. On the Road
Synopsis: Jack Kerouac wrote On the Road, this rambling tale of crisscrossing America by car, in the 1950s. There’s not always a linear narrative, but, rather, the book is made up of snippets and stories including poetic passages like this one:
“What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? It’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.”
Kerouac’s writing captures the energy of America during that period in history as well as the energy and excitement of travel at any time.
Why I recommend it: On the Road is a book that divides its readers. You either love it or you hate it. I happen to love it, and I’m not alone.
It remains one of the best-known and well-loved adventure books in print today. If you can sink yourself into this book, you’ll learn a lot about how we’re all searching for something in this life. Get it on Bookshop hereor on Amazon here.
Amy Hartle New England With Love
12. Love with a Chance of Drowning
Synopsis: In Love with a Chance of Drowning, author Torre DeRoche—inspired by alcohol and mischief—sees a man across the bar who looks sad and decides to strike up a conversation with him.
Little does she know that she will wind up on the adventure of a lifetime with him less than a year later, circumnavigating the world in a small sailboat (even though she is absolutely terrified of almost everything, including open water). Love with a Chance of Drowning is a tale of the ocean, the islands, and, of course, love.
Why I recommend it: I’m a sucker for a memoir, and Love with a Chance of Drowning is a great one! Torre honestly feels like a dear friend after reading this book.
She made me laugh, cry, cringe, and want to take off to sail the Pacific Islands…even though I a) don’t have the funds and b) know nothing about sailing!
Torre makes readers feel like they’re experiencing their first great love all over again while wanting to get out and see the world from a boat smaller than a bedroom.Love with a Chance of Drowning is mesmerizing, inspiring, and great fun. I can’t recommend it enough. Get it on Amazon here.
Katie-Beth Gamlin | Her Life in Ruins
13. The High Mountains of Portugal
Synopsis: In his fan-favorite, The High Mountains of Portugal, author Yann Martel is back with another epic journey, with themes similar to his ambitious seafaring novel Life of Pi, winner of the Booker Prize (and crafted into a truly imaginative movie).
In this New York Times bestseller, a young Portuguese man, Tomas uncovers an ancient journal in Lisbon in 1908. If he can decode its secrets, he has the opportunity to rewrite history forever.
Tomas’s story is weaved along with two others: that of a Portuguese pathologist 35 years into the future and that of a Canadian senator 50 years later. Together, the three quests explore themes of personal love and loss. Get it on Bookshop here or Amazon here.
Why I recommend it:
After exploring Lisbon and Porto last summer, I was hungry to re-immerse myself in Portuguese culture. This road trip through Portugal 100 years ago is hard to put down. If you’re looking for the best travel fiction books, read this one!
Chris | Explore Now or Never
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