31 Travel Books to Help You Escape From the World!

Escape with Travel Books

The links to Amazon on this page are affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate South East Asia Backpacker earns from qualifying purchases.


Whether you’re daydreaming about your next backpacking adventure trip or just in desperate need of some escapism, travel books are a great way to scratch that travel itch!

If you’ve had enough of 2020 so far (yeah, we don’t blame you!), then allow yourself to get lost in some of the best travel literature of all time!

We may have swapped paperbacks for Kindles over recent years but our favourite travel books haven’t changed all that much. In this list, put together with the help of our amazing Facebook community, we cover the absolute classics as well as a few lesser-known gems. So, – what is the best travel book of all time in your opinion? If you notice that your favourite travel read is missing, feel free to get in touch!

Also see – The Best Travel Books About Southeast Asia.

The Best Travel Books… Ever! 

1. The Alchemist Paolo Coelho

  • Written in: 1988
  • Set in: Spain and Africa

  The motto of this fable states that “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” However unbelievable this may seem having experienced the quirky ways of life as a traveller, you can’t help but wonder if there is indeed a grand plan for us all? This is the magical story of Santiago, an Andalucian shepherd boy, who sets out to follow a dream which he believes to be prophetic. On his journey, he seeks treasure but encounters love, disaster and learning along the way. Now translated into 67 languages and with a Guinness World Record under it’s belt, this should definitely make it onto your ‘must-read’ list and has been dubbed one of the best travel books of all time…

2. Shantaram – Gregory David Roberts

  • Written in: 2003
  • Set in: India

  An EPIC read, inspired by real experiences of the author who was convicted of bank robbery and addicted to heroin. Having escaped from Pentridge Prison, Shantaram tells of his ten years on the run in India. From working as a Doctor in a Mumbai slum, to playing an extra in Bollywood films, being recruited by the Mumbai underworld and fighting with the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan, Roberts’ tall stories are admittedly partly fictional, but believable nonetheless… Why else would his book have been destroyed by prison guards, forcing Roberts to rewrite it three times?! Don’t be put off by this novels sheer size and weight though, wear your towel as a scarf and squeeze this one in, it’s well worth it.

3. Life of Pi – Yann Martel

  • Written in: 2001
  • Set in: India

  A thought provoking and inspiring book, Life of Pi is a true classic of modern literature. The narrator and protagonist, Pi, named after a French swimming pool, tells the story of how he survived being stranded on a lifeboat with only animals for company, including a ravenous Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. Having won numerous awards, Martel’s book was released as a movie in December 2012 starring an inexperienced student from Delhi (playing Pi) and Tobey Maguire, other wise known as Spiderman. The film was a huge hit and is best viewed in IMAX 3D for the stunning visual effects. 

4. The Geography of BlissEric Weiner

  • Written in: 2008
  • Set in: Bhutan, Moldova, Iceland, Qatar… to name a few! 

  Weiner visits ten countries and writes a chapter about each, commenting on how culture can influence our levels of happiness, through the pondering of such questions as ‘does the fact that Thais are more quick to smile mean that they are a happier lot? Does the new found wealth that Qatar has acquired mean the people are also living more emotionally prosperous lives?” A great travel read, this book will make you think about the qualities that really are most influential on our happiness, how the countries that we travel to may hold some bearing on it, and what qualities actually matter most for our overall well-being. 

5. On the RoadJack Kerouac

  • Written in: 2007
  • Set in: United States

  The movie might have been a flop, but the book is still a classic. Young twenty-somethings, all passionate, inspired, reckless, and unfathomably restless. It’s a mix of feelings that motivates many of us to hit the road, and Kerouac accurately conveys this ‘gotta go’ sensation that so many of us backpackers have felt in our bones since we were wee ‘uns. Written in stream-of-consciousness narrative form, this novel may just feel like a parallel to your own travel journals. It is a must-read for anyone who has wanted to hit the road and never look back. 

6. WildCheryl Strayed 

  • Written in: 2015
  • Set in: United States 

  This is one of those books that you wish you personally wrote: A beautifully honest memoir about Cheryl Strayed’s solo hike on the Pacific Crest Trail (Western United States). Deciding to hike the trail after the premature passing of her mother, Cheryl walks for three months, encountering bears, sickness and a whole slew of interesting characters, not to mention a new sense of self. Told in a clear, blunt, and witty manner, Cheryl’s words will make you think about your own journey and the transformative potential that it has. If Strayed has you hooked, then also check out “Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar”, an insightful compilation of Cheryl’s early days as an advice columnist.

7. The Shadow of the SunRyszard Kapuściński

  • Written in: 2002
  • Set in: Africa

  This intrepid Polish foreign correspondent with the unpronounceable name probably puts the rest of us adventurers to shame with his risky exploits, reporting from Africa (on a shoestring budget) for nearly two decades. Kapuściński crosses deserts, cities and savannah in a whole manner of ways, guidebooks truly slung out of the window.  There isn’t a dictator he hasn’t met, and this particular collection makes fascinating reading, including tales of civil wars, coups, and travelling in places you really wouldn’t have the guts to go to.

8. A Fine BalanceRohinton Mistry

  • Written in: 1995
  • Set in: India

  No matter which Southeast Asian country you may currently be travelling through, Rohinton Mistry’s ‘A Fine Balance’ will pluck you right out of it and transport you straight to India, 1975. This sweeping narrative tells the story of corruption juxtaposed against heroism, as an unexpected collection of characters are forced to survive in a single apartment together during a State of Emergency, setting the scene for an ultimate triumph of human spirit in an impossible situation.

9. The BeachAlex Garland

  • Written in: 1996
  • Set in: Thailand 

  Have you even read a best travel books list if it doesn’t include The Beach?! This cult classic set in Thailand also made it into our best books about Southeast Asia list and is still frequently spotted in hostel book exchanges (even though they are dying out now)! The Beach tells the tale of backpacker Richard, who follows a map to a paradise island. Life on the island is initially great but the tale then takes a dark turn, making for more and more uncomfortable reading. This iconic novel goes to shows that paradise always come at a cost… 

10. Hot Milk Deborah Levy

  • Written in: 2016
  • Set in: Spain 

  Immerse yourself in Deborah Levy’s complex mother/daughter detective novel that takes place along the sweltering coast of southern Spain. ‘Hot Milk’ follows Sofia as she fights to find the source of her mother’s unpredictable illness with the help of a famous doctor, whose methods turn out to be less than conventional. The more time she spends in the desert community, trying to unravel the mystery of her mother’s strange symptoms, the more she also begins to unravel the mysteries within herself.

11. Dark Star Safari – Paul Theroux

  • Written in: 2002
  • Set in: Africa

  The pre-eminent travel writer of our era, Theroux has produced dozens of books, mostly from his trademark train window. But this journey starting in Cairo and finishing in Cape Town demonstrates his skill at its most mature while still making you want to follow in his footsteps – if you’re brave enough!  At times cynical and opinionated, his books are none-the-less engaging and inspirational to the rookie writer. The Great Railway Bazaar is his (somewhat dated) equivalent journey through Asia. He’s also a cracking good novelist too.

12. 1000 Days of Spring: Travelogue of a Hitchhiker Tomislav Perko

  • Written in: 2014
  • Set in: All over the world

  Tomislav Perko’s ‘1000 Days of Spring’ is a deeply honest, soul-searching story about a once-successful stockbroker who, upon going broke, decides to take off and travel the world. Written memoir-style, Perko details his five years of travel across five continents, exploring the years before he went bankrupt, as well the years that came after, when he set off into the unknown with just a single backpack. Follow along with all of his adventures and misadventures in between, and learn from the incredible insights into life he offers readers as a result.

13. Roam Alone: Inspiring Tales by Reluctant Solo Travellers Hilary Bradt 

  • Written in: 2017
  • Set in: All over the world

  A collection of heartfelt stories from different travellers of different backgrounds – all of which have one thing in common: each author was once a reluctant solo traveller who worked hard to overcome fear in order to pursue a dream. Hilary Bradt has compiled these stories into a unique book – including a personal story about her own dream to ride a horse across Ireland after her marriage broke up – that will inspire and lend advice to future solo travellers, as well as anyone simply curious about what it might be like.

14. Drink, Play, [email protected]#k: One Man’s Search for Anything Across Ireland, Las Vegas and ThailandAndrew Gottlieb

  • Written in: 2009
  • Set in: United States, Thailand, Ireland

  Take one look at the cover of this rather sassily titled book, and it’ll be impossible not to associate it with that of Elizabeth Gilbert’s ‘Eat Pray Love.’ However, Andrew Gottlieb’s ‘Drink, Play, [email protected]#k’ turns out to be a surprisingly well-done parody that, in addition to being both clever and charming, will undoubtedly put a smile on your face. Whether you liked or hated ‘Eat Pray Love’ is beside the point – let go of any presupposed notions and let this faux memoir about a man who drops everything to live out society’s greatest fantasies prepare you for some thorough, laugh-out-loud entertainment.

15. Dharma Bums –  Jack Kerouac

  • Written in: 1958
  • Set in: United States

  Introducing the only author to make our list twice! Whilst Kerouac is most famous for On The Road, nothing quite captures the uplifting, free-wheeling spirit of the beat generation in the fifties as Dharma Bums. This was the hippie and backpacker forerunner era, wonderfully portrayed here through Kerouac’s unforgettable characters. They are lives we wish we could all live, the wonderment of discovering Buddhism, living nomadically in America’s wilderness – a carefree existence we all dream about. This author can sometimes be hit and miss, but this book is arguably his finest moment.

16. Tales of a Female Nomad: Living at Large in the WorldRita Golden Gelman

  • Written in: 2001
  • Set in: All over the world

  It is true that you are never too old to travel the world and Rita Gelman’s ‘Tales of a Female Nomad’ is a proud testament to that fact. In 1986, this ordinary woman, age 48, abandoned a luxurious life in L.A., sold everything she owned, and followed a dream to become a nomad. She discovered different cultures all over the world with her travels taking her to the Galapagos Islands and Mexico. An uplifting tale of self-discovery and expansive travel, Gelman’s memoir is enough to inspire fellow nomads and backpackers of any age.

17. Confessions of an Economic Hit ManJohn Perkins

  • Written in: 2005
  • Set in: United States

  A controversial, in-depth, behind-the-scenes look into the secret workings and history of the American Empire, John Perkins delves into the details surrounding the current geopolitical crisis by exploring interviews with CIA operatives, reporters, activists, etc., exposing international corruption on a startling scale. A former economic hit man himself, Perkins first provides an inside look into worldwide conspiracies radiating out of the U.S., and then challenges Americans on how to make things right for future generations by creating a better, more stable world from here on out.

18. Marching Powder: A True Story of Friendship, Cocaine, and South America’s Strangest Jail Rusty Young & Thomas McFadden

  • Written in: 2011
  • Set in: Bolivia

  Shed all your previous conceptions of what prison entails and get ready for an astonishing glimpse into the heart of Bolivia’s notorious San Pedro jail – which comes off as more than just a setting, but almost a character on its own – in Rusty Young and Thomas McFadden’s autobiographical tale ‘Marching Powder’. Put together a bold Australian journalist, a condemned English drug trafficker, and a prison that may as well be a world all unto itself, and let a raid into drug culture unfold into a story of surprising friendship, where humour and hope still have the power to triumph over horror. This book made the cut for the best books about South America on our sister site, South America Backpacker. 

19. The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari: A Fable About Fulfilling Your Dreams and Reaching Your DestinyRobin S. Sharma

  • Written in: 1997
  • Set in: India

  With a title to capture anyone’s attention right from the get go, Robin S. Sharma uses ‘The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari’ to spin a tale about Julian Mantle, a lawyer whose existence has been flung so out of balance, he has no choice but to face head-on the spiritual impasse his life has come up against. What follows is an extraordinary odyssey that inspires readers with a spectrum of topics, such as consciously producing joyful thoughts, learning to value time, and how to live fully, one day at a time. We could all do with more of that in our lives. 

20. Celestine ProphecyJames Redfield

  • Written in: 1993
  • Set in: Peru

  New-age spirituality and ancient Eastern traditions come together in James Redfield’s ‘Celestine Prophecy’, a daring adventure throughout Peru that is undertaken by an ordinary man in pursuit of an ancient manuscript. The mysteries behind the spiritual insights he seeks, hidden within the manuscript, are slowly pieced together as he and a team of truth-seekers get tangled up with the Peruvian government desperate to stop the manuscript’s reach. Whether or not you buy into such new-age philosophies, Redfield’s novel provides a fascinating, provocative read.

21. Into the WildJon Krakauer

  • Written in: 1996
  • Set in: United States

  When news of Christopher McCandless’ death and the noteworthy circumstances surrounding it broke, the story took the world by storm. In 1992, after selling all of his possessions, giving away his savings, and burning his remaining cash, McCandless gave himself a new name, tossed his maps, left behind his family, and took off into the Alaskan wilderness, where he soon met his end. With ‘Into the Wild’, Jon Krakauer offers readers a posthumous biography on this extraordinary young man, and his extraordinary, but tragic, pursuit of a nonstandard life. It was later adapted into a brilliant film which was voted as one of the best travel movies by our readership!

22. DoveRobin Lee Graham & Derek Gill

  • Written in: 1972
  • Set in: All over the world

  A total gem of a travel book too often overlooked, the autobiographical ‘Dove’ describes the incredible adventures of Robin Lee Graham at 16 years old, when his dream of sailing solo around the world became reality. A courageous journey that took a total of five years and 33,000 miles, Robin’s voyage is an exceptional triumph that disproves every theory that age is more than a number. From falling in love to overcoming impossible odds, Robin’s story is an inspiration to anyone with a dream and a yearning for adventure.

23. Down Under: Travels in a Sunburned Country Bill Bryson

  • Written in: 2000
  • Set in: Australia 

  Where would travel reading be without Bryson’s wit! His account of Australia combines his irreverent humour with his earlier skills of commendable research, delving into the quirkier stories of early colonial adventurers in the Great Southern Land. Whilst this informative book is a must read for anyone planning to visit Oz, it is also a great choice for anybody looking for a lighter take on life. With so many insects and snakes that could kill you in seconds, it is probably fair to say that you either need a good sense of humour or balls of steel to visit Australia. 

24. Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term Travel – Rolf Potts

  • Written in: 2002
  • Set in: All over the world

  Vagabonding is not just a book about travel. It is a book about mindset and dedicating time to what truly fulfils you. In his easily digestible guide, Potts covers how to choose your destination, financing your time on the road and adjusting to the travel lifestyle. There are sections dedicated to working and volunteering overseas (although these could do with an update), as well as how to beat the reverse culture shock and assimilate back into normal life – something we still struggle with! Veteran backpacker Potts’ practical information may be slightly outdated in some ways, however, his vision is as relevant now as it ever has been. 

25. In XanaduWilliam Dalrymple

  • Written in: 1989
  • Set in: All around the world

  One of the most erudite travel writers alive, Dalrymple is part historian, part-adventurer and part-Sahib (he’s based in India). His debut was an audacious re-tracing of Marco Polo’s journey east, beginning in the Holy Lands and – against the odds in restricted China – ending at the ruined Summer Palace of Xanadu near Beijing. It’s a groundbreaking adventure which is full of history. Author Dalrymple keeps readers hooked with his colourful portrayals and appetite for his adventures. It is primarily a fun read full of British wit but it is also historically insightful, especially for those who enjoy looking at different cultures. 

26. The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemingway

  • Written in: 1926
  • Set in: France & Spain

  Nobel Literature prize recipient, Hemingway is an institution in any creative writing MFA course, and he was travelling long before most others. His tales of big game fishing and hunting are now blasé to the modern reader, but this account of a trip to the festival of San Fermin in Pamplona reveals an authentic experience before the rest of the world penciled it in as a ‘must do’ event. The story is based on true events and real people that Hemingway knew. This could go some way to explaining just how fully the characters spring to life when you a reading. Whilst Hemingway isn’t the author of choice for everybody, this is a truly engaging book which has earnt its title as a classic. 

27. The Drifters James A. Michener

  • Written in: 1971
  • Set in: All around the world

  This fictional account of a group of hippies drifting across Europe might now sound a bit dated but it was created in true Michener style – meticulously fictionalising an important era in history. In fact Michener is a handy means of brushing up on the history of all these frontier places we are now visiting. The story takes our six young runaways everywhere from Morocco to Mozambique. As well as documenting their world exploration, it allows follows the hedonistic pursuit of drugs before their bubble collapses around them. Drifters is an easy read and has you wanting to recreate a similar experience. 

 28. A Fortune Teller Told Me Tiziano Terzani

  • Written in: 1995
  • Set in: Southeast Asia 

  Tiziano who? He’s an Italian journalist who travelled around Southeast Asia (by land only) seeking out fortune tellers in this original and quirky tale. Why fortune tellers and why by land? Well, a fortune teller in Bangkok warned him about flying, thus he avoided the helicopter crash full of journalists that were covering the 1993 historic Cambodian election. He started paying attention to fortune tellers after that! Terzani vividly describes all of the countries that he visits and takes you along for the journey. This thought-provoking and enchanting read will make you question whether your travel experiences could be richer by land only too. 

29. How to Travel the World on $50 a Day – Matt Kepnes

  • Written in: 2013
  • Set in: All around the world

  Kepnes, more famously known as Nomadic Matt uses all of the budgeting tips he has learn from over a decade of travel to bring us this book, which is guaranteed to save you money on your next trip. Whilst much of the financial advice is USA centric, such as the sections about credit cards and air miles, much of this information is still applicable to other backpackers.  This easily to read guide is rated highly by those travelling on a budget, especially backpackers. This travel book should be in any aspiring travellers collection! 

30. China As I See ItPearl S. Buck

  • Written in: 2013
  • Set in: China

  Nobel Laureate and one of the earliest foreigners to write cohesively about China from a long-term expat point of view. This was all before Mao’s revolution of course, some of it is fictionalised, but it’s written with clarity that even today gives us an impressionable contrast to the nascent awakening dragon that China is now.

31. No Wrong Turns: Cycling The World, Part One: Paris To SydneyChris Pountney 

  • Written in: 2017
  • Set in: Europe, Asia and Australia

  Following in the wheel tracks of famous cyclists such as Alastair Humphreys, Sean Conway and Mark Beaumont, Chris Pountney sets out to circumnavigate the world using just his bike and the odd boat to cross those pesky oceans.  Chris’ sets out with the goal of not using motorised transport (except for boats) during his journey but quickly learns that’s much easier said than done, especially when crossing some more challenging borders! No Wrong Turns is an amazing, funny read that really puts you in the head of a long-distance cyclist as he experiences the deep lows and pure ecstasy that only world travel can provide! If you enjoy this book, the sequel Into The Sunrise: Cycling The World, Part Two: Sydney To Mori, is also available with the third book due out towards the end of 2020. 

Founder & Editor at

Sheree is the awkward British wanderluster behind wingingtheworld.com, a travel blog designed to show that even the most useless of us can travel. Follow Sheree’s adventures as she blunders around the globe, falling into squat toilets, getting into cars with machete men and running away from angry peacocks.

shares

Trust us, we can't wait either...

  • Updates on travel in Southeast Asia.
  • A mix of fun & thought-provoking articles.
  • Honest trip planning advice.

Trust us, we can't wait either...

  • Updates on travel in Southeast Asia.
  • A mix of fun & thought-provoking articles.
  • Honest trip planning advice.
A girl on a beach in Asia.

Let Us Help You Plan Your Trip!

Heads Up! We'll need your email to complete this process.

We won't send you spam.

Just fill in your answers to the questions on this form and we'll help you plan the perfect trip.

Where do you want to go?

1/5

Do any of these describe you?

Subheading
Subheading
Subheading
Subheading
Subheading
Subheading
Subheading

2/5

Time/Budget

How Long Do You Plan To Travel?

3/5

Tell us more...

4/5

Almost there...

Pop your email in below

Please allow us up to 1 week to get back to you with your personalised planning advice. 

If you'd like to join our newsletter too, tick the box below. (We will add you manually, so it won't be immediate)

5/5

PLAN YOUR TRIP