Updated: November 2019 – Some great travel books have been released this year in 2019. I’ve added the most well-reviewed and my personal favourites to the list below. I’ve retained the list of best travel books from previous years (2018 and 2017 and all-time classics) so there is plenty to choose from including travel fiction, guides, expat experiences, travel adventure books and funny travel books.
I hope you enjoy the recommendations below. Feel free to join the Rear View Mirror Facebook group to share your favourite travel books or to ask questions.
24 books in 12 months. That’s my standard Goodreads reading challenge. I passed that number last year by committing to reading at least one chapter each day. It’s a small commitment but one that adds up. Consistency pays off when you have a lot of reading to do! Of course, some books feel impossible to put down and I’d rate those as the best travel books of 2019.
This page is updated regularly, you may want to bookmark it and come back later for new additions and releases.
Best Travel Books of 2019
- Glam Italia! 101 Fabulous Things to Do in Rome (ad) by Corinna Cooke
Beyond the Colosseum, the Vatican, the Trevi Fountain, and the Spanish Steps, a personal guide to things to do in Rome.
- On the Plain of Snakes: A Mexican Journey by Paul Theroux
Theroux drives the length of the US–Mexico border, then goes along the back roads of Chiapas and Oaxaca, to uncover the rich, layered world behind today’s brutal headlines.
- Midnight in Chernobyl (ad) by Adam Higginbotham
The untold story of the world’s greatest nuclear disaster. A great read before any trip to Ukraine.
- A View Across the Rooftops (ad) by Suzanne Kelman
A historical World War II drama set in 1941 in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam.
- The Summer House in Santorini (ad) by Samantha Parks
Some light reading and romance with a backdrop of the Greek islands and Santorini.
- The Seine: The River that Made Paris (ad) by Elaine Sciolino
Stories of the people and history of Paris told through encounters along the Seine.
- A Month in Siena (ad) by Hisham Matar
A personal memoir from one month spent in Siena, Italy through the experience and understanding of art.
Best Travel Books of 2018
A number of interesting books came out in 2018, books that make you think about what’s happening in the world right now and how we learn so much about life and foreign culture via travel as well as historical books which give an insight into the places you might visit one day. These are some of the best books in 2018.
- Travel as a Political Act (ad) by Rick Steves
A commentary on the perceived increased risks of travel and the reality that most of the world is a very safe place to visit.
- The Solo Travel Handbook (ad) by Lonely Planet
Solo travel is one of the greatest experiences you can have while away from home. This guide gives you tips, ideas and resources for planning your first solo trip.
- Don’t Go There: From Chernobyl to North Korea (ad) by Adam Fletcher
A travel memoir full of interesting characters, uncomfortable moments, unusual destinations, and British humour.
- Mother Tongue: A Saga of Three Generations of Balkan Women (ad) by Tania Romanov
A story sharing the history and geography of Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro by pulling you into the lives of real people.
- The Tattooist of Auschwitz (ad) by Heather Morris
The true story of the Auschwitz-Birkenau tattooist and the woman he loved. A great book if you’re thinking of visiting Krakow in Poland and want to learn more about its history.
Best Travel Books of 2017
The following travel books were published in 2017. They range from classic travelling books, adventure travel books, world cultures, travelogues or travel novels and books which include a mix of lifestyle and travel.
- Havana: A Subtropical Delirium (ad) by Mark Kurlansky
A brief history and biography of the city of Havana. A mix of Cuban history, architecture, recipes and part travelogue.
- Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders (ad)
If you’re looking for off the beaten path (as much as that’s possible these days), obscure destinations or travel inspiration this is the book for you. This is one of the top-rated adventure travel books.
- From Here to Eternity: Travelling the World to Find the Good Death (ad) by Caitlin Doughty
A very different look at cultures from around the world and their unique and often fascinating death rituals.
- Lingo: A Language Spotter’s Guide to Europe (ad) by Gaston Dorren
Exploring Europe through its languages and dialects.
- The Only Street in Paris: Life on the Rue des Martyrs (ad) by Elaine Sciolino
“Sciolino reveals the charms and idiosyncrasies of this street and its longtime residents; the Tunisian greengrocer, the husband-and-wife cheesemongers, the showman who’s been running a transvestite cabaret for more than half a century, the owner of a 100-year-old bookstore… “
- Secret Marvels of the World: 360 extraordinary places you never knew existed (ad) by Lonely Planet
While I rarely use Lonely Planet travel guides these days, they still produce some beautiful coffee table travel books and this is one of the more interesting and off-beat collections.
- The Geography of Genius (ad) by Eric Weiner
A journey around the world showing the connection between creativity and ingenuity to a certain time and place.
- The Other Paris (ad) by Luc Sante
The side of Paris tourists and expats usually don’t see. “… the city of the poor, the outcast, the criminal, the eccentric, the wilfully nonconforming.”
- At Home in the World: Reflections on Belonging While Wandering the Globe (ad) by Tsh Oxenreider
An American couple embarks on a long-term trip around the world with their young children. A reminder that it’s not only possible to travel with children but for the experience to be a rewarding one (and no doubt stressful too at times).
- Footsteps: From Ferrante’s Naples to Hammett’s San Francisco, Literary Pilgrimages Around the World (ad) by New York Times
To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of collections of essays by various writers but if you don’t mind the format, these stories share travel experiences gained from literary pilgrimages.
Classic Travel Books
I don’t claim to know the best travel books of all time, I haven’t read anywhere near enough to be able to judge that but below you’ll find some of my favourites and others I’ve yet to read but are consistently highly reviewed and well-known travel classics. Not surprisingly, many of these books are written by some of the world’s most famous travel writers.
The Best Travel Books of All Time
- A Long Way Home: A Memoir (ad) by Saroo Brierley
The memoir of a man who used Google Earth to rediscover his childhood life and home in an incredible journey from India to Australia and back again.
- The Geography of Bliss (ad) by Eric Weiner
A journey around the world to discover what makes people happy (or not) in their respective cultures.
- The Alchemist (ad) by Paulo Coelho
The story of an Andalusian shepherd boy who yearns to travel the world and sets off on an adventure from Spain to Morocco and then Egypt.
- Venice (ad) by Jan Morris
An immersive experience of Venetian life, analysing its people, architecture, history, bridges, canals and so much more of this mystical city.
- A Walk in The Woods (ad) by Bill Bryson
Hiking the Appalachian Trail. “Facing savage weather, merciless insects, unreliable maps and a fickle companion whose most profound wish was to go to a motel and watch The X-Files, Bryson gamely struggled through the wilderness to achieve a lifetime’s ambition – not to die outdoors.”
- Vagabonding (ad) by Rolf Potts
One of the first of its kind to promote the benefits of long-term, slow travel and how to do it.
- The Beach (ad) by Alex Garland
A 20-something backpacker leaves in search of adventure and a secret island in Thailand, a utopia unspoilt by tourists.
- Down Under: Travels in a Sunburned Country (ad) by Bill Bryson
Observations of life in Australia from the city to the bush and all the deadly creatures spotted along the way.
- The Motorcycle Diaries (ad) by Ernesto Che Guevara
23 year old Che Guevara’s seven month road trip around South America before he became a revolutionary leader.
- Into The Wild (ad) by Jon Krakauer
The true story of Chris Mccandleuss, a guy who gave up all his possessions to head into the Alaskan wilderness and live a life off the grid. He only lasted 4 months.
A Few of My Favourite Travel Books
- Into Thin Air (ad) by Jon Krakauer
I had no interest in Mt Everest before reading Into Thin Air but this book tells such a compelling story of the 1996 tragedy I became obsessed with it. What happened on top of that mountain that year was mind-blowing.
- Wild: A Journey from Lost to Found (ad) by Cheryl Strayed
I didn’t expect to like this as hiking is not my thing but the story is so much more than that. This solo hike was a life changing journey and even though I couldn’t relate to everything it hooked me in.
- The Longest Way Home (ad) by Andrew McCarthy
I loved every minute of this until the last chapter when it became more about his family but I’m willing to let that self-indulgence slide. Again this is more about the final outcome than the journey but I loved reading about his adventures around the world.
- My Paris Kitchen: Recipes and Stories (ad) by David Lebovitz
One of the first Paris based bloggers I ever followed and the only one I continue to read to this day. David is a great writer and storyteller as well as the creator of many fantastic French-influenced recipes and wonderful stories from Paris.
- Where the West Ends (ad) by Michael J. Totten
Stories From the Middle East, the Balkans, the Black Sea, and the Caucasus. A mix of travel writing and history gives you some insight into these less visited parts of the world.
Summer Reading Travel Books
A few easy reads from recent years or ‘summer reading books’ if you like.
- Destination Earth: A New Philosophy of Travel (ad) by Nicos Hadjicostis
An award-winning travel guide, or more accurately a guide to the experience of travel.
- How Not to Travel the World (ad) by Lauren Juliff
I’m a bit prone to travel disasters myself but Lauren takes it so much further her stories are almost unbelievable.
- Love with a Chance of Drowning (ad) by Torre DeRoche
Travelling across high seas around the world on a small boat sounds like my worst nightmare, I can barely manage a ferry ride without feeling ill. But this is a beautifully written travel adventure, a compelling and inspiring journey with a little romance too.
- The Year of Living Danishly (ad) by Helen Russell
The fun and pitfalls of setting up a new life abroad, specifically moving to Denmark for a year.
Other Recommended Books
These are not strictly travel related books but have either a travel, historical or geographical element which may be of interest to travellers. I have read each of these books and enjoyed reading the travel background in them.
- The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well (ad) by Meik Wiking
An insight into Danish living and culture and thoughts on how Denmark gained its reputation as the happiest nation in the world.
- Walden on Wheels: On the Open Road from Debt to Freedom (ad) by Ken Ilgunas
Part travel memoir but mostly a look at American culture and debt and an alternative path to freedom.
- Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (ad) by Yuval Noah Harari
The first half tells a fascinating history of humans and how we, homo sapiens, took over the world.
- Reckoning, A Memoir (ad) by Magda Szubanski
If you’re not Australian you might not know of Magda but she’s one of the country’s most hilarious comedians and a surprisingly beautiful writer. For me, the most interesting stories are from her travels in Poland during the Cold War so there is a travel memoir element to this book.
- All the Light We Cannot See (ad) by Anthony Doerr
An incredible story of a blind French girl and an orphaned German boy during WWII. Their parallel stories in France and the eastern front eventually converge in Saint-Malo. Brilliant and sad.
- What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding (ad) by Kristin Newman
An interesting take on the life of someone who didn’t follow the ‘finish school, go to uni, get a job, get married, buy a home then die’ type life. This is a mix of travel writing and personal memoir.
- Tracks (ad) by Robyn Davidson
“… driven by a love of Australia’s landscape, an empathy for its indigenous people, and a willingness to cast away the trappings of her former identity. Tracks is the compelling, candid story of her odyssey of discovery and transformation.”
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