I caught the travel bug this year. Took my first flight, saw an entirely new part of the country, and realized how easy — and relatively affordable — it is to hop on a plane for parts unknown. Ticking off the varied locations on my travel bucket list finally seems doable, now that I've taken that first step.
But travel is not in my nature. I don't like being away from home, and I'd rather chill at a friend's house than go out for drinks. I'm a homebody, a house cat, and I'm very content to just curl up in a warm place and stay there all damn day, thank you very much.
My best friends have wanderlust to spare. They've conquered Belize, India, France, Ukraine, and I wouldn't doubt that at least one of them already has plans for her next big adventure. Another woman I know solo-backpacked Brazil this summer.
I don't know if travel comes naturally to these women or not. It doesn't for me; I can tolerate a dyspeptic routine about as well as I can an un-anesthetized amputation. But something about the world at large still calls my name.
Without the unlimited travel budget I'd love to have, however, I have to content myself with living vicariously through road books. These 21 titles are some of the best, most-acclaimed entries in the travel canon. Whether you're a well-seasoned traveler or a Hobbit, this small collection of fiction and memoir is sure to sate you until your next getaway begins.
My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem
Gloria Steinem's latest memoir paints the Ms. Magazine founder as a traveler, listener, and archivist. Beginning with anecdotes from a childhood spent taking spontaneous family trips, My Life on the Road is a heartfelt journey through the travelogues of a feminist icon.
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
American Gods centers on Shadow, a widower ex-con hired as a bodyguard to the mysterious Mr. Wednesday. The two men chart a course across the U.S. in search of allies for the coming war. Did I mention their trip is 100 percent follow-able?
Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman
Orphaned over a treasure map, Kate Thompson disguises herself as "Nate" and sets out to avenge her father's death. Filled with smoky saloons, desolate landscapes, and true Western grit, Vengeance Road will make conquering the Western Plains your next to-do.
The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America by Bill Bryson
When Midwesterner Bill Bryson returned home to Des Moines after a decade abroad, he set off in search of the perfect small town. You know, the one everyone is nostalgic for, where everybody knows your name and the world is quiet? That isn't what Bryson finds, of course, but The Lost Continent is the story of what he discovers along the way.
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
I started nursing the mildest of obsessions with Elizabeth Gilbert after tuning in to her Magic Lessons podcast. As a former skeptic, I'll go ahead and say it: the woman deserves all the credit she gets for Eat, Pray, Love. The story is pure magic and travel catharsis.
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
Perhaps the most familiar work of travel literature in U.S. consciousness, Jack Kerouac's On the Road is a roman à clef, centered on the escapades of the author and other Beat Generation writers, including Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, and Neal Cassady. The cross-country treks Kerouac covers will inspire you to hit the highway.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Set two decades after a plague wiped out North American civilization, Station Eleven follows a small troupe of Shakespearean actors journeying from camp to camp around the Great Lakes. A prophet with a cult following and a group of researchers looking for ethereal traces of the Internet also feature.
Mosquitoland by David Arnold
Shortly after leaving Ohio to live with her father and stepmother in Mississippi, Mim receives word that her mother is ill. Taking a Greyhound bus back to Cleveland, the Mosquitoland protagonist meets a whole cast of quirky characters and tackles her own health problems on the journey home.
Geek Love by Katherine Dunn
To keep their family-owned travelling circus afloat, Al and Lil Binewski begin a decade-long series of experiments to produce a cast of home-grown freaks: Arturo the Aqua Boy, conjoined twins Iphy and Elly, hunchback albino Oly, and the mysterious Chick. If you think that's weird, you're in for a real trip when you pick up Geek Love.
Killing Yourself to Live: 85% of a True Story by Chuck Klosterman
Why do rock stars become legendary only after they die? That's the question driving Chuck Klosterman's 6,500-plus mile road trip through music's most historic death sites. Killing Yourself to Live is the resultant memoir: an attempt to figure out what fame-after-death means for the Average Joe.
Anywhere But Here by Mona Simpson
Mother-daughter duo Adele and Ann August are nothing alike. Adele is a spontaneous wreck, while Ann is stoic, but troubled. The younger August narrates their impulsive trips across the U.S. in this touching drama.
Travels with Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck
At 58, celebrated author John Steinbeck hit the road with his French poodle, Charley, on a trip to see all corners of the continental U.S. With stories of roadside diners and national parks, groups of friends and hostile strangers, Travels with Charley is travel literature at its finest.
The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne
The Girl in the Road follows Meena, an orphan on the run from the sinister agency responsible for the deaths of her parents and lover. Setting her sights on Ethiopia, Meena makes an illegal and dangerous journey across an energy-generating bridge connecting India with Somalia.
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
Inspired by time Ernest Hemingway spent expatriating his way around Spain and France in the early 20th century, The Sun Also Rises tells the story of a small cluster of English speakers dealing with love and lust in the aftermath of World War I.
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
A series of catastrophic events prompted journalist Cheryl Strayed to embark on a thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail. In Wild, Strayed recounts the details of that journey, as well as her struggles with the death of her mother and the end of her marriage.
The Beach by Alex Garland
Oh, like the Leo DiCaprio movie? Yes. Only better, obv. When a trio of backpackers receive a map and a story that sounds too good to be true, they wind up on an idyllic island inhabited by a small group of expatriated hermits. When outsiders threaten the peace of the village, however, tensions mount and secrets are revealed.
America Day by Day by Simone de Beauvoir
America Day by Day follows author Simone de Beauvoir on a months-long journey across the postwar U.S. and back. It's an eye-opening view of the country from a foreigner's perspective, and you don't want to neglect it.
Coasting: A Private Voyage by Jonathan Raban
In the early 1980s, writer Jonathan Raban sailed a little boat around 2,000 miles of British coastline, in search of perspective. His resulting travel memoir, Coasting, is a critical take on conservative politics, the Falklands, and life on the brink of middle age.
Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica by Zora Neale Hurston
Filled with stories of her travels in Haiti and Jamaica during the 1930s, Tell My Horse is part-travel lit, part-memoir, and part-microhistory. Here are tales of being a newcomer to Voodoo practice, uncovering a shared heritage, and relearning familiar folklore.
The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux
In The Great Railway Bazaar, Paul Theroux hops major Asian train-lines on a trip from London to Tokyo and back in the 1970s. Along the way, the author encounters a colorful cast of characters, cities, and landscapes that make this travelogue worth the read.
The Last Days of California by Mary Miller
Dragged across the U.S. in anticipation of the coming apocalypse, an evangelical preacher's 15-year-old daughter narrates Mary Miller's lauded debut. Jess hands out Rapture information with her parents and sister as they make their way from Alabama to California, but she has more to worry about than the Second Coming.
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