The only thing that even comes close to the rivaling the love I have for traveling is the love I have for traveling through books — and this list has some great books for your summer travels, whether you’re taking them the short distance between your bookshelf and your armchair, or tucking them into a backpack and taking them half-way around the world. In my own life, I’ve been lucky enough to experience a ton of travel, both on the page and off. And as amazing as some of those off-the-page adventures have been — camel trekking across the Sahara, deep-sea swimming in the Galapagos, diving into the world’s greatest mug of hot chocolate in Paris, riding a motorcycle through rural Kenya — I’ve taken plenty of equally transforming journeys between the pages of books — from hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, to trying the world’s spiciest curry, to surfing one of the ocean’s most dangerous waves.
Sometimes the best travel books are even better than the real thing (I’ll stick to just reading about eating deep-fried crickets, thank you very much.) So even if you’re not able to take a real-world adventure of your own this summer, you can still hit the road through some of these amazing books about travel. Here are 11 books to kick off your summer of travel, wherever it may take you.
1. The Diver's Clothes Lie Empty by Vendela Vida
If you’ve ever dreamed of casting off all your old burdens and restarting your entire life somewhere new, this literary travel thriller is for you. The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty meets a woman as she arrives in Casablanca, Morocco, where her passport and identification are stolen from her hotel. When it becomes clear the Moroccan police not only won’t help her, but may be enabling the thief as well, the unnamed narrator takes the sudden opportunity to reinvent herself into someone she’s never been before. Bonus: the entire novel is written in second person, so you actually start to feel like Vendela Vida is writing about you — eerie.
2. The Only Street in Paris: Life on the Rue des Martyrs by Elaine Sciolino
If you could spend your entire vacation on a single city street without ever getting bored, Paris might have the street for you. Elaine Sciolino, former Paris bureau chief of the New York Times, guides you thorough exactly such a journey in The Only Street in Paris: Life on the Rue des Martyrs. Focusing on her time spent on rue des Martyrs, a hilly, half-mile street in Paris’s 9th arrondissement, that in many ways seems not to have been touched by time, Sciolino introduces you to the sights and sounds, food and beverage, small business owners and entertainers that make rue des Martyrs “the only street in Paris.” You’ll be looking up flights after reading this book.
3. Displacement: A Travelogue by Lucy Knisley
People travel for different reasons, and sometimes the most formative journeys we take are also some of the most difficult. In Displacement: A Travelogue, best-selling cartoonist and graphic novelist Lucy Knisley accompanies her aging grandparents on a cruise, both to help care for them and to better connect with them herself. In the process, she finds herself grappling with the sometimes-unforgiving aging process, negotiating her grandparents’ young lives with their elderly selves, and examining mortality — theirs, and her own — in ways she’d never expected. The lighthearted images balance out Knisley’s serious subject, making this a touching travel read.
4. The Wonder Trail by Steve Hely
The Wonder Trail is like taking a road trip with your older brother: you love him to death, but he’s not taking any of your on-the-road adventures seriously, and it’s driving you insane (even though he’s probably having a better time than everyone else.) And then just as you’re about to lose it on him, he makes you burst out laughing. Hely’s takes you through Central and South America, (the west side) as he meets the kind of people you meet on the road, and does the kind of un-romanticized things real people actually do while visiting wonders of the world. His sarcasm, go-with-the-flow demeanor, and bemused observations of the world and everyone in it are hilarious.
5. Where the Dead Pause, and the Japanese Say Goodbye: A Journey by Marie Mutsuki Mockett
Mourning two significant losses — that of her grandfather, and father — in the weeks and months following Japan’s 2011 earthquake and tsunami, Marie Mutsuki Mockett’s search for healing takes her on a journey across Japan, where she will make small pilgrimages to temples and shrines, drive through coastal towns that have been entirely vanished by the waves, and visit her family’s own Buddhist temple — just 25 miles from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, where radiation levels force visitors to don hazmat suits. Through it all she’s introduced to a beautiful and fascinating group of people, who ultimately help guide Mockett through her grief.
6. Cities I've Never Lived In: Stories by Sara Majka
I’m in love with so many cities I’ve never lived in — that’s kind of why we travel to begin with, after all. For anyone who has ever felt more at home in the cities they’ve never lived in than those they have, Sara Majka’s collection of stories will definitely speak to you. Cities I’ve Never Lived In is all about the ways places transform their visitors — the places that stay with you forever, and the places you’ve left behind, (and a few places you probably should have left sooner.) Imagination and fantasy abound in this gorgeous, striking collection of fiction.
7. Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan
After growing up surfing off the coasts of California and Hawaii, adventurer William Finnegan took on the waves of the world, traveling the coasts of Africa, Asia, Australia, and the South Pacific, just waiting for that next big swell. Part memoir, part travelogue, Barbarian Days takes readers deep into the heart of a surfing life, and beyond — exploring Finnegan’s childhood and the cultural upheaval of the 1960s, alongside lessons learned in the small, coastal towns and fishing villages where Finnegan stayed when he wasn’t catching waves.
8. Amsterdam: A History of the World's Most Liberal City by Russell Shorto
Amsterdam is a city I’ve always been obsessed with — and true lovers of Amsterdam know that there’s a whole love more to the iconic destination than its hash bars and red light district. Beneath all the revelry is a city with a fascinating history — one of liberal politics and lifestyles, economic and political freedom, and plenty of spaces for free thinking, free living, and free loving. Russell Shorto will take you into the fascinating history of Amsterdam, paring the evolution of this city with his own account of time spent there.
9. Mother Tongue: My Family's Globe-Trotting Quest to Dream in Mandarin, Laugh in Arabic, and Sing in Spanish by Christine Gilbert
The subtitle of Christine Gilbert's memoir gives me serious travel envy. For the linguistic-obsessed and the traveler alike, Mother Tongue: My Family's Globe-Trotting Quest to Dream in Mandarin, Laugh in Arabic, and Sing in Spanish tells the story of one young mother’s decision to pack up her toddler and her husband and move around the world, studying Mandarin, Arabic, and Spanish in a quest to immerse herself in both language and culture, and to take huge risks in order for her and her family to live the largest life possible.
10. It's Only the Himalayas by S. Bedford
Raise your hand if your mother is constantly reminding you to be careful, stay safe, and above all: don’t do anything stupid. Yeah, I thought so. Like many of us, Sue Bedford gave her own mother's advice a moment or two of thought, and then headed off into the world to take risks, stare down challenges, and do a handful (or more) of things her mother would have definitely classified as unwise. Backpacking across 15 countries with her friend Sara, and a rotating cast of other characters, Bedford swam with sharks, climbed a Himalayan mountain, and experienced close encounters with lions, monkeys and more in her quest to see the world and fall in love with it.
11. Wanderlost by Jen Malone
What is summer travel without a little summer romance to go along with it? In Jen Malone’s YA novel Wanderlost, (a perfect summer read no matter what age you are) Aubree takes a last-minute summer job leading a group of senior citizens on a bus tour through Europe. Unfortunately, the job requires that she pretend to be her sister, Elizabeth — a tricky endeavor made near-impossible when Aubree starts to fall for the tour company owner’s son, Sam.
Images: Sony Pictures