Summers are for road trips (even if those road trips are confined to the pages of the books you read every morning on the commute to your unpaid summer internship). The idea of picking up and heading cross-country for the summer is undeniably romantic. But you're going to want a few books to bring on your summer road trip, just in case.
Because let's be real: road trips can get boring really fast. On the one hand, it's magical: there's only you, your travel companions, and the open road. But on the other hand... there's only you, your travel companions, and the open road. And you are guaranteed to have at least one major disagreement over music/snacks/sleeping arrangements. And you need to save your phone's data for navigating your way back to civilization after you get lost trying to have an authentic road trip experience. So you're going to need a book or three.
But you're in luck, because there is no shortage of books to inspire wanderlust. When you're sick of eating at Wendy's, and you're sick of Motel 6, and you're sick of driving, you need to turn to a truly great road trip book to remind you why you took to the open road in the first place:
1. On the Road by Jack Kerouac
Jack Kerouac is like that boyfriend you had freshman year of college who talked about how money is a social construct and cheated on you, but he then wrote a beautiful poem about how sad cheating on you made him feel. You can't really take him seriously, but damn if his prose isn't some of the most gorgeous, inspiring, drug-addled, American travel writing ever written. On the Road meanders to and fro across North America, and it'll give you a strong craving for apple pie.
2. The Lost Continent by Bill Bryson
If Jack Kerouac is a sexy ex-boyfriend, Bill Bryson is like that really fun college professor who you actually wanted to get coffee with. His writing is clever, informative, and endlessly entertaining. The Lost Continent is the witty chronicle of Bryson's travels around "small town America," as he strives to understand the land he came from.
3. Reservation Blues by Sherman Alexie
Or, if you prefer a fictional (but still very American) road trip, check out Sherman Alexie's Reservation Blues. Robert Johnson sells his soul to the devil to become the best guitarist around, and winds up on the Spokane Indian reservation in Washington state. But he leaves his magic guitar with storyteller Thomas Builds-the-Fire, and the result is one unforgettable reservation blues band tour across the United States.
4. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
If you're looking for a less American, more fantastical road trip, you can't go wrong with The Hobbit. It's an enduring classic for a good reason (and it's a lot shorter than those other Lord of the Rings books). There's nothing like a magical road trip to remind you that dinner at 7/11 isn't nearly as bad as being kidnapped by goblins (or, at least, it's not worse).
5. Travels with Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck
You knew this was coming. It's the all-time classic guy-and-a-dog travel book. John Steinbeck and his poodle, Charley, take off to rediscover America. They end up visiting forty states as they go, and witnessing the revolutionary changes of the 1960s first hand. Or, to quote my grandfather's review of the book: "It was good, but I didn't need all the stuff with the dog."
6. Eighty Days by Matthew Goodman
Why read about men traveling around America when you can read about women traveling around the world? In 1889, two young female reporters departed New York City on the same day, determined to break Jules Vernes' fictional record and make it around the world in less than eighty days. It's a true story of grit, adventure, and journalism (and I won't spoil who wins, but I will say that Nellie Bly ended up with a pet monkey).
7. The Motorcycle Diaries : Notes on a Latin American Journey by Ernesto Che Guevara
Before Che Guevara was the Che Guevara, he took a motorcycle trip across South America. The Motorcycle Diaries is quite literally a diary: you won't find much plot. But you will find and incredibly honest and inspiring account of a once-in-a-lifetime trip. At any rate, you'll definitely want to get a motorcycle.
8. Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell
What's better than a road trip? A murder-themed road trip. Join Sarah Vowell as she travels to various sites of political murder throughout the U.S.A., all with her signature brand of off-beat humor. It's the perfect book for a passionate history buff, or even just a typical traveler with a passing interest in presidential assassination.
9. Flaming Iguanas: An Illustrated All-Girl Road Novel Thing by Erika Lopez
For a road novel that's pure unadulterated, zany, sexy fun, look no further than Flaming Iguanas. It's got illustrations, more motorcycles, stamps, and weirdness in spades. Our heroine, Tomato Rodriguez, decides to head cross country in an all-girl motorcycle gang of one, and she finds plenty of irreverent, ever so slightly scandalous distractions along the way.
10. American Gods by Neil Gaiman
If you like a sizable portion of modern-day mythology to go with your road trip novel, you need to read American Gods. It all starts when Shadow is released from prison, and almost immediately hired as a bodyguard for the strange Mr. Wednesday. The two of them embark on a dark and dangerous road trip, tangling with deities of all kinds, and at least one roadside attraction that is not what it seems.
Images: Westend61 Premium/Shutterstock