Who doesn’t love traveling? OK, maybe some people would rather travel to their futon with a bag of Doritos and watch old episodes of Dawson’s Creek on Netflix than hop on a plane, train, or bus, but a good majority of us dream of getting away from it all (like our cubicle, for a start) and seeing the world.
Maybe your idea of a life-changing journey is driving to Vegas with six friends and playing Craps until 6 a.m. Or maybe the thought of walking 1,000 miles alone like Cheryl Strayed sounds tempting. Jack Kerouac did it in On the Road , Elizabeth Gilbert ate, prayed, and loved her way around the world, and Thoreau trekked to a little cabin on Walden Pond to “live deliberately” and have deep thoughts and ponder nature.
It might not be financially feasible to buy a ticket to Africa right now, but you can still get inspired by great travel writing, save up some money, and go on a more reasonably priced sojourn (say, camping in the woods outside your town) until a bigger trip is possible. Traveling opens your mind, teaches you things about the world and yourself you would never discover by browsing the aisles in your local Target, and it puts things in perspective.
Whether you’re thinking about taking off on a crazy journey this summer or you’re just in need of a little escape, these 10 travel books might just get you off the futon and out into the world.
Tracks: A Woman's Solo Trek Across 1700 Miles of Australian Outback by Robyn Davidson
“The two important things that I did learn were that you are as powerful and strong as you allow yourself to be, and that the most difficult part of any endeavor is taking the first step, making the first decision,” Davidson writes in her memoir. She made it across the brutally scorching Outback alone, with four camels and a dog. Read the book and then watch the lush, gorgeous movie version with Mia Wasikowska as Davidson. Then see if you’re not itching to set off on a trek of your own.
The Beach by Alex Garland
The Beach was a huge hit when it was released in 1998, and it’s about a solo traveler in Thailand named Richard who sets off to follow a map to a mysterious beach he learns about from a dying man in Bangkok. His journey — and what (and who) he finds there — reads like a trippy thriller. The movie with Leonardo DiCaprio is a little hokey, but the scenery is gorgeous, and so are all the actors. This book may have been responsible for inspiring hoards of American and European tourists to descend upon gorgeous Thai beaches, for better or worse.
The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux
Theroux is one of the great travel writers, and his first major book is a train odyssey that takes him from London to Tokyo and back again, through Iran, Vietnam, and Siberia. If you love train travel, read this and live vicariously through Theroux. Then hop on Amtrak.
Journey Without Maps by Graham Greene
Journey Without Maps is about Greene’s travels across Liberia in the 1930s. Yes, he was a westerner looking to discover the “mysteries” of Africa, but it’s a fantastic read that’ll inspire some serious wanderlust.
Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
Another crazy traveler sets off alone to trek through the wilderness to do some soul searching, but Christopher McCandless’ journey didn’t end as pleasantly as Robyn Davidson or Cheryl Strayed’s sojourns did. McCandless ditched his well-to-do family and traveled around Alaska without maps, phones, or any contact to the outside world. The film version is pretty fantastic, too, but Krakauer’s book is a must-read for anyone who loves going-back-to-nature stories — even if they don’t end so well.
This title is pretty irresistible. A cynic journeys from America to Europe to Iceland to Bhutan in search of the cheeriest locales on the planet, and the resulting book is funny, odd, and full of travel epiphanies like: “I've spent most of my life trying to think my way to happiness, and my failure to achieve that goal only proves, in my mind, that I am not a good enough thinker. It never occurred to me that the source of my unhappiness is not flawed thinking but thinking itself.”
Travels with Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck
Steinbeck hopped in his car with his poodle Charley (yep, the celebrated author of The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men had a poodle) and set off to discover the country. It’s a good, old-fashioned American road trip tale, so if you’ve always wanted to drive to Graceland to see Elvis’ swanky house or stare into the Grand Canyon (watch out for all the tourists), pick this one up.
Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall
If the term “superathlete” and the thought of running hundreds of miles in your bare feet scares you, don’t worry. You don’t need to be one of those “ultra runners” to get sucked into McDougall’s book. He travels to the Copper Canyons in Mexico to find out how the Tarahumara Indians developed the ability to run hundreds of miles without rest or injury. He meets fascinating people living off the grid in Mexico — people whose passion for running nearly kills them. Matthew McConaughey signed on for the film version, and it’s not hard to imagine him stick thin, tanned like a hide, sporting a bandana, and running like the wind through some canyons.
The Lost Girls: Three Friends. Four Continents. One Unconventional Detour Around the World . by Jennifer Baggett, Holly C. Corbett, & Amanda Pressner
Three friends in their twenties leave their NYC jobs and apartments behind to go on a yearlong backpacking trek around the world. They travel through Australia, India, Africa, Southeast Asia, and New Zealand, figuring out what’s really important in life (relationships, family), and what’s not (status, fancy face creams). It might inspire you to say sayonara to your boss and get one of those round-the-world plane tickets.
Out of Africa by Karen Blixen
Karen Blixen's romantic story about her time living on a coffee plantation in Kenya will lull you into a travel stupor and conjure up images of gorgeous purple mountains, majestic lions, and endless space. “Up in this air you breathed easily, drawing in a vital assurance and lightness of heart. In the highlands you woke up in the morning and thought: Here I am, where I ought to be,” she writes. The book (and the movie with Meryl Streep and Robert Redford) is dreamy.
So get off the couch and start planning some trips. And if that's not in the cards, dive into these books instead.