While I’ve done my fair share of summertime travel — and loved it — there’s still nothing quite so relaxing and indulgent as spending summer holed up in my own space, traveling through books instead. I mean, let’s be honest: you can travel anywhere you want (cheaply), you get to take up as much armrest space as you please while you’re getting there, and you don’t have to wait for a little red light to turn off before you’re free to move around. The snacks are probably a lot better too (although, if I’m being totally candid here, the free Stoopwafels are about the only nice thing I can say about United Airlines at the moment.)
But I digress. The point I’m trying to make here is that if a ‘round-the-world adventure isn’t in the cards (or the budget) for you this summer, there are still plenty of books that will take you around the world with them. From Paris to Kyoto, to the bottom of the world and beyond, the novels and memoirs on this list will take you anywhere and everywhere — no boarding pass required. And hey, if you’re planning some real-world travels this summer too, nothing fits better in a carry-on than some must-read travel books.
Check out these 16 books that will take you around the world this summer — whether it be by armchair or in your carry-on luggage.
1. 'Girl on the Leeside: A Novel' by Kathleen Anne Kenney
A beautiful and poetic coming-of-age story, Kathleen Anne Kenney’s Girl on the Leeside will transport you to a quiet Irish village as charming as it is haunting, where Siobhan Doyle has been kept under her well-meaning Uncle Kee’s overbearing watch in the wake of her mother’s death. An aspiring poet who has never left her Emerald Isle hometown, Siobhan finds herself captivated by Tim, a visiting American literary scholar who makes Siobhan consider life away from The Leeside for the first time.
2. 'Bleaker House: Chasing My Novel to the End of the World' by Nell Stevens
Get ready to venture somewhere you probably never expected to go — in life, or in literature. At 27-years-old, Nell Stevens was determined to finish (make that start) her novel. That determination led her to the far flung Bleaker Island, a freezing, windy, penguin-filled pile of rock in the Falkland Islands. (Aka: practically the bottom of the world.) Without distractions (or internet, for that matter), Stevens is sure Bleaker Island will be the perfect place to hunker down and write. It’s also the perfect place to get really, really familiar with oneself — which is exactly what Stevens discovers, as her novel and the book that would be come this memoir, Bleaker House, begin to meld into one whimsical, good-humored, thought-provoking read.
3. 'Small Damages' by Beth Kephart
This YA title has been described as “Juno meets Under the Tuscan Sun” — so you know you’re going to love it. Small Damages by Beth Kephart meets the recently-pregnant Kenzie during her senior year of high school, who, in pure draconian fashion, is sent away to Spain by her mother, where a Spanish couple will adopt her baby once it is born. (I mean, if you’re going to be pregnant anyway, it really can’t hurt to be pregnant in gorgeous, vibrant Spain.) Filled with the heat, colors, culture, and smell of the country, Small Damages will take you inside the heart and mind of a teen who is at the precipice of making a serious decision about the rest of her life.
4. 'Chronicle of a Last Summer: A Novel of Egypt' by Yasmine El Rashidi
This slim volume will take you back to 1980s Egypt, during a blazing hot summer when coming-of-age decisions and political repression merge into one fiery awakening. Chronicle of a Last Summer by Yasmine El Rashidi follows one Egyptian girl through three decades of her life — all spent during the suffocating years of Egyptian President Mubarak’s reign and subsequent overthrow. An aspiring writer learning as much about the shifting natures of language and love as the shifting nature of national politics, you can’t help but be pulled in by the narrator’s journey, as much as you will be by El Rashidi’s vibrant rendering of Cairo.
5. 'The Streets of Paris: A Guide to the City of Light Following in the Footsteps of Famous Parisians Through History' by Susan Cahill
There really are few places in the world more beautiful than Paris, and through Susan Cahill’s The Streets of Paris: A Guide to the City of Light Following in the Footsteps of Famous Parisians Through History, you’ll be able to travel there by simply flipping pages. Part history and part travel guide, each chapter opens with beautiful color photographs and starts at different Paris metro stop, before taking readers through the homes of historical Parisian figures, the places that iconic Parisians frequented and found inspiration, and the scenes of their lives’ triumphs and tragedies. Si beau.
6. 'Tracks: A Woman’s Solo Trek Across 1700 Miles of Australian Outback' by Robyn Davidson
One thing is for certain: Robyn Davidson is the Queen Bey of badass solo-female travelers. Tracks: A Woman's Solo Trek Across 1700 Miles of Australian Outback is Davidson’s account of her journey through the Australian desert to the continent's coast, with four camels and one dog in tow. Along the way she falls in love with the landscape that challenges her body, mind, and spirit more than anything she’d ever experienced before, and she learns the depths of her own strength and courage — which is exactly what all solo female travelers should hope for, even if you skip the Outback for now.
7. 'The Captain's Daughter: A Novel' by Meg Mitchell Moore
Take yourself to the rocky coast of Maine this summer with The Captain's Daughter, a novel by Meg Mitchell Moore. Growing up in Little Harbor, Maine, Eliza Barnes could swim and row and catch lobster alongside the toughest of lobstermen — she was the daughter of one, after all. But then she left that life behind for the Massachusetts suburbs. But now that her aging father has had an accident, the prodigal daughter returns to the land of her blood where friendship, humor, heartbreak, salty breezes, and gorgeous sunsets await her. And you.
8. 'State of Wonder' by Ann Patchett
As someone who has herself traveled quite a way through the Amazon jungle, I can personally attest to the fact that it is definitely somewhere you want to spend your summer — although you’ll require far less bug repellent if you go there with Ann Patchett. Patchett’s novel, State of Wonder, introduces readers to Dr. Marina Singh, a woman who is about to venture into the lush, dark, mysterious Amazon alone, in search of her mentor Dr. Annick Swenson, a researcher who has disappeared while working on a valuable new drug.
9. 'Wanderlove' by Kirsten Hubbard
Another YA novel for lovers of wandering and wanderers who love a little romance, Wanderlove by Kirsten Hubbard tells the story of 18-year-old Bria who is about to embark upon a tour of Central America — in search of independence, art, adventure, and maybe even a hookup or two. Abandoning her tour and taking off into the unknown with dive instructor Rowan and his sister Starling, Bria traverses some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world as she learns how her past self fits into her future.
10. 'Cutting Back: My Apprenticeship in the Gardens of Kyoto' by Leslie Buck
The different avenues folks use to make their ways through the world never cease to surprise me, and this memoir is definitely one of those stories. Cutting Back: My Apprenticeship in the Gardens of Kyoto tells the story of California landscaper Leslie Buck who, at 35-years-old, decided to put her life on hold and take an apprenticeship at one of the most reputable landscaping companies in Japan — a traditional, male-dominated environment where Buck’s immediate superior was a 16-year-old boy. If you’re hankering for a little trip through Japan, and love losing yourself in natural settings, this memoir is definitely for you.
11. 'My Brilliant Friend' by Elena Ferrante
Sure, an armchair journey through Italy is not the same as actually traveling there — because um, hello, the food. But author Elena Ferrante has captured the very essence of Naples in her Neapolitan novel series (coming to screen, if you haven’t yet heard!) Elena and Lila are best friends living in 1950s Naples, Italy — a city undergoing as much change and growth as these two young girls are. As the world Elena and Lila live in evolves, their friendship evolves as well, as the novels follow each woman through the different and often divergent choices they make in their lives. My Brilliant Friend explores places as much as it does people, demonstrating how friendships are not only influenced by those experiencing them, but by their setting as well.
12. '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. You might just want to sign up for surfing lessons now.
13. 'The Valleys of the Assassins' by Freya Stark
Freya Stark was one of the original solo-female-travelers (at least since solo-female travel has been documented in novels and memoirs, that is.) Stark traveled alone across what is now Iraq and Iran in the early twentieth century — long before most women were doing such things. Traversing a landscape that today is largely regarded with terror, Stark brings to life the ancient history of the Middle East: the kingdoms and mysticism, the nomadic tribes and gorgeous mountains and valleys, and even some of the tension that has perhaps always existed there. Definitely let yourself be pulled in by this one.
14. 'Turn Right at Machu Picchu: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time' by Mark Adams
I seriously cannot get over Mark Adams’ attitude about Machu Picchu — as someone who hiked the Inca trail with Adams in my backpack (the book, not the person) I both completely relate and wholeheartedly disagree with his disillusioned, unamused, hilarious experience at one of the most iconic wonders of the world. Turn Right at Machu Picchu: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time follows Mark Adams as he tries to re-create the original expedition to Machu Picchu in the days when plenty of tourist signs point the way and you can buy postcards at the top.
15. 'The House at the Edge of Night' by Catherine Banner
Let yourself become wholly enchanted by Catherine Banner’s setting in The House at the Edge of Night — transporting you to a small, nearly-forgotten Mediterranean island off the coast of Italy, where four generations of the same family bear witness to a century of gossip and drama, love and loss, secrets and mysteries, successes and sacrifices. Filled with characters as vibrant and their island setting, Banner’s expansive novel invokes the likes of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Isabel Allende.
16. '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 the haunting and mesmerizing 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. Mystery meets Moroccan mysticism.