Sometimes, no matter how much we want to be, we just can’t be on the road. It’s at these times that travel books are a life-saver, serving as an outlet for our itchy feet and giving us a dose of travel inspiration and adventure from the comfort of our armchairs.
Over the years I’ve read countless travel books and stories. I’ve grown to love the genre, and even though it is saturated and just about anyone can publish a travel book these days, there are still some gems which are well worth a read.
Some of the books I’m about to recommend go back a long way, while some are more modern and contemporary. Either way, they give us a glimpse into some of the best-known trips ever made.
If you’re stuck at home for financial, health or any other reasons and can’t wait to get back out there, any of these travel books will give you the fix you’re craving. Enjoy!
Top Recommended Travel Books from Nomad Ideal
1. On the Road – Jack Kerouac
I’ve started with this for a reason – it’s my favourite of all time!
On the Road encapsulates a time and a culture that has now passed, and which you won’t find anywhere in the world as commercialized tours and packages and well-worn paths become the norm.
In Jack Kerouac’s day, travel was still in its infancy and hitting the road was somewhat of a renegade thing to do. This epic story of his cross-country travels in the late 1950’s with a group of rag-tag friends including beatniks, dropouts and madmen of just about every variety details Kerouac’s quest for adventure, meaning and new experiences.
Jack Kerouac is perhaps the king of travel writing. He was one of the first, and still remains one of the best. He wrote On the Road on a typewriter in a single sitting while high on amphetamines, and the writing does somewhat reflect his state of mind at the time.
I can’t recommend this highly enough. It’s so much more than just a travel book – it’s a work of philosophy and it captures the mood of an entire era at the same time.
2. The Backpacker – John Harris
I have to admit up front, this book is one for the lads, more than the ladies.
John Harris was a twenty-something Englishman on a trip to India with his then fiance when he had an epiphany that he wanted to travel and abandon his boring, routine life back in the UK. He called his boss, quit his job and hit the road with his new travel mate, Rick.
The two got up to all sorts of mischief and madness, leaving a trail of chaos the length of South East Asia.
This is a travel book with an unmistakably ‘laddish’ theme, but one which I enjoyed so much I read it several times. From traveling to Thailand and enjoying LSD-fueled raves to stealing a boat in Singapore and crashing into Australia (literally), this one is action-packed!
Ladies might be offended by some of the language used in it, but the guys will probably love it.
3. The Gringo Trail – Mark Mann
The Gringo Trail details an adventure through South America, from the Andes to the Caribbean Coast, a continent I am deeply intrigued by but which I have yet to explore myself.
It’s a tale of psychedelic drugs, ancient civilizations, stunning natural beauty and a little tragedy. Without giving too much away, the story not only paints an inviting picture of South America, but cautions against the reckless abandon some backpackers adopt while traveling.
I highly recommend this travel book for anyone dreaming of South America. I have recently re-purchased this to read it again.
4. The Bone Man of Benares – Terry Tarnoff
For those who romanticize and look back fondly on the 1960’s, there is probably no better travel book in the world than this one.
Terry Tarnoff was a young graduate in search of adventure, who went to Europe and fell in love. After completely messing up his relationship and destroying his love for no good reason, he set off in search of peace, travelling the hippie trial from Europe into the Himalayas and all the way to Indonesia.
This is another travel book which captures the mood and vibe of a time long past, one which gives you a glimpse into another era. From the tea houses of old Istanbul to the mud-brick monasteries of Kathmandu, this book will have you screaming with laughter in one chapter and holding back the tears in the next – it’s hilarious, heartbreaking, deep, shallow and just about every dichotomy a story could be.
From pulling off a leper’s finger in India while smoking a pipe with him to overcoming his broken heart in a magic-mushroom induced psychosis in Bali, it’s difficult to image a travel story more packed with ‘Holy f***’situations than this one.
Get it. Don’t hesitate. It’s among the best of all time, despite being relatively unknown!
5. Mr. Nice – Howard Marks
Mr. Nice is not your traditional backpacker story, but is rather a detailed account of Britain’s most prolific marijuana smuggler, Howard Marks (RIP).
Mr. Nice is actually one of the many pseudonames Howard Marks used while traveling the globe, from London to Pakistan to Bangkok to New York, importing and exporting vast quantities of reefer for ridicuous amounts of money.
While this is a true crime book in every sense of the word, it’s also hugely popular among travelers because it involves endless trips, James Bond style, to every part of the world.
For readers who love both true crime and travel genres, this book is a match made in heaven between the two.
Since I am just such a reader, I can’t recommend Mr. Nice enough. It’s aptly named, too, because despite being an international criminal mastermind, you can’t help but feel that Howard Marks is a genuine nice guy who means absolutely no harm, and just generally got in way over his head before he knew what was happening.
Great Travel Books Summary
There are many fantastic travel books out there, and I’ve read many more than these.
This is just a quick rundown of some of the most memorable and enjoyable. I included them because they sprang to mind first, meaning they left the greatest impression on me.
So, if you’re stuck at home and itching to get back to travel, this list will give you the much-needed inspiration and travel related entertainment you seek.
What other great travel books do you recommend? Leave us a comment and let other readers know about them below.