While summer is prime travel time for most people, not everyone gets to escape. But don’t worry: the next best thing to actually traveling is reading a good travel story. Here we’ve collected our favorite travel books. From fiction to nonfiction, Alaska to the Amalfi Coast, you can go on travel adventures without ever leaving your living room. – Joseph McKeown
by Paulo Coehlo
This book is a classic but I had never read it before my friend and colleague Daniele Pinto gave it to me as a birthday gift a few years ago. It is an allegorical novel that follows Santiago, a shepherd, from Andalucía to Egypt. He goes on this journey after a fortuneteller interprets his recurring dream as an instruction to travel to the pyramids in search of treasure. We follow Santiago from the hills of Andalucía through Morocco and the Sahara desert as he seeks out more clues and begins to construct his own personal legend. Along the way he meets an Englishmen and they travel together, stopping in an oasis in the desert where Santiago meets Fatima, with whom he falls in love. But she refuses to marry him until he finishes his own journey. After Santiago finally meets the Alchemist, he learns how to realize his true self and trust that the universe conspires to help him reach his destiny. He also learns how the journey is more important than the destination.
The Alchemist is a beautiful story of self-discovery and overcoming fear. So often we are plagued with self-doubt that keeps us from pursuing our dreams and taking chances. This book reminds us that life is a precious gift not to be squandered. It not only inspired me to plan a trip to the hills of Andalucía (and one day, I hope, the Egyptian pyramids), but also to take deep breaths, take stock, and enjoy the ride.
Notes from a Small Island
by Bill Bryson
Written by American Bill Bryson right before his move back to the US after decades of living in England, the book is a love letter to his adopted country. He travels the entire breadth of the island country meeting locals who inject humor (or should I say humour?) into different situations. The book is full of historical information and really gives the reader an appreciation for the longevity of British heritage. My favorite part of the book is the comical tone Bryson uses—mainly regarding misunderstandings caused by the difference between American and British English. For example, a humorous situation arises over a misunderstanding of the word “counterpane” (which he assumes has something to do with a window despite the British usage meaning “quilt”) is particularly amusing. The book certainly gives the reader a sense of what an immigrant to a new country feels like while also providing the satisfaction of a travel story. Definitely a favorite.
My Amalfi Coast
by Amanda Tabberer
I was going to pick a Bill Bryson book but Liz beat me to it. Then I decided my favorite travel book should be about my favorite place in the world, and so I was going to choose an essay by John Steinbeck about Positano, Italy, but Joseph picked an excellent title by him, so I had to choose again. But not to worry, it worked out well, because now I can recommend My Amalfi Coast, a wonderfully written and beautifully produced book about this stunning coastal region of Italy. This book, by Australian, Amanda Tabberer, transports you to the Amalfi Coast using stunning photographs of its towns and people as well as recipes of the delicious food that you are sure to experience. It is a perfect hybrid of personal travel memoir and coffee table book by a woman who has lived for many years in this region, as well as an informative guide packed with insider tips on where to stay, shop, and, most importantly, eat. But who better to explain what’s in the book than Amanda:
We tour the coastal towns that are strung across the cliffs like exotic baubles, with their Moorish cupolas, gelato-coloured houses and knee-shakingly steep hills. We bask on the beaches and drift across the azure waters of the Mediterranean. We explore the countryside, with its buffalo, vineyards, lemon groves and ancient ruins, and experience the rhythm of local life as determined by the tides, the long lunches, the arrival of the tourists for the summer and the endless round of festivals.
Sigh! Just a quick glance through the beautiful images can transport me. I cannot wait to go back.
Travels with Charley: In Search of America
by John Steinbeck
This book follows the famous author of such classics as Of Mice and Men as he crosses the US with his French poodle named Charley. He makes the journey because he realizes that, even though he has been writing about America for his adult life, he is working from a faulty memory, and he feels he must rediscover the country if he is going to keep on trying to write about it. Beginning in Long Island where a storm almost destroys his camper, he travels on interstates and country roads, dines with truckers, meets traveling entertainers, and drinks with childhood friends in California.
While not explicitly a book about immigrants, he can’t help but contemplate the immigrant experience. From meeting Canadian farm laborers in Maine to Latino communities in California where he grew up, it’s impossible to ignore how important immigration is to the American experience, not to mention how restless Americans are in general. He concludes: “If I were to prepare one immaculately inspected generality it would be this: For all of our enormous geographic range, for all of our sectionalism, for all of our interwoven breeds drawn from every part of the ethnic world, we are a nation, a new breed. Americans are much more American than they are Northerners, Southerners, Westerners, or Easterners.” He adds: “The American identity is an exact and provable thing.” When I first read this book as a teenager, it made me want leave everything, buy a camper van, and go on my own adventure across the US. I still have time.
Carolyn Szaiff Alvarez
Earth from Above: 365 Days
by Yann Arthus-Bertrand
This past May, I celebrated my 28th birthday by spending a relaxing long weekend in Hudson, New York. My husband and I rented a lovely house for the weekend, which came with an outdoor seating area and dozens of interesting books to read. It was here that I discovered Earth from Above: 365 Days. While not your typical travel book, Earth from Above: 365 Days allowed me to circumnavigate the globe while sitting in my pajamas enjoying a glass of rosé. Yann Arthus-Bertrand is a French photographer best known for his aerial photography. Over the course of several years, he captured images of our planet’s unique landscapes from helicopters and hot-air balloons. In 2000, the resulting “Earth from Above” exhibition was set up in Paris, thereafter traveling to 150 cities around the world. Over three million copies of the accompanying book have been sold since that time.
This book does not just contain hundreds of beautiful images from around the globe—Mr. Arthus-Bertrand has also included detailed captions describing the environmental concerns relating to the locations captured. These short essays, in combination with the striking photos, really underscore how fragile our environment can be, and how important it is to take care of this planet that we call home. Those interested can see (and download!) over 2600 of Mr. Arthus-Bertrand’s stunning images online and watch his TED Talk discussing his work. I need to purchase my own copy for my own coffee table!