Travel is a huge part of my existence and reading inspiring travel books is one of the main reasons for my never-ending wanderlust. From stories of adventure and lives lived in foreign countries to tales of different cultures, they inspire my own dreams of chasing the next grand adventure.
I’ve decided to put this list together of 15 of the best travel books (in my opinion). These are some of my favourite inspiring stories. So even if you can’t travel at the moment, you can at least be inspired to begin dreaming and planning your next trip.
These are all non-fiction or biographies. But you won’t find Eat Pray Love here. I’ve included unique stories and some lesser known books to suit everyone looking for adventure inspiration. You’ll find personal endeavours on long-distance hikes, stories of exploring places far less travelled and a search for a greater understanding of different cultures. I hope these travel books will inspire your next adventure!
Best travel books to inspire your next adventure
Into the Wild – Jon Krakauer
This is a classic adventure book and is a must-read for anyone who is looking for an inspirational story (albeit with a tragic ending). The book is about a young man who abandons his normal life, sells all of his possessions and hitchhikes to Alaska where he walks alone into the wilderness.
It’s perfect if you’ve ever dreamt of running away and living a life off the grid, or you’re just looking for a story that will inspire your next outdoor adventure. It’s since been made into a great movie too (which is currently on Netflix)!
Wild – Cheryl Strayed
This book needs no introduction. I’m pretty certain that it features on almost every list of the best travel books to read. For those who don’t know, Strayed walked the 1100 mile long hike known as the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in the US solo in 1995 after a tumultuous few years of her life.
With no training or experience, she completed the trek through sheer determination and it ultimately helped change her outlook on life. It’s an incredible story of personal triumph and is an inspiring read, perhaps more so for females. The book has since been turned into a great film with Reece Witherspoon and it’s inspired a huge wave of solo female thru-hikers. It’s also been credited for making the PCT one of the world’s most sought after long-distance treks.
Ubuntu – Heather Ellis
This is an epic adventure by a solo female traveller. Australian, Heather Ellis took off from Durban, South Africa on her Yamaha TT600 at the age of 28 and rode across Africa. She rode up the eastern side of the continent, across the middle, along the western coast and finally to the Sahara where she finished her African odyssey. Although written more recently, the trip took place in the 1990s, but it’s still a great read about a female traveller living a daring and courageous life.
I’m slightly biased as the author now resides in the same area that I live, but it’s a story that will inspire anyone to go out and explore the world. It’s also a great insight into travelling on the African continent, a huge place that is far less travelled.
She’s also written a sequel to this book, Timeless on the Silk Road: An Odyssey from London to Hanoi, which details her motorbike trip after Africa, as she heads back towards home.
Radio Shangri-La – Lisa Napoli
A slightly different type of adventure story, Radio Shangri-La is written by Lisa Napoli who took up an opportunity to help start the first youth-orientated radio station in Bhutan. She tells about her life living in the happiest kingdom on earth, at a particularly important time when Bhutan was slowly accepting more outside influence.
It’s not necessarily a startling story, but Bhutan is one of the most fascinating countries in the world and this is a rare glimpse at what the country is like from the perspective of an outsider living there for an extended time.
Outpost – Dan Richards
A slightly unique and offbeat travel book, Outpost is about a journey to some of the world’s far flung places, isolated stations and remote cabins, or otherwise known as “outposts”. Dan’s aim is to try and understand the appeal of these so-called cabins in the woods (although most are not literally in the woods), from the USA to Iceland.
Each chapter details his journey to a particular cabin, lookout or outpost that he chooses for specific reasons. It’s written quite differently, with literary anecdotes and unusual descriptions of places and people. While it hasn’t been a runaway hit or anything, I found it really fascinating and inspiring. Particularly, as he even starts to question what even counts as “remote” anymore, with so many of us seeking out and travelling to these wild and underexplored corners of the world.
Tracks – Robyn Davidson
This has since become an iconic story. This is the memoir of Robyn Davidson, a woman who trekked solo across 1700 miles of Australian desert with four camels and a dog. She first set off in 1977 from Alice Springs, where she’d worked the previous couple of years training camels. She trekked west and eventually arrived at the coast after crossing the relentless landscape of central Australia.
Her story was first published in an article for National Geographic before Davidson finally decided to write a book. It’s since been turned into a great movie too. It’s a story of survival and nomadism and a determination to fulfil one’s dream.
Lands of Lost Borders – Kate Harris
I’m all about solo female travel books obviously, and this is one of the newest on this list of inspiring travel books. This is a memoir of Harris’ journey by bicycle across the Silk Road with her childhood friend Mel.
It’s not only a story of personal adventure and exploration of remote landscapes but Harris also reflects on the history of science and exploration and the connection of humans to the natural world. It’s the ultimate read for anyone interested in bike-packing, female travel and the Central Asian countries of the fabled Silk Road.
Leave Only Footprints: My Acacia-to-Zion Journey Through Every National Park – Conor Knighton
While it might be very US-centric, this book is for anyone who enjoys exploring national parks. Conor visited every single national park in the US over the course of one year and he describes the entire epic journey in this book published in 2020.
He shares both his personal experience as well as some interesting history on some of the famous national parks in the country. The trip of course brings out much about humanity’s connection with nature and the importance of celebrating wild places. It was a New York Times Bestseller and named one of the best outdoor and travel related books of the year.
Signs of Life: To the Ends of the Earth with a Doctor – Stephen Fabes
This is a very different travel book and was published just recently. Stephen left his job as a junior doctor and decided to cycle around the world. While he thought his job would be completely left behind as he travelled to far away places, he finds that he can’t ignore the daily health challenges that the world faces (even in a pre-pandemic world).
From refugee camps to war-torn hospitals, he has travelled for six years out of the last 10 to every continent except Antarctica. Along the way he witnesses some of the world’s major events and puts his medical expertise to good use in various situations from a leper hospital in Nepal to a floating clinic in Cambodia. It’s also well-written and funny in parts, which makes it a top travel book to add to your list.
Blood River: A Journey to Africa’s Broken Heart – Tim Butcher
This journey is certainly not a pretty one, but it paints a very telling picture of life in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, one of the most war-ravaged and poorest countries in Africa. Tim is a UK journalist and sets off in 2004 to follow the mighty Congo River. Along the way he meets some fascinating people and learns a lot about this country that has one of the most tragic history’s in the world.
While it’s an extreme journey, it’s less of an actual travelogue and mostly describes the history and politics of the Congo through the people he meets and what he sees. Still, if you’re interested in learning more about the Congo, this is a very insightful read.
The Land Beyond – Leon McCarron
This is the story of McCarron’s journey through the Middle East on foot. From Jerusalem, McCarron follows various walking trails with local guides as he tries to navigate the diverse landscape and complex politics of the region.
He reflects on politics, religion and personal endeavours as he encounters nomadic Bedouins and walks through ancient ruins. He ultimately finds hope and a shared humanity, despite being in one of the most hostile environments in the world. For anyone who likes overland adventures and is interested in the Middle East, this book is a must-read.
Dark Star Safari – Paul Theroux
While some would say Paul Theroux is one of the best travel writers ever to put pen to paper, I’m only going to pick one of his books. You can easily go ahead and read more from him, but the Dark Star Safari is widely considered some of his best work.
It documents his journey from Cairo to Cape Town overland and all of the amazing landscapes and people he meets along the way. Whether it’s by dugout canoe or armed convoy, he travels almost every way possible to make his journey from the top to the bottom of Africa. For anyone who wants to learn more about the history, politics and beauty of the African continent this book is for you.
It was published 20 years ago now, so obviously many things have changed. However, from my own travels through Africa in the last decade, there was still a lot of familiarities, especially with the incredible friendliness of the people.
Into Thin Air – Jon Krakauer
Okay, so it’s the second book on this list by Jon Krakauer, but can you blame me? Into Thin Air is his best-selling personal account of the 1996 disaster on Everest. In a horror season, eight climbers died and several more injured in a freak storm that hit when a number of expeditions were underway on the mountain.
It’s one of many mountaineering accounts I’ve read, but it still stands out for its incredible storytelling and suspenseful account. The book has, of course, since become the inspiration for the movie, Everest, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Josh Brolin.
Beyond Possible: One Soldier, Fourteen Peaks – Nimsdai Purja
Nimsdai is one of the world’s greatest climbers and has summited all fourteen peaks above 8000 metres. And he did it all in just seven months! In doing so he smashed many world records for the fastest climbs, and even went onto become part of the groundbreaking team of Nepali climbers who climbed K2 in winter last year.
This incredible story tells you about the Nepali man who defied all odds and has become one of the most celebrated mountaineers of all time. Netflix has also since released the documentary that follows Nimsdai and his team as they attempt this incredible feat, which is also worth a watch!
Eastern Horizons – Levison Wood
No adventure travel book list is complete without including at least one of Levison Wood’s books. The avid adventurer has written some of the best travel books in recent years, but I’ll just include one here. Eastern Horizons recounts his incredible journey at the age of 22 hitch-hiking from England to India along the Silk Road.
He’s fascinated with the country’s histories and cultures, so you also get to learn a lot about the places he visits as you read this insightful book. He meets some beautiful people along the way and it will make you realise that this world is not such a scary place after all!
His other books are about a lot of walking, including Walking the Nile, Walking the Himalayas and Walking the Americas.
Let me know what your favourite travel books are in the comments!