The Best Travel Books We’ve Ever Read

Mark Stewart Opinions 63 Comments

As we packed up our house and sold our belongings in preparation for our new life, the books on the shelves were one of the last things we touched.

We sat on the floor and reminisced about some of our favourite reads. Quite a collection had built up over the years. Many of the books were read only once, a few we hadn’t yet gotten around to. Then there were the ones that had been read and re-read countless times, dog-eared with creased spines and faded covers.

Ultimately we decided on keeping the majority of the collection, which now sit in boxes in our parent’s basements. The most worn books are mostly travel related, full of inspiration and the ability to install wanderlust in anyone. Out of those favourites, we’ve picked our absolute best and put together this list for you. If you’re a traveller, have ever dreamed of travel, or simply like the tale of a great journey – any one (or all!) of these books should be on in your collection.

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The Alchemist

by Paulo Coelho

The AlchemistNot only is this one of our favourite travel books, but one of our favourite novels of all time. We’ve revisited this book several times over the years and it never fails to inspire wanderlust every times.

The story follows a young shepherd from the Andalusian region of Spain as he follows an unknown path in search of an unknown treasure; only to discover something much more valuable along the way.

I’ve personally purchased this book close to a dozen times, usually as gifts for friends. This book is on every list for recommended travel reading for a reason. It’s one of the most powerful books we’ve ever read. If you haven’t read it yet. Do it now.

For those interested in: Morocco, Egypt, Spain. Overall inspiration to follow your dreams! For more books like the Alchemist, go to


by Gregory David Roberts

ShantaramThis book first appeared on our radar back while we were travelling through India, appearing regularly in hostels and bookshops. However, it wasn’t until just a couple of years ago that I finally got around to reading it.

I was absolutely fascinated by the way scenes of India were painted with words exactly how I’d remembered seeing them in person.

The semi-autobiographical novel follows an escaped Australian convict while he discovers a new life in India and his incredible journey through life in the slums, working for the Bombay mafia, and fighting alongside the Mujahadeen during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

While the near unbelievable story itself is more than worth the read, Roberts’ writing is some of the best I’ve encountered in all the books I’ve ever read.

For those interested: India.

The Snow Leopard

by Peter Matthiessen

The Snow LeopardKylee and I first read this book during the first few days of our visit to Nepal, and it laid out a perfect mental visualization of the cultural landscape of the country. The book follows the author as he joins biologist George Schaller to the outer reaches of Nepal, in search of the elusive snow leopard.

While the endeavour itself was one based on science, Matthiessen’s experience was much more existential. Focusing on spiritual exploration, the mystical power of the Himalayas, the roots of Tibetan Buddhism and reflection of his wife’s recent death; The Snow Leopard is both a fascinating journey and a humbling story.

For those interested in: Nepal, Buddhism.

Zen, and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

by Robert M. Pirsig

Zen, and the Art of Motorcycle MaintenanceWho knew that one of the greatest road trip stories ever written was laden with modern philosophy.

Kylee has read this book several times and knows it very well. Myself, I’ve only given it one run, but was fascinated by the clever seaming of casual diary with deep philosophy. Truly one of the greats.
Zen follows the story of a man and his son as they travel across America’s Mid-West in the late 60’s by motorcycle. While the story centres around the journey itself, the author breaks experience down to both classic and romantic values. These values sharing one common element that brings to light one of the most fundamental questions of all: What is Quality?

For those interested in: Road Trips, Philosophy.

The White Tiger

by Aravind Adiga

White TigerAnother great novel set in India, and one that we both enjoyed during our time in the great country. However, this one is much darker than the others on this list.

Following the narrator, a low-caste villager, on his journey against the odds; the book provides a interesting perspective on class struggle in modern day India.

While at times it can be quite unpleasant to read, it’s an incredible book that paints a vivid picture of a side of India that is often unseen by foreign eyes.

For those interested in: India.

The Beach

by Alex Garland

The BeachLong before writing big-screen epics like 28 Days Later, Sunshine, and Ex Machina; Alex Garland wrote the ultimate backpacker novel: The Beach.

Although the Hollywood version adds an element of romance while watering down the general theme, the original novel is much more raw. The story follows Richard, a young English backpacker in Thailand who is searching for something more – something different. By chance, he stumbles upon a map to a hidden beach on a remote island, completely untouched by the Lonely Planet Effect. 

In many ways, this masterpiece is a modern-day Lord of the Flies, and in my mind, deserves such recognition.

For those interested in: Thailand, Backpacking. As well, those travellers who have become jaded with the often over-marketed backpacker scene.

Seven Years in Tibet

by Heinrich Harrer

Seven Years in TibetThe captivating story of two Austrian mountaineers who escaped British India during the second world war and fled on foot across the Himalayas.

Not only a story of survival, but of adventure and friendship. Upon arrival on the other side of the highest mountain range on earth, author brilliantly describes the next seven years of his life in the mysterious land of Tibet and eventual befriending of the young Dalai Lama himself.

Beautifully written, this book never fails to conjure up dreams of visiting this once untouched land.

For those interested in: Tibet, Buddhism, Adventure.

Into the Wild

by Jon Krakauer

Into the WildA journalistic telling of Christopher McCandless (aka Alexander Supertramp), and his giant middle finger to society.

Although this is one of those rare occasions where, at least in my opinion, the film adaptation is superior to the paper version; by no means is the book itself flawed.

Coming from a well-to-do family living in Virginia, upon graduation from university, Chris donated most of his money to charity, burned his identification, and left without a word. Travelling across the country, taking odd jobs and living the life of a vagabond, he eventually hitchhikes his way to the remote wilderness of Alaska.

While mistakes are made in this fascinating true story, the journey itself is what matters. How one can simply walk away from a near-guaranteed life of prosperity, for the simple pursuit of adventure, is one of the most awe-inspiring ideas imaginable.

For those interested in: Road Trips, Life Changes, Camping.

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About the Author

Mark Stewart

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Mark is the co-founder, photographer, author, and part-time editor of These Foreign Roads. A former chef, he left the professional kitchen in search of interesting experiences and unique cuisines from around the world.

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2 years ago

I love this list and how you broke each book in to categories for those interested. I’m going to add a few of these books onto my summer reading list. 😍📚

2 years ago

well hv read quite a few on the list , some real interesting reads definitely

2 years ago

I’ve read a couple on this list, like The Alchemist, the Beach and Seven Years in Tibet! Kudos for keeping your books when you downsized. I don’t think I could give any of mine up! Books are the best way to “escape” when you need a little vacation.

2 years ago

Great suggestions! I haven’t read any of them but will be adding them to my list of books to read 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

2 years ago

Great list, haven’t read any of them yet so I best get reading! Especially like the sound of The Alchesmist and Seven Years in Tibet! Nothing beats getting dug into a good book!

2 years ago

I’ve bookmarked this page! I’d also recommend William Dalrymple’s City of Djinns for those keen to explore Delhi and A Strange and Sublime Address by Amit Chaudhari if you’re visiting Calcutta.

2 years ago

oh yes some good ones in their, I’m deaf gonna buy one for my next trip

2 years ago

I haven’t read any of these myself but I’ve heard of several of them. Thanks for a list that gives me some ideas for my next book!

2 years ago

A good list. Read Shantaram and Alchemist out of this list. Somehow, I love travel photo books more than purely reading. I have more than 200 photo books at my home, with different adventures, documentaries and Nat Geo articles. You should give it a try 🙂 Maybe then you can make a new post.

2 years ago

Some great books on this list, and some that I now need to check out. My only question is: how did you narrow down the list to just a few. LIke me, it sounds like you’re avid readers, so selecting a few must have been difficult.

2 years ago

Mark, it’s an awesome list, I took some guidance from it. Thanks

2 years ago

You’ve got some of my favourites in there, including Into The Wild. I agree with you about the darker undercurrents of The Beach too, and that’s a great comparison with Lord of the Flies. We had the same problem trying to downsize our travel books, and came to a similar conclusion. We bought a house with a book room. It’s the travel at home space!

2 years ago

Love this list. While I’ve only read two of these, I’ll have to add the rest to my own list! Travelling gives such a great opportunity to catch up on reading. The White Tiger is so much fun to read. Thanks!

Kelly Price
2 years ago

Couldn’t agree more with this book selection! I especially enjoyed White Tiger, and now I’m inspired to read Shantaram. Thanks for sharing!

2 years ago

Just added ALL of these to my Amazon wish list! Always looking for a new book for those long flights!

Denny George
2 years ago

This is a really interesting list. I like the way how you have included fiction like the White Tiger and Shantaram along with the travelogues in the list. I would also add the travelogues by William Dalrymple, especially the City of Djins and VS Naipaul’s Masque of Africa to my personal favorites.

2 years ago

I love the list and absolutely I have to read some of them. Perfectly for the summer days that are coming, to fill the day. Great choices

2 years ago

So I’ve read 2/8 of these. What a great list. I’m adding all of these to my kindle wish list. Definitely going to try and read The Alchemist next I think.

2 years ago

This is a good list. I’ve read some of them – and still look forward to read Shantaram.
I love to read books that are set in the country I’m currently travelling – even if they are fiction, they often enrich my stay and make me understand more of the culture.

2 years ago

Great list, love the Alchemist and read Shantaram whilst in India!

2 years ago

Great list of books – now I have lots more stuff to add to my Kindle! I really liked “Shantaram”…great recommendation. “The Snow Leopard” was OK, but I really preferred his book “The Tree Where Man Was Born” about his journeys through Africa. Great read, you should check it out!

Antonio Gabric
2 years ago

Amazing post! Alchemist is also my favorite book and I’m so amazed how many times I re-read this book.

2 years ago

Great list! I’d really like to read the beach. I’ve seen the movie but didn’t even know there was a book about as well 😀

2 years ago

We have read two from the list, but now have some more to digest. Thanks for the recommendations!

2 years ago

I’m actually in the process of compiling my reading list for the next few months and these are all great suggestions! Thanks so much, they’ll be great travel companions over the next few months 🙂

2 years ago

This is great! I’m actually in the market for something to read when I go away in a week. Atowle|

2 years ago

Shantaram was one of the first books I read for literary wanderlust and prompted me to visit Mumbai so it was a real pleasure to visit Cafe Leopold. And I read The Beach when I visit Ko Phi Phi… reading books that are strong on location is a great way to get under the skin of a place. Great choice of books!!

2 years ago

I hate Paulo Coehlo, apart from that, great list! Shantaram is sitting here since ages, I will get to it soon, you made ma curious!

1 year ago

What a list here and surprised to find that I’ve each of these books. An inspiration to continue reading….

1 year ago

Wow these all look great. You put a lot of work into this list. There are definitely some I want to get.

1 year ago
Reply to  Susan

We love reading these books especially! Have read a couple numerous times, actually. Thanks for checking it out.

1 year ago

What about On the road by Jack Kerouac? Definitely my favorite travel related book

1 year ago

Thanks for the wonderful list bud! I always love a great travel book and have read a couple on your’s and Kylee’s list. I will try ‘The Alchemist’ soon!

1 year ago
Reply to  Cam

We have it, if you would like to borrow it! 🙂