Nine Awesome Travel Read Recommendations

Lazy Afternoon
A few months ago, I started asking people a new question in my weekly Postcard From feature – about their latest or favourite travel reads. There have been so many great recommendations for books both old and new, that I thought I’d publish a list of some of the best, plus a few extras from me and some of my followers.

General Travel Reads

The World’s Great Wonders, Lonely Planet – Recommended by Kirsty of Global Whispers, this is a great coffee table book to really fuel your wanderlust. Travel books from Lonely Planet are always good for a little armchair exploration, and this one unlocks the secrets of 50 of the world’s wonders, explaining how they were made and why they are amazing.

Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel, Rolf Potts – “It’s all about how long-term travel sshouldn’tbeen seen as some impossible dream that can only be funded by an inheritance or a mega trust fund… This book is really inspiring and makes the dream much more feasible.” Lisa Day from Univagabond: A Day in the Life

The Cruellest Journey, Kira Salak – The first travel book I ever read, Salak’s account of her solo journey of six hundred miles by canoe on the Niger River in Africa really got under my skin. Not only is it a fascinating account of a journey retracing the steps of explorer Mungo Park, but it’s also a beautifully personal read.

sunset in Segou

Niger River. Image by Robin Taylor.

Country-Specific Travel Reads

USA

Notes From A Big Country, Bill Bryson – “Although this book was written in the mid-nineties, I found a lot of the observations Bryson had made about the United States and it’s culture, still rang very true when I visited. Cup holders in cars for example – Bryson discussed in a column that American’s seem to be obsessed with cup holders in cars. I didn’t realise to what extent though until one day, I counted 17 cup holders in our 7-seater car. That’s more than 2 cupholders per person. Who needs that many drinks on one car journey? It did make me giggle and turned out to be a nice little holiday read!” Emma Hart, from Paper Planes and Caramel Waffles

Sri Lanka

The Teardrop Island, Cherry Briggs – “The author loosely follows the tracks of a British explorer in the 1800s to investigate the island she’s living in”. Combining description of the country and its atmosphere with personal experience, Briggs also passes on a real insight to the country’s history. 

The Village in the Jungle, Leonard Woolf – “A fictional account taught in every school in Sri Lanka about how colonialism affected the traditional communities of the country. It’s something of a Things Fall Apart for Sri Lanka. Both recommendations came from Ian M Packham, the blogger behind Encircle Africa

Bolivia

Marching Powder, Rusty Young – Recommended by Hannah of That Adventurer, this book tells the true story of a British prisoner living in La Paz’s crazy San Pedro prison, which I actually visited in Bolivia (from the safety of the outside only – tours are now illegal due to safety reasons).  There are a lot of very bizarre facts about this prison, which has a handful of guards to more than 2,000 inmates. Example: some prisoners run businesses and shops to pay the rent – yes, rent – on their cells, and Coca Cola pay shop owners for exclusivity and advertising. Bolivia es loca!

San Pedro

San Pedro Prison. Image by Danielle Pereira.

Mumbai

Shantaram, Gregory David Roberts – Recommended by Manouk of Bunch of Backpackers, this one tells the story of a convicted Australian bank robber and heroin addict who escaped from Pentridge Prison and fled to India. Shantaram is particularly noted for it’s vivid portrayal of life in Mumbai.

Vietnam

The Sorrow Of War, Bao Ninh – I read a few novels from Vietnamese authors or set in Vietnam while I was travelling there at the end of last year, and this was one of my favourites. A deeply moving account of the Vietnam war, this poetic, melancholy and often horrifically graphic novel deals not only with the war itself, but also the aftermath and the effect on veteran soldiers. With a plot that jumps forwards and backwards decades at a time, and a decidedly unreliable narrator, the story is wrapped in the confusion, anguish and violence of the war. A must-read for anyone headed to Vietnam.

Vietnam

Vietnam. Image by Paul Arlon.

Have you read a great travel book lately? Leave a comment to give me some more triplit inspiration!

About Emily Luxton

An award-winning writer and travel blogger on a mission to explore the world through deeper, more intelligent travel. Seeking out adventure, cultural exchanges, food experiences and more as she attempts to get to know the world. Lover of the great outdoors, sunsets, good food, and the odd bit of luxury!

8 Comments

  1. Some wonderful reads on this!! Great idea! For a country specific read, if visiting Cambodia, “First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers” is such a fantastic read as it sheds light on the Khmer Rouge/Pol Pot regime and Cambodian genocide. I knew very little and it made me understand Cambodia so much more and understand what they went through, especially when visiting the Killing Fields in Phnom Penh. Tough read, but important if you want to know what it was like during this time.

    • Thanks for the recommendation. That book is actually on my to-read list, I’ve been meaning to read it ever since finishing John Swain’s River of Time, which is about both the Vietnam war and the Cambodian genocide. A horrific read but a real eye-opener, definitely worth checking out if you’re interested in that region.

  2. Here’s one: “At The Tomb Of The Inflatable Pig” by John Gimlette. It’s informative, historical, and quite humorous. It’s also about the only travel book written about Paraguay – something he himself infers is not surprising.

    He’s a Brit who lived in Paraguay for a number of years, so has a fairly good feel for the place; in it he explores pretty much every part of the country, from the soporific capital Asuncion all the way to the edge of the Chaco in the west, along the way highlighting the dodgy history (not that Paraguay has any other kind) in an informative but remarkably light-hearted tone.

    Interesting reading about a country that’s not on many people’s radar.

    • Amazing suggestion, thank you! I’ve read a lot of books about/set in South America and have been hunting for one from Paraguay, so this looks perfect! Thanks so much 🙂

  3. Ah you have NO idea how much I love this! Huge bookworm and have the hardest time getting well-written travel books 🙂 thank you!

    • No problem at all! I’ve been meaning to turn this post into a series for a while – I’ve had tons of amazing book recommendations through my Postcard From feature, plus I’ve got loads to recommend myself! Was thinking of doing them by continent or country – “books to read if you’re visiting xyz”. What do you reckon?

  4. Such a great list of books to really transport the reader to locale. Thank you. I have just read the sequel to Mumbai set Shantaram “The Mountain Shadow” – a mountain of a book it has to be said; and a truly wonderful book for Sri Lanka (or Ceylon as it was then) is The Tea Planter’s Wife by Dinah Jefferies. Happy literary travels!!

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