Reading and travelling come hand-in-hand; that’s why you’re going to want to know about our top 25 travel books. Reading is a traveller’s favourite pastime and you’ll find yourself spending hours reading anything and everything to hand while on your gap year. Some of the best memories you can have are associated with reading and a top travel book can automatically take you back to a particular time and a place.
Imagine lying on a beach reading a book or in the back of a local bus being completely immersed in a good read, becuase it’s going to happen, but what exactly makes a book a top travel book?
A top travel book will automatically transport you to another time, to another place, from the moment you pick it up. A top travel book captures the essence of what it means to travel – the philosophies as well as the sights – and all of the beautiful backdrops, the magical moments and the sad stories. The words come to life and you can’t help but fall in love with what’s being described. That’s what makes a top travel book.
The following is a list of 25 top travel books that have been written in or about a particular country in mind, and each book is considered a literary masterpiece, so if you’re looking for a good book to read on your gap year then look no further than our top 25 travel books…
1. Into the Wild (1996) – Jon Krakauer
This true story sees Christopher McCandless donate all of his money to charity, pick-up his backpack and go. Unhappy with what society has to offer McCandless decides to search for his own society, for a place to belong.
It is a beautiful story that takes you up the west-coast of America to Alaska, with one man chasing his dream – to be ‘Into the Wild.’
2. Shantaram (2003) – Gregory David Roberts
A semi-biographical story of a convicted Australian bank robber (Roberts) who escapes from prison and flees to India.
The story starts with Roberts arriving in Bombay, how he settles into his new environment, and how he goes onto forge a life for himself taking the reader all across India and Afghanistan in Roberts’s attempt to never be deported back to home.
3. The Call of the Wild / White Fang (1903/1906) – Jack London
Buck, the central character in London’s masterpiece, is a dog who finds himself serving as a sled-dog in the Yukon during the 19th century Klondike Gold Rush.
You follow Buck through his adventures in one of Canada’s toughest landscapes, and it is easy to get caught up in London’s poetic descriptions of a desolate country through the eyes of a dog.
4. Magic Bus (2006) – Rory Maclean
Maclean takes the journey from Istanbul (Turkey) to Kathmandu (Nepal) to re-live the original hippie trail trodden by the original intrepid travellers back in the 1960s/70s.
This top travel book gives an account of how tourism has changed over the past 50 years, how some places are becoming overcommercialised, and taps into the source of what it means to travel, at whatever age.
5. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1869) – Jules Verne
Verne is still considered as one of the best travel authors of all time, writing such stories as Around the World in 80 Days and Journey to the Centre of the Earth.
In this story we follow the voyage of the mysterious Captain Nemo and his submarine, the Nautilus, learning about unchartered waters in the aid to discover the unknown. The yearning to discover who Captain Nemo really is captivates the reader from start to finish, and the book is considered before its time.
6. On the Road (1957) – Jack Kerouac
On the Road defines the 1950s beat movement in America, heavily influenced by drugs, jazz and poetry.
The book is based on Kerouac’s life experiences of travelling across America, from New York to San Francisco with his friends. Kerouac writes about the personal lack of responsibility and safety, to just go with the moment that still lives strong in many of today’s travellers, nearly 55 years later.
7. Down Under (2000) – Bill Bryson
Bryson travels through Australia in this excruciatingly funny view of the world’s 6th largest country.
Bryson attacks everything that he comes across in a stereotypical analysis of Australians, and comes out loving them. This top travel book is perfect to read for first time gappers who are about to embark to Australia giving them an insight into what to expect.
8. Travels with Charley: In Search of America (1962) – John Steinbeck
A different road trip, a different author. Steinbeck is more famous for works such as East of Eden and Grapes of Wrath, but this work of non-fiction sees Steinbeck take to the road in another great American road trip.
Steinbeck travels around America with his dog, Charley, in the desire to understand modern day American’s, finding that they, and the country, do not live up to his expectation of a ‘classical’ America.
9. The Beach (1996) – Alex Garland
You can’t go to Thailand without reading The Beach or seeing the film. The book is an almost scathing attack by Garland on Thailand’s tourism and it is an accurate one at that.
The protagonist Richard is in search of a legendary, idyllic beach untouched by tourism, only to discover that his paradise isn’t what he imagined. The book is very, very different to the film and is well worth a read.
10. The Great Railway Bazaar (1975) – Paul Theroux
Theroux travels through Europe, Central Asia and South East Asia on a four month railroad journey in a desperate attempt to understand a world that isn’t his own.
This wonderfully entertaining travelogue pays loving tribute to the romantic joys of railways and train travel, concentrating on the relationships with people as opposed to the places that you go.
11. Three Cups of Tea (2006) – Greg Mortinsen
A mountain climber loses his way on the perilous slopes of K2, but finds himself in a completely different way. Mortinsen goes through a personal transformation, from climbing the rugged landscape of Pakistan as a climber, to shaping its future for years to come as an aid-worker.
People always say “what can one man do to change the world?” Read Three Cups of Tea and find out for yourself.
12. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1971) – Hunter S. Thompson
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was shocking when it was first released due to the levels of previously unseen depravity. It is still a shocking now, 40 years later.
It is a book that defines decadence and hedonism, with two central characters tearing up Las Vegas in a drug-induced haze. So good that it created its own type of journalism – ‘gonzo’ journalism.
13. The Quiet American (1955) – Graham Greene
Green writes about the Vietnam War before it even occurred with an eerie accuracy of things to come.
The story revolves around Pyle, a young idealistic American sent to promote democracy in a land ravaged by the French Indo-China War, to ultimately discover that he can’t change anything. Describes a very different 1950s Saigon to the modern era.
14. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974) – Robert M. Pursig
A book about philosophy conjures images of school classrooms and lecture halls, but you don’t write the world’s best-selling philosophy book without making it easy to read.
Pursig uses motorcycle maintenance as a medium to write about philosophical discussions in a first-person journey across America. Challenges the values of self-discovery.
15. At First They Killed My Father (2000) – Loung Ung
It is almost impossible to read this book without crying. It is a heart-wrenching personal account of life under the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, a regime that killed 1.7 million people.
Ung writes from her memories as a five-year-old and it is an important book to understand just how horrific the Khmer Rouge regime really was, and just how needless it was too.
16. The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968) – Tom Wolfe
This ‘nonfiction’ novel tells the story of Ken Kesey (author and one of the founders of the ‘beat’ generation along with Kerouac) and his band of ‘Merry Pranksters’ travelling through America in a psychedelic school bus.
The book was obviously written whilst bouncing off the walls on LSD and it highlights the disregard to health and safety of the ‘flower power’ era.
17. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) – Mark Twain
The story follows Huckleberry Finn in his escape to get away from home.
The book is colourful in its description of people and places along the Mississippi River, and is considered at the fore-front of antiracist literature long before the race wars in the US. Its sequel, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, continues the journey.
18. The Alchemist (1986) – Paulo Coelho
You will either love it or hate it, but it has been hailed as a modern classic. Santiago, believing a recurring dream to be prophetic, decides to travel to the pyramids of Egypt to find treasure.
He meets a number of people along the way who help or hinder him, but he still chases his dream. Dream small or dream big, it is important to chase your dreams.
19. The Road to Oxiana (1937) – Robert Byron
The Road to Oxiana is more than just a travelogue through Persia and Afghanistan. It is a way of life and has encouraged hundreds of thousands to travel into the unknown.
Byron’s enthusiasm for travelling is infectious and it is the perfect book to read just before you depart on your big adventure – it will get you ready and raring to go to discover new and exciting things.
20. The Motorcycle Diaries (1952) – Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara
The book traces the early travels of Che Guevara with his friend Alberto Granado all through South America on an old motorcycle.
During the journey he is transformed by witnessing the social injustices of exploited mine workers, persecuted communists and ostracized lepers. The book is an insight into a young Che and how he was moulded by his travels into a Marxist symbol.
21. The Stranger (1942) – Albert Camus
Meursault, a bachelor living in Algiers, commits an act of violence to shake the foundations of his life. Meursault challenges the values which society holds to be fundamental – law, love and religion – and it is one of the few readable books on existentialism.
The Stranger draws many parallels with Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. No book will challenge and change you way of thinking like this one.
22. The Music of Chance (1990) – Paul Auster
So many great American books use travelling across the country as the central theme, and so many of them are classics.
This is a modern take on the American road trip with a very different ending. Jim Nashe, the hero of the story, is only happy when he has nothing, and travellers will take solace from this.
23. Homage to Catalonia (1938) – George Orwell
This is regarded as Orwell’s best piece of work. It is a travelogue that deeply taps into the political history of Catalonia during the Spanish Civil War.
The book is Orwell’s thoughts and feelings of society heading for destruction and he fights fascism not only through words, but through deeds. Homage to Catalonia paved the way for Orwell’s other literary masterpieces Animal Farm and 1984.
24. In Patagonia (1977) – Bruce Chatwin
Chatwin fulfilled his childhood dream by travelling to Patagonia with his Grandfather’s memories driving him. Chatwin travels through one of the least known counties in South America and brings it to life.
It is rare for a travel book to delve so far into the culture and history of a country. The New York Times described it as a “little masterpiece of travel, history, and adventure.”
25. The Sun Also Rises (1926) – Ernest Hemmingway
The Sun Also Rises is about a group of expatriates who travel from Paris to Pamplona in Spain for the running of the bulls.
It was the first time that the bull festival became known world-wide. The story follows the love and life of Jake Barnes and Brett Ashley in a post-WWII generation that had a lot more freedom than previously known.
The Best of the Rest Top Travel Books:
- Mr Nice (1996) – Howard Marks
- Blood River (2007) – Tim Butcher
- The Wrong Way Home (1994) – Peter Moore
- The Secret Life of a Backpacker (2008) – Barry Divola
About the Author: Macca Sherifi
Macca is gapyear.com’s travel editor and writes on a myriad of topics, giving the best travel advice in an easy-to-read style that he would describe as ‘cutesy’. His two passions are travelling and writing, which is lucky, because he’s a travel writer. Macca travelled for 20 months non-stop, never settling in one place for more than a week or two, living to travel and travelling to live. In his spare time, he reads about travelling, thinks about travelling, and then travels. If that fails he still harbours hopes of being a professional rugby player…