Books to Inspire Travel across Five Continents

Currently, we are in an era of uncharted territory.  We cannot travel the world, yet we still want to experience adventures and see new sights.  So we must pivot with our thinking of how to continue to fuel our wanderlust.  We look back to the age-old tradition of reading a book.  Not just any book.  But a travel novel.  There’s a whole selection of travel books – fiction and non-fiction.  Travel adventure books and stories of self-discovery, all set in exotic locations from around the globe.

There are so many books that inspire travel I haven’t had the chance to read them all so I have asked some fellow bloggers to share their favourite travel novels.  Just a warning these are books that inspire wanderlust and take you on a journey all from the comfort of your own armchair.  Sit back and relax and be prepared to fuel your nomadic desires.

This post includes travel novels set in:


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grey timber park bench with coloured patchwork quilt and travel novel to read
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Africa

Congo

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

Reviewed by Wendy Werneth from The Nomadic Vegan

mountains silhouetted at sunset in the Congo
The Congo

The Poisonwood Bible is a novel that tells the story of Baptist missionary Nathan Price, who moves with his family to the Belgian Congo in 1959 with the intention of converting the natives.  This story is narrated by his wife and four daughters, who find themselves in a world very different from their own and are forced to question everything they’ve ever believed.  When writing the novel, Barbara Kingsolver drew on her own experiences living in the Congo as a child.  Her father, who was a doctor, moved the family there when Barbara was seven years old, and they lived in a village without running water or electricity.  Although set during a tumultuous period of history when the Congo was fighting for independence from Belgium, the book portrays the Congo not only as a scary and violent place but also a place teeming with beautiful, unbridled nature.

After reading this book, I first travelled to the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly the Belgian Congo) in 2010, where I had the amazing experiences of climbing an active volcano and coming face to face with mountain gorillas.  Ten years later, in February 2020, I finally had the opportunity to visit, Brazzaville, capital of the Republic of the Congo (formerly the French Congo) on the other side of the Congo River.

Oman

The Travels of Ibn Battuta by Ibn Battuta

Reviewed by Daisy Li from Oman Travel Guides

two camels walking along white sandy desert in Oman
Oman

I’ve always been a fan of travel memoirs.  These books usually detail the specifics of the author’s trip, which creates an immediate draw on destinations I’ve yet to visit.  One of the most inspiring travellers is Ibn Battuta, a Moroccan scholar that documented his 30-year journey between 1325 and 1354.

The Travels of Ibn Battuta is based on his expedition across North Africa and much of Asia.  It provides vivid accounts of various wonders of the world and illustrates a time that is both enchanting and mesmerizing.

Some of Battuta’s best descriptions are of North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.  After reading his description of souqs and sambuqs, and wadis and mountains, I had to revisit photos of my Oman trip just to relive the beautiful country from his perspective!  In addition, his colourful description of Egypt completely captivated me and further fired my desire to visit this ancient nation.  From India to China to Iraq and Persia, I’m sure Ibn Battuta’s travels will inspire you to travel more. 

Americas

Alaska

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

Reviewed by Rai Haan from A Rai of Light

looking across the water to mountains and pine trees
Alaska

This book revolves around the tragic story of Chris McCandless, a young man disillusioned with a boring life and heads off to discover something different in the Alaskan wilderness.  He abandons most of his material possessions and leaves his family and friends, so as to live at one with nature.  The travel quote, “Not all those who wander are lost” seems to be the focus of this non-fiction biography by Krakauer who paints McCandless as a man with the soul of a wanderer and a brilliant mind.  He didn’t fit into society’s or even his family’s view of how he was supposed to live. Even though it may seem that McCandless was reckless and arrogant, he was also brave in his search for meaning.  The writing is so engaging that although it is clear from the beginning of how McCandless’ story would end, I was hooked until the final page, inspiring my very own trip to Alaska.

Caribbean – Grenada

The Spice Necklace by Ann Vanderhoof

Reviewed by Michele Peterson from A Taste for Travel 

clear blue beach in Grenada
Morne Rouge Beach in Grenada, Caribbean

In The Spice Necklace novel, culinary travel writer Ann Vanderhoof and her husband sail the Caribbean exploring island markets and home kitchens at stops along the way.  This culinary travel memoir features recipes that capture the traditions, folklore and flavours of each island’s culture set against the backdrop of beautiful Caribbean landscapes. 

Inspired by the book, I travelled to the island of Grenada in the eastern Caribbean.  It’s actually known as the spice of the Caribbean due to its wealth of spices including nutmeg, mace, cinnamon and more.  One of the highlights of a visit to the island is exploring the St. George’s Market Square and Spice Market located in the historic Old Town. Here, on the weekends, it comes alive with vendors selling a wide range of produce grown on the fertile volcanic slopes of Grenada’s mountainous interior.  You’ll find callaloo, dasheen, yams and bananas enjoyed in traditional Grenadian dishes such as oil down, saltfish souse and pigeon peas soup.  You’ll also see baskets of fragrant spices described in the recipes within the book The Spice Necklace.  To create the unique local souvenir, local craftspeople weave nutmeg, ginger and sticks of cinnamon with brightly covered beads onto spice necklaces sold by vendors on the streets and on the beaches.   

Georgia – Savanah

Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil by John Berendt

Reviewed by Eileen Gunn from Families Go Travel!

ornate white fountain in the middle of a Savannah, Georgia park
Savannah, Georgia
Image by MADSkills from Pixabay

Few travel books have made me want to visit a place the way Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil made me want to go to Savannah, Georgia.  The book depicts that genteel and scenic south that we know from the movies but that rarely exists anymore.  Gingerbread mansions with names like Mercer House or Armstrong House sit off of the pretty squares that dot the city.  Horse-drawn carriages take tourists around, married women play cards, men go to their club and teens practice waltzing for debutante balls.  

But as a tourist wandering around this picturesque city, you’re well aware that you are on the outside looking in.  This is the type of town where families need to hang around for a few generations before they’re no longer newcomers.  Anyone just passing through has no chance of glimpsing life beyond the graceful wrought-iron gates of the big old houses.   And this is where John Berendt comes in.

In Midnight he takes you inside Savannah to meet the married women, southern gents and debutantes, plus several other less likely characters for good measure.  Even though it’s not a travel book, it does exactly what a travel book is supposed to: It helps you get to know a place.

Asia

India

The Journey Home by Radhanath Swami

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Reviewed by Lucile Hernandez Rodriguez from Lucile HR

green and yellow tuktuk pulling out onto road in India
India

I’ve always been fascinated by India with its incredibly diverse culture and landscape and the fact that many travellers consider it as a country worth visiting.  And after reading Radhanath Swami’s The Journey Home: Autobiography of an American Swami I knew right there and then that I wanted to visit India – and I did.  Thanks to the book, I was inspired to take that leap and visit India for a refreshing experience.

The Journey Home: Autobiography of an American Swami is a memoir of Radhanath Swami’s spiritual quest from the US to India.  The journey is filled with ups and downs – with some near-death experiences.  Anyone would’ve easily given up, but because of his determination, Swami pursued to search about the meaning of life.

I can still remember when I was reading it, I couldn’t put the book down.  If there’s a book that can transform a heart, it’s this one.  For me, it inspired me to keep learning about mindfulness and meditation.

North Korea

My Holiday in North Korea: The Funniest/Worst Place on Earth by Wendy E. Simmons

Reviewed by Megan Fire-Lily Johnson from Red Around the World

Very very large white arch of Triumph over road in North Korea
Arch of Triumph in North Korea
Image by Reijo Telaranta from Pixabay

My Holiday in North Korea: The Funniest/Worst Place on Earth by Wendy E. Simmons is an interesting and entertaining encounter of her time visiting one of the most locked-down nations in the world: North Korea.  While most people want out, she wanted in to see what it was really like, but as we all know, what we get to see isn’t what it’s really like. 

Soon, entertainment turns to paranoia as she is taken to the usual museums full of propaganda and she only gets to see what they want her to see.  This is her telling of the stories and her experiences visiting North Korea, along with 92 colour photographs, allowing us to follow along on her journey. 

While North Korea may not be the top of most people’s bucket lists and it quite controversial to visit as a tourist, it has always intrigued me and this book (along with quite few others) has made me more curious about visiting.  Thus, North Korea has landed itself on my bucket list, higher than most other peoples, just too really see it for myself. 

Thailand

The Narrow Road to the Deep North – Richard Flanagan

Reviewed by De Wat Moolman from Museums of Wander

The arches of the memorial at River Kwai
Near River Kwai

Dorrigo Evans, an Australian surgeon, is captured during WW11 and sent to a labour camp in Thailand.  This Booker Prize-winning novel tells the moving story of Australian POWs and Japanese soldiers during the construction of the Thai-Burma railway, also known as the Death Railway in 1943.

Ultimately it is a story about survival, about the destruction of war and what people would do for each other.

Two hours by bus northwest of Bangkok is the town of Kanchanaburi, surrounded by the steaming, dank jungles and an infamous bridge over a river.  It is here where the story of Dorrigo Evans and his men takes place.

Kanchanaburi is a perfect day trip (or longer) from Bangkok for history buffs or anyone who has read this novel.  Of course, you’ll go and see the bridge over the River Kwai.  Also, make sure to pay your respects at the immaculately kept Kancanaburi War Cemetery where almost seven thousand POW’s are buried.

You could even return to Bangkok by train, travelling on a stretch of the original Death Railway.  The train takes about 3 hours from Kanchanaburi to Thonburi Station in Bangkok.

Vietnam

Catfish and Mandala by Andrew Pham

Reviewed by Emily Lush from Wander-Lush

rice paddies terraced down mountain side in Vietnam
Vietnam

Catfish and Mandala: A Two-Wheeled Voyage Through the Landscape and Memory of Vietnam is an award-winning novel by American-Vietnamese author, Andrew Pham.  Part travelogue, part autobiography, it follows An, a twenty-something-year-old man who embarks on a 4,000-mile bike ride from California to Vietnam.  His quest: Revisit a homeland that has long forgotten him, discover his roots, and find with the pieces of himself he feels are missing.

An tests his physical and mental endurance as he cycles through the Mexican desert, then from Japan to South Korea, and finally through Vietnam.  The novel is arranged in a non-linear format, flashing back to explore the same stories from multiple viewpoints.  As An travels, you get to learn a lot about the Vietnam-America war and how it touched the lives of so many across continents.  This is an extremely powerful novel that delves deep into a dark past, using humour to soften the edges of a murky and at times heart-wrenching tale.

I started reading Catfish and Mandala in preparation for my first trip to Vietnam and finished it on the bus ride from Hanoi to Halong Bay.  Five years later, I ended up moving to Hanoi – the evocative descriptions of the country in this book, from the small villages to the big city of Saigon, helped me fall in love with Vietnam and the people.  The history lessons this book offers were an added bonus, helping me better appreciate the culture and political landscape.

Europe

Italy – Florence

Da Vinchi Code by Dan Brown

Reviewed by Bhushavali Natarajan from My Travelogue by Bhushavali 

Ornate black and white building in Florence, Italy
Florence, Italy

When I read Dan Brown’s Da Vince Code I was a student of Art History and it fascinated me too much, instantly I became a fan of Dan Brown and soon I was following all his novels. The protagonist of all the movies is Robert Langdon, a ‘symbology’ expert who teaches in Harvard. As someone who loves art history much, I’ve fallen in love with Robert Langdon! Haha.

The most important novel for me, travel-wise, was Inferno. This is mostly set in Florence, Italy and a few chapters in Venice and Istanbul. Italy was my first ever solo-travel and with Inferno in my mind, it was just perfect. I visited Uffizi Gallery, Ponte Vecchio, Palazo Vecchio, Loggia dei Lanzi, Florence Cathedral etc where Robert Langdon ran with Dr. Sienna Brooks, solving cryptic symbols derived from art-history, to prevent a bio-war that was supposed to take place! I missed Boboli Gardens though.

The climax of the story is set in Hagia Sofia in Istanbul. I’m yet to go there and I really hope to head there soon! 

Italy – Rome

Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

Reviewed by Ingrid Kirita from Ingrid Zen Moments

woman sitting on river wall in Rome with bridge, Castel Saint'Angelo and Vittoriano Monument in the background
Rome, Italy

It was maybe during university that I somehow laid my hands on the famous Eat, Pray, Love book by Elizabeth Gilbert.  The book tells the story of the author’s midlife crisis, divorce, heartbreak, and the one-year self-discovery trip that took her from Rome to an Indian ashram, and then Bali.

When I started reading it, I was pretty much miserable, and my travel adventures were so limited that I could count them on the fingers of one hand.  Passionate about Italy since I was a child, the character’s adventures in Rome made my heart skip a bit and dream that one day I’ll get there myself.  The narrow cobbler stone streets, the mouth-watering Italian food that made her buy new pants, the particular way Italians have their coffee, or the passionate Italian man overly friendly and open to help a woman in need, made me daydream and make plans for the future.

Only a few months later I was embarking in an incredible Erasmus experience in Northern Italy, shortly followed by almost 3 months in Rome.  I couldn’t believe I was so lucky to have the chance to relive all the emotions I had already felt while reading the book. I explored every little corner of this stunningly beautiful town, listened to live music in Piazza Navona, ate all the pizza and gelato I could, developed a passion for strong espresso served standing “al banco”, learned Italian, and fell in love with Italy’s capital.

Italy – Tuscany

A Tuscan Childhood by Kinta Beevor

Reviewed by Julie Tulba from The Red Headed Traveler

overlooking Tuscan town with church steeple to fields
Tuscany, Italy
Image Credit Flickr

It’s hard to imagine Tuscany ever being anything than what it is today- one of Italy’s most popular and visited regions, teeming with tourists for most months of the year. But that’s not how it was in 1916 when five-year-old Kinta Beevor was brought to the Fortezza della Brunella, a sixteenth-century castle located in the Tuscan village of Aulla.  It was here that Beevor would spend her wonderfully unique and unorthodox (for a British girl) childhood along with her older brother and bohemian parents and that would serve as the inspiration for her memoir, A Tuscan Childhood.  Readers will be enchanted by Beevor’s vivid descriptions of the Tuscan landscapes and also its cuisine such as the dolci (desserts) that her great-aunt’s Italian cook made that “reduced everyone to silent ecstasy.”

My travels have only taken me to Florence but one day I dream about visiting a Tuscan village-like Aulla.  Even though there may be signs of modernity and more tourists of all nationalities than in Beevor’s time, I’d enjoy gazing at the chestnut tree-lined landscape of the Lunigiana, the northwestern frontier of Tuscany, and perhaps dine on involtini di vitello (little rolls of veal with thin slices of prosciutto inside).

UK – Ireland, Dublin

Ulysses by James Joyce

Reviewed by Nils Bumblebeese from Let’s Go Ireland

bridge over the river in Dublin, Ireland
Dublin
Photo by Fáilte Ireland via Ireland’s Content Pool

James Joyce’s epic novel is a fabulous book which gives you a very close insight into Ireland’s capital.  Taking place on only one day in Dublin, June 16 1904 (nowadays known as Bloomsday), the book follows the footsteps of Leopold Bloom – from him waking up in the morning and feeding the cat, to having lunch at Davy Byrne’s pub, taking part in a funeral procession in Glasnevin Cemetery and a lot more.  Joyce uses many different styles in this book, the most famous being the interior monologue, which lets the reader partake in the most intimate thoughts of a character.  Bloom’s thoughts are funny and witty, tragic and empathetic and walking through Dublin with him is an absolute delight.  The reader gets to know the intimate side of Dublin, walks lesser-known streets and gets to know a lot about Irish history and culture as well.

If you happen to be in Dublin in June, then you may even be able to take part in the Bloomsday Celebrations.  People dress up in turn-of-the-century-clothes and wander through the city reading Joyce’s book.  It’s a great cultural event!

UK – Scotland

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Reviewed by Maggie Turansky from The World Was Here First

lime green grassy fields in Scotland
Scotland

Published in 1991, Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander is the first instalment in a wildly popular series that combines time travel, historical fiction and romance all set amongst the backdrop of the Scottish Highlands.  Because of its descriptive and picturesque setting, Outlander and books like it continue to inspire people to travel to the wild highlands of Scotland, particularly myself.

Outlander follows Nurse Claire Randall as she and her husband go on a second honeymoon to Inverness directly following the Second World War.  However, somehow Claire manages to be transported back in time to 18th-century Scotland in the midst of the Jacobite Uprising.  It is here that she meets the handsome and wild Jamie Fraser and must navigate this new reality set upon her.

Outlander has inspired many a reader to travel to the Scottish Highlands and me, particularly, found visiting the Culloden Battlefield outside of Inverness to be particularly more poignant after learning first-hand just how devastating that event was.”

Oceania

Australia

In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson

Reviewed by Jan Schroder from The Travel 100

The large orange rock in the middle of Australia known as Uluru
Uluru, Australia
Photo by Ondrej Machart on Unsplash

If you’re read A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson then you know he can take something as simple as a hearing a noise in the woods and make it wildly entertaining.  The author takes on the entire continent/country of Australia in the informative and hilarious In a Sunburned Country.

Even as he refers to it as “a tough place” and one that “has more things that will kill you than anywhere else,” his depiction of the people, landscape and attractions there will have you planning a trip to see all its wildness for yourself.  Despite the fact that Bill describes it this way: “Australia is mostly empty and a long way away.”

Bill made the journey through the vast country by car and train and divided the book into three parts: the Outback, the Boomerang Coast (the southeast coast) and Around the Edges, which includes the Great Barrier Reef, Alice Springs and Uluru.

Bill Bryson is an American who now lives in Great Britain and primarily writes about travel and science.

Top Trip Tip: You can order any of these books from the comfort of your home through Book Depository and have them delivered to your door.

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Sally-Ann
Hi, I'm a Perth born and bred travel tips blogger/writer with 20+ years experience in airlines, hospitality and tourism. I love sharing my travel lessons learned to help you plan for your travel dream with my travel tips for trips. Please follow along to receive all my travel planning tips, packing lists and destination inspirations.
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