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21 Best Books about travel and self discovery

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“The real voyage of (self ) discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” Marcel Proust. Travel memoirs and novels bring in a fresh perspective on our lives and the way we think. So here’s presenting the best books about travel and self discovery to spark your wanderlust!

With these books you can experience a new destination from the comfort of your home –  anytime and anywhere – no visa or flights required. Most importantly, it will leave you introspecting about life, travel, and more!

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Best books about travel and self discovery

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21 Best Books about travel and self discovery to spark wanderlust

We have curated this list of best books about travel and self discovery from bloggers all over the world. These travel memoirs and books (fiction and non-fiction) had either inspired the reader or the writer and protagonist itself and had left an indelible mark on their life journey.

As you go through the recommendations, here are a few options to access the books right away.

We LOVE to read on our Kindle PaperWhite. If you have the device, you know what we are talking about.

 

If you do not wish to buy a Kindle or don’t have one, download the Kindle App on your mobile device (tablet, mobile phone, even desktop) to start reading right away. Kindle has TONS of titles to choose from – Lonely Planet guides to New York Times bestsellers and more!

For those who are podcast or audiobook lovers, GREAT NEWS! Many of the book titles mentioned here can be accessed as audio files in Audible!

The app can be downloaded on your phone/tablet. 

Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

Recommended by Dariece from Goats on the Road 

Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert is my favorite book (and movie). 

It’s a true story about Elizabeth realizing that she’s unhappy and unsatisfied with her current life in the USA. Sure, she has a great home, a well-paying job, and a loving husband, but she wants (needs) more.

She decides to take off on a year-long trip to Eat (in Italy), Pray (in India), and Love (in Indonesia). 

In each country that she visits, she finds another piece of herself, and by the end of the book, she feels whole. Any traveler can relate to this story!

I first read the book in 2009 when I was backpacking for a year around SE Asia and the Subcontinent. I had just quit my well-paying job in Canada, sold my house, and said goodbye to friends and family for a year-long trip with Nick.  

Not only do I feel like I can relate to the book, but those countries (Italy, India, and Indonesia) are three of my favorites! Read the book, it’s great.

Additional Reading: Read our posts on India travel 

Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes

Recommended by Jackie from Enjoy Travel Life

Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes tells Mayes’ journey as a middle-aged woman who restores a deteriorating villa in Cortona, Italy. While the book inspired a movie of the same name and premise, that is where the similarities end.

The book reveals Mayes’ personal memoir rather than the fictionalized tale of a search for one woman’s romantic love. However, it remains a love story of sorts: Mayes’ affection for Italy flows like olive oil over her rich imagery and eloquent descriptions of the Italian countryside.

Her engaging experiences highlight the challenges and interesting people she encounters while acclimating to her new environment and building a new life for herself.

Readers will enjoy discovering the scenery, culture, and close-knit relationships so typical of ancient Italian hill towns like Cortona within the pages of this well-written book.

It is an inspiring read for anyone who dreams of visiting Italy—or simply wishes to virtually transport themselves to the sun-kissed Tuscan hillside overlooking the rolling hills of Italy.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Recommended by Sean from livingoutlau

The Alchemist is a fictional book written by Paulo Coelho and published in 1988. It has been on the New York Times best selling list for years. The book follows the tales of a boy named Santiago and his mission to pursue his own Personal Legends.

Personal Legends is a concept introduced at the beginning of the book and refers to the deepest aspirations of a person. Only by accomplishing your Personal Legends will you live a satisfying and happy life.

In the book, Santiago gives up his life as a shepherd, the comfort of being a rich man, and the love of his life, just to pursue his Personal Legends. He travels from his home all the way to the Pyramids in Egypt despite all the uncertainty just so he has a chance to live his best life.

This book has inspired me to become a travel blogger. Blogging is full of uncertainty and there are times where the correct path is not so clear. Sometimes you just have to persevere through the difficulties and hope you arrive at a better place!

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Recommended by Michael from The World Was Here First

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed is the remarkable story of how one woman decides to hike the famous Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in the USA with limited training.

Following a period of drug abuse and the loss of her mother, Strayed sets out to hike the PCT with next to no preparation in the hope of overcoming her personal demons and learning more about herself.

While there are many books similar to Wild about long-distance walks, one of the main reasons why I enjoy Strayed’s story is that it intertwines the story of her time on the PCT while including flashbacks to her previous life and what ultimately led her to undertake this journey.

It also delves deep into the personal challenges of taking a long-distance walk both from a physical and mental perspective.

Wild was also made into a movie starring Reese Witherspoon in 2014

The Motorcycle Diaries by Ernesto Che Guevara

Recommended by Diana from Travels in Poland

 

The Motorcycle Diaries is a well-known book that follows the days of the pre-revolutionary Ernesto Che Guevara as he and a friend repair an old motorcycle and travel from Brazil to Peru on an epic adventure. The story follows the men as they begin in Argentina to visit Ernesto’s girlfriend and then onward to Chile. 

The story unfolds as the men have issues with the motorcycle and its needed repairs, and find themselves meeting a lot of people on their journey. They meet people from very poor communities including mine workers who are being exploited for their work.

When their motorcycle finally breaks down, the men work in different communities to continue to get by and meet people from different walks of life, though mainly those who are facing difficult living conditions and oppression. 

The story of Che Guevara and his travels, also symbolize his change into his revolutionary persona. The sheer beauty of the landscapes and the introduction to so many different cultures and people during times of oppression is an enigmatic but fascinating one.

READ: Guide to Havana, with a visit to the museum of the Cuban Revolution – of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara

The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac

Recommended by Anthony from Green Mochila

We all have a different idea of travel. When I think of travel, for example, I think of road trips and wild camping adventures. It doesn’t mean that all my trips are like that, but that’s the image I get when I hear the word ‘travel’. I’m pretty sure that this image comes from the stories I read about or saw when I was young(er). And I’m also pretty sure that Jack Kerouac’s novels played a particularly big role in that.

The first of his books I read was ‘The Dharma Bums‘. It’s a tale of travels, both physical and metaphysical, pretty much like his most famous ‘On The Road’. It tells his own story at the time when he left the corrupt city life in search of transcendence in nature.

He crossed the USA, hitchhiking and train-hopping, met bizarre people, performed Buddhist rituals and orgies, and ended up working completely alone in a national park.

It’s really exciting to read about travels and encounters that actually happened in real life, and aren’t the figment of the imagination of an author stuck inside. The Dharma Bums shaped me and gave me both the wanderlust and the writing desire.

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts 

Recommended by Tiago from Monday Feelings

 

Shantaram – a novel brings fiction to life, in a very compelling way.

After escaping from a maximum-security prison in Australia and arriving in Mumbai with a fake New Zealand passport, Lin becomes one of Australia’s most wanted men. 

In Mumbai, he befriends a local guy, Prabaker, whom he first hired to be his guide. After having all of their belongings stolen on the way back from Prabaker’s village to Mumbai, they see themselves living in the slums.

Involved with the high mafia of Mumbai, Lin ends up in a rough prison. The mafia don helps his release, which collaborates for Lin to go fighting against the Soviets in Afghanistan with the mafia. 

Lin is also involved in a love relationship with Karla. She is smart and always have deep life philosophies for every situation.

This book was given to me when I started traveling the world and write about responsible travel

I saw a Syrian girl in a hostel in Malaysia reading it. I told her my story, that I was traveling because the life I had seemed too conditioned. 

She told me hers, that her house was bombed, her family members were living in different countries, and this book inspired her to travel. Then, she gave me her book. This book really taught me about acceptance and to see the beauty in places that are normally seen as ugly.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Recommended by Ashley & Nick from Impactwinder 

The Book Thief follows the story of Leisel, an illiterate German young girl who is sent to live with a child-less foster family in southern Germany amidst the chaos and hardship of World War II.

The novel begins with her theft of a book – a theme that keeps showing up throughout Liesel’s narrative – and finishes with her own written book being returned to her upon her death.

The Book Thief is an insightful view into the daily life of Germans during the war and their fight against fascism, brutality, and injustice. 

What I found incredibly interesting about this book is that it’s narrated by Death. I had never read – nor have I come across since – a book that tells a story from the viewpoint of the destructor of lives. Not only does the author give Death compassion, but he adds a humane voice to the grim duties that Death is obliged to carry out.

A remarkable book with a remarkable story.

Additional Reading: Read our post on Germany and Dachau Concentration memorial camp

Molokai by Alan Brennert

Recommended by Marcie from Hawaii Travel with Kids

 

One of the best travel-related books I’ve read is called Molokai by Alan Brennert. It’s a piece of historical fiction that’s about leprosy in Hawaii. It features a young girl who is diagnosed with the disease and sent away to live in Kalaupapa, the camp on Molokai for people who have leprosy.

The story follows her entire life and there are several beautiful moments as well as heartbreaking situations. It’s one of the most moving stories I’ve ever read. I actually read it on the airplane to Hawaii a few years ago and couldn’t stop sobbing.

After reading it, I truly had a deeper understanding of how the leprosy epidemic affected Hawaiian families and what life on Molokai was like for those living with the disease.

Once you’ve read this book, the island of Molokai should be on your Hawaii bucket list. You can visit Kalaupapa and learn more about what life was like and why people still live there today.

The Travels of Ibn Battutah

Recommended by Daisy from Beyond my Border

 

Ibn Battuta is a widely traveled Moroccan scholar that explored numerous countries during a thirty-year period  From North Africa to the Middle East, to Asia, Battuta documented his journey in A Gift to Those Who Contemplate the Wonders of Cities and the Marvels of Traveling.

His vivid accounts of the vibrant people he interacted with, astonishing architecture he stumbled upon, and interesting experiences in a world completely different from his own are what make the book a fascinating read.

I was especially taken away by his description of busy bazaars in Egypt and cities to visit in China, as it gave me a glimpse into a world that is so different, yet so similar to what we know today.

Whether you want to do some research about future trips or be reminded of a destination from years before, as long as you are a tad of a history and politics nerd like me, the Travels of Ibn Battutah will be a perfect read for you.

READ: About Tangier, Morocco – the birthplace of Ibn Battutah

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Recommended by Stephanie from Explore More Clean Less

Outlander is the first book in a series of 8 (with more on the way) by Diana Gabaldon. It has been incredibly popular, selling over 25 million copies; it’s also been adapted both into a musical and a hit tv series by Starz.

The first book follows Claire Fraser, who accidentally time travels from 1946 to 1743 while on her honeymoon in Scotland. She is left to navigate life in the past, trying to recall what she can remember from the history books.

The story takes her through political uprising, battles, romance, and trying to reconcile her modern mindset with the past. The reader is treated to vivid descriptions of the Scottish highlands, cities, and castles throughout the book!

For over a decade, tour operators in Scotland have taken people on Outlander-inspired trips where you can see places the show was filmed and mentioned in the book. It’s an easy, fun read that will have you itching to see the Callanish Stones in real life.

Down Under by Bill Bryson

Recommended by Pauline from BeelovedCity

 

Who says travel books, says Bill Bryson! With Down Under, the best selling author paints a beautiful portrait of Australia.

This travelogue book, also known as In a Sunburned Country in North America, is a must-read for anyone going to Australia soon.

Bill Bryson has this amazing ability to tell travel tales in both a funny and very informative way. 

Australia is a very interesting country. On the one hand, it’s very dangerous. Everything can kill you. On the other hand, it’s one of the most beautiful places on the planet. 

In this book, Bill Bryson shares his love and adoration for the place and its people. He goes to very touristy places of course, such as Melbourne and Sydney, but also doesn’t hesitate to go off the beaten tracks. He reveals some of Australia’s best-kept secrets! 

All of that, combined with funny travel stories, cultural facts and a pinch of humor!

Down Under is the result of a magical recipe that will make you want to book a flight to Australia right now!

I lived in Australia for a year and always loved this book. I find it extremely accurate. Every time I read it, it throws me back to what was the best time of my life, in a country that I love and cherish.

Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Cape Town by Paul Theroux

Recommended by De Wet from Museum of Wander

Acclaimed travel writer Paul Theroux needs a break from emails and cell phones and meetings. He decides to travel the hard way from Cairo all the way to Cape Town using only public transport. His journey takes him through Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique and ending in South Africa.

This superb travelogue is not about safari though, as Theroux doesn’t visit any game parks in Africa. This book is all about the vivid descriptions of far-flung places in Africa and the stories of the people he meets on buses, dugout canoes, in military convoys and in trucks as he slowly makes his way through Africa. 

He tells the story of Africa through the people he meets along the way: the corrupt politicians, farmers, prostitutes, soldiers, the Hyena Man of Harar, aid workers and Rastafarians to name a few. 

As an African myself, I loved the brutal honesty of the book and the accurate narrative of my continent. But most of all, I’m inspired to see more of Africa by the way in which Theroux describes distant places like Sudan or Mozambique.

Malgudi Days by RK Narayan

Recommended by Khusboo from Munni of All Trades 

 

RK Narayan once famously remarked, he has to look only out of the window to pick up a character and thereby a story. Malgudi Days is a true testament to this. Set in the fictional town of Malgudi, RK Narayan describes life in a typical small town of India through his short stories.

What makes the stories stand apart is their simple yet engaging narration, the author’s wicked sense of humor and vibrant imagination. RK Narayan beautifully portrays people from all walks of life and characters range from a regular person to even a cat.

These short stories will make your laugh (Cat Within or The Snake Song), some will compel you to think (Hungry Child) and others will bring you to tears (Ishwaran). Each story is a world on its own and introduces you to yet another face of India.

What makes Malgudi Days fascinating is that the characters are likable, relatable and their stories, while setting in in the 1960s, are relevant even today.

Malgudi Days is all about human fragilities, their innocence and their daily struggles as they work towards their aspiration.  These stories have been adapted to movies and serials but it’s the book that is my absolute favorite.

The Shepherd’s Life – a tale of the Lake District by James Rebanks

Recommended by Nancy from Map and Family

The Lake District is one of the most beautiful parts of the UK. It’s a region of lakes and mountains in Cumbria in the northwest of England, famously scenic and a popular holiday destination, especially for walkers and climbers, 16 million people visit every year. 

James Rebanks was born here into a family of sheep farmers who has lived and worked in the valleys for at least six centuries.

Despite an Oxford degree, that’s exactly what James does now and he discusses the contrast between the realities of life in the landscape he knows and loves and the romantic version of the Lakes held by many who visit. 

He says the book is the story of a family and a farm throughout the year, and you’ll learn about sheep, dogs, lambing, and wildlife. But it’s more than that.

He writes lyrically about the landscape, affectionately about his daily life but he has political points to make too. It’s a countryside classic and a must-read if you ever plan to visit the Lakes. You can follow him on Twitter too, for daily insights into fell farming life. 

Time Was Soft There by Jeremy Mercer

Recommended by Wendy of The Nomadic Vegan

This memoir is Jeremy Mercer’s account of the five months he spent living inside the Shakespeare and Company bookstore in Paris.

A crime reporter in Canada who found himself receiving death threats from a disgruntled criminal, Jeremy took off with nowhere to go and very little money, and he ended up in Paris. Luckily, he stumbled upon Shakespeare and Company, an iconic English-language bookstore right across from Notre Dame.

The elderly owner, George Whitman, who was once a penniless vagabond himself, allowed Jeremy and anyone else who wanted to sleep inside the bookstore for free. The only requirements were that George’s “tumbleweeds”, as he called them, must write a one-page autobiography, help out in the store for a couple of hours each day, and read one book every day.

Jeremy stayed there for five months, meeting many other travelers and lost souls from all over the world who passed through the bookstore. And while George Whitman sadly passed away in 2011 at the age of 98, the bookstore still lives on.

His daughter, Sylvia Whitman, has added a few modern touches, including an attached café serving scrumptious vegan and vegetarian food in the heart of Paris. But the bookstore is as magical and ramshackle as ever, and it’s still run by the motto: “Be kind to strangers, lest they be angels in disguise”.

READ: Guide to Paris and an itinerary for first-time travelers 

Wild Pork and Watercress by Barry Crump 

Recommended by Jub from Chur New Zealand

 

Set in a remote part of forest land in New Zealand’s North Island, Riki is close to being taken into social welfare before his Uncle Hec lets him go and join him living in the bush.

They’re avoiding authorities throughout and have ups and downs in their relationship and situation, but Riki becomes intimate with the bush and Uncle Hec begins to appreciate having Riki around. They also have close encounters with a variety of people, including some who know they’re on the run, but often find people are happy to keep their dream going.

That’s until they can go on no longer thanks to the isolated life in the bush away from society.

What I love about the book is it does reflect how much of the Kiwi bush is. While it’s great to stick to the main hiking trails, once you start to venture off them, everything gets rugged and it doesn’t take long to feel like you’ll never escape.

They also forage in creative ways, which shows how another way of living is sustainable. After reading the book, I’ve reached the Mount Hector summit of the Tararua Ranges, and am now getting a first-hand sample of how rugged the bush is.

The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa

Recommended by Laura from What’s Hot Blog

 

The Travelling Cat Chronicles is one of the best Japanese novels to be released in recent years and gives a wonderful insight into Japanese culture. It tells the story of Satoru and Nana the crooked-tailed cat as they go on an adventure around Japan. 

Nana has no idea why they’re off on this journey as Satoru takes Nana to visit his old friends and acquaintances but this book serves as an important reminder that it’s all about the journey and not about the destination. 

The pair travel through Japan’s changing seasons and visit Mount Fuji, Sapporo, the seaside and more. Japanese people are fascinated by cats and a lot of Japanese literature revolves around our feline friends. 

The novel is partly narrated by Nana which gives us a hilarious insight into the mind of a cat and how they perceive human norms. Perhaps they’re not so normal at all! Witty and beautiful as this story is, make sure you have a box of tissues nearby as you’ll be needing them for the last chapter.

Love and Gelato by Jenna Evans 

Recommended by Megan from Red around the World

Lina’s mother is dying and all she wants is for Lina to get to know her father. But Lina is only sixteen and she really doesn’t want to go.  She doesn’t know anyone and her friends aren’t there.  

However, she decides to go and once she gets there, she is given a journal her mother wrote when she lived in Italy.  

Lina meets her charming neighbor, Ren, and they follow her mother’s footsteps around Tuscany and Florence uncovering more than she ever knew about her parents while learning about herself along the way.  She is pleasantly surprised by her love for Italy and everything it has to offer.  

Love and Gelato is a fun young adult story for anyone dreaming of visiting Italy or looking for inspiration to travel.  It’s lighthearted and full of self-discovery, fun, and a little romance.  

I loved reading this to feel like I was living vicariously through Lina, getting to explore a dream destination.  Whether you’re visiting Italy for fun or to get to know your long lost father or just visiting through the book, Love and Gelato will have you dreaming of the Tuscan countryside and the cozy streets of Florence. 

On the Road by Jack Kerouac

Recommended by Jeremy from BestTravelDrone.com 

Technically, On the Road is a piece of non-fiction, but in classic Beat Generation style, it really lies somewhere in between fiction and non-fiction.

This story, which features a fictionalized version of author Kerouac, follows his mostly true journey across the United States. This booze, jazz, and poetry filled rant use Kerouac’s now-famous “spontaneous prose” style of writing which is best described as a stream of consciousness with lots of weird moments, but some truly epic lines including this famous quote:

There was nowhere to go but everywhere, so just keep on rolling under the stars”

The Beach by Alex Garland 


The Beach is one of the must-read travel and self discovery books. It is written by British backpacker – Alex Garland, who travels in search of an ‘ideal’ paradise. 

The story’s protagonist is Richard and the book about his travels throughout Southeast Asia. As a young westerner, he is intrigued by the new culture and landscapes. He learns about ‘The Beach’, a place that is forbidden and is only accessible to a selected few.

The Beach has been inspirational in encouraging gap year students to travel, and travel to Asian/low budget destinations to explore the world on their own. A gap year is great to discover and learn about yourself. 

We hope you enjoyed this list of books about self discovery, travel, and wanderlust. We will leave you with this quote from Anita Desai,

Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow.”

 

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you click one of them, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

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5 Comments

  1. I can’t believe I’ve never read any of these books! I have heard such great things about The Alchemist too!! Okay, now that I have time, I am definitely sitting down to read at least one book from this list!

  2. Hi Mayuri,

    I was browsing your list of book recommendations during my Covid homestay looking for my next read. I’ve read On the Road, Dharma Bums and Down Under and really liked them.
    I think you would really enjoy Highway of Diamonds: an international travel adventure by J. Jaye Gold. I got hooked by the adventure story and came to really appreciate the subtle life lessons woven throughout. Thank you for sharing your recommendations.

    All the best to you,
    Steve

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