Whether you’re en route or at home, a good travel-inspired book goes — and can take you — a long way. Here are some wonderful recommendations of new reads from avid travelers that will keep you entertained (and learning) wherever you are.
Ian Martin Ropke, an enthusiastic boomer traveler and founder and owner of Your Japan Private Tours told us, “I have been traveling widely and internationally since the early 1980s. Currently, my favorite destination is Ecuador in South America. And I am particularly interested in the indigenous peoples and the Incan traditions of the sierra region around Cuenca. Ecuador has lots of water, great beaches, and spectacular mountain and jungle settings.”
“One day, I hope to move to Ecuador and join the thousands of boomers retiring there,” he told us. Until then, reading transports him to many places he has been and hopes to visit. Ian has been fascinated by the Silk Road, “or Silk Roads,” since he was a teenager and that interest has never waned. “Kyoto, Japan, has been my primary work base and it is considered to be the eastern terminus of the longest Silk Road that starts in Brussels, Belgium.” For this reason, he didn’t hesitate to grab a print copy of Lands of Lost Borders: A Journey On The Silk Road by Kate Harris as soon as he read about it.
“Kate Harris elegantly blends broad-strokes history and then takes us into places along the Silk Road that have been all but forgotten. This is what I loved about the book: virtually entering and really exploring villages and landscapes that were almost forgotten by time. This book asks a lot of questions and it’s super personal and surprising. As it should be: Kate Harris did the entire trip by bicycle!”
Lohith Kumar of BlinkVisa recommends The Travel Gods Must Be Crazy: Wacky Encounters in Exotic Lands by Sudha Mahalingam. “The book is funny, witty, and at times scary,” Lohith told us.
“The author’s energy is on a different level. Each chapter in the book speaks about a different country and it is enjoyable to read. The author’s journeys crisscross South and Central Asia, Europe, Africa, India, the Middle East, and Russia, often alone, with great stories in each place. Some of the highlights are she lands up in the Czech Republic without a valid visa and was caught without her yellow fever vaccination in Nairobi airport. She has trekked to Annapurna Base Camp as a senior citizen and went skydiving at age 66. She has been to the jungles of Borneo and seen the pandas at Chengdu. She has walked on an artisanal prototype bridge made entirely of single-origin bamboo and ropes over the river Siang in Yingkiong and lived to tell the tale.”
Satwinder Singh of Citrus Holidays told us his favorite travel destination “has to be Sri Lanka, for its old-world charm, secluded beaches, cultural gems — and because it is just generally a great place to recharge.”
One of his favorite travel books? Rediscovering Travel: A Guide for the Globally Curious by travel writer, videomaker, and New York Times Frugal Traveler columnist Seth Kugel.
“This book is one of my favorites because travel journalist Seth Kugel not only homes in on the love we have for travel, but the organic choices we should make when we do fly abroad, and what it truly means to really enjoy an ‘authentic’ vacation experience in modern-day society.”
“Kugel’s book is aimed at all audiences, too,” Satwinder told us, “which is refreshing to read; it is not a novel which pigeonholes certain types of vacationers. He reaches out to the likes of solo travelers as well as families, who usually have just one week of overseas holiday time to cherish each year. Plus, he offers practical guidelines to abide by, away from many Instagrammers’ heavily-influenced destination recommendations.”
Ian of Your Japan Private Tours also recommends New York Times bestseller To Shake the Sleeping Self: A Journey from Oregon to Patagonia, and a Quest for a Life with No Regret by Jedidiah Jenkins. “This book was one of the best reads of the past 20 years as I knew so little about Latin America and because I knew I might visit certain countries but never have the guts to do the trip overland in a car or on a bike. And as a boomer, it was really special and nostalgic to relive how I used to travel overland in exotic places when I was 30 years old, as the writer of this book is. Jedidiah Jenkins did his trip by bicycle, and he went on the trip because he felt that the days of his youth were quickly coming to an end — he was 30 when he started. The book is less about the physical journey, which is well covered, and more about the inner emotional and spiritual life of the writer, past, present, and future. In the end, he created something that I will never forget: a journey driven by movement that feeds the body and the soul.”
Allison Scola, founder, owner, and curator of Experience Sicily, a small-group tour operator, told us this is a wonderful book. “Keahey truly captures the essence of Sicily — Sicilians themselves — through his travel memoir that explores the island’s history, politics, cuisine, and hidden villages. These are the elements of travel that we bring home in our hearts.”
“Regretfully,” she said, “I’ve had to cancel two of my upcoming small-group tours, so right now we can travel to these places through Keahey’s vivid descriptions into Sicily’s soul.”
In addition to leading tours, Allison’s lectured on Sicily at University of Pennsylvania, The New School, Long Island University, and Queens College, and she is a bona fide cannoli expert who, when she’s stateside, leads the New York Cannoli Crawl. Our takeaway: She’s qualified to recommend good books about Italy!
“While not a traditional travel book,” Danielle Mondus of Rambling Companion told us Where the Crawdads Sing “includes vivid descriptions of the North Carolina marshland. It has topped the New York Times Fiction Bestseller list for 30 weeks throughout 2019 and 2020.”
She went on to say, “I absolutely loved the story for its vivid description of the North Carolina marshland, details on the ecosystem, and the mysterious plot. When we can’t physically travel, we rely on books to take us through space and time. Where the Crawdads Sing accomplishes this goal immediately and seamlessly.”
“Before COVID-19 became a concern, I was in Fort Myers, Florida,” Danielle told us, “and had the opportunity to kayak through the mangroves. Immediately, I thought of Where the Crawdads Sing and was excited to experience an ecosystem similar to what the author describes.”
Recently, she had to cancel trips to Kansas City, Denver, and San Diego. She’s been keeping herself entertained by trying recipes that she learned while traveling. “Yesterday, I recreated Minnesota’s Juicy Lucy in my apartment kitchen,” Danielle told us.
Rainy days (and long delays) happen, even on the best of vacations. And there’s down time between travels, too. That’s why Susan Wildes created the Rainy Day Playbook: Games, Guides and Gratitude Journal while she was house sitting in Costa Rica during a particularly wet and rainy season last year.
“It’s got a little bit of everything in it: games/puzzles; anagrams, Happy Travels is one; mazes, one is an airplane; gratitude pages; sudokus; writing prompts; and even a few simple breathing exercises to help you stay calm,” she told us.
Susan is currently stuck in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico, where she’s decided to hunker down for a bit. “I really don’t have a home anymore in the U.S.,” she told us, “after having left there about three years ago to travel. I will need to go visit my 87-year old dad in Minnesota soon though.”
Her favorite travel destination is classic Paris. “I felt like it was deja vu the first time I visited,” she said, “and I was lucky enough to be able to spend three months there when I was 31, just a block away from Berthillon, the famous ice cream shop. What a dream come true.”
Someone so well traveled definitely knows about passing the time. Even on rainy days.
Johnny Welsh says his most recent book, Paper Maps, No Apps: An Unplugged Travel Adventure, is the perfect antidote for anyone who’s feeling flustered by too much phone usage and screen time. It’s “a romantic comedy on bad smartphone habits that includes a dare, a bet, and a fun solution for the family to try once the dust settles.”
Johnny predicts that we’ll see a big resurgence in road trips once we’re cleared to travel again, and we don’t disagree. In the meantime (or any time), this could be a great read for anyone who values romance, humor, and happy hours.
Will Hatton, CEO of The Broke Backpacker, is an avid reader. He recommended a few books, the first of which is Tuk-Tuk for Two, the story of two strangers who agree to participate in a 600-mile race through India — in an auto rickshaw. Will said it’s “an easy read that will have you chuckling away to yourself.”
Will also suggested Eat, Pray, Love Made Me Do It: Life Journeys Inspired by the Bestselling Memoir, which actually features a forward by Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love and one of my favorite people to follow on social media. Will told us, “This one gives you food for thought.”
Finally, Will suggested The Planets by British particle physicist and professor Brian Cox. “Yes, this might be a little less of a realistic journey,” Will said, “but I assure you, you will be fascinated.”
“I love traveling and exploring,” he told us, “but, until it is safe, I will continue to escape through my books, and I will hopefully find a new destination to travel to through reading about it first.”
Etia.com editor Jennifer Willy recommended a few books for passionate travelers. The first: Literary Places by Sarah Baxter. “The author is a travel journalist who emphasizes the destinations that have been the part of literature books and featured in famous destination guides,” Jennifer told us. “She includes books and places like New York in The Catcher in the Rye and Naples in My Brilliant Friend.” The book also features lovely hand-drawn artwork by Amy Grimes.
If you’re after an even more visual journey, Jennifer recommends The Art of Looking Up by Cathrine McCormack, which she said, “features various beautiful photographs and pictorial features of unique and famous ceilings throughout the world. The historian author features ceilings from places like Vatican Palace in Italy, the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., et cetera.”
Jennifer also recommends Wild Horses of the Summer Sun: A Memoir of Iceland published in May 2019. She told us author Tory Bilski takes readers to Iceland, with its various outdoor wonders and hotspots. The accounts of Bilski’s various Icelandic adventures are tied together by her love for the wild horses who make the unique terrain their home.
Stacy Caprio of the inspiration site her.CEO told us, “A Ripple in Time by Victor Zugg is a great new travel book. It plays with the contrast of travel over physical locations combining with time travel back to the 18th century. The book offers a great way to think about both the past and present as well as imagine what life was like for those who lived before us. I’d recommend it for anyone who wants a mental escape and a fun fiction read based on location- and time-based travel.”
Alpha Ragas founder Sagar Sahay told us his two favorite destinations are Hawaii and Bali as they both have amazing beaches, mountains, good food, and lots of things to do. Given his travel interests, it makes sense that acclaimed novelist Paul Theroux’s 2018 Figures in a Landscape: People and Places is one of Sagar’s favorite travel-inspired books. Sagar told us Theroux “brings Ecuador, Hawaii, and Zimbabwe to life” through the book’s collection of essays. “This is an amazing piece of work.”
Sagar also recommends Theroux’s 2019 On the Plain of Snakes: A Mexican Journey. In it, Theroux introduces his readers to Chiapas and Oaxaca, attends Zapatista party meetings, and more. Sagar said, “Its an interesting tale through Theroux’s eyes.”
If you want a glimpse into a completely different life, and some very diverse Central American experiences and communities, Adventure by Chicken Bus: An Unschooling Odyssey through Central America could be the read for you.
Author Janet LoSole told us, “Embarking on a homeschooling field trip to Central America is stressful enough, but add in perilous bridge crossings, trips to the hospital, and a lack of women’s underwear, and you have the makings of an adventure by chicken bus” — and the tale of how her family, who was buckling under a mountain of debt, sold all their worldly possessions and hit the road.
She said the book “demonstrates how to travel sustainably, but more importantly, how to nurture the next generation of environmentalists and social justice activists by exposing them to the conditions faced by those in the developing world.”
“From a remote monkey sanctuary tucked into an enclave on the Panama-Costa Rica frontier to the overdeveloped beaches of the Mayan Riviera,” Janet’s family endured “chaotic border crossings, infections and injuries,” learned about the history of the civil war in Nicaragua, visited UNESCO heritage sites, and hiked the ancient Mayan temples of Tikal in Guatemala. You can read about all this and more in this unique travelogue.