Five Wonderful Travel Books You Should Read

Here’s a list of five great travel-related books (in no particular order) that I recommend any and all to give a read.  They’re all quite different from each other and each author provides his own unique outlook on the world.  They should be on every travelers bookshelf.

Babylon by Bus: Or, the true story of two friends who gave up their valuable franchise selling YANKEES SUCK T-shirts at Fenway to find meaning and adventure in Iraq,

Two young Americans ditch their Yankees Suck t-shirt business and make their way to Iraq during the first year of the American Invasion.  That was all I needed to read before I purchased this book!  Babylon by Bus chronicles their experience in and out of the green zone from their drug use to mask the sounds of bombs exploding to their interactions with coalition forces which result in NGO work aiming to help Iraqis.

It’s an easy read, fun, and also allows you to step inside Baghdad from an outsider’s point of view.

Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?: A Swashbuckling Tale of High Adventures, Questionable Ethics, and Professional Hedonism

Drugs, debauchery, and writing for Lonely Planet.  That’s Do Travel Writers Go to Hell? in a nutshell.  Thomas Kohnstamm chronicles his experience in giving up everything he had in life to go to Brazil and write for Lonely Planet.  This results is more trouble than you could ever one person getting into, an impossible writing workload and the author’s conflicted feelings about guidebooks and the gringo trail.

The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World

Part travel narrative, part scientific study, NPR’s Eric Weiner aims to find the happiest countries on earth and figure out what makes the people so happy.  Wealth, social equality, and beautiful weather are popular explanations yet Weiner realized they have little to do with the places that are happiest.

Marco Polo Didn’t Go There: Stories and Revelations from One Decade as a Postmodern Travel Writer

I previously reviewed Marco Polo Didn’t Go There but decided it needed to be included in this list as well.

This collection of Rollf Potts’ travel stories include a commentary about why and how he wrote each and every one.

A great resource for the aspiring travel writer, but also a great read for anybody who will enjoy Potts unique outlook on his experiences and encounters around the world.

The Great Railway Bazaar

Paul Theroux’s classic travel narrative of his journey along the Trans-Siberian Express is over 30 years old but still holds up remarkably well.  Theroux has become one of the most respected and read authors in the world and this is the book that started it all.

Sometimes brash and unapologetic about the characters he meets, some people find him off putting but it’s his brutal honesty that gains respect from everybody else.  His vivid descriptions of the people he meets and places he sees is colorful, but not overly adjectve-laiden like many lesser authors.  You will definitely feel as if you are on the railway car over 30 years ago while reading this classic.

4 Replies to “Five Wonderful Travel Books You Should Read”

  1. I haven’t read ‘The Great Railway Bazaar’ but intend to in the next few weeks. One thing I’ve learned about Theroux is that you’ll learn more about Theroux (or the character of Theroux, travel writer) as you do about the place he is writing about. But I guess that’s true of all travel writers. Also intend to read Rolf Pott’s newest. I really dug Vagabonding; my wife is reading it now. Actually, I’d like to check all of these out. Thanks for the list!

  2. Just finished Kohnstamm’s “Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?” per the recommendation. I definitely found it to be a fun read and quick too.

    I get very strong Hunter Thompson vibes coming from this book. Like Daniel says above, as with many travel writers, you learn more about the writer than the actual places they go to – this book follows that pattern.

    Strongest underlying moral is the question that is cast over the romance of travel writing as a representation of the cycle he describes: travel writers write about a place, people go there in droves, it becomes “tourist hell”, travel writers have to keep writing about it or business goes to shit and locals suffer. But travel writers gotta make a living too, so the cycle must go on.

    I still think I’d be a Lonely Planet writer if given the opportunity though…

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