Picture it: You’re on a cross-country train hurtling west, the sun dipping below the horizon. The din of voices from just beyond the cabin envelops you as you crack the spine of a new book. So, okay: You’re actually in your living room, sitting on your couch, a car alarm blaring on the street corner outside. Our point? There’s quite simply nothing like a great book to transport you and ignite wanderlust for places and faces unknown. It’s a handy power, really, because it may not always be in the cards to drop everything and embark on a journey. Sometimes, reading about one can be almost as wondrous and inspiring. To get you in an adventure-seeking state of mind, we’ve rounded up nine books of every stripe that will feed your travel itch.
The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux ($13)
An account of a four-month journey by train from England across Asia, The Great Railway Bazaar defies all conventions of a typical travelogue. Unconcerned with dry details and recording, Theroux’s narrative chronicles fleeting visual impressions, bits of conversations gleaned from the plentiful strange and mysterious characters encountered along the way, and everything in between. Written in 1975, it is still as rousing a call to get up and go as ever.
Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer ($11)
Jon Krakauer tells the real-life story of hitchhiker and Emory University grad Chris McCandless’ time in the Alaskan wilderness. The book is vivid and thought-provoking as it recounts McCandless’ journey, which ultimately led to his tragic death.
On the Road by Jack Kerouac ($14)
Jack Kerouac’s Beat Generation classic, penned in 1957, remains a modern-day bible for those with restless hearts and itchy feet. We follow our protagonist Sal as he leaves New York City and heads west along the railways, encountering a colorful cast of characters in the process. It personified the uncertainty and longing of a period often associated with uniformity, a theme that still resonates with readers.
Open City: A Novel by Teju Cole ($11)
Wanderlust doesn’t always come in the form of mountain lookouts and dusty back roads. Open City paints a portrait of modern wanderlust in the form of a man wandering New York, interacting with people, mulling over thoughts, and serving as a modern-day flâneur of sorts. The book may either make you wish to leave or visit New York, depending on where you’re reading from.
Atlas of Remote Islands: Fifty Islands I Have Not Visited and Never Will by Judith Schalansky ($23)
If you find yourself feeling jaded or otherwise uninspired by a perceived lack of possibility, Atlas of Remote Islands will serve up a swift antidote. Pages are filled with gorgeously detailed maps of isolated, far-off islands in the Arctic, Atlantic, Indian, Pacific, and Antarctic Oceans, each one accompanied by population details, history, and lore. It should feed your imagination for discovery and then some.
The Hobbit; or, There and Back Again by J.R.R. Tolkien ($10)
One of the most iconic tales of setting out on an adventure with no clear understanding of what lies ahead, Tolkein’s The Hobbit tells the story of Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit, who by assumption no one would ever consider a journeyman, and all of the fantastical scenarios he encounters. Middle Earth is a very big, very dangerous place for such a small being, and Tolkein paints the world in vivid, plentiful detail.
Travels with Charley in Search of America by John Steinbeck ($9)
Travels with Charley serves as author John Steinbeck’s travelogue of the 1960 road trip across America he took with his dog Charley. Setting out to regain his connection with America, Steinbeck’s account of his journey will make readers want to hit the road and see the states.
In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson ($9)
Chronicling a journey throughout Australia, In a Sunburned Country takes us from east to west, through mining towns and forgotten coastal cities, and up against feelings of awe and fear inspired by the beauty and danger of the author’s travels. It’s packed with facts and trivia about the country, which were fueled by Bryson’s unflinching curiosity and thirst for discovery.
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed ($9)
Wild is more than just the story of a journey through the wilderness of the Pacific Crest Trail—or a book that inspired a Reese Witherspoon blockbuster. Rather, it’s the story of one woman’s path through the wilderness of her demons. It’s a poignant telling, one that, in addition to inspiring you to hit the trail, will remind you of the immense power that lies within each of us to grow and evolve.
Opener photo by Kevin Russ.
Have you read any of these books? Would you add any to the list? Tell us in the comments.