Ten Books for the Armchair Traveler

Happy Tuesday lovelies! Like a true blue book nerd, I love a good list. This week for Top Ten Tuesday, the folks over at The Broke and the Bookish ask bloggers to list ten books they would recommend to… any person or group of people, like your mom, a reluctant male reader, your teen sister, etc.

armchair traveler

Now, I love to travel. I lived in Australia for a few years as a child, RV-ed around Alaska in middle school, spent four months living in London and traveling around Europe in college, drove to California and back with my sister (also in college), and road tripped around Colorado and Arizona with my family just last summer. We’re an adventurous family, and wanderlust is in my blood. I love the thrill of exploring new places, gazing at a horizon I’ve never seen before, and seeing places I’ve dreamed about for years. When I’m at home, I’m always thinking about my next adventure. And sometimes I like to travel vicariously by reading. Through books, I’ve walked the streets of Prague, made a mad dash across jazz-soaked America, hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, trekked through Tibet, spent a year in Paris, and had dozens of incredible adventures…. all without leaving the couch.

I bring you my top ten books for the armchair traveler! Broken down into fictional tales and memoirs of real adventures, of course.


travel 1

1. On the Road by Jack Kerouac: This is the classic road trip novel for a reason. Join Sal Paradise as he zips back and forth across the country via hopped trains hitchhiked rides. Like most road trips, what’s important in this book isn’t the destination, but the journey; On the Road is a bit light on plot, but it burns with a fiery energy and passion for life. Stops along the way: New York, San Francisco, Denver, Mexico, and a whole host of other places.

2. The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli. Helen is a woman who travels to Vietnam to work as a combat photographer during the final years of the war. I really enjoyed the descriptions of Vietnam in this book; Soli shows her readers everything from the bustling grime of Saigon to the pure beauty of an untouched country village to the forests and rice paddies. This novel says interesting things about the war, but it also has an excellent sense of place.

3. Necessary Errors by Caleb Crain: 20-something American expat trying to find himself in post-revolution Prague. Need I say more? Oh, I do? Then let me add that this book does an excellent job of describing the physical beauty of Prague as well as capturing the atmosphere of a rapidly changing city. It also has rambling philosophical conversations, a few tangled love affairs, and a cast of delightful characters.

4. Wanderers by Edward Belfar: This is actually a short story collection, but each story deals with being far from home. For some characters, this distance is emotional, but others really have traveled far from home; one story is about a man honeymooning in Rome, and a number  of stories are set in Kenya. Belfar’s wife is from Kenya, and the stories set there offer really fantastic descriptions of the land and the culture.

5. Lunch With Buddha by Roland Merullo: Following his wife’s death, middle-aged Otto embarks on a cross-country road trip with his brother-in-law Rinpoche, a world-renowned spiritual man and teacher of Buddhism. The two men experience the beautiful bounty of the untamed West while Otto struggles with his grief and searches for peace of mind. I loved the descriptions of the land the pass through and the people they meet along the way.


7. Paris, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down by Rosecrans Baldwin: When Baldwin, a life-long Francophile is offered the opportunity to move to Paris for a job with an advertising firm, he leaps at the chance — even though he speaks no French and has never worked in advertising. Far from the sophisticated Paris he imagined, Baldwin and his wife find themselves in the Paris of Sarkozy and frozen food from Picard. This is a really amusing story of expat life in Paris, written in a humorous, self-deprecating tone.

6. Wild by Cheryl Strayed: After losing her mother, divorcing her husband, developing an addiction to heroin, and just generally hitting rock bottom, Cheryl Strayed embarks on a thousand-mile solo hike of the Pacific Crest Trail. She is insanely unprepared for this journey but she does it, and finds herself along the way. This memoir is full of lush descriptions and stunning meditations on life. I didn’t exactly want to hike the difficult PCT, myself, after reading this, but I loved reading about Strayed’s journey.

8. Ghost Train to the Eastern Star by Paul Theroux: In 2006, Theroux retraces the steps of his famous 1973 Great Railway Bazaar journey. Beginning in London, he travels by train across Europe and through Asia, as far east as Japan, before taking the Trans Siberian Express back across Russia. He provides fascinating information about the political climates and cultural histories of the places he visits. He also meets many famous authors in their home cities, including Orhan Pamuk and Haruki Murakami!

9. In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson: Bryson recounts his trip around Australia and offers interesting bits of the country’s history along the way. He is a very funny writer, and traveling with him is a lot of fun — especially when he does things like entertain the reader with funny location names found in his map book; among them are Borrumbuttock, Suggan Buggan, and “the supremely satisfying Tittybong.” This book is a really entertaining read that will inspire those curious about Australian culture and the outback.

10. Seven Years in Tibet by Heinrich Harrer. After escaping from an English internment camp in India during WWII, Harrer (who is German), begins a long trek through Tibet to seek asylum in Lhasa. This book provides incredible descriptions of a culture untouched by the Western world, an account of the relationship he develops with the Dalai Lama, and a look at the incredible city of Lhasa before the Chinese takeover in 1950. This memoir is a fascinating read, but its heartbreaking to realize that this Tibet no longer exists.

Now I’ll turn it over to you; what are your favorite travel books?


43 thoughts on “Ten Books for the Armchair Traveler

  1. I just finished On the Road and it got a bit much for me. The first time they crossed the country I enjoyed it and it made me really wish I could do the same thing and have some wild adventures but by the end of the book I just wanted them all to grow up and get a proper job…

    I haven’t read nearly enough Bill Bryson but an extract from one of his books (I think it was Notes from a Big Country) was part of a question on my English GCSE. Not the smartest choice as the teachers had a hard time trying to stop us laughing!

    • Haha I can understand that. I read On the Road when I was 19 and super restless, but it seems like one of those books that might not hold up as well as you age.

      That is an AMAZING thing to have to read for an exam!

      • I think that might be the problem, maybe I would have enjoyed it when I was younger but these days I ‘m too grown-up and responsible to put up with such irrational behaviour haha.

        Oh it was, I couldn’t believe it when I turned the page and saw his name!!

  2. Cool post. I’ve always wanted to read “Paris I love you buy You’re Bringing me Down.” A sort of travel book I really liked was “The Geography of Bliss” by Eric Weiner. “The Sweet Life in Paris” by David Lebovitz was also interesting.

  3. What a great category! I love to be an armchair traveller and some of my favourite books are ones where people have gone abroad to travel/live their dream! I’d recommend Without Reservations and Educating Alice both by Alice Steinbach. Great books!

  4. Awesome list! I’ve never read any of these, but I’ll definitely be adding some to the TBR pile. Thanks for sharing!

  5. You’ve lived in some fascinating places. I’m still hoping to get to Australia relatively soon. And you roadtripped around Colorado last summer? Me too (sort of, as I live here, but it’s a big state). I live in Denver and drove down to Telluride last summer.

    • I hope Australia happens for you! I’d love to return as an adult; I don’t remember a whole lot about it. I did! We were driving around to different National Parks. Now that I think back, only one of the parks we visited was in Colorado (Mesa Verde — the rest were in Arizona and Utah. How did I forget beautiful Utah?), but we did a lot of driving through the mountains. It’s so beautiful there! And we spent a night in Denver on the way home, where I got to meet Allison. Next time I’m there (there WILL be a next time), we’ll all have to get together!

    • You’re going to be even more jealous when I tell you I encountered FAIRY PENGUINS in Australia 😛 I was five when we moved back to the US; I wish I remembered more about it! I did have an insanely cute accent for a while, though.

  6. That’s a fabulous list… Your real-life and book travels sound like a lot of fun. My favorite “travel” books are “A Moveable Feast” for Paris and “Manhattan Transfer” for New York. And I love the fact that they allow me to travel back in time too!

  7. I really need to start reading more travel-friendly books and learn about other cultures. I tend to always stick with the same ones, which is great because I like them but not so great because I feel like I’m missing out. Thanks for the great list!

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