Best Travel Books To Fuel Your Wanderlust

In this crazy world full of technology we currently live in there is still one form of innocent freedom we can run to in order to escape it all. Okay, this too may now be in ‘E’ form, but the trusty book is a solid feature in any traveller’s backpack. Maybe it’s because we have more time, maybe our heads are clearer, maybe we are more inspired, but for whatever reason: when we travel, we read more.

So this wasn’t hard for us lot over at Workaway. Through battered pages, sea soaked edges and scribbled words we give you our list of the best books to read while travelling:

1. Stories of the Sahara, by Sanmao

Stories of the Sahara invites us into Sanmao’s extraordinary life in the desert: her experiences of love and loss, freedom and peril, all told with a voice as spirited as it is timeless.

The OG female traveller! If you’re looking to travel back to a time when travel was just really beginning for a lot of the world, especially in Asia – then follow this Taiwanese woman’s journey to the Sahara desert and how she made a life there with her Spanish husband. There are many things we learn through her experience of travel, love, resilience, empathy and kindness. Maybe through her stories it can awaken new perspectives and more empathy for those who live or experience life differently to us too!

book cover stories of the Sahara

2. The Cloud Garden, by Tom Hart Dyke & Paul Winder

The story of the infamous 2000 kidnapping of botanist Tom Hart Dyke and adventurer Paul Winder in the Darien Gap. Ambushed while searching for orchids, Paul and Tom were held captive by FARC Guerrillas for the nine months. This book tells a story of endurance, courage and their journey from captivity to freedom.

This jaw-dropping true story will stay with you long after the pages are turned. Especially for those that have explored around Colombia and Panama and heard the tales. The fact that the travellers (and authors) sound no different from you and I really captures you from the start.

book cover cloud garden

3. Marching Powder, by Rusty Young

Rusty was backpacking in South America when he heard about Thomas McFadden, a convicted English drug trafficker who ran tours inside Bolivia’s notorious San Pedro prison. Intrigued, the twenty-something Australian law graduate travelled to La Paz and joined one of Thomas’s illegal tours. What followed took both men by surprise: they formed a strong and instant friendship and then became partners in an attempt to record Thomas’s experiences in the jail. Marching Powder is a shocking, darkly comic account of the life in San Pedro.

I think there are little travellers left that haven’t read this. It is passed around hostels and hammocks all around the world. There is just something inside us that is intrigued about what life is like inside a prison and this real life account makes you feel like you have actually been there yourself. A great insight to what the drug trade used to look like in South America. Amazingly (once you have read it you will know why I say that) it is still an operating prison in Bolivia that you can actually see from the side of one of the streets in La Paz.

Marching Powder book by Rusty Young

4. Disappearing Earth, by Julia Phillips

We are transported to vistas of rugged beauty – densely wooded forests, open expanses of tundra, soaring volcanoes and the glassy seas that border Japan and Alaska – and into a region as complex as it is alluring, where social and ethnic tensions have long simmered, and where outsiders are often the first to be accused.

The perfect book if you’re looking to explore parts of Russia you’ve never explored before! This book goes into detail on the lesser known Siberian peninsula of Kamchatka – in the thick of the story the setting is explored! You’ll get inside knowledge from an author who’s both studied and lived in Russia, on the vast landscape and the culture of those living there. 

book cover disappearing earth

5. Honeymoon, by Patrick Modiano

It parallels the story of Jean B., a filmmaker who abandons his wife and career to hole up in a Paris hotel, with that of Ingrid and Rigaud, a refugee couple he’d met twenty years before, and whose mystery continues to haunt him.

A man travels not just to different locations but also back and forth in time in his mind! If you’re interested in poetic works that explore perspective and propose intriguing questions on life and how we live it, this is a good one to check out. These days, going deeper into what it means to be alive is always intriguing AND it can give us new insights we wouldn’t have otherwise realized! 

honeymoon book cover

6. Lois on the Loose, by Lois Pryce – Writer Sarah’s Top Pick

Lois on the Loose is the story of a single women who jacked in her job at the BBC in London and set off alone to ride 20,000 miles from Alaska to Argentina on a motorbike. If you’ve ever dreamed of escaping the day job for a life on the road, this book is for you.

This book has a lot of ‘Girl Power’ credits due, however successfully identifies with both sexes by making it more about the journey than the destination. This badass of a bike babe will leave you laughing and kicking yourself that you too haven’t ridden halfway across the world on a motorbike yet.

lois on the loose book cover

7. Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts

Set in the underworld of contemporary Bombay. Shantaram is narrated by Lin, an escaped convict with a false passport who flees maximum security prison in Australia for the teeming streets of a city where he can disappear. 

Accompanied by his guide and faithful friend, Prabaker, the two enter Bombay’s hidden society of beggars and gangsters, prostitutes and holy men, soldiers and actors, and Indians and exiles from other countries, who seek in this remarkable place what they cannot find elsewhere.
Based in India, this novel captures you from page one as you follow an heroin addicted bank robber who has escaped from prison and illegally makes his way to Mumbai. His descriptive explanations of the smells and sights in India will leave you either buying a one-way ticket to there or cancelling your one home.

shantaram  book by Gregory David Roberts

8.  Where The Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak – Workaway team David’s Top Pick

One night Max puts on his wolf suit and makes mischief of one kind and another, so his mother calls him ‘Wild Thing’ and sends him to bed without his supper. That night a forest begins to grow in Max’s room and an ocean rushes by with a boat to take Max to the place where the wild things are. Max tames the wild things and crowns himself as their king, and then the wild rumpus begins.

Because we are all kids at heart (especially David) If you haven’t read the book, the likelihood is you have seen the film, the great thing about turning back to the paperback is you can escape in the words, imagine you are Max and are fighting off big grizzling mythical (?) creatures.

Where the Wild Things are

9. Eat Pray Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert

Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia is a 2006 memoir by American author Elizabeth Gilbert. 

The memoir chronicles the author’s trip around the world after her divorce and what she discovered during her travels.
Another staple in many backpack side pockets. One woman’s quest to overcome personal sorrows through travel is something we can all relate to. 
A great example that travel heals the soul and continues to help us grow.
And let’s be honest, all us girls kind of want to be her. Also much better than the film.

Eat Pray Love

10. The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy, by Douglas Adams – Workaway team Alicia’s Top Pick

Seconds before the Earth is demolished to make way for a galactic freeway, Arthur Dent is plucked off the planet by his friend Ford Prefect, a researcher for the revised edition of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy who, for the last fifteen years, has been posing as an out-of-work actor.
Together this dynamic pair begin a journey through space aided by quotes from The Hitchhiker’s Guide (“A towel is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have”) and a galaxy-full of fellow travellers

What is it with our Workaway staff and the make-belief world (I think we have been travelling too long)? Two-headed three-armed ‘humans’ that pick up girls at cocktail parties versus ball-point-pen stealing robots will leave you some what confused yet in complete hysterics. Mid-day coconut and Hitchhikers Guide? Yes please!

hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy book cover

11. The Language of Cherries, by Jen Marie Hawkins 

When Evie Perez is cut off from everything she loves and forced to move to Iceland for the summer, she takes her canvas and paintbrushes into the picturesque cherry orchard behind her guesthouse. She stains her lips with stolen cherries in the midnight sun and paints a boy shes never met.

This YA novel has a whimsical view of exploring both a place and a people. It transports readers to Iceland through the perspective of a young Cuban-American artistic girl who travels there to escape life in the big city of New York. Evie ends up finding a beautiful cherry tree and the rest is history! It is what is called a ‘slow-burn’ kind of love story but it’s worth it if you’d like to have a warm cup of tea and settle into a magical view of somewhere new. It’s also filled with lots of flowery and poetic language. 

language of cherries book cover

12. The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho

Paulo Coelho’s masterpiece tells the magical story of Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd boy who yearns to travel in search of a worldly treasure as extravagant as any ever found.
The story of the treasures Santiago finds along the way teaches us, as only a few stories can, about the essential wisdom of listening to our hearts, learning to read the omens strewn along life’s path, and, above all, following our dreams.

No list of travel books would be complete without perhaps the most famous of them all. And rightfully so. This book has the ability to adapt to everyone’s imagination, each one of us will take something different from it, but ultimately the tale of the journey confirms in us exactly why it is we travel. Not to be dismissed ‘because everyone reads it’ – there is a reason for this!

The Alchemist book by Paulo Coelho

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About Alicia

Alicia helps run Workaway mission control in Hong Kong, she's also our marketing whiz and helps with design. She has backpacked, travelled and volunteered extensively in many different parts of the w... show more...

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