Getting lost in a good book is almost as good as getting lost on the streets of a new city. So, even when your closest destination is your favorite armchair, you can conjure up visions of your next jaunt to a foreign land just by turning the page (or tapping the screen) of a stand-out novel. With that in mind, we’ve curated some of the globe’s best travel books to spark your wanderlust – just grab your cup of coffee, curl up and criss-cross the world in search of inspiration.
1. Thailand – The Beach by Alex Garland
It’s one of the world’s most legendary travel novels made even more famous by Leonardo di Caprio’s compelling portrayal of Richard in the later blockbuster film. It’s The Beach, a utopian tale which chronicles the journey of a young British backpacker in search of a mythical enclave on a remote Thai island.
While the inspiration for Garland’s book actually came from the idyllic island of Palawan in the Philippines, the book is set in Thailand and sparked such a huge upturn in tourism that some of its locations, like Maya Bay in Koh Phi Phi, had to be closed to the public.
Regardless of the closure, it’s still worth turning the pages of The Beach to not only immerse yourself in island life but also to follow this thrilling story of a witch hunt, a rebellion and even a shark attack.
2. India – Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
You can almost smell the fragrant spices wafting from the pages of Gregory David Robert’s acclaimed book, Shantaram.
Focusing on the semi-autobiographical story of Lin, an escaped convict from Australia who somehow makes his way to Mumbai, the book delves into the decay of this captivating city. You’ll simultaneously love and loathe Lin as he runs a clinic in the slum, courts Karla, the apparent love of his life, and even finds himself in Afghanistan smuggling weapons.
With rich descriptions straddling the slums and high society of Mumbai, anyone who has ever dreamed of setting foot in India should be adding this book to their must-read shelf.
3. Croatia – Under a Croatian Sun by Anthony Stancomb
It might not be the most original title for a holiday read but Anthony Stancomb’s Under a Croatian Sun is a slightly frothy, definitely funny account of the author and his wife, Ivana’s, decision to sell up their home in the UK, quit the proverbial rat race and move to the sleepy Croatian island of Vis.
What ensues is a typically British tale of a polite English couple adjusting to the more charming island life and trying desperately to fit into local village culture.
Other than the many laughs between the pages of this novel, you’ll also find vivid descriptions of Croatia, from the azure Mediterranean ocean to the winding cobbled streets of the more remote isles like Vis, Split or Korcula.
4. South Africa – Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton
It’s the most famous book about South Africa and read by thousands of high school students across the world. But just because it’s set literature doesn’t mean that Cry the Beloved Country is any less compelling.
The most heart-wrenching of the books on this epic travel reading list, Paton’s novel unfolds in the melting pot of cultures that is South Africa. An achingly beautiful story of a Zulu pastor and his son, the novel looks at themes of racial injustice set against the striking landscapes of South Africa.
If it doesn’t inspire you to travel to South Africa, it will at least cause you to shed a tear. After all, 15 million readers of the book can’t be wrong…
5. Malaysia – Kampung Boy by Lat
If you’re looking to try something a little different before landing in the magnificent country of Malaysia, then Kampung Boy is the read for you.
A flawlessly illustrated graphic novel, it explores the early life of a young boy named Lat as he grows up in a village (a “kampung”) in the rural area of Perak in the 1960s.
The simple line drawings of the now famous cartoonist are in stark contrast to his autobiographical text as it tells the story of his early life in Malaysia, his time on the tin mines and his coming of age. It’s a charming story which sees beautiful depictions of his village but also, later, of the bustling city of Ipoh where you’ll almost taste the signature white coffee on your lips.
This is one of the most famous novels set in Southeast Asia and one of the bestselling books from Malaysia.
6. Argentina (Chile, Venezuela, Bolivia and Colombia) – Life and Death in the Andes by Kim MacQuarrie
Have a passion for history and a lust for South America? Shake up the two and you’ll feel right at home amidst the chapters of Life and Death in the Andes.
Using the backdrop of the Andes, the longest mountain range in the world, MacQuarrie weaves together a tapestry of distinct and compelling stories that will have you dusting off your hiking boots and hopping on the first plane to see Patagonia in person.
From drug-lord Pablo Escobar’s reign in Colombia to Charles Darwin, the famed scientist whose time in Argentina saw the beginnings of his theory of evolution. From Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid who escaped to the mountains to evade criminal prosecution to Che Guevara’s revolution in Bolivia – all of these (and more) are stories of the Andes and of South America that will have you itching for more.
7. Australia – Down Under by Bill Bryson
Keen on a tale of kangaroos and koala bears? It can only be a novel set in the continent that doubles as a country: Australia.
And the best book fodder for your virtual trip to Oz? It’s got to be Down Under, also known as In a Sunburned Country, by bestselling author Bill Bryson.
Sitting pretty in the category of ‘travelogue’, Bryson practically skips across the country, recounting everything from the chequered history to the size of the spiders and everything in between.
If you love a bit of self-deprecating wit and want to pair that with a thrilling account of Australian life, this is the book to kick off your global journey through literature.
8. Italy (Indonesia and India) – Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll probably have heard of Eat, Pray, Love. And it’s possibly a hack to include one book to cover three countries but Gilbert’s portrayal of Italy, Indonesia and Italy makes for fascinating reading.
Now a major motion picture featuring Julia Roberts, the novel follows Gilbert’s own quest to find ‘herself’ as she shovels large plates of pasta in places like Naples or the Amalfi Coast, searches for enlightenment in an ashram in India and finds balance (and smoothie bowls) in Indonesia.
It’s a rollercoaster ride of a book as you swap gelato for nasi goreng but it’s arguable that the book is one of this ‘bucket list’ items you’ll need to devour before attempting to visit any of these nations.
9. Singapore – Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
Another book that has inspired a smash hit film, the satirical prose of Crazy Rich Asians is a pretty fitting tribute to its host nation: Singapore. At its heart a love story for more modern times, the book explores an ill-fated romance between billionaire playboy, Nick, and the unassuming Rachel as they travel from New York City to his home in Singapore.
While the characters themselves are a delight – you’ll adore Su Yi, the matriarchal grandmother and tomboy rich girl Goh Peik Lin – it’s the setting that will have you racing to the end. From the sparkling Supertree Grove and Marina Bay Sands Hotel to the hot and humid hawker stalls, it will definitely transport you to the heart of Singapore.
10. USA – Wild by Cheryl Strayed
While you might question the author’s sanity in deciding to hike solo on the 1,100 mile Pacific Crest Trail in the USA with zero experience, you definitely can’t question her ability to pen a compelling memoir.
An international chart-topper, Wild depicts Strayed’s journey with an overladen backpack starting in the dusty Mojave Desert and trekking across the wide stretch of California and Oregon to end up in Washington State. Subsequently made into a huge Hollywood film starring Reese Witherspoon, Wild is the perfect book for anyone thinking of exploring the wide expanse of the United States, albeit with a bit more hiking skill!