After I published my collection of travel based essays called Big Apple, Black Sand and the Midnight Sun, I found myself in many conversations about travel and adventure with readers, family, and friends.
So I started asking them what books they loved that inspired the feeling, sentiment or literal act of travel.
This is a collection of their responses!
These are the best travel- and adventure-based books that have been recommended to me.
No doubt, these books will inspire you to travel, and make new adventures of your own.
Better yet, they might help to remind each of us that the journey doesn’t stop when the travel ends — we need to keep journeying deeply into an authentic and meaningful living, even in our own backyards!
Please note – These links are affiliate links and if you decide to buy a book through the links below, I will earn a small commission, which helps keep this website running.
#1) Travels with Charley in Search of America by John Steinbeck
Janice in Virginia recommends this John Steinbeck classic from the famed author of more than twenty-five novels, including Tortilla Flat, The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men.
Travels with Charley is a true story and memoir, not a novel, as Steinbeck takes a road trip across the United States of America in 1960 alongside his French poodle Charley to re-discover (or, perhaps, first discover) the identity of his country and himself.
A journey of rediscovery of self by one of the best American authors of the 20th century? Count me in.
Great recommendation Janice, thank you!
#2) Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayers
Erick in Miami recommends this memoir by poet, gourmet cook and travel writer Frances Mayers who takes up an abandoned villa in Tuscany, Italy.
Living as best she can as a local Italian, Mayers engrosses herself in the food traditions of Northern Italy but learns the delicate and artful style of life.
A personal narrative and story that includes recipes and dialogue on food culture, this book may inspire you to dig a little deeper into the food traditions of wherever you may travel next.
#3) Shantaram: A Novel by Gregory David Roberts
Kylie recommends a wild and vivid autobiographical novel by Gregory David Roberts, who himself is a former heroin addict and criminal turned escapee, international fugitive, medical clinician and now a professional writer.
Shantaram is an epic in itself that takes the reader on an adventure of the criminal underground and black-market escapades that the protagonist finds only by way of heartbreak and disillusionment with his life.
Considered deeply thought-provoking and rich with interesting characters, Shantaram is more like fantasy meets real-life adventure that may well inspire bravery, though hopefully not criminal behavior. :)
#4) Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel by Rolf Potts
Brandi in Houston recommends a guide to long-term world travel that is rich with travel philosophy and inspiration meant to motivate a solo traveler with a dream to see the world to finally take up the path and walk it.
Most reviewers seem to agree that this book is less a hand-guide to prepare yourself for travel and more the motivational and philosophical nudge to assemble your True Self and leap into a vagabonding lifestyle.
Perhaps this book will inspire an entire paradigm shift that will help you break free from the expectations and status quo you have set for yourself–whether you travel the world or not.
#5) Oh! The Places You Will Go by Dr. Seuss
Jenna in Portland recommends the Dr. Seuss classic that most of us enjoyed as children.
For millions of adults, the message of Dr. Seuss still rings true years after first experiencing his lighthearted tales and remarkable rhymes.
Maybe the best inspiration you can find to be true to yourself and infuse your life with more joy and astonishment is to return to a state of childlike wonder.
This book will help you reconnect with that.
#6) On the Road by Jack Kerouac
Ken in California recommends the underground classic of mid-century America from Jack Kerouac.
With a style described as short, spastic, even knife-like at times, Kerouac’s cross-country American adventure in the mid-20th Century is as much a historical testament to “a world that once was” as it is a snapshot of the modern-day American ideals of freedom and self-determination.
On the Road is certain to inspire you to think, with a raw and wild style that will challenge you to feel.
#7) Last Chance to See by Douglas Adams
Sarah in Rhode Island describes Last Chance to See as beautiful and tragic as best-selling author Douglas Adams and a team travel to document endangered species across the globe.
Though it is heart-rending to witness the plight of beautiful creatures and habitats all over the world, Adams manages to infuse humor and lightness in this travelogue that somehow does not detract from his deeply informative descriptions–the humor indeed adds much to them.
With an abundance of lessons to inspire conservationism and global responsibility, Last Chance to See may well cause you to look at your own corner of the world with more reverence, wonder and admiration.
#8) The Zanzibar Chest by Aidan Hartley
Joe in Florida recommends this memoir from a famed front-line reporter who ventures across Africa to discover his family legacy in a continent engulfed by strife and post-colonial tragedy even two centuries on.
Described as gripping and even harrowing at times, Hartley paints a vivid picture of the history and modern-day struggles of post-colonial states in Africa through not only the lens of his family and stories from his father but also with the journalistic precision that finds “truth” lodged someplace among oversimplified or outright stereotypical Western, outsider narratives.
An unforgettable tale, this book will help you see the lives and legacies of colonialism more deeply and with greater precision to the humanity and tragedy than news headlines might share.
#9) Aleph by Paulo Coelho
This is my recommendation, and one of the more recent novels by the best-selling author of The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho.
In this vivid and mysterious novel, Paulo takes us on a journey that begs you to ask if this book is a novel or an autobiographical tale. The protagonist is named Paulo, he is a best-selling author on a personal crisis of identity, and he is led by spiritual teachers to rediscover his faith.
To do this, Paulo departs on a book tour on a cross-country rail across thousands of miles in Russia, where he meets mysterious characters and drifts backward in time to remember past lives and karmic wrongs done unto soul-mates. Entertaining, engaging and curious, this book will invite you to consider your spiritual journey through forgiveness, faith, and love.
#10) Big Apple, Black Sand and the Midnight Sun by Dave Ursillo
Of course, a shameless plug for the book that inspired this amazing list!
Big Apple, Black Sand and the Midnight Sun (September 2014) is a collection of 15 essays penned across a 13,000-mile journey by me, striving to discover how to live a meaningful life.
The Dark Zone of Lower Manhattan after super-storm Sandy. Flying cross-country into Boston during the Boston Marathon Bombings. Heartbreak and hilarity in Hawaii. Adventure in Iceland. And 13,000 miles of stories in between.
And, what does it mean to live a life that’s true to your purpose? Could adventure, travel and meeting new people make your life’s journey your greatest reward? I hope my book shows you how.
Where will your journey lead you?
My hope by sharing this list is to inspire you to maybe take an adventure or trip of your own.
But, maybe your life doesn’t allow you to pack your bags and take off across the world. Then what?
What I really want for you is to embrace these tales of adventure, risk-taking and journeying so that you might be inspired to dedicate more moments, hours and days of your life to the adage, “The journey in life is the greatest reward.”
You can emulate the feelings that are inspired by travel by changing small facets of your everyday life. Travel is invigorating for the sights, scenes, faces. But what I’ve learned is that the gift of traveling takes us into the zone of the unknown, even discomfort, where we are forced to break from routines and habits and open our minds to see the world–and one another, and ourselves–differently.
Here’s to wherever your journey takes you, my friend.
Honorable mentions: Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert (Nathan), The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho (Ania), Siberia Bound by Alexander Blakely, Balkan Ghosts by Robert Kaplan (Joe), Freedom at Midnight (Kristin).
PS – Please note the above links are Amazon affiliate links, through which I may earn a small commission per sale if you decide to buy directly through one of the above links. However, if you have the option please do consider looking for these books locally and supporting your small town bookstores. :)