Travel books are a popular genre in the 21st century, combining personal observations and emotions with detailed descriptions and journeys through interesting places. In English, Mary Wollstonecraft was a pioneer, writing about her trip to Scandinavia in 18th century in a way that was quite unusual for the time, as our interview with Emily Thomas about the philosophy of travel makes clear.
Arabic authors are also very important in the travel writing genre. Islam has a rich tradition of travelling to gain knowledge, and it's no surprise we have not one but two interviews on travelling in the Muslim world.
We also have reading recommendations from contemporary travel writers, including Paul Theroux, Colin Thubron and Sara Wheeler. Books that influenced Bruce Chatwin, author of In Patagonia and The Songlines, are recommended by his biographer.
(For books about specific countries—not necessarily travel writing—please look at our 'world' section where books are organized by country).
In The Shadow of the Mountain
by Silvia Vasquez-Lavado
High: A Journey Across the Himalaya, Through Pakistan, India, Bhutan, Nepal, and China
by Erika Fatland, translated by Kari Dickson
Crossed Off the Map: Travels in Bolivia
by Shafik Meghji
The Slow Road to Tehran: A Revelatory Bike Ride through Europe and the Middle East
by Rebecca Lowe
The Po: An Elegy for Italy's Longest River
by Tobias Jones
Every year, Stanfords, the best travel bookshop in the world (in our view), sponsors the Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards, with travel writers and journalists judging the best travel book in a number of categories. Here Cal Flyn, our deputy editor, takes us through the eight books shortlisted for the 2023 ‘Travel Book of the Year’ award, taking us from Bolivia to Singapore via Europe, the Middle East and the top of Mt. Everest.
Travel is a leap in the dark, says Paul Theroux and one that will leave you a different person at the other end. He recommends five travel books that inspired him, from Mark Twain at sea to VS Naipaul in India
One morning in early June, Laurie Lee said goodbye to his mum at the garden gate and went off on an adventure. Is now the moment for you to do the same? Bestselling author and adventurer Alastair Humphreys recommends five books written by adventurers that can’t fail but inspire you to ‘go simple, go solo, go now.’
The much-travelled author Colin Thubron reflects on more than 40 years of writing about other cultures, and shares his own favourite travel reading with us
Mountain Gloom And Mountain Glory: The Development of the Aesthetics of the Infinite
by Marjorie Hope Nicolson
Letters written in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark
by Mary Wollstonecraft
by Henry David Thoreau
The Art of Travel
by Alain de Botton
How to Talk About Places You've Never Been: On the Importance of Armchair Travel
by Michele Hutchison (translator) & Pierre Bayard
At its best, travel broadens our minds, expands our horizons and allows us to see the world we live in differently. But it has also played an important role in the history of philosophy. Emily Thomas, author of The Meaning of Travel: Philosophers Abroad, explores the connections between her two passions—philosophy and travel—at a moment when most of us are unable to leave our houses: perhaps the perfect moment to reflect on travel’s significance for human beings.
With his books In Patagonia and The Songlines, Bruce Chatwin (1940-1989) reinvented travel literature. Nicholas Shakespeare, his biographer, lifts the lid on a complex life and selects five books that influenced Chatwin’s work.
The Bureau Chief for the Agence France Presse in Dhaka discusses South East Asian travel literature. Particularly interesting on Cambodia. Further recommended reading from Graham Greene and James Fenton
Author and Arabist Tim Mackintosh-Smith tells us about the rich tradition in Islam of travelling to gain knowledge, and directs us towards some of those, both Western and Arab, who’ve inspired with their tales of life on the road.
Accounts of journeys on foot capture the imagination; partly this is a function of the satisfaction of following a linear journey from start to finish, and partly it is a quality inherent to walking itself—a freeing of the mind. Gail Simmons, who follows an old English pilgrimage route in her book Between the Chalk and the Sea, selects five hiking memoirs that celebrate the liberation that comes from putting one foot after another.
by Jan Morris
Hong Kong Noir: Fifteen true tales from the dark side of the city
by Feng Chi-shun
by the Hong Kong Writers Circle
The Heritage Hiker’s Guide to Hong Kong
by Pete Spurrier
Ghetto at the Center of the World: Chungking Mansions, Hong Kong
by Gordon Mathews
In 2014 Hong Kong’s ‘Umbrella Protests’ made news around the world. But will continuing protests in Hong Kong lead to advances in democracy or crackdowns by Beijing? Jason Ng, lawyer and author of Umbrellas in Bloom, chooses five of the best books for understanding China’s ‘foster child’ city.
Robert Macfarlane, author of an acclaimed trilogy of books about landscape and human thought tells us about the intrepid, sometimes misanthropic writers who inspired his own investigation of wilderness. He chooses some of his favourite books of nature-writing.
The author and Senior Conservator of the University of London’s Senate House Library discusses books on Indian Journeys. Interesting selections that offer good insights into the authors themselves
Good writing offers readers an invitation to explore and engage with the world around them, says Dan Richards—author of Outpost and Climbing Days—as he recommends five brilliant books that exemplify the skill of landscape writing.
Everyday life in Iran is often mischaracterised, says the Iranian author and academic – especially when it comes to the struggles of its women. She recommends five books that give us a window on Iranian history and family life
The veteran journalist, who has lived in India for most of his life, talks about the country’s new-found self-confidence and recommends books to better understand its history and complexities
From the book Robinson Crusoe was based on to surrealist filmmakers, Jason Webster chooses five books that illustrate the power of the Spanish imagination.
The author discusses a varied selection of books about young women living abroad. Draws on her own experiences as a Diplomat’s Wife. Features Out of Africa and The Jewel In The Crown with three more travel classics
Five Books deputy editor Cal Flyn selects five of the best books on abandoned places, including a cultural history of ruins, an account of natural recovery in the Chernobyl exclusion zone, plus two unsettling works of science fiction. Her own book, Islands of Abandonment: Life in the Post-Human Landscape, is out now.
The Professor of Postcolonial Studies at City University, London, talks to us about Islamic travel books. Explains how travel should be both a physical and a mental exercise focussed on immersing oneself in local culture
Journalist and author of The Black Nile, who spent six months travelling the famous river, discusses some of the turbulent times that the Nile has witnessed – and praises its extraordinary beauty.
Explorer, film-maker and writer, Hugh Thomson, picks the best books on Mexico, from the revolution in 1910, to the conquistadors, to gold mines, to the fatalism of Mexico and more.
The respected author and prominent Hispanist examines the history and people of The Andes. Selects and reviews five great reads, including classics from Isherwood and Hemming
The award-winning writer selects five books on India and says that the Mahabharata, eight times the length of the Bible, is one of the great works of literature of mankind – and every bit as good as it’s made out to be
The acclaimed author discusses the Polar Regions. She says an African In Greenland is the best book ever written on Greenland – the story of a man from Togo who went there in the 1960s
Historian discusses five books on one of the world’s most enigmatic and dangerous places. “The atmosphere inside the Khyber is certainly very tense. You don’t see people strutting around having a nice time”