The 5 Must-Read Books That Fed My Travel Addiction: Amanda Kendle

Since most of us aren’t lucky enough to be able to travel non-stop, reading some great travel narratives between trips is a perfect way to fill the gap. Well-written books about the travel experiences of others do many things: they inspire you to visit places you haven’t, they reminisce with you about those you have, and they quite simply entertain you with tales of somewhere away from home.

Vagabondish is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn a small affiliate commission. Read our disclosure.

Homeward Bound
Homeward Bound / © emdot

If I cast my eye over my overflowing bookshelves, there are a few special travel books that jump out as ones I’ve digested more than once, smiled and laughed at, got jealous about or gone straight to the internet to book a flight over; the books that jumped out most zealously are making up my top five list today.

Paul Theroux: The Great Railway Bazaar

I’m not a big Theroux fan. To be honest, I still find him somehow obnoxious at times, and I don’t think I’d want to travel along with him. But it’s exactly this trait that seems to make his train journey narratives so fabulously enthralling.

Theroux’s story of a train trip through China, Riding the Iron Rooster, comes a close second as a worthy read, but The Great Railway Bazaar was the book that cemented my utter adoration of long train trips. While the section covering the Trans-Siberian railway is relatively short, it was enough to convince me that I had to take that journey across Russia.

Theroux has a habit of meeting interesting people; or does he just make them interesting, both through his attitude and his grasp of storytelling? On top of that, he’s pretty masterful at weaving facts and cultural tidbits into his story. He doesn’t find it necessary to travel in luxury, and that suits me just fine.

Bill Bryson: In a Sunburned Country

Bill Bryson: In a Sunburned Country

Published as Down Under outside of North America, this was just as entertaining for me as I find all of Bill Bryson’s travel books to be, but even more so because it was about my home country, Australia. Bill Bryson manages to combine the American directness with a British sense of humor and create interesting tales out of otherwise ordinary travels.

In a Sunburned Country is a book I buy again and again as a gift for my friends outside Australia. It’s part of my strategy to entice them to visit this far-away land, but also simply a way to make them laugh about some of Australia’s peculiarities. Memorably for me, Bryson begins the book with his amazement that Australia once managed to lose a Prime Minister. It’s true, he went swimming one morning and never came back. And that’s the kind of country everyone’s dying to visit, right?

Tony Hawks: Round Ireland With a Fridge

Tony Hawks might not be super-famous in all parts of the world — in fact, he’s more often confused with skateboarder Tony Hawk — but he’s now got four hilarious travel narratives to his name. The first three are all based on the premise that one of his friends made a bet with him, and he just had to keep it. Thus, he tried to beat each member of the Moldovan soccer team at tennis, leading to Playing the Moldovans at Tennis, and a similar off-hand remark had him quite literally travel Round Ireland With a Fridge.

The funny thing is, I avoided Tony Hawks’ books for years. It’s all because of a cranky tourist I met in Tunisia, who told me that the best part of Tunisia was the fact that he could read Round Ireland With a Fridge in his hotel room at night. I was so angry with this man for neglecting to see the incredible array of sights that are found in Tunisia that I boycotted this book for a long time. What a pity, because I’ve since discovered and grown to love the great blend of comedy and travel in all of Tony Hawks’ books.

Sarah Macdonald: Holy Cow!

India is one of the big travel meccas that I actually haven’t reached yet. For many years, I didn’t understand the strong attraction that so many backpackers and long-term travelers have to the region. I didn’t want to learn yoga, and it seemed like a country full of chronic hassles for travelers — cows that don’t budge when your bus wants to get through, poverty galore and bowel problems if you eat the wrong food.

All that changed when I read Sarah Macdonald’s Holy Cow!. Macdonald is an Australian journalist who follows her fiancé to India when he’s posted there for his job. Her book is an honest account of her experiences in India, good and bad, and her search for the meaning of the country. Her journalist background, coupled with the time she has to spare while her other half is off working, take her to many corners of the country and to experiences that would probably make me uncomfortable. In particular, she makes a great exploration of the different religions and spiritualities that pulse through India, and helped me understand a little more why so many people make it a must-see destination.

Alain de Botton: The Art of Travel

Alain de Botton: The Art of Travel

If you read this book, your attitude towards your own travels will never be the same again.

I’ve saved the best for last. As far as beautiful books go, with a small selection of inspiring photographs, and classically attractive prose, de Botton’s The Art of Travel will always be number one for me. It’s a philosophical journey about why people travel, rather than a strict travel narrative. It is divided into five sections that summarize the travel experience for de Botton and, curiously, for me too: Departure, Motives, Landscape, Art, and Return.

This book is full of those moments of recognition, when you see an insight into your traveling style or the reasons why you travel that you’d never thought of so clearly before. De Botton dips into the historical experiences of others, intertwining their philosophy and memories with a selection of his own trips to places like Barbados, Amsterdam and the Sinai Desert. If you read this book, your attitude towards your own travels will never be the same again.

  1. Amanda, you and I like many of the same books. I hope that doesn’t bum you out :-)

    Here’s my own list of top travel titles.

    “Wind, Sand & Stars” by Saint-Exupery, the author of “The Little Prince”. If you want one book that captures the excitement of adventuring in foreign lands, this is it.

    Most anything from Bill Bryson, agree with you on this one. He’s not a hardy traveler, hardly somebody who’s tackled the world the hard way and now writing about it. He’s more of a genteel traveler. But he’s very, very funny.

    “Cruelest Journey: Six Hundred Miles To Timbuktu” by Kira Salak is a great read. A little depressing in the way that the world can be depressing when you stop and think about it. But wonderful all the same.

    Check out Paul Theroux. Agree that his “Great Railway Bazaar: By Train Through Asia” is a superb read. But also don’t miss his “Mosquito Coast”.

    Finally I also love “Sheltering Sky” by Paul Bowles. This isn’t a typical ‘travel book’ but I don’t care. Read it, you will love it.

  2. Fab post Amanda

    I actually just mentioned my favourite travel inspiration book – ‘Endless Feasts’ edited by Ruth Reichl – on my blog.

    Like ‘Sheltering Sky’, Endless Feasts isn’t a typical travel book (it is actually a lot more about food) but always gets me excited to keep exploring the world.

    Thanks for your list, will be adding some of those books to my 2008 to-do list.


  3. Thanks Tara and Scott, great to get some more recommendations for my own reading list! Scott, you’re spot on with Bill Bryson, he’s no adventure traveler, but I just love the way he sees quite mundane things and makes them hilarious.

  4. My all time favorite travel book is:

    ‘Ship of Fools’ by Katherine Anne Porter,

    I also dig:

    Karma Cola by Gita Mehta

    A Cook’s Tour by Anthony Bourdain

    Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi DeGuid (it’s a cookbook, but what a cookbook. I wish they’d taken me with em! Shoot, now I’m hungry.)

    Ring of Fire by Lawrence Blair

    Vagabonding by Rolf Potts

    Pagan Holiday by Tony Perrottet


    Killing Yourself to Live by Chuck Klosterman

    “Anni’s India Diary” by Anni Axworthy is a good one for kids, if a bit rose-tinted.

  5. A great list, and I concur!
    An addition I could recommend to the list is a book that I recently devoured called “Tales of a Female Nomad” by Rita Golden Gelman. It’s a lovely, funny, and inspirational read for any woman embarking on a journey.

  6. Thanks also to Ayun and Nora, for adding another couple of must-reads to my list (only I have a bit of a problem with reading books about food – they just make me too hungry!). Ayun, your own book “No Touch Monkey!” is on my shelf and that’s one that made me laugh a lot too – thank you!!

  7. Loved your list! I just bought three of Alain de Botton’s books on New Year’s Day and yes, one of them is The Art of Travel. Another one that makes me long for Spain, Africa and the desert is The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo. I’ve read this book so many times and it never fails to excite me.

  8. Just stumbled across this site and love it! I wanted to add “Hitching Rides with Buddha” by Will Ferguson to your list. Ferguson is a Canadian ex-pat who hitchhiked the cherry blossom front in Japan. It’s laugh-out-loud funny, as well as full of insightful observations on Japanese culture.

  9. Just wanted to add my friend Ted Simon’s books, including Jupiter’s Travels, and his latest one, Dreaming of Jupiter. Ted is a wonderfully gifted motorcycle adventure travel writer who has seen and done it all in his 70-something years. A great read!

  10. I’m really intrigued by the last book on that list – I’ll definitely have to pick it up.

    If I were to add another, it would be a book that significantly influenced my own drive to travel: Around the Bloc by Stephanie Elizondo Griest.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Let's Make Sure You're Human ... * Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.

Subscribe to Our 'Under the Radar' Newsletter
If you love travel, you're gonna love this!