Dark Star Safari, by Paul Theroux: No list of travel books would be complete without Paul Theroux, who writes in his signature grumpy style about his travels around the world. My favorite is Dark Star Safari, about his overland adventure from Cairo to Cape Town. Theroux spent time in Malawi as a young adult in the Peace Corps, so his reflections on changing Africa are well worth a read.
Sex Lives of Cannibals/Lost on Planet China, by J. Maarten Troost: Troost’s work is laugh-out-loud funny, especially the work he does focusing on the South Pacific, where he lived for several years. His book on China is more serious, but does a great job at capturing the paradoxes and challenges of this crazy country.
Eat Pray Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert: All right, hear me out. This book won’t save your life, you won’t “find yourself” and it’s not an inspiring self-help book. This book is on the list for Gilbert’s great travel writing about Italy, India, and Indonesia, which is very evocative of each place.
Everything is Going to be Great, by Rachel Shukert: Shukert’s memoir about the post-college messy Euro-trip she took is great for any twenty-something looking to hear about craziness in Europe as well as a sometimes hilarious, sometimes poignant coming of age tale.
Holy Cow, by Sarah Macdonald: This fantastic memoir is about a woman who follows her partner to India. India is full of surprises and chaos, and Holy Cow does a great job chronicling the culture shock and slow process of falling in love with the country, with a lot of humor.
The Lost Girls by Jennifer Baggett, Holly C. Corbett and Amanda Pressner: Three friends took the round-the-world trip I’ve long dreamt about, and then wrote about it. It’s pretty light reading, but it’s great for escapism. Reading about hanging out in the Amazon, volunteering in Kenya, and learning yoga in India makes me wish I were there too.
A Cook’s Tour, by Anthony Bourdain: A VERY young Anthony Bourdain reflects on his travels after the first (and only) season of his show before No Reservations. Worth it for any Bourdain fan. It’s great to see how much he’s grown and changed over the past decade, but his cynical, sarcastic, hilarious narrative voice is still here.
Turn Left At Machu Picchu, by Mark Adams: I read this right before I went to Peru. Part history of the discovery of Machu Picchu, part author’s experience, it’s great for background on Peru, Machu Picchu, and what it’s like to travel there and hike the Inca trail. Great prep, especially because a few short months later, I was there myself!