With a new season descending upon us quickly and the summer sun teasing us in our dreams, vacation planning is in full swing. Whether going on a post-graduation trip, a family vacation or an adventure with some friends, packing a book is a necessity for traveling (at least for me). You can read anywhere while traveling: on the beach, after a long hike, curled up in front of a fire, at the airport or on a train.
Below is the ultimate list of 20 books to read while traveling for the twenty-something (or anyone!). So whether you’re heading to a big city, a tropical paradise, a camping trip or somewhere else, at least one of these books is a must as a travel companion:
1) The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
This is my favorite book to bring along when I travel. That’s because 1) I’m a huge Lord of the Rings fan and 2) It’s the only book that I am able to read in a loud environment and feel perfectly OK if I don’t finish it. Besides that, this classic wanderlust book is just so pleasant and easy to read, it’s perfect for more relaxing travel. Who wouldn’t want to read about a hobbit going on an adventure?
2) Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
Not really for the hardcore, but this book definitely delivers notes of enlightenment and smiles. It’ll inspire you to buy a one-way ticket for months of adventures and it is a good companion if you already have. I like this book when I’m on the road because it acts as a reminder that traveling causes you to grow as a person. Whether it is the food, the cultural experience or the people you meet, traveling affects everyone, as seen in Eat, Pray, Love. I haven’t been to Indonesia yet, but when I go, I’ll be sure to take this book with me.
3) The Life of Pi by Yann Martel
The Life of Pi is one of those books that’s much better than the (also amazing) movie. One of the best books around, you can read and marvel about Pi’s unintended adventure on a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean with a Bengal tiger for company. This book will keep you happy on the beach, in Napa, on a road trip, in the city; just about anywhere.
4) Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
Chris McCandless does what many of us only entertain in our fantasies, or else talk about in wistful tones. Leaving everything behind and going off into the wilderness with next to nothing, you may consider this guy your hero or the village idiot. Either way, this unforgettable book is a must for hikers and those with wanderlust. If contemplating solitude, humanity and wilderness sounds like your cup of tea, especially while stoking your campfire, be sure to squeeze this (slim) book between your sleeping bag and water-filter.
5) The Art of Happiness by H.H. the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler
If you’ve taken up your travels for relaxation, a good time, or just for you, please, please bring this book. His Holiness the Dalai Lama knows what he’s talking about, and this whole book will help you be a happier person—and it will certainly enhance your travel experience. I would especially recommend it to those who are looking for some self-reflection while traveling. Seriously, just thinking about reading this book while on a beach on vacation is practically like meditating (well, maybe).
6) Walden by Henry David Thoreau
Just like Into the Wild, Walden makes a great book companion for people who are serious about their outdoor traveling. Planning a long hike or a camping trip? Take this book, as it will either challenge or solidify why you are doing it. Even if you’ve read the book before, its always nice to remember what the woods have to offer. Yeah, Thoreau was living in a house close to a town, but the truths he found while communing with nature remain undeniable. If you’re planning a trip to a big city or taking a cruise with some friends, pass on taking this book.
7) Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
If you’re planning on jumping across the pond to visit jolly ol’ England, toss this book into your pack. Any Austen book will do, but this is my personal favorite, although it is one of her longer novels (Pride and Prejudice is shorter). I took this book along on my first visit to England and let me tell you, there aren’t too many things better for a Brit-loving American than settling down to read a classic English book with a cup of English tea (with scones) after an amble around the English countryside.
8) The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
If you haven’t read this book, you may be wondering why I included a little kid’s story on this list. But The Little Prince is really a children’s adventure book for adults. An allegorical book, The Little Prince will remind you of the different people that you may meet in your travels, but if a little boy can have the strength to travel the universe, you will have the strength to travel the world. This book is good for every traveler, but is especially fitting for those traveling far away and for a long time.
9) The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
Bringing along a seriously delightful adventure book will cause your travels to be just as delightfully adventurous. A simple and enchanting read, you’ll be inspired to travel and you can take this book anywhere from a metropolitan to the countryside. Follow Santiago as he goes on his adventure from Spain to Egypt for treasure! Plus, from both the book and especially your travels, you’ll learn that our expectations in life aren’t always met and we are instead greeted by the wonderfully unexpected. If you have a dream for traveling and for adventure, be sure to pack this. Not only will you learn a thing or two, but at least one amazing thing will happen to you on your explorations.
10) Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
If you’re heading over to India, take this book along with you. Shantaram will cause you to fall deeper in love with India than you thought possible. Written in beautiful prose, the love story of Lin and Karla will go down as one of the greatest love stories seen in literature. If you’re heading over to India for meditative purposes, pass on bringing this book, as it centers around thug-life. Otherwise, take this along with you as you explore India.
11) The Beach by Alex Garland
An isolated beach in paradise, devoid of wrinkly old men and the red-cup party crowd? Sounds perfect! If your vacation or backpacking expedition is leading you to a tropical wonderland, make sure you pack this book. It’s more than just a fun read about a beach though, as it follows in the footsteps of Lord of the Flies by examining human societies. Because of this, I wouldn’t read this book while half-dozing on a beach towel, but I would still definitely bring it on my quest to find the perfect beach.
12) Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
This is one of the best backpacking books out there. More entertaining than Into the Wild and a lot more rugged than Walden, this book is a total hikers novel. A memoir by Cheryl Strayed, Wild acts as a testament on how wilderness, hiking and solitude will strengthen your spirit. This beautifully written and funny book will inspire you to take up either the PCT itself or another long distance hike. Even though this book is best for camping and hiking trips, it’s also an empowering read for young women traveling alone. Take Wild along on a camping trip, but you might want to read beforehand or put it on a Kindle if you’re doing a hardcore hike—at 315 pages, it’ll take up valuable real estate in your backpack.
13) On the Road by Jack Kerouac
I know, this book is on every single traveling book list out there and it is a little exasperating to see it all the time. But there’s a pretty good reason why it always makes the cut. Jack Kerouac practically invented the American wanderlust ideology with this novel. Follow Dean and Sal as they criss-cross over America, living, traveling and loving life. Read this, and you’ll be on the road if you aren’t already. This book will act as an endless source of inspiration for adventure all while pushing you to explore more.
14) When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris
I had a difficult time choosing just one book from David Sedaris. But I settled on this one simply because Naked and Me Talk Pretty One Day (my other faves) are just a little bit older (but still hilarious). This is great to take along on a trip, as it is a series of essays that you have the luxury of picking and choosing from. Plus, you can easily put the book down after reading only one of the stories to go off to a museum or to eat some local cuisine. If you read Engulfed in Flames while away, you are guaranteed to laugh at least once on your travels while reading this cynical, witty and brilliant book.
15) The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux
Going to be on trains for a marked period of your travels? Then this book is definitely a must. If meeting locals and experiencing cultural through people as opposed to sites and monuments sounds more like your thing, then read how Paul Theroux did it on his travels. My longest train journey was a fifteen-hour escapade through Germany, which laughably fades in comparison to this rail-tour through Europe and Asia over four months. When you aren’t chatting it up with fellow passengers, just take this book out to soak in all of the possibilities that traveling on the rails can offer.
16) Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
Treasure! The open sea! And pirates! One of my personal faves, I just had to put this book on the list. Reading it will make you want to go on an adventure yourself and if your vacation isn’t quite as perilous and thrilling as young Jim Hawkins, then just open up this book. Obviously, Treasure Island needs to be read somewhere around the ocean or on a beach (I’m imagining a hammock strung between palm trees near the water). Cracking this book open on a luxurious cruise will let your mind wander over the waters in a way the cruise liner won’t be able to. It would be pretty amazing to sip on some yummy rum concoction on the beach while Long John Silver sings “yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!”
17) Latest or any edition of The Best American Short Stories (2013 edition edited by Elizabeth Strout)
Like short stories? Don’t want a ton of commitment to a book while on vacation? “The Best American Short Stories” should totally be on your list for vacay. This is a sampling of the best and newest American short stories, so you know that you’ll be reading great literature. Plus, just like Engulfed in Flames, the bonus of bringing along an anthology or a compilation is that you can read a complete story in an hour or less, which is perfect for the busy traveler, especially if you are in a big city or running on a tight schedule.
18) The Motorcycle Diaries by Ernesto Guevara
A tale of adventure, this book by the iconic Ernesto “Che” Guevara is an excellent choice to take along on your own wanderings. When I first read this, it made me want to do two things: take a motorcycle road trip across the continent I was born on (North America) and one across South America (like Che). Like Eat, Pray, Love, this book will remind you of the power of traveling (although The Motorcycle Diaries is a bit more serious and political than Gilbert’s book). Bring this book if you want to learn from your travels, as Guevara provides plenty of inspiration.
19) The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
This timeless American classic will keep you company anywhere for your American trip, but especially if you are heading around the Mississippi Valley. Huck’s life on the river will make just about anyone want to begin a lackadaisical adventure down the grand Mississippi. Read about Huck and Jim’s journey as you yourself enjoy a steamboat ride or a fresh catch from the river. Just like you should pair red wine with steak, reading Huckleberry Finn while exploring the Mississippi river will enhance your experience ten-fold.
20) Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie
A tale full of wonder, what better book to accompany you on your own adventure? J.M. Barrie’s classic story about the boy Peter Pan and Neverland is excellent for a voyaging traveler. I would especially recommend this book for people traveling to tropical locales, particularly if lagoons are involved. An easy and quick read, you can learn from Peter and Wendy how to find the magic and adventure within every single excursion.
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