21 Of The Best Books About Travel and Self-Discovery

March 30, 2020 8 Comments

 “Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are.” — Mason Cooley

With so much uncertainty in the world right now, reading books about travel and self-discovery can be a really great way to escape, even if it’s just for a short while.

Immersing yourself in a book about people and lands near and far allows you to truly lose yourself in stories of heartbreak and love, perseverance and strength, resilience and bravery.

My hope with this post is that you will find a new book that you now ‘need’ to read or that you are reminded of a book that once gave you comfort and courage that you can’t wait to re-read again. In times of uncertainty, anything that gives us hope is something we all need.


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The Best Books About Travel And Self Discovery

In this post, you will find a list of 21 books about travel and self-discovery that come highly recommended by bloggers from around the globe.

You will find a range of travel memoirs, historical fiction books, books about self-discovery and books set in a variety of countries such as France and Africa which have left a long-lasting mark on both the reader and the writer.

Most of the books are available in a variety of formats including paper edition, Kindle and also as audiobooks.

If you have a Kindle, make sure to check out daily offers on Amazon or sign up to Kindle Unlimited which offers a free trial – Click the image below to find out more.

Pro Tip: If you don’t have a Kindle, you can download the app for free on your mobile and/or iPad and access books in that way.

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Let’s dive straight in to find out more about these incredible books about travel and self-discovery!


The Grass Is Singing By Doris Lessing

Submitted by Sally from SallyFlint.com

Doris Lessing’s first novel, The Grass is Singing made me fall in love with Lessing as a writer and Africa as a country. Such was the power of her portrayal of Southern Rhodesia that I decided there and then to learn more about Africa through reading and travel.

I travelled first to Kenya and South Africa and when I was offered the chance to live and teach in Tanzania, I jumped at the opportunity.

Whilst the continent of Africa is huge and Tanzania is a very different country to Rhodesia, the experience nonetheless helped me to soak up the culture and also the prejudices that are explored so powerfully in the book.

When reading The Grass Is Singing, you can’t help but feel incredible anger at Mary’s cruel treatment and her racism towards Moses. After reading this book, I became somewhat obsessed with Lessing; admiring her passion, irreverence and bravery.


No Baggage By Clara Benson

Submitted by Katy from Photospired

The year that I came across Clara Bensen’s memoir was when I’d just met a boy. At that point in life, I was starting to awaken to a different side of me. I wondered if it was possible to run with the moment and jump into an exciting but unfamiliar adventure, just as I had wanted to with this guy.

No Baggage came at the right time to tell me that yes, I should take the risk.

At the beginning of the book, Clara had just come out of clinical anxiety. And then soon after meeting a guy from OkCupid, they embark on a 3-week journey across Europe together with, you guessed it, no baggage. That is, no change of clothes, no hotels booked, and no plans.

In the name of an experiment, they arrive in Istanbul and fly out from London. What happens between point A and point B is an absolute unknown.

The spirit of adventure and most of all, of risk-taking gave me something to think about. Surely there are better ways to travel than taking a complete nosedive, but as Clara said in a later interview, it is about seeing the journey as an experiment. You learn from “leaning towards discomfort”, even if it might end up being a complete flop. 

In the following years, I started travelling lighter and lighter, shedding the literal baggage but also emotional ones. Each trip becomes an experiment where I observe a bit more and plan a bit less.

So far, the results are inconclusive. I’m still friends with the guy and I still have not attempted travelling completely without baggage, but it’s all in the works. No Baggage, is a book, you must read.


My Brilliant Friend By Elena Ferrante

Submitted by Clotilde from A Princess Travelling With Twins

My Beautiful Friend is a book set in the city of Naples, Italy – it will take you on a journey of travel and self-discovery. Upon reading this book, Naples immediately rose to the top of my Italian itinerary and it will do the same for you too.

This is the first book of a quadrilogy that begins in Naples around the 1950s and 1960s and retraces the friendship of the then children Elena and Lila up to the present day.

The scenes of daily life take place in the Luzzeti district in the eastern suburbs of Naples and the book will take you on a journey of Naples most famous places from the Caracciolo promenade, and Posillipo area, to the Piazza del Plebiscito and many others.

This book is a journey into the popular culture of an Italy that is recovering from the war, and written in colours so vivid that you will believe you are there already. 


Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles By Richard Dowden

Submitted by Mario from Rest and Recuperation

Working as a humanitarian, I often find myself travelling to Africa and sometimes living there for long periods of time.

There are plenty of books about the continent of Africa, but the one that inspired me the most is Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles, written by Richard Dowden, the Director of the Royal African Society.

From the first page, all of his experiences in the area shines through his words. The book is divided into short chapters about specific countries or issues such as HIV.

Having lived there I could absolutely see Dowden’s first-hand experience, his knowledge and especially his understanding of Africa, which is something that often lacks to non-African authors.

Now, when I have to go to a new African country, there are three resources that I immediately check: Wikipedia, a travel guide, and this book.


Into The Wild by Jon Krakauer

Submitted by Rai from A Rai Of Light

This book revolves around the tragic story of Chris McCandless, a young man disillusioned with a conventional life who heads off to discover something better in the Alaskan wilderness.

Chris leaves his family and friends, abandons most of his material possessions to live at one with nature. Freedom and self-expression are the focus of this non-fiction biography by Krakauer who paints McCandless as a man with a brilliant mind and the soul of an artist.

McCandless is a man who didn’t fit into the modern world’s or his family’s view of how he was ‘supposed to be’. Even though it may seem that McCandless was reckless and arrogant, I think he was courageous on his search for meaning.

The writing in this book is so engaging that even though it is almost clear from the beginning how McCandless’ story would end, I was hooked until the very last page. It is a tale of courage and a must-read for anyone interested in books about self-discovery.


A Year In Provence By Peter Mayle

Submitted by Rosie from Popcuria

A Year in Provence is a classic book to read before any trip to France. I read this memoir before spending a year abroad in Tours, France.

To prepare for my first trip abroad, I turned to many books that I thought would help prepare me for my upcoming cultural immersion. And perhaps a bit ironically, my favourite turned out to be a book written by an Englishman, on a region that was culturally quite different than where I was sent.

This book may be about a couple in their fifties renovating a 200-year-old farmhouse which didn’t exactly match my experience as a high school foreign exchange student. However, I did get a first glimpse at what it might feel like to be a foreigner in France.

During my year abroad, I thought back to this book whenever I said the wrong word in French or tried my best to adapt to numerous cultural idiosyncrasies. This book remains a favourite today and is worth reading whether or not you’re planning a trip to France.


Down Under By Bill Bryson

Submitted by Pauline from BeeLoved City

When it comes to travel books, Bill Bryson absolutely sets the standard. He is one of my favourite travel authors and all of his books are so incredibly well-written. But if I had to only choose one, it would be Down Under

Down Under is a travelogue about Australia and if you are planning a trip to Australia, it’s the perfect read. It’s beautifully written and a real page turner. 

Bill Bryson describes places and cultural habits in a way that nobody else can. He has a unique ability to spot things and put words on it in the best possible way.

I’ve read Down Under several times, before and after living in Australia, and it never gets old. Down Under is the proof that sometimes, words can truly inspire you to travel.


The Island By Victoria Hislop

Submitted by Or from My Path In The World

In the past, I have always thought of Crete solely as a beach destination, but the ‘The Island’ which was written by Victoria Hislop completely changed my mind about this stunning island. Hislop writes in a way that made me want to learn more about the history and culture of Crete.

The Island narrates the story of an isolated community living on Spinalonga island; a small island that was one of the last active leper colonies in Europe. It is a story of tragedy, war, passion but most of all hope.

When I finally got to visit Crete, I had to take a tour to visit Spinalonga Island. I got to overlook Spinalonga from the small Cretan village of Plaka, walk on the island through the remains of the leper colony, and learn more about it from my excellent guide. These experiences made my trip a lot more meaningful and I truly felt much more connected to the local history.


City Of Joy By Dominique Lapierre

Submitted by Mar from Once In A Lifetime Journey

City of Joy is not necessarily one of those happy go lucky books about India but rather a raw account of life in the slums of India, particularly Calcutta.


The book (and later a movie with Patrick Swayze), contrast two parallel stories: a family who moves to the city in search of better opportunities, and an American surgeon that comes in search of enlightenment after losing a young patient.


I had always wanted to travel to India and I was fascinated by the country’s diverse culture and rich history so I read as many books about it as I could. However, City of Joy captivated me in a way that no other book did because it talked about day to day life in a society that people rarely get to see.


Despite the hardships and difficulties of the poorest, the citizens of the slums find a way to look at each day with optimism, a reminder that you can always stay positive no matter your reality. City Of Joy is an incredibly inspiring travel book which can help you find hope even in the darkest of days.


The Alchemist By Paulo Coelho

Submitted by Michael from Books Like This One

The Alchemist by Pablo Coelho is one of the best travel books for readers looking for an uplifting and inspirational read about travel. It follows the story of a shepherd named Santiago from Andalucía in Spain who has a dream that results in him travelling to pyramids of Egypt in search of treasure.

Coelho’s philosophical writing style is a personal inspiration as he delves deep into the mindset of a traveller and shares the trials and tribulations of being on the road and the importance of keeping your ultimate goals in mind and controlling your own destiny as you face different hardships. 

The Alchemist will always be one of the most inspiring travel books – a tale about undauntedly following your dreams and listening to your heart.


Memoirs Of A Geisha By Arthur Golden

Submitted by Jill from JetSet Journeys

When Memoirs of a Geisha came out in 1997, I had barely travelled outside of the US, where I was born, and the UK, where I had moved. Picking it up in the bookshop, on a recommendation from a friend, I had no idea it was about to lead to a lifelong love affair with Japan.

The book opens in 1929 when a nine-year-old girl is handed over by poverty-stricken parents to a geisha house in Kyoto. These houses are where geisha are trained in traditional arts, conversation and entertainment, and it follows her quite dramatic story over the next two decades.

The Kyoto described by Golden depicted streets of centuries’-old wooden houses with women dashing between them wearing extraordinary outfits – ornate kimonos, thick corset-like decorative obi belts, platform-esque geta shoes and elaborate hairstyles.

When I finally made my first (of many) visits to Kyoto in 2004, I found the scene almost exactly as Golden described it in the book. Its historic geisha districts – particularly Gion – feel like something out of the 17th century.

Walking along its cobbled streets past serene wooden houses, it’s easy to imagine samurai being beguiled by elegant geisha during tea ceremonies, banquets and parties.


Eat, Pray, Love By Elizabeth Gilbert

Submitted by Laura from Laura No Está

A few years ago, when I was in my early twenties, I read the bestseller “Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert and I still remember how much it shocked and then transformed me. 

Firstly, I wondered was it really possible and safe for a woman to travel by herself. I remember that thought so vividly because it made me feel like I could, one day, also do something similar.

Some years later, when I was finally travelling by myself, I remembered the book again for another reason. Travelling will not solve issues that you are already trying to deal with. However, travelling is an amazing thing as it allows you the time to feel clearly, to learn more about yourself and, as in the book, to finally face your fears and live the life you always dreamt of.


The Kite Runner By Khaled Hosseini

Submitted by Louise from Wandering Welsh Girl

I love to read books about the places I visit. On a recent trip to Asia, I finally got around to reading the Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. This powerful and heartbreaking book tells the story of a friendship between two boys growing up in a changing Afghanistan.

It’s a challenging read in places but at the same time, it’s very hard to put down. Hosseini’s style of writing is both beautifully descriptive and cleverly enticing. It explores concepts such as loyalty, betrayal, abuse and redemption. It made me question how I would react in similar scenarios.

Even though I didn’t travel to Afghanistan, kite flying (the activity which the two young boys share a passion for), is still very popular in neighbouring Pakistan and nearby India.

During my travels there, every time I saw children tussling with their kite strings or frantically running after fallen kites, I was transported back to the tragic story of these two young friends.

The Kite Runner is one of those inspiring travel books that transcends time and place, leaving you to question how you can be a better, more kind person in the world today.


The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac

Submitted by Anthony from Green Mochila

I’m one of those guys who has an endless and ongoing list of books that they want to read. I take mental notes of books and authors that seem appealing for one reason or another; and when I stumble upon them again, unexpectedly, something goes ping! in that remote part of my brain.

So I wasn’t specifically looking for Jack Kerouac on that day of my early 20’s. The name rang a distant bell; but I had never heard of that mysterious ‘The Dharma Bums’, which was awaiting me in the public library in Bologna, Italy.

That tale of travels, both physical and metaphysical, captivated me.

Ray Smith leaves the city to hitchhike and train-hop through the USA. Through his encounters, he takes part in Buddhist rituals and transcendental orgies. He ends up working completely alone in a national park, where he falls in love with nature and the divinity.

The story is directly based on Kerouac’s own life. I knew that when I read it and it gave the story another, deeper meaning. This probably explains the way I devoured The Dharma Bums; the way I kept its revelations with me for a long time afterwards; the way it has shaped my vision of life and travel. The Dharma Bums, somehow, got me on the road.


The Sisterhood Of The Traveling Pants By Ann Brashares

Submitted by Kat from World Wide Honeymoon

Long before I was a travel blogger, I loved to read and dream about other destinations. One of the books I read was the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series.

While I enjoyed hearing the tales of these four seemingly different friends share stories…and trousers during their time apart, I fell in love with the places they described in the book. 

Most notably, I loved reading how Lena ventured to visit her grandparents on the dreamy island of Santorini. I had never heard of this place before that book but the way they painted the vision of white-domed buildings with brilliant blue rooftops made me want to book a ticket to Greece ASAP.

It wasn’t until 2013 during my solo travels through Europe that I spent over a week in Greece, including a 3 day stop in Santorini. It was everything I had imagined it would be and more. 

The glistening caldera, the perfect olive trees, and the most gorgeous sunsets made me feel so inspired and thankful to have picked up one of the most inspiring travel books that I have ever read.


The Garden Of Gods By Gerald Durrell

Submitted by Khushboo from Munni Of All Trades

Garden of Gods is a semi-autobiographical account of Gerald Durrell’s childhood on the beautiful Greek island of Corfu. He lived with his family of eccentric yet lovable characters and was influenced by the charming natives of Greece.

This is one of the earliest books I read as a teenager and it changed my perspective on travel and exploration exponentially. It taught me the importance of travelling slowly and also enjoying local experiences.

What I love is most about this book is how descriptive it is and one of my favourite lines is – “Cherry orchards looking as though some great dragon had been among trees, bespattering the leaves with scarlet and wine-red drops of blood…”

Doesn’t it spark your imagination and transports you straight to Corfu?

Garden of Gods will capture your attention and regale you with hilarious antics and the eccentric characters will make you laugh out loud.

You can read and reread this book as many times as you want but you will never grow tired of it as you enjoy the beautiful sunlit childhood of Gerry and his unending menagerie of pets.


The Seven Sisters By Lucinda Riley

Submitted by Bruna from I Heart Brazil

While the temptation of watching a new series on Netflix at night is big, I always try to read every night for half an hour before going to bed instead.

I’ve been reading quite a lot recently and my husband recently gifted me a lovely book called The Seven Sisters – one of those incredibly inspiring travel books that I’ve wanted to read for quite a while now.

The Seven Sisters is an excellent historical novel that mixes with the history of Rio de Janeiro and some of its most popular attractions, such as Christ the Redeemer statue.

The Seven Sisters is a long book but it’s hard to put down so you don’t even realise it. More importantly, this book brings back so many good memories from all the lovely vacations I had in Rio de Janeiro, let alone Brazil.

And for those who haven’t been to Brazil yet, The Seven Sisters can certainly give them some fantastic bucket list ideas.


The Voluntourist By Ken Budd

Submitted by Ellis from Backpack Adventures

Volunteering abroad has received quite a lot of criticism in recent years. It is a controversial topic with so many having different opinions.

Questions that have been raised include: Are volunteers really doing good or actually causing harm? Isn’t it better to sent money to hire local people to do the same work? Can volunteers really contribute something in a country where they don’t know the culture and don’t speak the language?

I started my travel career as a voluntourist many years ago and I have asked myself the same questions. The Voluntourist from Ken Budd tries to raise and answer some of these out of the author’s own experiences.

The Voluntourist is a book that combines inspiration to volunteer with great travel adventures while shedding a light on the good and bad of volunteering abroad.

Although it’s been a while since I have volunteered, I still recognized a lot of the pros of volunteering in this book – the interesting people you meet and the immersive cultural experiences.

However, the greatest lesson from this book is that while you may not change the world, you will still get much more in return from volunteering than you could ever give.

Every little bit matters and with that, I am now inspired to look for volunteer projects abroad again.


Wild By Cheryl Strayed

Submitted by Emma from Emma Adventures

When I think about a book that inspires me to travel, I always think of Wild by Cheryl Strayed.

Wild is the true story of a 20-something female who decides to walk the Pacific Crest Trail, an extreme hike covering over 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada.

A self-discovery story like no other, Wild will have you on the edge of your seat as you read, making you want to travel, to explore, to hike, and to find yourself in this world.

Wild not only inspired me to travel, but also to push my boundaries, and made me realise how I really am capable of everything. I like to think that one day I will travel to the States to hike the Pacific Crest Trail myself. 

Inspire not only your wanderlust but also a sense of self-discovery in yourself while reading this heart-stopping true story. 


The Museum Of Innocence By Orhan Pamuk

Submitted by De Wet from Museum Of Wonder

Istanbul is a fascinating city and the setting for Orhan Phamuk’s epic novel, The Museum of Innocence. Spanning between 1975 and 1984 it explores the clashing cultures of East and West and of old and new Turkey while taking you on a journey through a rapidly changing and modernizing Istanbul. 

I could picture Istanbul as I followed the protagonist’s walks along the Bosphorus, crossing the Galata bridge and could almost smell the tea at the many cafes in Beyoğlu. The evocative descriptions lured me in and convinced me that I must go and see Istanbul, the place where Europe and Asia kiss. 

It is as much a love story as it is a story about a love for Istanbul. A rich man falls in love with a distant relative. He pursues this woman for 8 years, regularly visiting her at her house for dinner with her parents. Every time he carries off little knick-knacks from their house as a keepsake. 

Pamuk wrote a novel about a collection of memories and artefacts, and then actually went on a museum. You’ll find the Museum of Innocence containing thousands of items described in the novel in the Çukurcuma neighbourhood.

Even if you can’t make it to Istanbul, read the Museum of Innocence. It’s almost as good as being in Istanbul for real.


Shantaram by Gregory Roberts

Submitted by Inna from the Executive Thrillseeker

Shantaram is a comprehensive novel about life in India that consists of more than 800 pages devoted to the adventures of a fugitive criminal in one of the most contrasting, controversial and mysterious countries of the world. 

If you are interested or have been to that region of the world, you will be pleased with a detailed description of Indian slums and magnificent palaces, crazy crowded trains, remote villages and noisy megacities. 

From the first to the last page, the author keeps you captivated with his love for India, and somehow this deep affection transfers to your own feelings and makes you want to see everything with your own eyes! That’s what happened to me and that’s exactly how I booked my first trip to India!


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8 Comments

  • madhu sharma April 4, 2020 at 11:59 am

    Wow I am happy that I have read 5-6 books from the list and looking forward to read more.this comes at a right time

    • Ciara April 12, 2020 at 12:08 am

      Thanks so much – I love reading books about other countries and cultures, now is the perfect time to read more!

  • Natalie LaTurno April 11, 2020 at 7:05 pm

    Awesome list! I am actually reading The Alchemist right now and I love it! Definitely a good way to cure the travel bug during this time.

    • Ciara April 12, 2020 at 12:06 am

      Thanks so much – The Alchemist is awe-inspiring isn’t it – I need to re-read it again soon!

  • Nicola Lavin April 11, 2020 at 8:34 pm

    Great choices. The Alchemist and Memoirs of a Geisha are two of my all time favourites.

    • Ciara April 12, 2020 at 12:06 am

      Thanks so much, Nicola – I love both those books too! They’re so inspiring!

  • Abbie April 30, 2020 at 2:18 am

    Wild is my fav book ever! I also really love Lands of Lost Borders and Me, Myself and Prague! Definitely two to add to the list!

  • our crossings May 11, 2020 at 2:04 pm

    This is such a fantastic reading list. Into The Wild is certainly one of my favourites books ever! I’ve seen Eat Pray Love movie, but never had a chance to read the book yet! Thanks for sharing and have a good day. Aiva

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    Welcome to my blog! I'm Ciara, a native of Dublin Ireland. I'm an introverted wanderer who loves to explore this gorgeous planet of ours. I try to live by the motto 'Feel the fear and do it anyway' which has led to some ridiculous mishaps along the way. Join me as I try to complete my never-ending bucket list. Read More

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