top of page

Inspiring Travel Books to Read, When You Can’t Actually Travel

Oh, what a time we live in. 2020 man, it threw everyone one hell of a curveball - especially for those people who were hoping to take on some crazy, far off adventure. Like us. We had grand plans for this year and thanks to COVID those have all seemingly disappeared. We know we are not alone. It seems everyone has a story that starts, “I was going to do X, but then COVID.” And then everyone nods their head knowingly, we all can relate.

Luckily, though most borders are closed - especially if you are carrying an American passport - libraries and Amazon are still running. So if you are searching for a bit of wanderlust to fill your soul, without actually traveling, maybe consider checking out these inspiring, travel-focused books the next time you find yourself tired of the same old Netflix queue.

Maphead, Ken Jennings

One thing you should know about me, Madalyne, is that I love learning weird and random facts. Even though I have been out of school for a couple of years now, the desire to always be learning is very heavy indeed. Luckily, there are plenty of books out there full of interesting history, random trivia questions, and just odd facts to show off at the next awkward Christmas party (a great book for this is titled Salt, and yes it is entirely about the importance of salt).

Maphead is a goldmine of random facts. But it also talks about some really interesting sides of maps themselves. Like whether paper maps will keep being a thing, the usefulness of geocaching, and why young people suck at geography (spoiler alert: it is because the USA is so big).

One of the best things about the book (in my opinion) is towards the back. A 35-question geography quiz to see where you rank on the Maphead scale (try not to be an American college student).

Turn Right at Machu Picchu, Mark Adams

It definitely helped that we read this book while adventuring through Peru ourselves, but either way, this book by one of our favorite travel writers, Mark Adams, gives you serious wanderlust and a strong desire to strap on your tallest leather boots, grab a machete and adventure through the Amazon Jungle in search of Incan ruins yourself.

While it does discuss the history of Machu Picchu, it also talks about all the other amazing ruins that dot the country - especially in the Cusco area. We recommend reading it if you want to learn Incan history, have a good laugh, and maybe even start to plan your own Peruvian adventure (once borders are open again of course).

Seven Years in Tibet, Heinrich Harrer

Our current travel book, and one we have been itching to read for a while, this popular travel story covers the real-life journey of Heinrich Harrer, a mountaineer, who traveled to Tibet during the Second World War and the interim period before the Communist Chinese People's Liberation Army invaded Tibet in 1950.

For us, who have always dreamed of a grand adventure in the Himalayas, the story still strikes a chord, even so many years after it took place. This is a great book to read if you are looking to get lost in a far off land, and also learn about an interesting (and controversial) time in history.

If you aren’t looking for a book to read, but are still curious, you can also watch the movie starring Brad Pitt.

Lands of Lost Borders: A Journey on the Silk Road, Kate Harris

One of the two books on this list that we have yet to read - but are very excited to once they are back in the local library. Lands of Lost Borders: A Journey on the Silk Road, written by Kate Harris - who might just be our idol and hopeful future selves, was a National Bestseller and Award Winner at the Banff International Film and Book Festival in 2018.

“As a teenager, Kate Harris realized that the career she most craved--that of a generalist explorer, equal parts swashbuckler, and philosopher--had gone extinct.” Kate Harris

The story tells the story of Harris’ journey along the Silk Road by bicycle with her childhood friend. It is part travelogue, part adventure novel and part philosophical ramblings. It takes you to off-the-beaten-path places and lets you wonder about areas on the map that are still “discoverable”.

The Tip of the Iceberg, Mark Adams

Another amazing book by the hilarious and inspiring travel writer, Tip of the Iceberg takes the reader on an exciting adventure through the wilds, and last frontier, of Alaska.

Quick synopsis: Armed with Dramamine and an industrial-strength mosquito net, Mark Adams sets out to retrace the 1899 expedition of railroad magnate, Edward H. Harriman. Traveling town to town by water, Adams ventures three thousand miles north through Wrangell, Juneau, and Glacier Bay, then continues west into the colder and stranger regions of the Aleutians and the Arctic Circle. Along the way, he encounters dozens of unusual characters (and a couple of very hungry bears) and investigates how lessons learned in 1899 might relate to Alaska's current struggles in adapting to the pressures of a changing climate and world.

Sound interesting? Good. This book had us Google Mapping our own dream route through the wilds of Alaska and planning an adventure along the many ocean-going ferries that dot the coast.

The second book on the list we have not been lucky enough to read yet, but one that quickly caught our eye. It seems many goals of travelers is to uncover and discover new lands - the Age of Exploration might be done*, but the dream and desire of trekking through unknown lands is still very much alive.

*we find this sad every single day.

Luckily for all of us, Judith Schalansky’s Pocket Atlas of Remote Islands easily slips into a bag, it features beautiful maps and, most importantly, it reminds you that there’s still so much left of this world to see (woot woot).

According to Kristin Henning, travel blogger extraordinaire, the book is, “For travelers who pride themselves in finding less-traveled corners of the globe, this book humbles as much as it inspires.” Sounds perfect to us.

The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon, David Grann

I, Madalyne, read this book a couple years ago and for some reason it has always stuck with me (I even got my best friend and Luke to read it, and they both loved it too). It mixes the story of Percy Fawcett, a charismatic and completely consumed British explorer who eventually disappeared in the quest for the “Lost City” and a modern-day, more tech-savvy exploration of the same goal. The whole story revolves around the one question: does the city even exist?

Much like the idea of Eldorado and Atlantis, the City of Z, quite possibly could never have existed - though for some reason the idea of it has lead many, many men to hunt in the backwoods of the Amazon, facing all manner of horrible things (most notably LOTS of bugs) for years on end. People have died trying to uncover it - including Fawcett and his son.

It makes you realize that the Age of Exploration was not all sunshine and daisies. It was hard, dangerous work that many men did not survive. While the ending will make you want to go on a grand adventure yourself, the story as a whole gives you an interesting and exclusive view into the life and mind of one of the most exciting explorers of the time.

*The book was also recently made into a movie starring Charlie Hunnam and Robert Pattinson.

Hopefully, these books help quelch some of that travel thirst that seems to be building up every month the pandemic rages on. While it might not be safe to travel now, especially internationally, it is never to early to plan your next adventure. So read these books, start planning your trip and get ready for some crazy exploration.

Excited to read more travel-focused, adventurous content to satisfy your wanderlust? Then consider checking out these 15 other books.


bottom of page