Best Books to Read While Backpacking

With so many books to choose from its hard to know which stories will really enhance your travel experience. Travel books are important not only because they inspire you to take the road less traveled but in your worst/ best moments they will reconfirm why you decided to take this crazy trip in the first place. Its also a great way to understand the people and culture of a place before you go and even while you are there visiting.

Best Travel Books

Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

This modern cult classic soon to be a movie featuring Julia Roberts is the author’s quirky retelling of her soul searching travels following a bitter divorce. The novel opens readers to the possibilities of pleasure, spiritual growth and the meaning of love through Gilbert’s quest to experience the world and be at piece with herself.  She travels to Italy to eat her way through the country and learn the gorgeous language of Italian, then finds solace in the peaceful meditative practices of her Ashram teachers in India and finally ventures off to Bali and in her quest for personal awakening to finds love with a “handsome older Brazilian man”.

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Motorcycle Diaries by Ernesto “Che” Guevara & Alberto Granado

(this memoir was originally published under the name ‘Easy Rider’ meets ‘Das Kapital’)

This memoir traces the 8000 km trip  of Ernesto “Che” Guevara and his traveling partner Alberto Granado on a single cylinder Motorcycle, dubbed La Poderosa,  through South America. While this story is great for the idyllic moments of adventure on the open road , Guevara’s Marxist reflections on the life of the indigenous poor are eye opening and unfortunately just as relevant today. I actually read this book during one of the worst bus rides of my life in northern Laos and Che’s sense of purpose enabled me to think of the bus ride not as a miserable experience but as one of the many negative happenings that should/ could change and transform me.

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Life of Pi by Yann Martel

The narrator of this fantasy novel recounts his adventure as a young boy from Pondicherry, India to America on a big ship with all the animals from his father’s zoo. Soon into the trip, Pi is shipwrecked in the Pacific Ocean for 227 days and survives along with a crew of various animals. One of the most intriguing characters is the surviving Bengal tiger who becomes Pi’s friend, as well as his adversary. This adventure tale leaves readers contemplating religion, spirituality and the fine line between fantasy and reality.

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The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

The story chronicles the psychological and physical journey of Christopher Marlow, an Englishman, employed by a Belgium trading company to transport ivory down the Congo River. This timeless piece provides a critical critique of the effects of post-colonialism forces and forces the reader to contemplate the meaning of ‘civilization’ and the essence of good and evil.

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Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne

This novel is the grandfather of all exploration tales, laying the groundwork for the future generation of adventure seekers. The story centres around Phileas Fogg of London and his French valet, Passsepatout, as they attempt to circle the world in 80 days based on a £20,000 bet with friends.

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Hills like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway

This short story set in the Ebro River Valley of Spain is told nearly in its entirety through dialogue. The conversation is between a young woman and a man waiting for a train as they discuss whether the woman should have an abortion. This story is an allegorical tale of innocence and the forks in the road people encounter and the directions they choose.

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Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

The only murder mystery novel on this list, features Belgium detective Hercule Poirot who boards the Orient Express from Istanbul to London only to be asked to solve a murder that occurred in his car. Christie’s characters are as diverse as the terrain that they cross on the way to London. This is an excellent travel book for anyone planning a trip by train.

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Into the Wild by John Kraukauer

This mesmerizing, yet heartbreaking story examines what propelled the young Chris McCandles, from an upper middle class American family, to abandon civilization and choose the rough Alaskan wilderness. McCandles’ unwavering dedication to the journey is both impressive and ultimately tragic.

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The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield

This spiritual guide chronicles the main character’s journey to find and understand a series of nine spiritual insights on ancient manuscripts in Peru. The spiritual and psychological ideas espoused by the author are rooted in ancient eastern traditions and New Age spirituality. If you are looking to maximize the “zenness” of your travel experience this book will surely serve as an inspiration.

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Le Petite Prince (the Little Prince) by Antoine de Saint Exupery

This children’s novella recounts the protagonist’s experience searching for meaning and purpose. While written in the midst of WWII, the book is often hailed a reaffirmation of the author’s faith in love, altruism and friendship. This story is about an aviator who lands in the Sahara Desert and comes to meet an alien in the form of a prince who teaches him the value of seeing the world through a child’s eye. The author’s philosophical ruminations and poetic charm can be enjoyed by both children and adults.

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A Movable Feast by Earnest Hemingway

Hemingway’s memoir retells his experiences and reflections living in Paris during the 1920’s as part of the “Lost Generation” of America’s expatriate circle of writers and artists. This is a must read for anyone who is considering living abroad or trying to embrace their expatriate lives.

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The Castle by Franz Kafka

In this chilling novel, the central character known only as K, a land surveyor, attempts to gain entry to a castle but the mysterious authorities of the castle that govern the village impede his path. This is great story for any traveler who has ever felt lost and estranged in a new place.

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The Lord of the Flies by William S. Golding

This classic children’s book set in WWII superficially  describes what happens when kids are left to their own means without any rules. But the deeper meaning behind this allegorical tale examines the possibilities in a society with no rules and the loss of innocence. The book begins with a group of British schoolboys that are marooned on a deserted island and forced to provide for themselves. In their attempt to create a livable society with rules such as democracy and civility, power struggles ensue and barbaric violence and chaos result.

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Seven Years in Tibet by Heinrich Harrer

This autobiographical travel book recounts the true story of Austrian mountaineer and Peter Aufschnaiter who escape to Tibet after being imprisoned in India by the British military during WWII. This book offers an interesting vantage point for understanding the political situation prior to the invasion of Tibet by the Chinese Communist party in 1950. This adventurers’ tale provides readers with the hope that they can escape the complexities of modern life only to discover the easiness of yesteryear.

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The Beach by Alex Garland

While not necessarily the best-written novel on this list, Garland’s book was influenced by several of the books listed; specifically, The Lord of the Flies and the Heart of Darkness. The protagonist, Richard, an Englishman in his early 20s, arrives in Bangkok’s Koh San Road only to wake up in the morning and find his dead neighbor’s map to a mysterious beach. He meets a French couple and the three of them set out to find the beach. While at first the hidden beach seems idyllic the reader quickly realizes, things are never as they seem.

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Holy Cow by Sarah MacDonald

This witty, laugh out loud funny book chronicles the Indian adventures of a young Australian reporter, who moves to Delhi to be closer to her fiancé. While she finds adapting to the noise and chaos of Delhi rather difficult, she seeks solace and relaxation in an array of ashrams, temples and cities across Indian from North to South, East to West. I read this book upon returning from India and MacDonald’s prose and accurate depiction of Indian life took me back to my adventures through India.

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There are tons of travel boos out there but the above are some of the best!

Backpacking Bex