I love to read. When I was a child I had to be called to dinner at least three times before I put down a book, and not much has changed. So when a good friend and reader of A Lady in London emailed me saying “I do wonder what books you read when you travel. This comes up when I see your beautiful photos of bookstores and I wonder what you got,” I figured it was time to share my top picks for books to read while traveling.

Books to Read While Traveling

21 Books to Read While Traveling

The following is a country-by-country list of some of my favorite books. I’ve fallen in love with them at home or on the road, and they’ve given me insight into the countries they’re set in. Whether written by locals or expats, in the present or the past, they’ve inspired me to travel and given me a greater understanding of the places and periods they capture. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.

1. United Kingdom – Pride and Prejudice

Choosing a book for the country I live in is difficult. But given I’ve read Pride and Prejudice more times than any other book it has to go on the list. This Jane Austen classic is not only one of the greatest love stories of all time, but also an incredibly good novel in terms of structure and style. You can get it here.

2. United States – Travels with Charley: In Search of America

Choosing a book for my country of birth is equally difficult. But since I’m writing about books to read while traveling, John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley: In Search of America seems the most fitting. The story of the author’s journey with his dog, Charley, in 1960 captures the spirit of the great American road trip and gives a good overview of the country’s regional cultures. You can get it here.

3. India – Shantaram

If there’s one book I couldn’t put down on my travels, it was Shantaram. This epic story of an escaped Australian convict hiding out in Bombay is one of the most captivating I’ve ever read. Make sure to clear your calendar for at least a week before you start it. You can get it here.

4. Chile – The House of the Spirits

Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits was my introduction to magical realism. It started me on the path to reading all kinds of South American literature, including a few efforts in Spanish. Packed with everything from an otherworldly clairvoyant to a beauty with green hair, the novel seamlessly blends the everyday with the supernatural. You can get it here.

5. Spain – The Shadow of the Wind

Speaking of Spanish, I read Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind in its original language. It took me a while, but it was worth the effort to uncover the mysteries of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. You can get it here.

6. Colombia – Love in the Time of Cholera

Love in the Time of Cholera is another novel I read in Spanish. Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s classic took me through a whirlwind of magical realism and tumultuous love triangles in what is now known as one of Colombia’s great epics. It’s one of the best books to read while traveling in South America. You can get it here.

7. Angola – A General Theory of Oblivion

I just finished reading A General Theory of Oblivion, a fascinating book about a woman who barricades herself into her apartment at the dawn of Angolan independence and remains bricked in for 30 years. It’s an emotional ride through individual and international affairs, and inspired by a true story. You can get it here.

8. France – A Moveable Feast

I feel a bit guilty choosing a book written by an expat when there are so many amazing ones written by French natives. But Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast was one of those books I read at the exact time of life when it had the maximum impact. I had just spent a summer living and working in Paris during my university years, and the book’s celebration of being young and poor in the city really resonated with me. You can get it here.

9. Czech Republic – The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Before I studied abroad in Prague I was required to read Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being. The book wound its way through everything from philosophy to relationships, creating a powerful narrative that my classmates and I didn’t stop discussing for the duration of our time there. You can get it here.

10. Japan – Memoirs of a Geisha

Japan is another country with a rich literary canon that I feel sheepish diverting from. I’ve buried myself in many a Murakami, but if there’s one book I couldn’t put down it was American writer Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha. The moving story of a young geisha in Kyoto is a vivid coming-of-age portrait set in a transitional period for the country. While it’s been criticized for misrepresenting the realities of geisha life, it’s a powerful book as a work of fiction. You can get it here.

11. Nigeria – The Fishermen

The Fishermen is a novel about brotherhood, and a turbulent tale of young siblings growing up in Nigeria. While tragic throughout, it’s beautifully written and offers hope and redemption in the end. You can get it here.

12. Germany – All the Light We Cannot See

Set between Germany and France during World War II, All the Light We Cannot See is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. Anthony Doerr’s short chapters pulled me through the whole novel in a few days and left me thinking about it long after I finished. I recently got it for my boyfriend, and it was one of the books he read while traveling on our recent trip to Nepal. He loved it as much as I did. You can get it here.

13. Ireland – The Green Road

I know I should probably put in something Joyce for Ireland, but if I’m honest I struggle to get into his books. On the other hand, Anne Enright’s The Green Road has some of the most eloquent prose I’ve ever read. Her beautiful descriptions of an Irish family’s complex relationships left me itching to get my hands on everything else she’s ever written. You can get it here.

14. Italy – A Room with a View

E. M. Forster’s A Room with a View transported me straight into Edwardian-era Florence. While it deals with the intricacies of British social interactions, I love how it paints a portrait of the Italian city and the way foreign visitors approached travel during that period. You can get it here.

15. New Zealand – The Luminaries

The thing about Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries is that it has a bit of everything. There’s harsh reality, supernatural elements, and lots of loose ends. Set against the backdrop of the New Zealand gold rush, this complex novel had me turning pages well past my bedtime. You can get it here.

16. Congo – Heart of Darkness

I’m not sure what this says about me, but in high school my favorite book was Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. I was fascinated, repulsed, intrigued, and awed in equal measure by this journey deep into the Congo. Memories of Kurtz still haunt me after all these years, which is a sure sign of a good book. You can get it here.

17. Greece – The Iliad

I forced myself to read The Iliad a few years ago after feeling like my Western education was missing a trick without it. But rather than being the tough slog I imagined, it turned out to be a beautiful work of poetry that I could read again and again. And since the first English translation by a woman was published a couple years ago, I think I just might (it helps that it’s sitting on my bookshelf already). You can get it here.

18. Zimbabwe – We Need New Names

NoViolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names is another book I still think about despite having finished it over a year ago. This coming-of-age story that begins in Zimbabwe is both heartbreaking and thought-provoking, and offers a look inside the everyday life of a country usually talked about in political terms. You can get it here.

19. Russia – Anna Karenina

I took two amazing Russian history classes during my university years, and if there’s one book that sums up 19th century Russia for me it’s Anna Karenina. Not only is it an amazing novel, but it also manages to perfectly capture the political, economic, and social landscape of its time. You can get it here.

20. Mexico – The Power and the Glory

Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory is a haunting portrayal of societal struggles and religious strife. Set in 1930s Mexico, the book covers a range of human emotions and experiences as it works its way to a moving conclusion. You can get it here.

21. Canada – Alias Grace

When I think of Canadian literature, I think of Margaret Atwood. And one of my favorite books of hers is Alias Grace. Based on a true story of a woman convicted of a crime, the novel delves into issues of innocence and guilt and leaves the ending as open as the debate. You can get it here.

What are your top picks for books to read while traveling?

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Books to Read While Traveling

43 comments on “Lady’s 21 Books to Read on Your Travels”

  1. Wonderful list! I’ve read many of these, and I’d like to add ‘Born A Crime’ by Trevor Noah. He’s a South African comedian whose memoir captures what it was like growing up under apartheid. It’s a great read and even better to listen to.

  2. This is such a cool idea for a post, I love it! Shamefully, I’ve barely read any of these titles but I’ve been wanting to delve into All the Light We Cannot See for a while, so I’ll be adding it to my reading list for sure! Thanks for the inspiration!

  3. What a great list! I enjoyed a couple of these reads. I would recommend a few others for Canada – Barometer Rising and The Wreckage are both wonderful books from Canada’s Right coast.

  4. I’ve read Pride and Prejudice, All the Light We Cannot See, and Heart of Darkness and agree they are excellent reads. Great list – I’ll have to check out some of the others!

  5. Great post! I’m always so excited to find another Shatanram fan. What an amazing and underrated book! Have you read the sequel? I haven’t yet. If it’s anything like the first book, it will require quite an emotional investment!

  6. I love reading as well, and after I discover your list – I know it’s so many is still on my list. Louise Zafon one of my favorites

  7. Great list – there’s quite a few of these that I haven’t read! I’m currently reading The Spider King’s Daughter by Chibundu Onuzo which is a good one for Nigeria. I’m trying to read more books from other countries!

  8. Great list, Julie! I just bought the Green Road clicking your link so I can read it before heading to Ireland in August. You have some of my favorites on here: A Moveable Feast and All The Light We Cannot See!

  9. A Moveable Feast was what inspired me to go to Paris the very first time I did, in the 20s. One of my friends is a friend of Mariel Hemingway, who is the daughter of Bumby from the book. Another close friend of mine lives a block away from where Hemingway and Hadley lived during the Moveable Feast years, so I’ve been lucky to spend time in that charming neighborhood. Shantaram was quite wonderful, and mostly nonfiction, which is what made it more so. Shadow of the Wind is one of my all-time favorite books, and I agree about All the Light We Cannot See being one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. I highly recommend Tana French and Benjamin Black, both Irish, for extraordinary writing and yarn spinning. As for Iliad, the best modern translation is generally considered to be the Robert Fagles one, which was the most recent one I read, and could not put down. But my all-time favorite book, hands down, is The Count of Monte Cristo, but only the Penguin Classics unabridged translation by Robin Buss. It’s a book that for most of my life I dismissed as an adventure novel for adolescent boys, until my close friend from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law called me one day after reading it and urged me to run, not walk to get it. It became my most-loved book which I’ve gifted to several friends since, and it’s now their favorite book too.

  10. The Luminaries is the best book I’ve read on my travels. For Greece I read The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller and I’ve got The Girl from Venice by Martin Cruz Smith ready for my arrival next month.

  11. Dear Julie,

    Thank you for this great list. I have read a few of these and will definitely read some of those you have recommended.
    Here is a list of some of my favourite books that made me travel:
    Peru: Mario Vargas Llosas. Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter
    United States: Jack London. Martin Eden
    Afghanistan: Joseph Kessel, the Horsemen
    Dibouti: Henri de Monfreid, Hashish: A Smuggler’s Tale
    India: Salman Rushdie: Midnight Children or the Satanic Verses
    Iran: Amin Maalouf, Samarkand
    Japan: Akira Yoshimura , Shipwrecks

  12. Have read 6 of these, bookmarking others to be read before I visit these countries.

    Thanks for the great compilation.

  13. You definitely got my attention with this list by including my favorite novel I’ve read, Anna Karenina. And all three books I’ve read from your list I think are great. So thank you for all of the suggestions. Here are a few recommendations of books that made me want to travel:

    England – Wuthering Heights
    France – The American
    Spain – For Whom the Bell Tolls
    Italy – The Portrait of a Lady
    Switzerland – Frankenstein

  14. For Congo (or any excuse), it would have to be The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver, an incredible novel with unforgettable narrators. Like you, I just love A Room with a View; the film is also a must before or after Florence. Also agree with you on Alias Grace – riveting! For Nigeria, I’d go with anything by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

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