Sarah’s Top 7: Best Travel Books
I’m starting the “Sarah’s Top 7” series to share my personal travel style, travel tips, and opinions on travel. I plan to cover packing tips, pet peeves, destinations, and more. That said – these posts will showcase my personal opinions on things I’ve experienced firsthand. There may be other “best travel books” lists out there but these are MY favorite!
Shantaram is IMO, one of the best travel books of all time! But then, I do love a great piece of historical fiction. This book is an absolute must read during any trip to India. It is an outrageous story based loosely on the author’s real life that will make you burst out laughing, cry, and feel sad when it’s over. You’ll also learn a lot of nuances about Indian culture and feel more connected to the country.
The Silk Roads: A New History of the World
Silk Roads is the best travel book if you are interested in world history or are traveling to Asia, Central Asia, or the Middle East. If you grew up learning standard western history, you’ll learn so much more to help fill in the blanks. You’ll hear stories from the Silk Road, of Arab and Central Asian astronomical achievements (they knew the world was round centuries before Europeans), and learn how the major religions of the world spread. Having a better understanding of the history of this part of the world will aid us all in being a bit more tolerant – and make your trips here a lot more interesting!
Bananas: How the United Fruit Company Shaped the World
Wowzers. This is a must read if you are a) visiting Central or South America, b) were born after the 1970s and don’t know about the crazy things the CIA used to do or c) want to better understand the implications of colonialism and capitalistic colonialism. This makes my list of best travel books because it blew my mind – from the history of the banana (which was once an obscure and unattainable fruit!), to how one company influenced the geopolitics of an entire hemisphere – it’s interesting stuff and is packed with Central American history.
Pillars of the Earth
Ok – I love Ken Follet – he is the guru of historical fiction, my favorite type of book. Pillars of the Earth is no different. I highly recommend this book if you’re visiting Europe for your first or 10th time. It is drama packed but goes into detail on the political and physical difficulties of building cathedrals in the middle ages. I read it after I’d been to Europe many, many times and it completely refreshed my appreciation for European architecture! Plus, it’s a page-turner, a must for any “best travel book.”
If you like Ken Follet’s style I also personally recommend all three books in his Century Trilogy too. They cover WWI, WWII, and the Cold War/Civil Rights movement from the perspectives of Russian, British, German, and American families.
Kabul Beauty School
I’ll preface this by saying… I don’t recommend anyone visit Afghanistan right now. BUT, I really loved Kabul Beauty School. If I can’t visit somewhere, I still like to read about it. Many of you may have read Kite Runner and other novels set in Afghanistan, but I found this memoir (true story) to be fascinating. The author, Deborah Rodriguez, went to Kabul as part of an aid mission after the fall of the Taliban. The others were doctors, nurses, therapists etc. while Deborah was a hairdresser. At first, she didn’t know how she could help. She ended up making the most lasting impact of them all.
For more on this region, I also love Three Cups of Tea and Stones into Schools. There has been some controversy over whether the author accomplished everything he mentions in the books, but they are fantastic reads and some of the best travel books for understanding this region.
I read this book when I visited Iran in 2015. It’s written by a Harvard professor and former member of the State Department’s planning council. If your only exposure to Iran is what you see on CNN and Fox, this is a must read for you and definitely a ‘best travel book’! You’ll learn about the long, rich history of the Persian people and understand why the country’s government has a deep mistrust for the west. It also opened my eyes to acts of the western world in Iran in the 50s, which ended up causing the revolution. Another book on how past actions have caused many current geopolitical problems.
Orphan Masters Son
This one is fiction but is set in North Korea and is a fast and interesting read! The author spent three years researching North Korea and visited himself, so if you’re interested in the hermit kingdom at all, you’d love this book. The main character is complex in his feelings towards his nation and how they juxtapose with his personal life. This book won a Pulitzer Prize too, so you know it’s one of the best travel books out there!
I would love to hear your favorites too. If you have any historical/international fiction favorites, non-fiction history books you think the world should read, or any other book that has aided in or inspired your travel please send it to me so I can share with all our readers and followers!