The last year has deflated travel hopes for many of us. Between testing rules, tightly controlled borders, and closed venues, it’s not a great time for those of us who want to get out and explore. 

But that doesn’t mean we can’t adventure through the world— we just have to get more creative!

In fact, we can do what armchair travelers have been doing for centuries: find a good book and let it transport us to the sights, sounds and smells of somewhere far away. 

Rather than presenting another list of the same must-read titles (you already know about Eat, Pray, LoveOn the Road, and The Odyssey), I’m recommending a few highly-rated books that you probably haven’t read yet. So pour yourself a cup of your favorite hot drink, settle into your coziest chair, and lose yourself in one of these wonderful travel books. 

Refugee by Alan Gratz

The term “refugee” necessarily indicates travel, although not the kind you’d like to take on your vacation. This novel is a vibrant (though heavy) plunge into three different settings around the world, each taking place during a different period of conflict and forced migration. See the world through the eyes of refugees from Nazi Germany, 1990s Cuba, and present-day Syria to get a taste of what travel means for victims of political upheaval. 

In the Steps of St. Paul by H.V. Morton

One might call this book the original “travel blog,” although it was written in 1935. The author traveled through the Mediterannean region to follow the journeys of St. Paul, all the while joining newfound friends on archeological adventures, accepting dinner invitations from curious locals, and, of course, taking time for afternoon tea in true British fashion. His book includes historical insights on each stop as well as notes on the contemporary atmosphere of each location and entertaining encounters he had along the way. Predating World War II, present-day conflicts, pervasive Westernization and widespread interest in archeology, it offers a peek into a world you and I are too late to enter (and locations that may be off-limits to tourists for many years to come). 

To The Bright Edge of the World

To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey

You might have heard of Ivey’s first novel Snow Child (which happens to be my favorite book, by the way). But have you read her second novel? To the Bright Edge of the World reads as the journals of an American explorer and his wife as he sets off on an expedition to travel the cold and forbidding wilderness of 1885 Alaska. Packed with historical details as well as fantastical stories, this book is the tale of two worlds colliding in a realm where reason meets myth. 

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Ship of Theseus by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst

Although it’s not entirely clear whether Ship of Theseus takes place in the real world, an alternative world, and some combination of the two, I would consider this a travel book. After all, the main character— an assassin taking down villainous arms dealers— spends a lot of time on a ramshackle ship traveling to locations that seem to be found in Europe, Asia, and South America. If you buy this book, you may be annoyed to find that your brand-new copy appears to have been heavily marked by three or four rounds of note-taking. However, at a second glance, you’ll see that there is also a modern-day story found in the margin notes and inserts— one of love, mystery, betrayal, and, of course, travel. 

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Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

When newborn twins are left orphaned in Ethiopia by the death of their mother, a nun, and the disappearance of their father, a British surgeon, two Indian expat doctors join their lives together to ensure the boys’ survival. Until their teens, the boys grow up under the care of their adoptive parents in Addis Ababa. But in the face of national revolution, one of the twins must move from Africa to North America and back again to find out who he will become and how he fits into a changing world. 

Even without a pandemic, travel literature is beneficial for the globally-minded individual — especially when the books you choose reflect the kaleidoscope of views from around the planet. Books allow us to take on the perspective of both character and author. They teach us to see the world in a new way, broadening our understanding and appreciation of people and places we haven’t yet encountered. 

With that in mind, why not read a few new books and whet your appetite for the next time you get to go on an adventure? If you find one you love that’s not in this article, share in the comments below— I’m always looking for new titles to add to my book list!