What are the thirty best travel books?

by on June 27, 2006 at 4:52 am in Travels | Permalink

Here is the list, courtesy of WorldHum, via Bookslut.  I agree with most of it, recognizing that no single author (e.g., Thubron, Raban, Theroux) can receive more than one pick.  But where is Barry Lopez’s Arctic Dreams?  David Campbell’s The Crystal Desert?  For my first choice I would select either Naipaul’s Turn in the South or Robert Byron’s Road to Oxiana.  Surely they forgot Marco Polo’s Travels, which remains riveting.  Herodotus?  Can we count Democracy in AmericaGulliver’s Travels?  Dante’s Inferno?  Your further suggestions are welcome.

1 Luis Enrique June 27, 2006 at 6:37 am

This is a lovely book:

Travels with a Tangerine: A Journey in the Footnotes of Ibn Battutah
by Tim Mackintosh-Smith

2 Shiraz Allidina June 27, 2006 at 8:40 am

“Seven Years In Tibet” by Heinrich Harrer is riveting, particularly if one is travelling through Tibet.

3 dsquared June 27, 2006 at 9:11 am

Missing “As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning” by Laurie Lee is pretty odd.

4 Robert June 27, 2006 at 10:10 am

The list seems to have no books on Mexico. Does anyone know of any good works on that country, particularly the Oaxaca region?

5 Ted Craig June 27, 2006 at 10:47 am

National Geographic Travler just posted a similar list:


6 NCA June 27, 2006 at 12:41 pm

Jason, wouldn’t Invisible Cities sort of be the anti-travel book?

No mention at all of Henry James’ travelogues, nor Goethe’s Italian Journey. And what about Journey to the Western Islands?

I guess more creatively you could add The Odyssey; would the latter half of Lolita count?

7 Bill Stepp June 27, 2006 at 1:11 pm

Abroad by Paul Fussell could be a contender for the list.

8 Jason Kuznicki June 27, 2006 at 2:26 pm

Jason, wouldn’t Invisible Cities sort of be the anti-travel book?

Not at all. It’s only participating in a long tradition of travel-where-you-are books, one pioneered by de Maistre’s Voyage autour de ma chambre (A Voyage Around My Room) published in the late 18th century.

9 rp June 27, 2006 at 3:46 pm

Saul Bellow, To Jerusalem and Back

10 TJIC June 27, 2006 at 6:04 pm

Dark Star Saffari.

11 David Zetland June 27, 2006 at 8:10 pm

A few more:

Danziger’s Travels: Beyond Forbidden Frontiers by Nick Danziger (an idiot, but an entertaining one…)

And the third greatest traveler of them all (after Ibn Battuta and Marco Polo), Sir Richard Francis Burton, near-discoverer of the source of the Nile, first infidel to get to Mecca, translator of the unexpurged thousand and one nights, and British diplomat who never stayed at his consular post long before he set out for another adventure. I suggest his biography, since he’s a bit wordy as a writer 🙂

12 Carter June 27, 2006 at 8:26 pm

Waugh’s “Robbery Under Law” is one you in particular would benefit from reading.

The Periplus of Hanno, an account of the sailing voyages around Africa of a 6th century BC Carthiginian.

Marvin Sheblick’s “This Water Smells Funny (and I Don’t Mean Ha-Ha)”, an eccentric’s journal of his ill-fated trip down the Cuyahoga River by paddle boat in the late 1960’s.

13 Dr.Cornelius June 28, 2006 at 2:53 am

On a lighter note check out Thank You and OK! An American Zen Failure in Japan by David Chadwick.

14 dearieme June 28, 2006 at 9:33 am

“Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes” by RLS?

15 Tyrone Slothrop June 28, 2006 at 5:30 pm

Oh, and let me second the nomination of Leigh Fermor’s A Time Of Gifts. Absolutely fantastic. (More about that.)

16 Ben July 1, 2006 at 4:40 am

Xenophon’s March of the Ten Thousand. Oh, well, maybe not.

17 jon October 7, 2006 at 2:56 am

Nothing yet by the queen of early-twentieth-century travel, Dame Freya Stark. Alexander’s Path, The Valleys of the Assassins…a prose style that is one of the finest in English, too. She has the almost magical ability to provide enough memorable description without cluttering the narrative. It ain’t easy; in fact it is one of the trickiest things in travel writing.

18 AlfredHitch November 22, 2010 at 2:57 pm

My favorite travel book was Eyeless in Gaza by Aldous Huxley. Although not a contemporary writer, it is still an amazing and captivating read.
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