A good book can transport you to another place and bring it vividly to life. Books also provide great inspiration to travel and see the wonderful locations you’ve read about with your own eyes. Follow the trail of your favorite characters or visit authors’ homes and favorite haunts that settings in their books were based on. Non-fiction memoirs and travelogues can provide a more direct source of destination envy. So whether you’re an armchair traveler or heading out on literary adventures, here are some of my favorite books to inspire travel.
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Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
Prince Edward Island, Canada
This classic childhood favorite is like a love letter to the red earth of Canada’s beautiful island province. Orphaned Anne Shirley comes to live on P.E.I. and her incredible imagination and hot temper get her into all kinds of “scrapes” in this first of a seven book series. If you travel there, you can actually visit her home, Green Gables, and other iconic places from the novel – some real, some “inspired by”. I may have taken a selfie or two in a braided red wig 😛
No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith
Get to know Botswana with this first book in a long series about private detective Precious Ramotswe, the country’s number one (and only…) lady detective. Full of heart, humor, and interesting mysteries, this book also has great descriptions of Botswana and its culture. The author is Scottish but was born in Zimbabwe and lived in Botswana for many years. He knows Africa and really brings it to life.
44 Scotland Street by Alexander McCall Smith
Alternatively, try a very different series from the same author all about the lives of the various tenants in the same Edinburgh apartment building. Just as his detective series brings heart and life to Botswana, this series does the same for Edinburgh. The Scottish city is one of my favorites, with its castle on the hill and old-world architecture. It’s also important in the lives of other, more famous authors, such as Robert Louis Stevenson, Arthur Conan Doyle, and J.K. Rowling. The Writer’s Museum is a great literary site in Edinburgh, which I loved!
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
The first book in the Millenium trilogy follows hacker Lisbeth Salander as she teams up with journalist Mikael Blomkvist to bring a serial rapist and murderer to justice and get revenge on those who have wronged her personally. A good part of the book is set in real places around Stockholm, Sweden. You really get a feel for the city (and also some more rural Sweden) that will make you want to plan a trip to this northern capital. I had so much fun putting on my hooded leather jacket and too much black eye make-up and skulking around Lisbeth’s neighborhood…
Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
This wildly popular romantic novel (first of a trilogy) delves into the world of the obscenely rich families of Singapore. Rachel Cho is a New York professor who travels to Singapore to meet her boyfriend’s family only to discover they are incredibly wealthy and in their eyes, she doesn’t measure up. Singapore is a small country and the book describes it very well. You can visit many of the novel’s settings on a trip to that south Asian island. I may have scanned the edges of the botanical gardens for a glimpse of Tyersall Park, the adjacent estate that serves as the opulent family home in the novel…
Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres
Also sometimes called Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, this is one of my all-time favorite books (skip the movie…). I’m just a big fan of the author’s prose, vocabulary, and distinct character voices. Set during World War II, this book tells the story of a young Greek girl and the two men who fall for her: a local fisherman and a soldier in the occupying Italian army. It’s set on the real island of Kefalonia, where you can visit the gorgeous mountains and beaches described in the novel.
Quentins by Maeve Binchy
Really any of Maeve Binchy’s plethora of heartfelt novels are engrossing slices of Irish life. Quentins is a great starter as it revolves around the Dublin restaurant “Quentins” and those who frequent it. It nicely shows off the country’s capital city and the lives of its inhabitants over the years. Ireland is a beautiful and easy country to travel to, one of my faves, and the more you read from this author, the more you’ll want to visit.
The Motorcycle Diaries by Ernesto “Che” Guevara
Argentina, Peru, Chile, Colombia, Venezuela
Before he was a famous revolutionary figure (and t-shirt icon), Che Guevara was a young student traveling around South America on his motorcycle. This book is the diary he kept during that trip and it’s a fascinating read. Argentina is a gorgeous and varied country (Patagonia is my favorite region) and Peru and Chile and totally on my travel bucket list. Experience South America through young Che’s eyes then head out and experience it through your own.
Angels & Demons by Dan Brown
Vatican City & Rome, Italy
This book is tailor-made for travelers to follow in the footsteps of its protagonist, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon, as he connects clues in real art and architecture to uncover symbols, root out an ancient secret society, and save lives. This is my favorite of the series but all of the Langdon books make great guides for visiting the museums and historical landmarks of the various cities they are set in.
Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
This book is a poetic window into the elegant and terrible world of Geishas. It provokes interest in both this Japanese cultural tradition and the historical city of Kyoto, where the novel is set. Many parts of Kyoto still look as they did hundreds of years ago, though this novel mostly takes place not too long ago in the mid-20th century. I loved venturing into a different world both wandering the streets of Kyoto and reading this novel.
The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows
Guernsey Island, UK
Another of my all-time favorite books, this is a fictional account of a real event: the German occupation of Guernsey Island during World War II. This epistolary novel (entirely told through letters/written communication between various characters) follows writer Juliet Ashton as she investigates a story about a reading group that formed in an unusual way and how each of the members dealt with the occupation. It definitely made me put Guernsey on my travel bucket list!
Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier
Delft, The Netherlands
This book is a fictionalized version of how Vermeer’s famous painting of the same name came to be. It imagines the subject as one of the real-life painter’s servants, Griet, who has to navigate lower-class life in 17th century Holland while developing her interest in art. It takes place in Delft, where the real Vermeer lived and one of the most picturesque towns I’ve ever been to. The book shows you a window into life hundreds of years ago and Delft looks very much the same today. While the actual painting hangs in a museum in The Hague (also worth a visit!), there is a Vermeer museum in Delft where you can check many of his other works.
Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen
Isak Dinesen is the pen-name for Danish Baroness Karen Blixen, who had a coffee plantation in Kenya in the early 20th century. This is an anecdotal account of her life in colonial Africa and the people (and animals) she encountered there. It’s a product of its time but really paints a picture of Kenya that will make you want to visit. My Kenyan safari is still one of my favorite travel experiences.
In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson
Follow the adventures of travel writer Bill Bryson as he journeys around Australia. Reading his descriptions and adventures will make you want to travel to that island continent, even though it has more animals and nature that can kill you than anywhere else in the world… I recently took my own voyage around the vast and varied continent country and lived to tell the tale 🙂
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
The Scottish Highlands
The first book in the epic Outlander series will make you want to visit the rugged scenery and old castles of the gorgeous Scottish Highlands. It follows the adventures of a married nurse just after World War II who accidentally travels back in time to just before the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745, gets caught up in dangerous plots, and meets a strapping highland warrior, of course. You can wander the highlands, Culloden Moor battleground and gravesites, and the real town of Inverness, all of which I absolutely loved. If you’re also a fan of the TV series based on this book, you can visit many of its filming locations, including Lallybroch.
Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice
New Orleans, LA, USA
New Orleans, with its voodoo affiliations and French and jazz culture, is a perfect setting for one of the most classic vampire novels (aside from Dracula, of course). It’s one of my favorite cities in the US and this first book of the multi-book series really brings it to life through the eyes of the vampires Louis and Lestat and their terrifying and seductive activities.
Persuasion by Jane Austen
Any of Austen’s novels would be great inspiration for traveling in England (I may have cosplayed at the Jane Austin House Museum in Chawton…) but a big chunk of Persuasion takes place in the historical city of Bath. Anne Elliot is unmarried and getting a bit long in the tooth when fate brings her ex-fiance Mr. Wentworth, an “unsuitable” naval captain who she was persuaded to break up with years ago despite their mutual love, back into her life. Many areas of Bath look very similar to how they did in Austen’s time so you can trace Anne’s footsteps around the city.
Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin
San Francisco, USA
San Francisco is another of my favorite American cities and this book is classic San Francisco. It started as a newspaper serial in the 1970s and was adapted into a series of novels about the lives of various people living in the same apartment building. It deals with LGBTQ+ issues at a time when San Fran was a center of gay culture. You really get the feeling of the era from this book and it will make you want to visit that eclectic city.
Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
The popular TV series based on this novel may be set in Monterey, California but the book is actually set in Sydney, Australia. This story of suburban moms, school drama, and secrets that have a huge effect shows a more normal side of life down under, albeit with a nasty underbelly. It’s not a typical “travel inspiration” book due to its darker subject matter and community focus but it draws you in may charm you into putting the beaches and urban comforts of Australia’s biggest city on your travel wish list.
The Lost City of Z by David Grann
Amazon region, South America
This thrilling adventure tale of Amazon exploration is actually non-fiction. The journalist author follows the footsteps of Percy Fawcett, a British explorer who trekked into the jungle in 1925 in search of the title legendary city and never returned. It will peak your adventurous spirit and make you want to explore the wilds of the Amazon for yourself. I spent several days on a riverboat floating down the Amazon river and it still does feel like an expedition (and a city, for that matter) could easily disappear forever…
Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders by Joshua Foer, Dylan Thuras & Ella Morton
For travelers who want to get off the beaten path and see something different, crazy, unique, and may even downright weird, this is the book for you. It outlines over 700 of the strangest and coolest spots around the globe. You will want to travel everywhere after reading this one! I’ve checked off a small percentage of them and the rest are now on my list 🙂
The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking
Denmark is consistently rated one of the happiest countries in the world, if not the happiest. This short little book by the CEO of Denmark’s Happiness Research Institute explains what about Danish life, and the concept of “hygge” (creating a feeling of coziness, comfort, well-being, etc.), might cause this satisfaction. It’s an interesting look into Danish culture and who wouldn’t want to go visit the happiest country in the world? It’s actually where I’m writing this from right now 🙂
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