Whether you wait out the midday heat by reading in the shade or end each day with the delicious treat of your next chapter, summer is the perfect time to kick back and relax with a good book. Travel novels and memoirs in particular offer both the escapism of far-off lands you may never visit and the inspiration to plan your next trip. From novels to memoirs, funny to serious, we’ve rounded up ten of the best contemporary travel books to enjoy this summer.
In the mood for a light, funny read? We’ve got you covered. Prefer to delve deep into subjects like cultural identity, complicated histories, and living life to the fullest? We’ve got options for you too.
Cover photo and additional photography: @wanderingashtree
You might just find yourself looking up from your book (or Kindle) and seeing your surroundings in a completely different way. In the pages of the right story, you can find the motivation to meet new people, venture further off the beaten path, and turn your van life experience into an adventure worth writing about yourself.
Alone Time: Four Seasons, Four Cities, and the Pleasures of Solitude
By Stephanie Rosenbloom
Part travel memoir, part exploration of the concept of traveling alone, journalist Stephanie Rosenbloom’s first book will inspire you to embark on solo adventures both large and small. In each of the four sections of the book, Rosenbloom explores a different city by herself, offering beautiful vignettes of the local sights, helpful tips for making the most of solitary experiences, and research about the growing phenomena of solo travel. With its hybrid format, this book simultaneously informs, inspires, and transports readers.
By Tommy Orange
This award-winning novel reminds us of the power of travel in helping us form our personal and collective identities. The story follows twelve Native characters, each with their own chapter, as they journey to the Big Oakland Powwow. Each element of the story works towards an understanding of what it means to be Native American today, drawing upon painful and beautiful histories and present circumstances. Like all the best multi-character stories, the individual narratives become intertwined in unexpected ways as the book goes on.
It’s On the Meter: Traveling the World by London Taxi
By Paul Archer and Johno Ellison
When three young English guys drunkenly decide to drive around the world together in a taxicab, hijinks ensue. This true story is equal parts hilarious and hair-raising. Van dwellers will relate to the wild and strange adventures that can happen on the road, and this global road trip story might just encourage you to live with a little more spontaneity. And if relaxing on the beach is more of your vibe this summer, you can still live vicariously through these lads.
Wandering in Strange Lands: A Daughter of the Great Migration Reclaims Her Roots
By Morgan Jerkins
New York Times bestselling author Morgan Jerkins deftly combines the personal and historical in this book. As she retraces the journey of her ancestors in the Great Migration, from South Carolina and Georgia to Oklahoma, Louisiana, and California, Jerkins learns about and reflects upon the Black experience in the United States throughout history. This book is a reminder of travel’s power to connect us with our roots as well as the importance of peeling back the layers of history in the places we visit.
Best. State. Ever.: A Florida Man Defends His Homeland
By Dave Barry
While not strictly speaking a travel memoir, this quirky book will appeal to van lifers who venture—or plan to venture—to the Sunshine State. Pulitzer Prize-winning and bestselling author Dave Barry entertains readers with plenty of the side-splitting funny moments he is known for, while offering insider insight into the unique and little-understood culture of the popular van life destination of Florida.
Driving Over Lemons: An Optimist in Andalucía
By Chris Stewart
When Chris Stewart and his wife trade their life in England for a remote farm in Spain, they set the stage for the classic expat-adjusting-to-life-in-another-country narrative. What sets this story apart from similar books, however, is Stewart’s humorous and—as the title suggests—optimistic approach to every challenge that comes his way. This quick-paced, lighthearted read set in a ruggedly beautiful location is ideal for summer escapism. And if you enjoy this book, there are three more in the series to read next.
Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted
By Suleika Jaouad
This heart-wrenching but powerful book chronicles the experiences of Suleika Jaouad, who was diagnosed with leukemia shortly after graduating college. With only a 35% predicted chance of survival, she is forced to face the prospect of death, as well as a loss of independence and all of the taken-for-granted elements of a “normal” life. After she miraculously heals physically from the cancer, she embarks solo on a 100-day cross-country road trip to continue her healing mentally and emotionally. This poignant story will remind van fans of the lifestyle’s tendency to act as a catalyst for metamorphosis.
A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail
By Bill Bryson
Bill Bryson is one of the most well-known voices in travel writing and, in this book, he undertakes one of the most classic hikes in the U.S.A., the Appalachian Trail. Along the way, Bryson offers fun facts about the trail and the region. This book’s most important attribute, though, is in the laugh-out-loud gems studded throughout the storyline. Fans of hiking and humor alike will enjoy this book.
Catfish and Mandala: A Two-Wheeled Voyage Through the Landscape and Memory of Vietnam
By Andrew X. Pham
This memoir of a young Vietnamese-American man traveling around the Pacific Rim by bicycle was described by one reviewer as “what travel writing should be.” Andrew X. Pham does not shy away from brutal honesty about his experiences and the struggle to understand his identity as a child of immigration. He also paints a picture of the country of his ancestors with skill and nuance. This book will teach you about the history of Vietnam while inspiring you to embark on a meaningful voyage of your own.
The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World
By Eric Weiner
When Eric Weiner, a self-described “grump” and former foreign correspondent, decides to start visiting the places across the world where people are most content, he begins to unlock the secrets of personal happiness as well as a bigger picture understanding of the “geography of happiness.” This book has everything you could want in a travel memoir: transporting descriptions of the many countries the author visits, a personal narrative of growth, and a larger message about joy, community, and human nature.
Whether reading your travel book of choice is the closest you’ll ever get to the exotic locales described within or the first step in your plan to make a journey of your own, you can enjoy the transporting and transforming nature of the genre. There is something for everyone on this diverse book list, but all of these stories shed light on why humans are so drawn to traveling, and how we can get the most out of our experiences away from home.
What are your favorite travel books? Let us know in the comments. If you’re ready to take the leap and buy a camper van for endless travel possibilities, visit Rec Van today!