Get inspired for your next trip by reading some real-deal, non-fiction travel writing from some of the best travel writers around. The collection will leave you wanting for the beautiful landscapes, cultures and people, and the cosmopolitan cities found on these pages; a reminder that sometimes travel is a journey rather than a destination.
By Amy Baker
"We were just clinking our bottles together and taking in the view of the sun-kissed rooftops of Buenos Aires from our hostel roof terrace when some posh British twit named Charlie plopped himself down next to us, completely uninvited, and dropped the unsettling bombshell about how backpackers go about getting their hands on pesos in Argentina."
What's to Love: A travelogue-meets-chick-lit easy read. Tired of unwanted advice, Amy Baker shuns the naysayers and heads to South America to write her own rulebook, full of useful parables with serviceable morals such as "repeatedly answering si to every question your taxi driver asks is not how to reach your intended destination." Set through Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia, there's an incredible amount of Latin America scenery and wanderlusty experiences.
Good to Know: This book doesn't just pull back the curtain, it rips it wide open, channelling Carrie Bradshaw in the jungle. Be prepared to read about the author's poor decisions, consumption of edibles and sexual conquests, and riveting descriptions of South America.
By Zora O'Neill
"In fact, you could say that with Arabic and me, it's complicated. We go way back, to the early 1990s, when the language was an obscure field in America, considered about as useful as Old Norse. (An acquaintance assumed she had misheard, and that I studied aerobics, because that made more sense.)"
What's to Love: A love letter to both language and place. Ten years after a college eduction of Fusha Arabic, "the language of the books," took the joy out of the language for her, Zora O'Neill returns to the Middle East to embark on an education of Ammiya, "the language of the street." Through the endless dialects of Egypt, the Persian Gulf, Lebanon, and Morocco, her year of speaking Arabic badly teaches the author how to establish connections beyond language barriers.
Good to Know: For any language lover, the book has fascinating tidbits about Arabic language and grammar, including words with ulterior meanings and language dialects that are incomprehensible from one another.
By James Fallows and Deborah Fallows
"In many parts of the United States, you might complain that it's hard to 'see' the economy anymore. There are too many indistinguishable office blocks, too few old-economy structures where 'real' work is done. In downtown Sioux Falls, where the slaughterhouse is an unavoidable visual and aromatic reminder of the realities of the modern food chain–and where it has a distinct social significance, as well–you would never say that."
What's to Love: An uplifting ode to small-town life in the United States. In a gurgling single-engine prop plane, husband and wife duo James and Deborah Fallows reignite a commitment to domestic travel (and traveling with your domestic). In this classic underdog story, the Fallows describe the successes of towns like Sioux Falls, Pittsburgh, and Greenville in the face of the political and economic turmoil that grips much of the United States. The underlying themes of resilience and unification are sure to make you feel a little gushy inside.
Good to Know: The chronological format and journalistic writing style of this bird's-eye view American narrative eventually becomes part of its charm. Embrace the randomness of the couple's journey and fly on.
By Antonia Bolingbroke-Kent
"I am not of the curmudgeonly caste that moans about there being nothing left to explore; exploration is a state of mind. But in a world that has been largely mapped, clicked, blogged about, uploaded and tramped across, it seemed unbelievable that such a place still exists. Aranchal it was."
What's to Love: A real adventure travelogue with the rare female protagonist. Uncovering some of the most untouched terrain in the world, Antonia Bolingbroke-Kent explores the Seven Sisters, a uniquely isolated septet of the northeastern Indian states. With moments of fear and moments of triumph in an uncovered corner of the world still rife with tribal practices and sacrifice, this evocatively descriptive read is interspersed with myths and facts that provide great cultural flavor.
Good to Know: If our recommendation hasn't yet convinced you, this might: Land of the Dawn-lit Mountains is shortlisted for the 2018 Edward Stanford Travel Writing Award.
By Kapka Kassabova
"Thrown by the ambiguous road structure and bent road signs that pointed into the wilderness, I lost my way. When I stopped on the deserted road to open the car boot for a water bottle, I heard crackling twigs and went to investigate — always a bad idea. In the woods, I felt something approach me from all sides. Midge-like flies entered my nose and mouth and, running back to the car, I nearly trod on a knot of frisky adders."
What's to Love: A cosmographia compilation of voices. Kapka Kassabova has collected the stories of the people of the Bulgaria-Turkey-Greece border, those who have lived on the border, those who have crossed it, and those who never came back. Talking to Bulgarian border guards, smugglers, human traffickers, shepherds, and woodsmen, Turkish refugees, Syrians and Kurds fleeing Iraq, she uncovers the way "border" can be both a beginning and an end.
Good to Know: More than just a report rich in descriptions, the narrative is told in the shadow of the Cold War's history and impact, with the backdrop of the migration crises facing the region and the drug and prostitution trade supporting the economy of the of the provincial towns.
By Shannon Leone Fowler
"The August nights in Thailand had been uncomfortably hot since Sean and I arrived in the country six days earlier. We'd spent many hours sweating on those clown-printed sheets. But as I waited at the temple, cold began to creep up from my bare feet on the coarse tile floor, seeping through my thin purple sundress as we sat on the abrasive stone wall."
Why We Love It: An overwhelmingly honest and sometimes humorous read highlighting travel's potential for catharsis, this is a story of overcoming grief and loss. After Californian marine biologist Shannon Leone Fowler loses her Australian fiance to a jellyfish sting in Ko Pha Ngan, Thailand, she cashes in her savings and embarks on a pilgrimage that takes her to emotionally and geographically dark places. Mingling true descriptions of her disorienting pain with richly crafted illustrations of place, she shows how sometimes getting a little lost can help you be found.
Good to Know: The war-torn, grief-stricken, past-turmoil-ridden destinations Shannon visits — think Oswiecim in Poland, Israel, Bosnia, and Romania — and the personal disregard she shows in visiting them as a lone, Western, female traveler, does not make this a suggested travel itinerary. It does, however, make for an excellent read.
Jerusalem, Drawn and Quartered: One Woman's Year in the Heart of the Christian, Muslim, Armenian, and Jewish Quarters of Old Jerusalem
By Sarah Tuttle-Singer
"It's the street that flows from two directions where we drink coffee, where we kiss, where I look for my mother years after her death, where I imagine my great grandmother walking with her hair blown back like seawalls, and her head held high. It's my favorite street because it is an injured artery from Jerusalem's holy heart to the rest of us, and terrible things have happened, but lovely things have happened, too."
What's to Love: A tale of survival. At sixteen, Californian-native Sarah Tuttle Singer gave her heart to Jerusalem, until one harrowing night when that love was lost. Determined to spend a year in the place that once held her heart, she reveals the everyday life of the Holy City. Uncovering some of the mystery of the hottest piece of spiritual real estate in the world, Sarah describes the juxtaposition of the Palestinian hip-hop alongside the call to prayer, political violence on the same streets as fresh-face church goers — the intersection of religion, beliefs, and, above all, humanity.
Good to Know: Since you'll likely fall in love with Sarah's witty, funny, and endearing prose, and will promptly be booking a trip to Jerusalem, you won't have to end with the book. Singer is the media editor at Times of Israel, and her blog posts read almost like an essay collection sequel.