MY FAVORITE TRAVEL BOOKS OF 2016

2016booksimage

Travel books: I love reading them! They keep me inspired and educated, and help me pass the time on long flights, bus rides, and train rides.

Actually, I just love reading. When I was a child, I was an avid reader but that fell to the wayside as the years rolled on. However, last year, I started a book club in an effort to keep me on track and force me to read more. Now, I average a book a week (sometimes two if they are short).

At the end of 2015, I shared a list of some of my favorite books. As we get into the last few months of 2016, I want to share some more of the great stuff I’ve read this year. Here’s what I recommend putting in your Amazon queue:

1. A Year of Living Danishly, by Helen Russell
A Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World's Happiest Country by Helen Russell

This was probably one of my favorite books all year. When her husband gets a job at the Lego offices in Jutland, journalist Helen Russell, unfulfilled in her job, decides to head to Denmark with him, freelance, and try to figure out why the Danes are so happy. From childcare, education, food, and interior design to taxes, sexism, and everything in between (turns out the Danes love to burn witches), Helen’s funny, poignant story kept me enthralled from start to finish. It’s informative, funny, and self-deprecating, and it tells a great story of someone trying to fit in. As someone who loves Denmark, has lots of Danish friends, and thinks Copenhagen is one of the best cities in the world, I couldn’t put this down. If you read just one book from this list, make it this one!

2. Eat Pray Eat, by Michael Booth

Eat Pray Eat: One Man’s Accidental Search for Enlightenment by Michael Booth

I found this book while roaming a bookstore in Thailand and, in need of a new book for my flight to the Philippines, picked it up. I’d never heard of Michael Booth before, but I loved the title. In this book, Michael and his family travel to India — in part because he decided to write a definitive book on Indian food (slightly overambitious!) and in part because his wife said it was about time they take a family trip and he reconnect with his kids. Along the way, the jaded and bitter Michael loses his cynicism and discovers that it’s never to late to change. I read this at a time I needed a bit of encouragement and inspiration, and I found Michael’s transformation a mirror for my own personal struggles. But beyond my personal reasons for enjoying this book, his dry British humor and attention to detail were captivating, and I have since ordered his new book on Scandinavia!

3. A Beginner’s Guide to Paradise, by Alex Sheshunoff
 A Beginner's Guide to Paradise: 9 Steps to Giving Up Everything by Alex Sheshunoff

I get a lot of random travel books sent to me by authors hoping they will end up on the website. Sometimes I read the books, most of the times I don’t, but I picked up this one because the author sent a coconut with it and the title and cover art caught my eye. This book follows Alex as he quits his job in NYC at the end of the tech boom, moves to the South Pacific in search of the perfect life, and lugs a suitcase full of books with him to pass the time. He roams from island to island trying to find that “paradise” that we so crave (spoiler: it doesn’t exist) until one day he ends up on Palau, meets a woman, and decides to stay for a bit. Along the way, they build a house, adopt a monkey, learn the culture, and figure out life. It’s a funny, witty, and inspirational memoir that I couldn’t put down.

4. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, by Mark Manson
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson

Blogger, friend, and legend Mark Manson is one of the most well-known writers on the Internet. Chelsea Handler snapchats his stuff and Elizabeth Gilbert quoted him in one of her novels. Mark’s blogcontains long articles on living a better life, relationships, and happiness. His new book bolted to the top of the best-seller list when it was released a month ago and still sits there today. I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy and really loved it. This book focuses on breaking down the myth that we’re all special, the illusion that we are owed happiness, and his plans on how to live a more stoic life — accepting things as they are, recognizing that problems can actually push us toward development, and becoming happy and better at the relationships we do have. This book is not about not caring, but about learning how to not sweat the small stuff and focus on the bigger picture.

5. The Backpacker, by John Harris
The Backpacker by John Harris

I picked up this book at a second-hand shop in Vietnam years ago, and it intrigued me as I was backpacking around Southeast Asia. Amazon suggested it to me recently, so I picked it up again for another read and found it’s still just as enthralling! John travels to India, where he meets Rick, who then persuades him to go to the Thai island of Ko Phangan, where John, Rick, and their new friend Dave pose as millionaire aristocrats. However, after getting on the wrong side of the Thai mafia, they leave for adrenaline-fueled journeys to Singapore, Indonesia, Australia, and Hong Kong. I’ve always wondered if this was a true story since so much of it seems far-fetched, but even if it’s all fake, it’s an entertaining read. Light, easy, and fun, it will get you excited for the road.

6. Walking the Nile, by Levison Wood
Walking the Nile by Levison Wood

Adventurer Levison Wood has a dream: he wants to be the first person to walk the full length of the Nile. Like the author of the Amazon trek book I featured, Levison is looking to push himself to the limit and do something no one else has done. Starting at the source of the Nile (though this is very contested, since many countries claim to be the source), he starts walking… and walking… and walking. While not the most engrossing writer (side note: I feel this way about lots of adventurers-turned-writers: great stories, but poorly told), Wood still manages to weave a fascinating tale with plenty of insight into this part of Africa.

7. Backpacking with Dracula, by Leif Pettersen
Backpacking with Dracula: On the Trail of Vlad the Impaler Dracula and the Vampire He Inspired by Leif Pettersen

Part travelogue, part history book, and part practical guide to Romania, this book recounts my friend Leif Pettersen’s travels through the country during his time as a guidebook writer for Lonely Planet. As someone who also loves Romania (it is such an underrated country. I don’t understand why more people don’t go!), I found his witty and funny retelling of Romanian history compelling and enjoyed all the travel tales he wove in between. I’m not sure some of practical tips still hold true but Pettersen’s book was a witty, funny, and good light read that will give a very good overview of the country! (There aren’t many books on Romania that do that!)

8. Skeletons on the Zahara, by Dean King
Skeletons on the Zahara: A True Story of Survival by Dean KingThis enthralling narrative recounts the experiences of twelve American sailors who were shipwrecked off the coast of Africa in 1815, captured by desert nomads, sold into slavery, and taken on a two-month journey through the Sahara. This vivid account of courage, brotherhood, and survival was a page-turner. I’m not sure I would have survived similar circumstances. Based off accounts of the few survivors, it gives you a window in a part of the world and culture that wasn’t well understood during this period of time. I won’t reveal too much of the story (don’t Google it!), but this book captivated me from start to finish.

9. The Joys of Travel, by Thomas Swick
The Joys of Travel: And Stories That Illuminate Them by Thomas Swick

Veteran travel writer Thomas Swick (who I also interview in my travel writing course) writes about “the seven joys of travel” through a series of personal essays that detail the author’s experiences visiting destinations across the globe, including Munich, Bangkok, Sicily, Iowa, and Key West. I dig this book because it talks about the personal journey and meaning travel has for us. You can really relate to Swick’s experiences about how travel has changed him. (Plus, Swick is one of the best travel writers out there, so you’ll find this book terrifically written).

10. Encore Provence, by Peter Mayle
Encore Provence: New Adventures in the South of France by Peter Mayle

In his follow-up to A Year in Provence, Peter Mayle talks about how life has changed in the nine years since he wrote his original masterpiece. This book contains a series of essays and comments on the changes in the region, thoughts on the popularity of his first book, and a “how to guide” to visiting the area. Just as beautifully written as his previous book, I loved how he not only writes in detail on life in the region but also how he provides practical tips on visiting markets, what to buy, and where to eat, and even trashes a food writer for poor reporting of the food scene in the area! (It’s quite amazing!) This is a definite must read (after your read his first book!).

11. Getting Stoned with Savages, by J. Maarten Troost
Getting Stoned with Savages: A Trip Through the Islands of Fiji and Vanuatu by J. Maarten Troost

In this follow-up to The Sex Lives of Cannibals, Troost finds himself back in the South Pacific, living in Vanuatu and Fiji. Though they spent two years in Washington, DC, after returning from living in Kiribati, he and his wife move back to the South Pacific after she gets a job, he gets fired, and they decide it’s a better place to start a family. Falling into one amusing misadventure after another, Troost struggles against typhoons, earthquakes, and giant centipedes and soon finds himself swept up in the laid-back, clothing-optional lifestyle of the islanders. The book is just as self-deprecating, funny, vivid, and interesting as all his others, and it cements Troost as one of my favorite modern travel writers.

12. Eating Vietnam, by Graham Holliday
Eating Viet Nam by Graham Holliday

While I don’t love Vietnam (I didn’t have a great experience there), I do love Vietnamese food! Holliday’s awesome book about the history and culture behind the country’s street cuisine provides a unique perspective on the country. He lived in Vietnam for over ten years, devouring anything he could get his hands on. In this engrossing and hunger-inducing book, you’ll wander through the back streets of Vietnam, learning about street food, and begin to understand the country and its people through their first love. Though I thought the book got a bit tedious in the end, after reading it, this book managed to spark a desire to return to Vietnam that I didn’t think I would ever have again!

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If you’re looking for some earth shattering books, consider some of these! Or, as the holidays approach, get them to share with friends and family!