For many, books were our first way to travel the world. As children, we imagined locations like Narnia and the land of wild things; as teenagers, we went to real-life destinations like East Egg and the Salinas Valley. Every one of us owes some small part of the savvy adult travelers we are today to the traveling we did in our mind’s eye, way back when.
Some of these books are works of fiction that transport us to spectacular destinations, like the lush Italian Riviera or the ice-bound Russian tundra. Others are travel memoirs recounting extraordinary journeys, like seeing the United States by AmTrak or biking overland from Ireland to India. Still, others seek to answer more profound questions about travel, like, “How does travel change us?” and, “How do we travel ethically?” Whatever your preference, be sure you have a good suitcase at the ready because once you start reading in earnest, you’ll be pulling the trigger on a plane ticket in no time.
Less, by Andrew Sean Greer
In Less, an unforgettable comic novel, we meet Arthur Less, an aging writer embarking on a madcap global adventure in an effort to outrun heartbreak. Less’ ‘s travels take him everywhere from Berlin to Paris, a ski chalet in Morocco to a Christian writing retreat in Southern India, all of it a sparkling satire of Americans abroad, as well as a bittersweet travelogue of the heart’s vagaries. Greer masterfully blends absurdity, heartache, and pure, unfettered, laugh-out-loud joy, proving definitively that yes, literary novels can have happy endings.
Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter
Dreaming of a holiday on the Italian Riviera? Look no further than Beautiful Ruins, Walter’s luscious novel of midcentury Italy and contemporary Hollywood. Beautiful Ruins opens in 1962, when Pasquale, the young proprietor of a ramshackle inn on the Ligurian coastline, encounters Dee Moray, a beguiling American starlet. Pasquale soon learns that Dee’s stay at the inn is just a pit stop on the way to Switzerland for medical treatment, but it’s more than enough time for a wistful intimacy to form between them. On a Hollywood backlot many decades later, a disillusioned development assistant encounters an elderly Italian gentleman seeking answers about an actress he met long ago. Lavishly imagined and shimmeringly told, Beautiful Ruins is a fantasia of treachery and romance, showcasing a seminal American writer at the height of his powers.
At age 19, Prior-Palmer discovered “the world’s longest, toughest horse race”—the Mongol Derby, a breakneck thousand-kilometer race through perilous Mongolian wasteland, designed to recreate the horse messenger system developed by Genghis Khan. The heavily televised race sends riders like Prior-Palmer through a punishing landscape of woodlands, wetlands, mountains, dunes, and steppes. In this sensual, spiritual memoir, Prior-Palmer recounts her grueling journey through immense physical hardship and her surprising transformation from underdog to the race’s first female champion.
How to Be a Family, by Dan Kois
Ever dreamed about uprooting your family for one life-changing, globe-trotting year? Kois did exactly that and lived to tell the tale. Disillusioned with the screen-heavy grind of parenting two pre-teen girls in Washington D.C., Kois and his wife spirited their daughters away to seek new kinds of togetherness in New Zealand, the Netherlands, Costa Rica, and small-town Kansas. The product of their travels is this heartwarming memoir, wherein Kois meditates on parenting, community, and the parts of who we are that follow us, no matter how far we go.