15 of the Best Audiobooks for Road Trips and Plane Rides

Laugh-out-loud memoirs, poignant novels, and family-friendly tales are among the picks for our favorite audiobooks to listen to on your next long drive or flight.

15 of the Best Audiobooks for Road Trips and Plane Rides

Long drives don’t feel so long when you’re listening to a good book.

Cover images courtesy of the publishers

Looking for a travel companion this summer? How about an adventurous mouse, a mystical witch, a glamorous midcentury socialite . . . or even Mary Shelley? All are characters who come to life on this list of seriously engaging audiobooks. Whether you’re taking a solo plane trip to foreign lands or taking a road trip across the country with your kiddos, we’ve rounded up 15 books to keep you company while you travel.

Tales for elementary-age children

Entertain and educate little ones (and yourself!) on long drives.

1. The Ramona Quimby Audio Collection

by Beverly Cleary (HarperAudio, 2011)

Buy now: amazon.com

Introduce your young traveling companions to Cleary’s most famous protagonist in this collection about Ramona and her family, which begins with Beezus and Ramona and takes you through Ramona Quimby, Age 8. She’s as precocious and delightful as you remember, and better yet, all eight books (that’s 19 hours!) are read by Stockard Channing. It’s a delightful convergence of classic tales, a beloved author, and an iconic narrator who seems to be having the time of her life.

2. Redwall

by Brian Jacques (Listening Library, 2003)

Buy now: amazon.com

The first in a 22-book series, Redwall centers on Matthias, a young mouse who must rescue his friends at Redwall Abbey from the villainous rat Cluny the Scourage. Read by the author, it’s a classic story full of adventure, humor, whimsy, and derring-do, with a supporting cast that includes a badger.

3. The Assassination of Bangwain Spurge

by M. T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin (Dreamscape Media, 2018)

Buy now: amazon.com

An adventure story for slightly older kids, this novel is about Bangwain Spurge, an elven historian on a journey to unfamiliar lands. It’s spritely and hilarious, with elements of satire that will keep adults intrigued. Listeners follow Spurge on his mission to bring peace between his nation and the goblin kingdom he visits, an exploration that might spark deeper conversations about what it means to “win” a war—and who gets to write history.

For those traveling with tweens and teens

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Keep the attention of older kiddos with “Akata Witch” or “The Guncle.”

Images courtesy of the publishers

Three books that will keep older kids off their phones (and actually listening) mile after mile.

4. Akata Witch

by Nnedi Okorafor (Tantor Audio, 2018)

Buy now: amazon.com

Akata Witch is the first in a popular trilogy about Sunny, a Black American girl with albinism who lives in Nigeria. She’s a misfit who discovers she has mystical powers, providing an opportunity for listeners who also feel out of step with the world to daydream about their own purpose. The narrator, Yetide Badaki, has read many YA fantasy novels and does great work here.

5. The Guncle

by Stephen Rowley (Penguin Audio, 2021)

Buy now: amazon.com

What’s a Guncle? A Gay Uncle, according to author Rowley, who also narrates his novel about a washed-up TV star who must take in his young niece and nephew after their mother, his best friend, dies. With elements of satire and insight about today’s social media–driven world, it’s a lot funnier than the premise suggests and great for older teens.

6. All those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault

by James Alan Gardner (Audible Stories, 2017)

Buy now: amazon.com

Actress Emily Woo Zeller reads this fun sci-fi novel set in a world where superheroes, called Sparks, are everywhere. The main character, Kim Lam, is a nonbinary, Asian American college student who’s transformed, along with their friends, into a Spark by a freak accident in a lab. Older teens who love comic book movies will be into this one.

Diverting nonfiction

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Immerse yourself in the worlds of fascinating characters like Anthony Bourdain and Molly Shannon.

Images courtesy of the publishers

When you want to get lost in hilarious memoirs, fascinating tell-alls, and deep historical dives.

7. Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly

by Anthony Bourdain (Random House Audio, 2001)

Buy now: amazon.com

The late Anthony Bourdain came to prominence with this, his first book, a staggeringly good memoir about what exactly goes on in a restaurant kitchen: the good, the bad, and the spoiled seafood. He narrated the audiobook, and his voice remains compellingly knowledgeable and authentic.

8. The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story

edited by Nikole Hannah-Jones (Random House Audio, 2021)

Buy now: amazon.com

The Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones reads her best-selling book, an expansion of the eye-opening series she helmed for the New York Times. The series, like the book, recalibrates our understanding of American history by focusing on the Middle Passage, the infamous, horrific journey that carried enslaved people from their home countries in Africa to the Americas. An all-star cast of writers joins in the narration, including ZZ Packer, Rita Dove, and Kevin M. Kruse.

9. Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter, Mary Shelley

by Charlotte Gordon (Recorded Books, 2015)

Buy now: amazon.com

This 2015 work is an epic dual biography of the early feminist Mary Wollstonecraft and her daughter Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein. Both Shelley and Wollstonecraft lived scandalous lives: Each had a child out of wedlock, and each risked public condemnation to publish their feminist writing. There’s plenty of juicy coverage of Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and other scoundrels of the time too.

10. Capote’s Women: A True Story of Love, Betrayal, and a Swan Song for an Era

by Laurence Leamer (Penguin Audio, 2021)

Buy now: amazon.com

Carrington McDuffie reads this just-published look at Truman Capote’s last years, when word of the too-clear-eyed roman à clef he was writing got him banished from high society by Babe Paley, Gloria Guinness, and the other rich ladies who were scandalized by their appearance in his writing. He died before publishing it.

11. Hello, Molly!: A Memoir

by Molly Shannon (HarperAudio, 2022)

Buy now: amazon.com

For those times when you’re driving solo and need a friend, you can’t do better than Saturday Night Live alum Molly Shannon, who reads her new memoir in her inimitable style. Her story begins with a childhood tragedy and movingly tells how that shaped who she has become.

Fiction to get lost in

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The hours will slip away as you listen to short stories, road tales, and even a literary ghost story.

Images courtesy of the publishers

Dive into other worlds and compelling characters with these page-turners.

12. On Earth, We’re Briefly Gorgeous

by Ocean Vuong (Penguin Audio, 2019)

Buy now: amazon.com

This short work of literary fiction won approximately a million awards in 2019, and here the author reads his work beautifully. The novel is told in epistolary form, as 20-year-old poet and family historian Little Dog writes to his illiterate mother, processing their lives, which brought them from Vietnam to America after the war. A captivating listen for a long day trip.

13. Milk Blood Heat

by Dantiel W. Moniz (HighBridge, 2021)

Buy now: amazon.com

A short story collection can be a good accompaniment to a road trip, and this one, read by Machelle Williams, crackles. The Florida-set stories are about people who find themselves at crossroads in life, with themes of race, faith, family, and violence all in play. In one, two estranged siblings take a fraught road trip with their father’s ashes; in another, a young woman of color recognizes the differences between her life and that of her white best friend. Searingly good sentences build to tragic and thought-provoking finales.

14. We Are the Brennans

by Tracey Lange (MacMillan Audio, 2021)

Buy now: amazon.com

Popular audiobook narrator Barrie Kreinik expertly reads this best-seller about the many interconnections between a large Irish Catholic family in upstate New York and the small town they inhabit. It’s the perfect book for driving around the Mid-Atlantic or New England, the audio equivalent of un-put-down-able.

15. The Sentence

by Louise Erdrich (HarperAudio, 2021)

Buy now: amazon.com

The Pulitzer Prize–winning Native American writer Louise Erdrich reads her latest novel, which somehow manages to be a love story, a mystery, and a ghost story at once. It’s as “of the moment” as book publishing gets, set in the summer of 2020 in Minneapolis, and includes the pandemic and George Floyd’s murder as plot points.

This story was originally published on June 19, 2019, and updated on June 28, 2021, and May 24th, 2022, with current information.

>>Next: The Best Podcasts for Your Next Road Trip

Shannon Reed is a writer and professor living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
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