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15 Amazing Books That Inspire Us to Travel

By Sara Button

Sep 17, 2019

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Novels set in fictional worlds or based on real-life people are among the stories that have inspired AFAR staff to travel.

Covers courtesy of publishers

Novels set in fictional worlds or based on real-life people are among the stories that have inspired AFAR staff to travel.

AFAR staffers share the stories that spark their wanderlust, from a memoir set in Rome to an epic novel based in Japan.

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A good read draws you into a world of its own, but it can also move you to explore the wider world around you. While literature of many kinds has influenced us, here are more than a dozen titles that stir us (in some cases very literally) to travel.

Miller imagines Circe’s side of the Odyssey in her best-selling novel.

Circe by Madeline Miller

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I’d never felt an overwhelming desire to visit Greece until I read Madeline Miller’s Iliad-based The Song of Achilles and the Odyssey-based Circe back-to-back this year. Even though the time the sorceress Circe spends banished on the mythical island of Aeaea is technically a punishment, spending time alone in the Mediterranean surrounded by animals and all that natural beauty sounds like a dream trip to me. —Lyndsey Matthews, destination news editor

Navigating Rome can be exciting enough for most travelers. But with newborn twins?

Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr

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Years before Anthony Doerr’s book All the Light We Cannot See, became a massive best seller, he wrote a short memoir called Four Seasons in Rome. On the day his twins were born, he found out he was awarded a grant to work in Rome for a year; the story he developed that year eventually became All the Light We Cannot See. His Rome book is the story of new parenthood, of neighborhood life, of how Pope John Paul II’s death gripped Rome (dubbed the “Biggest Funeral in the History of the World” in the book’s subtitle). It makes Rome come alive in all its chaotic, infuriating, hilarious glory. —Annie Fitzsimmons, AFAR Advisor editor

“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

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Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast was the first book that inspired me to travel, specifically with writing in mind. It wasn’t Paris per se that I wanted to see, but any city (all cities!) where I could stay and live like a local. I wanted to sink in and see the whole, real world through clean prose. I was fascinated by the idea that traveling could not only open my eyes to the ways that other people live but also make me see my own hometown differently. Basically, this book got me out the door and on a plane, pen and notebook in hand. I still sometimes pack my dog-eared copy when I want a little literary zip. —Aislyn Greene, senior editor

Clint Eastwood adapted Berendt’s 1994 debut into a film of the same name.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt

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Reading Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt made me think Savannah was the land of drunk, heavily armed ghosts, and tours led by fabulous drag queens. I definitely did the trip and found this all to be 100 percent true. —Donna Delmas, director of ad operations

Five books center around Eloise, a little girl who lives in the Plaza Hotel with her dog, Weenie, turtle, Skipperdee, and her nanny.

The Eloise books by Kay Thompson

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Food, more than literature, inspires my trips. But the Eloise children’s books by Kay Thompson did inspire a favorite early travel experience of mine. When I was young, maybe around the age of five or six, I was obsessed with Eloise. I was enchanted by her mischievous antics and I loved illustrator Hilary Knight’s style. I would spend hours poring over the intricate pictures, tracing Eloise’s path through the Plaza Hotel in New York and dreaming of following in her footsteps.


I didn’t end up making it to New York City until I was 11—one of my first big trips—and despite having graduated reading levels a few times over, I was still determined to have my own Eloise experience. I was lucky enough to spend a night at the Plaza, visiting scenes that I’d come to know so well from the books, including the Palm Court, where my dad and I had afternoon tea. There was even a pink-striped Eloise branded amenity kit left for me in the room. I ordered room service and, like Eloise, got to “charge it, please.” —Maggie Fuller, associate editor

Hawaii, Israel, Thailand, and China are among the other books the series covers.

Day in the Life series by Rick Smolan

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Whether it was Japan, California, Spain, or the former Soviet Union, photographer Rick Smolan’s Day in the Life series captured my childhood imagination and transported me into the homes and lives of everyday citizens doing everyday things in a genuine and honest way. His work is the essence of seeing the world as it really is, in all of its beautiful colors. A Day in the Life is like a book version of AFAR, so I guess we need to buy the rights. —Joe Diaz, cofounder/vice president

Horwitz’s account of his 7,000-mile journey through Australia inspired AFAR’s digital content director to become a writer.

One for theRoad by Tony Horwitz

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I read my first Tony Horwitz book in college, One for the Road. I had just returned from a semester abroad in Australia and was desperate to get back; thankfully, Horwitz’s retelling of his Outback odyssey—thousands of miles hitchhiked, fueled by an insatiable curiosity and plenty of beer—took me back. The late Pulitzer Prize–winner made me want not only to discover the world one friendly, booze-infused conversation at a time but also to be a writer. Talk about being moved. —Laura Dannen Redman, digital content director

“There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.”

The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James

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I read Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady in college, and like A Moveable Feast, it drew me in and gave me a sense of what an American in Europe could experience. These stories inspired me to travel and to experience the beautiful and very romantic world of “abroad,” and no question, I was going to have a lot of fun in the process. I was not disappointed. —Onnalee MacDonald, West Coast sales director

“The most important reason for going from one place to another is to see what’s in between.”

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

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The places in The Phantom Tollbooth might be fictional, but the book shaped my real-world philosophies about travel (and, honestly, life). Presented with a mysterious tollbooth, a boy named Milo embarks on a journey that takes him from his bedroom into the Lands Beyond. Over the course of his adventures in places like Dictionopolis and the Mountains of Ignorance, he learns about having courage, adjusting expectations, being curious, thinking about things from others’ perspectives and—maybe most important—finding value in what surrounds him, be it near or far. Milo’s journey, along with Norton Juster’s whimsical destinations and Jules Feiffer’s incredible illustrations, surely planted the seeds of wanderlust in my young imagination. —Sara Button, assistant editor

“Shōgun” inspired a TV miniseries in the 1980s; the network Starz reportedly is in production for a reboot.

Shōgun by James Clavell

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Like many of my generation, I read James Clavell’s Shōgun in the late ’70s, and that ignited a desire to go to Japan. I don’t think I fancied myself as [the protagonist] Blackthorne, but it certainly kindled my imagination about a world very different than what I knew. I didn’t make it to Japan until the early ’90s, and while I can’t say I saw a lot of the Shōgun Japan—400 years can do that—I certainly loved it, and it remains one of my favorites. I look forward to spending more time in rural Japan. —Greg Sullivan, cofounder/chief executive officer

Redmond O’Hanlon ventured to the Congo in search of a possibly still-living dinosaur.

No Mercy by Redmond O’Hanlon

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No Mercy, by Redmond O’Hanlon, was my favorite book in high school, and it sparked my desire to explore the world. It covered everything that I then thought constituted an adventurous and exciting travel journey—the search for a mythical prehistoric creature, scientific research, shamans, machetes, dugout canoes, malaria, hallucinogenic drugs, and a bumbling Brit. I no longer think of travel in these terms, but this book still remains a favorite. —Erika Stallworth, staff accountant

Bowles, a composer as well as writer, settled in Tangier in 1947.

The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles

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The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles is one of my favorites. It makes me want to cross North Africa on a bus very badly. I love how Bowles personified the desert—he gave it a dark and mysterious life that left me feeling uneasy long after I finished the book. Or maybe I am just drawn to the ancient romance of the Sahara. —Tara Guertin, director of photography

A kidnapped child sparks the plot of “The Missing,” Tim Gautreaux’s critically acclaimed mystery.

The Missing by Tim Gautreaux

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I tend to buy books about a place once I’ve already organized the trip, as I love reading fiction set where I’m traveling. Several authors have sent me vicariously to places I’ve never set foot, like Pico Iyer and Hunter S. Thompson, but I’m currently enjoying southern writer Tim Gautreaux’s novels. They might deal with a bygone Louisiana (The Missing takes place in the 1920s while Next Step in the Dance is set several decades ago), but the way he recreates the sights and smells of that state definitely has me itching to book flights and start exploring. —Tim Chester, senior editor

“It is not for me to judge another man’s life. I must judge, I must choose, I must spurn, purely for myself. For myself, alone.”

Siddhartha by Herman Hesse

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Growing up in the Midwest, every other place seemed exotic. In high school, we read Siddhartha, by Herman Hesse, and the mental images it evoked of far-off lands with wandering monks made me want to experience India’s holy land. As an adult, I made that journey—and reread the book along the way as a means of revisiting the visions from my youth. —Lou LaGrange, content partnerships director

Enter the Roaring Twenties in Liza Klaussmann’s sophomore novel.

Villa America by Liza Klaussmann

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Based on the real-life inspirations for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender Is the Night, Villa America by Liza Klaussmann tells the story of Americans Sara Wiborg and Gerald Murphy, who meet, get married, and build a summer home on the French Riviera where they entertain other expats like Hemingway, Picasso, and the Fitzgeralds themselves. I’ve always wanted to time travel to 1920s Paris but the details in this book, from the lazy summer days spent swimming off Antibes to the dinner parties in the Murphys’ fragrant garden, made me want to hightail it for the French Riviera—even in the present day. —Natalie Beauregard, guides editor

This article originally appeared online in May 2015; it was updated on September 17, 2019, to include current information.

>>Next: Around the World in 80 Books

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