21 of the Most Entertaining Audiobooks for Your Next Road Trip or Flight

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.

21 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 and can’t stand the thought of another podcast? How about an adventurous mouse, a mystical witch, a glamorous midcentury socialite . . . or even Mary Shelley? All are characters from the best books who come to life on this list of seriously great audiobooks. Whether you’re flying to foreign lands or taking a road trip across the country with your kiddos, we’ve rounded up 21 books to keep you company while you travel.

And if you’re looking for free audiobooks for your next road trip or flight, there are plenty of free trials to be had. Our best piece of advice? Stop swiping through various apps and books-on-tape and dig into the offerings of Amazon and Audible.

If you’re traveling on a family road trip with elementary-age children

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

1. The Ramona Quimby Audio Collection by Beverly Cleary (HarperAudio, 2011)

Introduce your young traveling companions to Cleary’s most famous protagonist in this collection about a young girl named Ramona and her family. The series begins with Beezus and Ramona and takes readers all the way 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 actress Stockard Channing. It’s a delightful convergence of a childhood classic, 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)

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)

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.

4. Grimm’s Fairy Tales by The Brothers Grimm (Native Publishing House, 2020)

No matter how old you are, a collection of fairy tales is always welcome. This audio collection of Grimm’s fairy tales can serve as a delightful trip down memory lane for the whole family. They’re perfect for both long car rides, as well as shorter jaunts, and a short enough for things like drives to the store but entertaining to binge on road trips.

If you’re traveling with tweens and teens

Covers of "Akata Witch" and "The Guncle."

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

Images courtesy of the publishers

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

5. Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor (Tantor Audio, 2018)

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.

6. The Guncle by Stephen Rowley (Penguin Audio, 2021)

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.

7. All those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault by James Alan Gardner (Audible Stories, 2017)

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.

8. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (Harper Collins, 2020)

Reserve this one for super-long road trips and flights because you’ve got to either listen to or read the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy after you finish this iconic prequel. (And this one alone will take you more than 11 hours to get through!) Written in 1937, The Hobbit follows the adventures of Bilbo Baggins as he embarks on a quest with his wizard friend, Gandalf, to take back a hoard of gold from the dragon Smaug and return them the treasure to its rightful owners, the dwarves. It’s a top way to introduce a kid to the fantasy genre.

If you want diverting nonfiction audiobooks

The covers of "Capote's Women," "The 1619 Project," and "Kitchen Confidential"

Immerse yourself in the worlds of fascinating people 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.

9. Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain (Random House Audio, 2001)

The late Anthony Bourdain came to prominence with this, his first book, a staggeringly raw 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.

10. The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story edited by Nikole Hannah-Jones (Random House Audio, 2021)

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.

11. Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter, Mary Shelley by Charlotte Gordon (Recorded Books, 2015)

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.

12. Capote’s Women: A True Story of Love, Betrayal, and a Swan Song for an Era by Laurence Leamer (Penguin Audio, 2021)

Carrington McDuffie reads this deep 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. Ryan Murphy is currently adapting the book into the star-studded second season of his anthology series Feud, with a cast that includes Naomi Watts, Demi Moore, Diane Lane, and more.

13. Hello, Molly!: A Memoir by Molly Shannon (HarperAudio, 2022)

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.

14. Becoming by Michelle Obama (Random House Audio, 2018)

This award-winning memoir is timeless, tackling the First Lady’s childhood, relationship with President Barack Obama, and her role leading initiatives at the White House and beyond. Hearing about her journey will help hours of your journey slip right on by.

Fiction to get lost in

Covers of "On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous" and "Milk Blood Heat"

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.

15. On Earth, We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong (Penguin Audio, 2019)

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 the United States after the war. A captivating listen for a long day trip.

16. Milk Blood Heat by Dantiel W. Moniz (HighBridge, 2021)

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.

17. We Are the Brennans by Tracey Lange (MacMillan Audio, 2021)

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.

18. The Sentence by Louise Erdrich (HarperAudio, 2021)

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.

19. Dune by Frank Herbert (Macmillan Audio, 2006)

The best thing about this science fiction adventure? You can watch it on the big screen (aka the TV in your living room) once you finish it. This science fiction epic follows the trials and tribulations of Paul Atreides (played by Timothée Chalamet in the film), who is forced to move to a dangerous planet populated with sand worms, a drug called “spice,” and the mysterious people who guard it. And, yes, there are plenty of fights with villains as well as a torrid romance.

20. The Shining by Stephen King (Random House Audio, 2012)

This award-winning novel became an instant hit when it was was first published in 1977. It’s ideal for a long road trip or a flight to any place, spooky or otherwise. In this classic, Stephen King tells the tale of a man slowly losing his grip on reality and becoming increasingly irritated with his family in a very haunted hotel.

21. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (Random House Audio, 2012)

Mystery and thriller fans will love this deep dive into a small-town tragedy read by Julia Whelan. Nick Dunne, a writing teacher, comes home on their fifth anniversary to discover that his wife, Amy, is nowhere to be found. And as the plot thickens, it becomes clear that none of the narrators featured in the book are reliable or trustworthy. What’s the truth? You’ll have to keep listening to Julia Whelan’s riveting narration to find out.

This story was originally published in 2019, and most recently updated on August 25, 2023 with current information. Erika Owens contributed to the reporting of this story.

Shannon Reed is a writer and professor living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
From Our Partners
Sign up for our newsletter
Join more than a million of the world’s best travelers. Subscribe to the Daily Wander newsletter.
More From AFAR