11 Inspirational Travel Writers

11 Inspirational Travel Writers

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Travel writers shape the way that I see the world and inspire me to be a better traveler.  These are 11 travel writers that create books for wanderlust.

Do you ever find yourself sipping Limoncello in an Italian piazza and hear whisperings of Frances Mayes, author of Under The Tuscan Sun?  Remember how she writes about the church bells dinging in her dreamy postcard home?  Or how she hopped on a bike to Positano in a moment of passion?  In a flowing white dress, Mayes calls up to her lost lover, Marcello.  A scene I may have recreated one night before dinner in Positano after seeing John Stamos.  Luckily, my husband has a fun sense of humor.

Brunette woman with arms up over Positano, Italy ledge

What about sitting on a train through the rice paddies of Indonesia? Can you hear Anthony Bourdain narrating on the beauty of life, people, and food?

Or, while taking a long hike in the woods, do you feel like you might just drop right there?  I daydream of food and pretend Bill Bryson and Katz are stumbling next to me.  Katz is plastered, of course.

Famous travel writers shape the way that I see the world and motivate me to be a better traveler.  They whisper inspiration in my ear while I am abroad: their words wrapping around my heart and soul.

These are 11 travel writers with inspirational books that make me fall in love with the world each time I read their travel stories.

Travel writers shape the way that I see the world and inspire me to be a better traveler. These are 11 travel writers that create books for wanderlust. #travelwriters #booksforwanderlust Click To Tweet

Travel Writers Who Inspire Pinterest Pin 1

11 Travel Writers Who Inspire

As a former librarian, nonfiction is sometimes overlooked.  Not to make a raging stereotype, but the trend seems to follow that the older we get, the more nonfiction we read.  I know that as I mature in age, cough cough, I find myself wanting to learn more from memoirs and biographies.  Research and books that improve or enhance my life inspire and guide me.

As soon as I started traveling more after college, I devoured books by travel writers, famous and lesser known.  Others’ travel stories taught me how to be a conscious traveler.  Through authors’ travel writing examples, like Bourdain and Bryson,  I grew to see the world through new eyes.  Experienced, hesitant, real, sarcastic, and even hurt eyes.  For me, travel transformed from taking pictures of new places to experiencing life, connecting with humanity and purpose, and growing as a person.

These are six famous travel writing authors who I look to for self-growth as well as entertainment:

Book Cover of Bill Bryson's A Walk In The Woods

1. Bill Bryson

I would love to publish a book in my lifetime.  When people ask me who I idolize or write similarly too, I have to say Bill Bryson.  One of many talented UK travel writers, Bryson is filled with nostalgia, intelligence, and sarcasm.  Witty and fun, I relate to Bryson and appreciate his historical context mixed with pure authenticity.  Facts and snippets of information are integral to his innate storytelling.  Yet, he is also your average, or even less than average guy, just telling it like it is.

Although In A Sunburned Country feels a little sunburnt to me, A Walk In The Woods cracked me up and started my love affair with Bryson.  Certainly resembling my ‘hiking’ experiences, I too would have a rather foolish but sincere trip down the Appalachian Trail.  Not a title to miss, and a small movie also popped up in 2015.

I equally loved, The Life and Times of The Thunderbolt Kid.  A story that time travels readers through growing up in the 1950’s, The Life… demonstrates a pivotal and expanding U.S. nation through the eyes of a daydreaming, rambunctious kid.

Bryson also writes about the history of the world, his British home, and adventures traveling around the world.

See Amazon’s selection of Bill Bryson books.  Be sure to check out Bill Bryson’s author page, too.

Book Cover of Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love

2. Elizabeth Gilbert

Eat, Pray, Love may seem a tad cliché for this list.  I cannot resist talking about the title, having lived in Indonesia.  My best friend and I even made the hike to meet the real Wayan that Gilbert sought for advice and friendship in Bali.  Having our futures told and skin cleansed, I will never forget that literary journey.

I also don’t know how human you are if you never go through your life not wanting to drive parts of it off of a cliff.  Just a little.  Maybe even once.  I’m not saying that we should all hate what we do or need to get divorced.  Sometimes we desire a change.  I know on a few occasions, I’ve looked in the mirror after working a terribly shitty job and said: Who are you?  Sometimes we get lost or busy.  Sometimes we are unhappy. Gilbert takes action.

Quite frankly, who doesn’t want inspiration in the form of pasta and meditation?  Italy, India, and Indonesia are the perfect locations to re-experience life.

Gilbert doesn’t just write about taking chances and escaping to find oneself, either.  Committed discusses honest marriage commitments with an international relationship and through past distrust.

Her newest, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, is on my to-read list.  Author Jennifer Ann Shore talks about Big Magic as one of many inspirational books for writers in order to climb mental mountains in search of creativity.

Peruse Amazon’s selection of Elizabeth Gilbert books.  Be sure to check out Elizabeth Gilbert’s site, too.

Book Cover of Jack Kerouac's On The Road

3. Jack Kerouac 

A classic and popular author, Jack Kerouac is most famous for On The Road.  Naiveté paired with hope, On The Road is a fictional travel story about recklessly hitting the road across the United States.

Based on Kerouac’s real adventures and like Bryson, the story captures the heart of the baby boomer generation.  Hedonism, experimental drugs, freedom.  Although I did not love the storyline as much as others, On The Road is a title I will revisit in the future.

Jack Kerouac has multiple other titles about locations specific to the United States, including California in Big Sur.  He discusses and portrays life with alcoholism and anxiety in his later works and also dabbles with fantasy.

Personally, Dharma Bums has been my favorite so far with its Buddhist and outdoorsy themes.  What inspires about Kerouac is his authenticity and messiness.

Are you a Kerouac fan?

Search Jack Kerouac books on Amazon.  Learn more about Jack Kerouac.

Book Cover of Anthony Bourdain's A Cook's Tour

4. Anthony Bourdain

Anthony Bourdain introduced me to travel writing. Sparking my wanderlust, I wanted to see the world through Tony’s eyes and then through my own.  Raw and uncensored, he cooked, ate, and had a tumultuous early life with drugs and the chef’s life.  Finding success in telling travel stories, he wrote cooking and travel books that resonated with restless and curious souls desiring more than just pretty places.

Kitchen Confidential propelled Bourdain into fame as he discussed what weekdays to avoid ordering fish, bashed vegans, and took readers behind the scenes of chef life.  A Cook’s Tour transported readers around the world on a foodie tour about dining and culture.

My bookshelves are filled with Bourdain titles, ones that I will never donate.  I religiously watched No Reservations and Parts Unknown.  Bourdain will forever travel with me as he took time to get to know the world at its best and worst.

I can only aspire to be half of the great travel writer that Bourdain showed us.

See Amazon’s selection of Anthony Bourdain books.

Book Cover of Wild by Cheryl Strayed

5. Cheryl Strayed

At 22-years-old, Strayed’s world falls apart with the death of her mother and a flailing marriage.  In a less picturesque manner than Gilbert and in a Bryson-like hiking experience, Strayed decides to conquer the Pacific Crest Trail alone.  The PCT is a beast.  Strayed faces an incredibly raw and hard journey while reflecting on her past in her memoir, Wild.  

Of course, a shoe goes a’ flying, too.

Author of four books, Strayed talks about love, compassion, learning, and forgiveness.  She encapsulates the idea of coming back from hardship.  Like many others, a walk in the woods is a walk into the soul.  A little fresh air can heal us all.

Check out Cheryl Strayed books on Amazon.  Don’t forget to visit Cheryl Strayed’s author page, too.

Book Cover of Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

6. Jon Krakauer

Krakauer transcends typical memoir with his poignant life undertakings.  Into Thin Air is about his fight to stay alive on Mount Everest during an extreme snowstorm.  Heart-wrenching and chilling, you also find passion and the desire to experience the world.  Dangers be damned, we have to take chances.  We have to live beyond our fear.

In another famous story, Krakauer looks into the heart and soul of Chris McCandless, a famous young hitchhiker. Into The Wild describes the life and untimely death of a kind man craving more from life than possessions and money.  Like Kerouac, McCandless is free-spirited and slightly reckless.  Unfortunately, his naïveté kills him.

You can read more about Krakauer’s titles in TUL’s best books to give your dad book list. Any traveler and explorer can appreciate their more humble messages.

Find your next Jon Krakauer books.  Check out Jon Krakauer’s webpage, too.

Lesser-Known Inspirational Travel Writers

Along with famous travel writers, there are a plethora of lesser-known travel authors.  Granted, these are not the most obscure. I have suggestions for extremely off the beaten path travel books that I need to compile.  However, these authors have books for wanderlust that are easy to obtain and equally important to the travel writing canon.

Book Cover of Under The Tuscan Sun by travel writer Frances Mayes

7. Frances Mayes

Most people have watched Under The Tuscan Sun.  Hop on a gay tour bus as a straight woman, find a house in Tuscany, write, and meet a few handsome lovers?  Sign me up.

Under The Tuscan Sun and A Year In The World are two titles that chill on my shelves.  A Year In The World tours readers through art, architecture, and the history of Europe in a beautiful memoir.  Under The Tuscan is the stuff dreams are made of.

Find Frances Mayes books on Amazon, and visit Frances Mayes’ webpage.

Book Cover of The Open Road by Pico Iyer, travel writer

8. Pico Iyer

I have to start reading more Pico Iyer books, as my brain is a tad fuzzy on Iyer these days. Iyer is unique to the travel writing world because he was an intimate friend of the Dali Lama.  In The Open Road, Iyer encourages readers with all beliefs to explore the ideas found in Buddhism and life.

Iyer also traveled across the world to places like Ethiopia, Kathmandu and Cuba. With commentary on home, life, and our institutions, Iyer adds a global quality to our soul through his musings and studies of mankind.

Check out all of Pico Iyer’s books.  Visit Pico Iyer’s website.

Book Cover of The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain, travelogue

9. Mark Twain

Were you expecting to see Twain?  Growing up in CT, I was fortunate to have the Mark Twain House nearby my home for inspiration.  Twain is more than [amazing] classics like Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.

The Innocents Abroad is Twain’s journey on a ship across Europe to the Holy Land.  Reflecting on culture and religion, I always see Twain as a founding travelogue writer. Twain birthed one of my favorite travel quotes:

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.”

Mark Twain Travel Quote Pin

How true is this today?

Grab your next few Mark Twain books here.

Book Cover of Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde

10. Audre Lorde

As a writer, feminist, librarian, and civil rights activist, don’t miss Lorde.  In Sister Outsider, a book my undergrad college professor suggested reading, Lorde talks about her “blackness,” feminism, and feeling like an object of interest in society.   In one of Sister Outsider’s essays, she describes what it is like to be a person of color in Russia.  People see her as mysterious and different, in both good and bad ways.

Similar (but also different) from Jamaica Kincaid and her discussion of “otherness” in A Small Place, Lorde adds an element of race, gender, and culture apart from tourism.  Although not solely travel writing, Sister Outsider includes essays about Russia, Grenada, and America.

See all of Audre Lorde’s books.

Book Cover of The Motorcycle Diaries by Ernesto Che Guevara

11. Ernesto Che Guevara

With the movie out in 2004, The Motorcycle Diaries grew in popularity.  The story follows 23-year-old Ernesto Che Guevara in a travel journey across Latin America.

Starting on a motorbike, Guevara and his friend crave more of a worldly education than that of their college studies.  Across countries, Guevara gains a newly found political consciousness and perspective.  He discovers life filled with oppression, poverty, and inequality.

Guevara’s youthful travels shape his revolutionary ideas and trajectory.  Although some of his actions and ideals are terribly controversial and extreme, his journey is certainly worth studying.

See Ernesto Che Guevara’s books.

Travel Writing At It’s Core

The list of travel writers is truly endless.   As we enter a new age with 20 to 30-year-olds demanding more meaningful lives, I have no doubt that we will see a new wave of travelogues.

One of my favorite genres is travel books and stories that inspire conscious tourism and wanderlust. Of course, I love a good travel blog too.   Although we hear it all too often, the world is our schooling.

What travel writers do you love to follow?  Who inspires you?

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  1. January 22, 2019 / 7:34 am

    Nice. I need a little inspiration right now. I am going to go on a Bill Bryson binge! If you’ve never read his work or seen his documentaries, Michael Palin is amazing. He’s done some great journeys, Around the World in 80 Days, Pole to Pole, around the Pacific, tracing Hemingway’s Adventures – a few of the episodes are on youtube if you want an intro. The books have exceptionally beautiful photography by Basil Pao too.


    • Christine
      January 23, 2019 / 4:23 pm

      A Bill Bryson binge is a great start! He’s just so down to earth and funny. He’s more a memoirist than a traveler, in my eyes; yet, he travel writes so well because of it.

      I will check out Michael Palin for sure; he seems to fit well with my literary niche too. His website is pretty neat.

      Thanks for the suggestion!

  2. January 22, 2019 / 2:51 pm

    Have you read Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson? It’s been on my to-read list for years, and I’ve finally committed to reading it this year.

    • Christine
      January 23, 2019 / 4:50 pm

      I had to check my Goodreads because I thought I did. I have read Neither Here Nor There and At Home, which I liked but not as much as Thunderbolt and A Walk. I have not read Notes from a Small Island… I think… Let me know what you think when you read it. Have you read anything else by Bryson?

  3. January 22, 2019 / 5:09 pm

    Am I a bad traveler because I’ve never read any of these books? I did see the movies for Eat, Pray, Love and Under the Tuscan Sun (which btw I watched again on the plane ride back from Spain in Oct). I’m really shocked I never got around to reading Under the Tuscan Sun since I used to be so obsessed with that movie because my dream for so long was to buy a home in Tuscany and never return HAHA. That’s changed a bit. I have also binged on No Reservations, of course, I have to finish watching it. Eat, Pray, Love… while I loved the “Eat” part of the movie, I really couldn’t get into the rest of it, so I never bothered with the book.

    I think I have homework now.

    This may sound cheesy, but I have to say, my favorite travel writer right now is YOU. Please write a book.
    Kathy @ Tasty Itinerary

    • Christine
      January 23, 2019 / 4:55 pm

      I think the movies count. Not all travelers are readers and not all readers are travelers so hey. Or you are a reader and a traveler but just read different genres and works ; ) Gotta have different interests…like wine. Hehe.

      When I lived in Indonesia, I always remembered the scene in Under The Tuscan Sun where the storm hits. Lightning zaps the dishwasher or laundry machine…something…and she wakes up to a creepy owl in the window. I used to think that was pretty much me. Plus all the self-pity when it all goes to shit.

      I enjoyed Eat, Pray, Love the book much better than movie. I’d be up for re-watching and rereading it again.

      Thank you SO much for compliment. Excuse me while I go happy cry right now. Thanks, again!

    • January 27, 2019 / 12:14 am

      The Eat, Pray, Love movie was terrible but the book was GREAT!
      The only good thing about the movie is that it was partially filmed in my old neighborhood in Brooklyn in Boerum Hill and Julia Roberts walked right past me. My two observations about her were that she was around my height and she looked flawless. So that was the day I realized that it’s not just lightning and camera tricks that make celebrities look good. They really do look that good!! 😒

      • Christine
        January 30, 2019 / 8:14 pm

        That is SO cool! Every time I am in NYC (which isn’t a lot since we moved to FL), I always thought I’d see a celebrity. I never did. I’d love seeing Julia Roberts. You didn’t try to stuff a note into her purse or anything did you?!

  4. January 22, 2019 / 9:42 pm

    Every time I read through a list of books I start to feel overwhelmed like I will never have time to read all the books! Some of these are already on my list. I have never read Eat Pray Love, but I did read Big Magic. It is really good. Highly recommend.

    I have read Wild and of course I’ve read some Mark Twain, though not The Innocents Abroad. I’ve seen the movie renditions of a few of these books! After I’ve seen the movie, I have a hard time going back to read the book.

    I haven’t heard of a couple of these, so I’m excited to check them out! This is a great list!!

    • Christine
      January 23, 2019 / 4:58 pm

      I cannot wait to get my hands on a copy of Big Magic. Everyone has had such good things to say about it. Thanks for the input too. I love Gilbert for untrained and unprofessional life advice.

      I agree: sometimes if I watch the movie first, I just cannot seem to read the book after that. I’d rather read the book first and then have the movie taint or re-form my imagination. If I see the movie before reading a title, then I can’t get their images of people out of my head. If the ending is different, I’m all confused. It’s just not as fun.

      Thank you!

  5. January 23, 2019 / 10:07 am

    As discussed, I haven’t read or watched Anthony Bourdain. So I’m the worst. But moving on. This is such a great list. I love Bill Bryson and Jack Kerouac (I also prefer The Dharma Bums).

    Something that always surprises people is that I actually really enjoyed Eat Pray Love – the book, didn’t like the film. However, I definitely felt like the Italy section was the most interesting. My love for her love of pasta pretty much carried me through the rest of that book. It’s not that I hated the rest of it. I mean, a lot of the India stuff is essentially my mother (naturally that was her favourite part), it just wasn’t totally for me. Indonesia picked up, but I did get bored with the romance. Which is unfair, but how I roll. I did love Wayan and the descriptions of Bali. Anyway, it did make me want to move to Italy and eat all the pasta for several months (at a minimum). Unfortunately, I have yet to fulfill this fantasy.

    One of my favourite travel memoirs is The Sex Lives of Cannibals by Maarten J Troost. It’s truly one of the funniest books I’ve ever read, and it made me want to move to a small remote pacific island… despite the fact that I actually hate islands. One of the many reasons the UK and I don’t fully get on (although it is a far more acceptable size). Also, despite the fact that I clearly would have had nothing to eat.

    Now… to start writing putting together my own list…

    • Christine
      January 23, 2019 / 5:06 pm

      I’m glad you prefer Dharma Bumstoo. I feel like that’s unpopular opinion, but hey, it’s mine.

      Also, I do understand why Bourdain didn’t do it for you. Personally, I like the chef world and all of those shows, which adds a bonus element to him for me. Bourdain made a lot of mistakes, which he learned from and discussed. I appreciate that raw honesty.

      Like you, I do think the book was much better for Eat, Pray, Love than the movie. Agreed: Italy is the best part. Love that your mom pretty much lived the India part. I’d love to do that sometime too.

      I read The Sex Lives of Cannibals a chunk of years ago and remember it being pretty hilarious too. I just went to check the title in my Goodreads to see what I rated it, but apparently I left it at “to-read.” I don’t use my Goodreads that often lol. Fail. Maybe I will re-read it for a book list.

      Good luck with your list! Can’t wait to see what you come up with for dark tourism. Also can’t wait to see your Iceland submissions. I am not reading my books as fast as I should be. GAH!

  6. January 23, 2019 / 8:00 pm

    Oh Anthony Bourdain … He’ll always have my heart <3 I do enjoy Mark Twain too!

    • Christine
      January 26, 2019 / 9:26 am

      I don’t think that I will ever get over the loss of Anthony Bourdain. The world lost such a great traveler.

  7. January 24, 2019 / 12:09 am

    Jack Kerouac and all the beats really inspire me to just get out and be outside, so it warms my heart to see him on your list, Christine!

    • Christine
      January 26, 2019 / 9:36 am

      That’s so awesome to hear! I wondered who inspired you.

      I hope you had a wonderful Birthday week, are slowly recovering from the reading slump, and have a great weekend ahead of you.

      I switched genres completely this week to get out of my reading slump. I think I had been reading too many ARCs sent to me by authors. I felt like I didn’t have a say in my selection for about 3 months since they had been stacking up. The guilt was killing me, too. Love the books, my authors, and reviewing their titles, but I needed a break. Now I am on to Icelandic fiction for our trip. The slump has ended!

  8. January 24, 2019 / 11:00 am

    So, I am like you except I do these things with movies! (Usually the movies are based on books though, so I should really read more books as I feel I will be equally inspired). There is just something special about visiting a place that you read (or watched) so much about. It’s like you can travel back to your imagination and explore where the character lived/spent their time. It’s pretty cool! I must admit I haven’t read any of these books but I have seen movies for a few of them – including a play based on some of Jack Kerouac’s literature. They are super inspirational! Like I said before you are definitely inspiring me to read more!

    • Christine
      January 26, 2019 / 9:42 am

      I love watching movies, too! Before I moved to Indonesia, I streamed all of these documentaries, taped travel shows, and rented The Year of Living Dangerously. (I watched a few others but my memory is SO bad.)

      I loved history in high school and college, but as you say: there is something special about visiting a place you read/watched a movie about. I wish education allowed me to travel to these places while I was learning about them. Everything would have been so much more meaningful. I never studied abroad for a year, which is a bummer. When we toured Pompeii, I just remember thinking about studying the site in elementary school and not really understanding what happened. Once you see the ruins in person, all of that history and trauma comes to life.

      I’m glad you are inspired to read more! Thank you!

  9. January 27, 2019 / 12:09 am

    I loved Eat, Pray, Love and Wild! Both were so good. I also read On the Road. I should read it again now that I’m older. I can’t quite remember what I thought of it but the teacher in the class where it was assigned, wasn’t a complete fan of it. He still considered it a must read though so I guess that’s why he assigned it. Ohhhh wait now I remember, the actual class was called On the Road. So everything about the lit class involved the “on the road” theme. The teacher, who seemed like he might have been high, would play a song at the start of the class with an on the road theme. Only song I remember him playing is Simon & Garfunkel’s 59th Street Bridge Song- Feelin’ Groovy. What ever song he played, he’d close his eyes and pace forward & backwards. Not side to side like a normal, crazy person. Very odd. That’s SUNY Purchase for ya! We also read Travels with Charley. I, of course, loved that one.

    Well, you made me go on a trip down memory lane! I think that’s the 2nd time today you’ve jogged my memory about something completely random.

    Anyway, back to your blog- Into Thin Air sounds so good. Gripping. I might have to read that one.

    I didn’t read the book but I watched Into the Wild. I had a hard time letting that one go. I went into a google hole with that one reading more up on that guy. It was so upsetting.

    Okay, end on a positive note – Wild was awesome. One day I want to go out there and hike a little. Nothing wild & crazy. Just whatever regular hiking trails they have for people who don’t have a death wish. 😉

    • Christine
      January 30, 2019 / 8:10 pm

      Haha, “Just whatever regular hiking trails they have for people who don’t have a death wish.” I am 200% with you. Fun fact about me: whenever I hike, I dream of what I am going to eat when I am done. It usually involves a huge dinner out and drinks. Total motivation.

      Wild really got me when she had to shoot her old, dying horse. I was driving to work (audiobook) and went into the building sobbing.

      I have not heard of Travels with Charley. I will definitely have to look into that one.

      I’m pretty much dying of laughter over the high teacher teaching a class called On the Road. This might just be the best comment that I have ever read. I do love Simon and Garfunkel, so your teacher was definitely onto something amazing. HAHA. OMG, the images in my mind right now.

      There was a SUNY in Tupperlake, NY where one of my college friends lived. It was literally in the middle of no civilization. Beautiful area! Not sure if it’s the same?!

  10. February 1, 2019 / 8:47 am

    I have never heard of a few of these authors, thanks for the introductions!
    One of my favorite travel books of all time- Travels With Charley by John Steinbeck and Seven Years In Tibet by Heinrich Harrer

    • Christine
      February 1, 2019 / 11:10 am

      Someone else just recently mentioned Travels with Charley. I will definitely have to look into it. I think I saw the movie, 7 years in Tibet?! Or maybe I read it. Great suggestions, and thank you!

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