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Travel writers shape the way we see the world and encourage us to be better travelers. Discover 11 famous travel writers with 24 of their best travel books to inspire wanderlust.
Please excuse our appearance as we update this post for 2020.
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.
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. We are all out of shape.
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 famous travel writers with inspirational books that make me fall in love with the world each time I read their travel stories.
List of Travel Writers Included Below:
- Bill Bryson
- Anthony Bourdain
- Elizabeth Gilbert
- Cheryl Strayed
- Frances Mayes
- Jack Kerouac
- Mark Twain
- Jon Krakauer
- Pico Iyer
- Audre Lorde
- Ernesto Che Guevara
11 Famous Travel Writers & Their Best Travel Books
Why Read Travelogues and Travel Memoirs, Anyway?
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, both famous and lesser-known. Others’ travel stories taught me how to be a conscious traveler.
Plus, who can’t resist those funny travel writers like Bill Bryson.
Through famous travel writers like Anthony Bourdain and Elizabeth Gilbert, 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.
Honest & Funny Travel Writers We Can Relate To
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, famed travel writer, Bill Bryson.
One of many talented and funny travel writers from the UK, Bryson is filled with nostalgia, intelligence, and sarcasm.
Witty and fun, I relate to Bryson. I 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.
Bill Bryson Travelogues and Memoirs We Love
A Walk In The Woods by Bill Bryson – 1997 – 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. A movie also popped up in 2015. Amazon | Goodreads | Read More→
In A Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson – 2001 – Although this famed travel book feels a little sunburnt to me, we learn all that we can about Australia. Everything is deadly and the weather is sweltering, but thankfully the kind natives make up for it. Amazon | Goodreads
The Life And Times of The Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson – 2006 – A story that time travels readers to growing up in the 1950s, The Life And Times of The Thunderbolt Kid demonstrates a pivotal and expanding U.S. nation through the eyes of a daydreaming, rambunctious kid. Amazon | Goodreads
Neither Here Nor There by Bill Bryson – 1992 – Bryson also writes about the history of the world, his British home, and his adventures traveling around the world. In Neither Here Nor There, Bryson focuses on examining European culture through his usual hilarious lens. Amazon | Goodreads
Anthony Bourdain is probably one of the most contemporary and famous travel writers out there. Devastatingly, he took his life in 2018. He battled with drugs and depression throughout much of his life.
Bourdain introduced me to travel writing and is part of the reason I became a travel blogger.
Sparking my wanderlust, I wanted to see the world through Tony’s eyes and then my own. Raw and uncensored, he cooked, ate, and had a tumultuous early chef’s career.
Finding success in telling travel stories, Anthony Bourdain wrote cooking and travel books that resonated with restless and curious souls desiring more than just pretty places.
Notable Anthony Bourdain Travel Books
A Cook’s Tour by Anthony Bourdain – 2001 – A Cook’s Tour transports readers around the world on a foodie tour about dining and culture. What would be your perfect meal? You can find A Cook’s Tour on our books that make you think more deeply reading list. Amazon | Goodreads
Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain – 2007 – 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. Amazon | Goodreads
Medium Raw by Anthony Bourdain – 2010 – On my TBR list, Bourdain calls this book “A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook.” Medium Raw is a funny roast of the famous foodie world, including TV shows like Top Chef. Amazon | Goodreads
The Nasty Bits by Anthony Bourdain – 2006 – Although not my personal favorite, Bourdain pulls together his nonfiction stories set around the world. Expect his usual travel writing humor and wit. Amazon | Goodreads
Anthony Bourdain On TV
My bookshelves are filled with Bourdain titles–ones that I will never donate.
I religiously watched No Reservations, The Layover, and Parts Unknown. Bourdain will forever travel with me; he took the 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 was.
See Amazon’s selection of Anthony Bourdain books.
Famous Women Travel Writers
Eat, Pray, Love may seem a tad cliché for this list. I both love and dislike this story, but Elizabeth Gilbert speaks to me.
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.
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 becoming? Sometimes we get lost or busy. Sometimes we are unhappy.
And 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.
Elizabeth Gilbert is, by far, one of the most relatable famous women travel writers.
Elizabeth Gilbert’s Nonfiction Books
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert – 2007 – Head to Italy, Indonesia, and India as Elizabeth Gilbert tries to find self-love and inner devotion. The movie, to me, wasn’t as good as the book. Amazon | Goodreads | Read More→
Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert – 2010 – Committed discusses honest marriage commitments with an international relationship and working through past distrust. The story begins at the end of Eat, Pray, Love with Gilbert’s Brazilian lover. Amazon | Goodreads
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert – 2015 – Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear is on my to-read list. This one is not a travel book but focuses on creative ways to live our lives (travel blogging, for me). 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. Amazon | Goodreads
Be sure to check out Elizabeth Gilbert’s site, too.
At 22-years-old, Cheryl Strayed’s world falls apart with the death of her mother and a failing marriage. Her story makes her one of the most honest, vulnerable, and raw of the famous travel writers.
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 hard journey while reflecting on her past in her travel memoir, Wild.
Of course, a shoe goes a’ flying, too.
The author of four books–some fictional–Strayed talks about love, compassion, learning, and forgiveness. She encapsulates the idea of coming back from hardship.
Most people have watched Under The Tuscan Sun. Hop on a LGBT tour bus as a straight woman, find a house in Tuscany, write, and meet a few handsome lovers? Sign me up.
Even with a popular movie out, Frances Mayes seems like a lesser-known travel writer, to me.
She speaks to a slightly older crowd and focuses on the details. Her travel stories are adventurous in a unique, peaceful kind of way.
Unlike Strayed and Gilbert, Mayes more vividly paints a picture of the environment and the overall ambiance of a destination.
Frances Mayes’ Travel Memoirs
Under The Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes – 1997 – After taking a tour through scenic Tuscany, Mayes makes the spur of the moment decision to stay. She lives on her own but finds friendship and romance in the most unlikely of places. Amazon | Goodreads
A Year In The World by Frances Mayes – 2007 – A Year In The World tours readers through the art, architecture, and history of Europe and parts of Africa. I didn’t love this one as much as Under The Tuscan Sun, but Mayes puts travel to the canvas in your mind. Amazon | Goodreads
Mayes has published many more novels, including a Tuscan cookbook that I cannot wait to check out.
Visit Frances Mayes’ Webpage.
Classic Travel Writers
One of the most famous travel writers, Jack Kerouac is best known 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 *maybe* revisit in the future.
Jack Kerouac Travel Stories & Books
Big Sur by Jack Kerouac – 1992 – Jack Kerouac has multiple other titles about locations specific to the United States, including California in Big Sur. Technically a fictional title, Kerouac discusses and portrays life with alcoholism and anxiety. Set in 1962, Jack Duluoz plays Kerouac’s alter ego. Amazon | Goodreads
Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac – 1986 – Personally, Dharma Bums has been my favorite Kerouac travel book–another fictional title–with its Buddhist and outdoorsy themes. Published a year after On The Road, two men humorously try to find the Zen way of life. Amazon | Goodreads
What I find most inspiring about Kerouac is his authenticity and messiness.
Are you a Kerouac fan?
Were you expecting to see Twain on this travel writers list? Growing up in CT, I was fortunate to have the Mark Twain House nearby my home for inspiration.
Twain is more than just Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. The man traveled.
Like other famous travel writers, Twain loved drawing vivid portraits of his encounters with people. He told lavishly funny stories along the way and made intuitive commentaries about humanity.
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.”
Full disclosure that I usually pick and choose parts of Twain’s travel books to read depending on my travels.
Mark Twain’s Famed Travelogues
The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain – 1869 – The Innocents Abroad is Twain’s journey on a ship across Europe to the Holy Land. Like many of his stories, he finds himself caught with naive, funny, and diverse travelers. Twain is guaranteed to make you chuckle. Amazon | Goodreads
A Tramp Abroad by Mark Twain – 1880 – A Tramp Abroad is said to be a part of the series for The Innocents Abroad, but you can dip in and out as you choose. I picked up A Tramp Abroad to watch Twain ‘tramp’ across Europe, particularly to Switzerland and Germany. Those Swiss Alps are deadly, man. Amazon | Goodreads
Grab your next few Mark Twain books here.
Jon Krakauer is a famed travel journalist and travel writer with the ability to transcend the typical memoir genre 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.
What I love most about Krakauer is that he takes on stories that are extreme but brings a sense of normalcy to them. Even though we may never climb a deadly mountain or give up all of our worldly possessions, we can still relate.
Jon Krakauer Books You Don’t Want To Miss
Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer – 1997 – Follow travel journalist, Jon Krakauer as he recounts his personal experience with and witness to the disaster on Mount Everest in 1996. Five people died and many others were injured. Amazon | Goodreads
Into The Wild by Jon Krakauer – 1996 – In another famous travel 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. Amazon | Goodreads
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 humbler messages.
More Diverse Famous Travel Writers
Along with famous travel writers, there are a plethora of lesser-known but equally significant travelers.
Granted, these are not the most obscure. I have suggestions for extremely off the beaten path travel books that I need to compile.
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.
As a writer, feminist, librarian, and civil rights activist don’t skip Audre Lorde as a famous travel writer.
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.
See all of Audre Lorde’s books.
Ernesto Che Guevara
With the movie out in 2004, The Motorcycle Diaries grew in popularity. The story follows 23-year-old Ernesto Che Guevara on 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 a life filled with oppression, poverty, and inequality.
Guevara’s youthful travels shape his revolutionary ideas and trajectory. Although some of his actions and ideas are terribly controversial and extreme, his journey is certainly worth studying. Amazon | Goodreads
Travel Writing At Its Core
The list of famous 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.
Plus, many retirees are taking to the road and writing about their experiences.
One of my favorite genres is travel books, memoirs, 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 read? Who inspires you?