Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne Jules Verne’s adventure fantasy may fit more in the realm of imaginative fiction than travel reportage, but Phileas Fogg’s proposed circumnavigation of the globe in 80 days is one of the most classic tales of wanderlust and its unpredictable adventures. Naturally, Fogg’s planned transportation schedule aboard trains and steamers doesn’t go exactly to plan, and he is variously forced to acquire an elephant in India, ride a wind-powered sledge across the American prairie, and even purchase a dying boat from a mutinous crew in the Atlantic while trying to make his deadline. Although he at no point actually travels aboard the hot air balloon with which the book has now become synonymous, the iconic association is nonetheless impossible to overlook.
New Zealand: Aerial of hot-air Balloon near Methven with mountains in background. (David Wall / Lonely Planet Images)
Unbeaten Tracks in Japan by Isabella L. Bird Isabella Bird was one of the most popular female travel writers of the 19th century, both for her intrepid sense of adventure and her quick-witted descriptions of the places she visited. Although her early travels took her to Australia and Hawaii (then known as the Sandwich Islands) as well as for a stint in Colorado, where she had an affair with a one-eyed outlaw, her later chronicles in Unbeaten Tracks in Japan offer a rare look at the island nation during a time when it was largely unknown to foreigners.
Japan: Geisha with red umbrella at Setsubun (Spring Welcoming) Ritual, Yasaka Shrine. (Frank Carter / Lonely Planet Images)
Apples Are From Kazakhstan by Christopher Robbins Christopher Robbins’ Apples Are From Kazakhstan balances stories of Kazakhstan’s past with the author’s own adventures, as he explores everything from the book’s titular apple orchards to the country’s rich oil fields. Robbins is variously joined by a local philosopher, an unwelcome prostitute, and even Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev along the way, as he learns about everything from Kazakhstan’s recent Soviet past to its traditional legends (purportedly the inspiration for the King Arthur myths). With clever prose and absorbing information, Robbins illustrates how this wind-swept central Asian country is full of more mysteries and intriguing histories than its parodied counterpart would suggest.
Kazakhstan: Kazak men with horse practicing traditional sport of hunting with eagles. (Christopher Herwig / Lonely Planet Images)
Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole John Kennedy Toole’s Confederacy of Dunces combines the urban picaresque set up of Ulysses with an endearingly offbeat protagonist in the tradition of Don Quixote. Chronicling Ignatius J. Reilly’s episodic adventures as he searches for a job throughout New Orleans, the book paints an accurate and loving portrait of the city’s eccentric cast of characters — especially those who capture the romance of the French Quarter. Although the novel was published 11 year’s after Toole’s death, he posthumously received the Pulitzer Prize for it in 1981.
United States: Jazz band playing in Preservation Hall in Vieux Carre. (John Elk III / Lonely Planet Images)
The Motorcycle Diaries: Notes on a Latin American Journey by Ernesto Guevara Before he became a symbol of Marxist revolution (and eventually meaningless trend-driven capitalism), Che Guevara took off from his medical studies for a 5,000-mile road trip across South America. His exposure to social injustice and cultural corrosion along the way inspired his later revolutionary ethos and concept for a united continent, but this diary account, written with the emphatic idealism of its then 23-year-old author (who did not intend for it to be published), reflects the human side of an oft-mythologized icon as well as the familiar earnestness of a wide-eyed traveler.
Venezuela: Brightly painted fishing boats on beach. (Krzysztof Dydynski / Lonely Planet Images)
The Shadow of the Sun by Ryszard Kapuscinski Ryszard Kapuscinski, a Polish journalist who covered Africa from the late ’50s through the ’90s, has become one of the most popular writers about post-colonialism across the continent. Although his political critiques — now translated into 19 languages — make for incisive reading, this career-spanning collection of essays captures Kapuscinski’s intimate, at times highly personal relationships with countries like Ghana, Nigeria, Rwanda, and Tanzania. The result is a probing look at daily life throughout parts of the continent as well as a contextual portrait of the cultural, historical, and political forces that drive it.
Ghana: Woman making pottery. (John Elk III / Lonely Planet Images)
The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin Bruce Chatwin’s far-flung writings brought him from 19th-century Africa (The Viceroy of Oidah) to the southernmost tip of Argentina (In Patagonia), but his introspective account of a trek through Australia’s outback remains one of the most enduring highlights of the literary travel narrative genre. The Songlines follows his back-country sojourn along the pathways (both physical and mythological) followed by the continent’s aboriginal people. Despite the seemingly barren terrain, Chatwin makes it easy to tag along for a ride that is at once nostalgic, comical, and engagingly anthropological.
Australia: Young Aboriginal dancer. (Oliver Strewe / Lonely Planet Images)
The Bicycle Diaries by David Byrne David Byrne has never been short on enigma, but that the Talking Heads frontman chose to compose a book about his worldwide bicycle travels gives him an added dimension of effortless appeal. In The Bicycle Diaries, Byrne writes of his international cycling adventures in countries like the Philippines, Argentina, Australia, and Turkey as well as his stateside excursions in Detroit, San Francisco, and New York with breathless reflection. While peddling through the streets of each city, he muses on everything from the merits of urban planning to the ravages of modern civilization through cerebral but clarifying prose.
Netherlands: Woman cycling on frozen de Zaan river with windmills in background. (Frans Lemmens / Lonely Planet Images)
Lebanon Through Writers Eyes ed. Ted Gorton Lebanon Through Writers Eyes captures Lebanon’s age-old allure as a cultural crossroads for commerce, arts, and politics. Spanning three centuries and featuring writing by both local authors and foreign travelers, the collection exults in Lebanon’s eclectic appeal and melting pot of traditions. The result is a multi-faceted narrative that captures the diverse character of the country it pays tribute to.
Lebanon: Woman wearing burqa plays on rocks near the Riviera Beach Club. (Tim Barker / Lonely Planet Images)
Travelers’ Tales: Thailand ed. James O’Reilly Through a curated selection of diverse stories, Travelers’ Tales’ location-themed anthologies offer literary mosaics that capture a sense of place deeper than any basic how-to guide. And nowhere is this more apparent than in the award-winning Travelers’ Tales: Thailand, which perfectly encapsulates the Southeast Asian country’s simultaneous exoticism and reality. From isolated tribesmen to the chaos of Bangkok to monastic retreats, this collection features 49 concise and varied stories by top travel writers like Ian Buruma, Simon Winchester, Pico Iyer, and Jeff Greenwald.
Thailand: Group of Buddhist monks releasing lanterns attached with well wishes during Yi Peng Sansai Kathina Ceremony, Lanna Meditation Centre. (Felix Hug / Lonely Planet Images)