The Best Books for the Armchair Traveler


Skiing in the Alps, laying back in roomy, first-class seats, shopping in Milan — it’s the life, isn’t it? Unfortunately, it’s not the life that most of us get to live. However, if you aren’t able to throw down a couple hundred bucks for a last-minute plane ticket around the world, you can still travel from the comfort of your home by living vicariously through the new wave of travel books growing in popularity. Fish-out-of-water essays, transporting novels, and bright pictorials are one way of leaving home without changing out of your pajamas. So, go ahead, dive into these life-changing travel books and pretend you didn’t just spend the week in an office.

The Travel Book by Lonely Planet

“A journey through every country in the world” is the theme of this epic coffee table book and, indeed, it is. Get your red pen and Post-it notes prepared to spend hours flipping through photos and facts about every single country and region on the globe, from Barundi to Saint Lucia. It’s light-hearted and gorgeous, showing off the best of every nation. If you don’t salivate over this enormous wishlist, you might not have wanderlust after all.

An Irreverent Curiosity by David Farley

Landscapes of Italy, dry humor, and a whodunnit-style mystery involving the foreskin of the baby Jesus: what else do you need in a travel memoir? Farley chases “The Holy Foreskin,” his off-beat souvenir of choice, through Calcata, a medieval village in central Italy teeming with charm and unique characters, weaving together personal anecdotes of that period of his life with Christian folklore. It’s full of hilarity, but kind, so feel free to skip the Hail Marys after you’re done reading this one.

A Moveable Feast: Life-Changing Food Encounters Around the World by Don George

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, ignorant of Anthony Bourdain’s world takeover, you know that travel and food can barely exist without each other. This principle inspires Don George’s compilation of tasty essays featuring the stories behind meals across the world, from trying a foreign fruit for the first time to appreciating a hefty meal after a fast, and even learning the historical significance of a favorite plate. The tales are humorous, introspective, and whet your appetite just enough to tempt you to venture into your city’s own unique food ‘nabes.

Radio Shangri-La by Lisa Napoli

A woman goes through a mid-life crisis and escapes halfway across the world, where she finds herself again — we’ve read this before, right? Wrong. Unlike that other book you’re thinking of, Napoli decided to cross water in an attempt to carry-on her chosen field in Bhutan, the self-proclaimed “Happiest Nation in the World.” While in Bhutan, Napoli becomes completely immersed in the countries heritage and culture, not forcing her own upon it. The result is an honest fish-out-of-water story that makes a trip like this seem totally doable. As they usually do, Napoli’s selfless act ends up changing her life while she comes to terms with invaluable lessons one can’t learn over a bowl of pasta.

Journeys of a Lifetime by National Geographic

Save this one for a rainy day and dig in. The experts at Nat Geo have put together a collection of ultimate travel experiences so amazing we can only pray to achieve them one day. By foot, water, or rail, in search of gourmet dishes, four-legged friends or sophisticated culture, there is a journey for you. Pages you won’t be able to tear yourself away from? “A Thailand Cuisine Tour,” “The Road After Kerouac,” and “10 Great Journeys into the Past.”

Lunch in Paris by Elizabeth Bard

A dusty essay about the Louvre this is not. Bard’s Paris is not about Art Nouveau or the Mona Lisa, it’s about food. More specifically, it’s about the meals she makes while battling her demons far from home. Following a budding romance, Bard comes to terms with a move to Paris in her own way, by creating amazing meals that combine her feelings for home and her curiosity with her new land. Every moment in Bard’s life has a recipe, from grieving the loss of family with a warming soup, to soothing sadness with chocolate, and all are spelled out simply for the reader to duplicate. Although this memoir deals with heaping plates of French food and trips to the marketplace, it’s not fluffy chick-lit, but an honest look at the depression that can hit all expats, and how you can overcome it in your own way.

Vagabonding by Rolf Potts

If you’ve ever dreamed of turning in your resignation, buying a backpack, and meeting the world head-on, this is the how-to guide for you. Potts is an adventurer, and, with chapters on assimilating to life in a foreign place and financing your trip back home and on the road, his book is not for your average tourist. The tales and instructions compiled here shun the pre-planned itinerary and encourage wanderlust in a slow, exploratory way, learning the nooks and crannies of the places you visit instead of ticking check boxes off a bucket list. If there’s one central theme to the type of life that Vagabonding induces, it’s to be affected by every small experience, with the knowledge that it might enrich your life when you’ve come back home.

Zeitoun by Dave Eggers

Published by Eggers’ own McSweeney’s (so you know it’s a good, long read), this tale of post-Katrina New Orleans is a serious tearjerker. The story of a Syrian shop owner who uses his abilities and smarts to rescue others stranded during the hurricane, this book is more a picture of where the US was as a country a few years ago than a touristy look at New Orleans. But traveling through the lives of a sea of characters, both minute and instrumental to the story, the Crescent City comes alive in a story that needed to be told. You’ll find no jazz parades or fawning over beignets here; the most sobering reality of this based-on-a-true-story tale is that NoLA is still cleaning up from the tragedy and people are still struggling to rebuild their lives.

Planet Earth by Alastair Fothergill

Get ready to geek out over this intense picture book, an offshoot of the Discovery Channel/BBC series of the same name. Over 50 of Earth’s most dazzling landscapes and spectacles are documented here in stunning photography. Whether you’re planning a trip to these amazing destinations or not, you’ll appreciate the easy-to-read snippets of insider info, like which Chilean hiking route offers the most jaw-dropping view of the so-called “Blue Tower” Mountains, or which watery inlet orcas are known to infiltrate, rubbing their itchy skin against these British Columbian rocks. The knowledge packed into this coffee table book will do you proud on a flight across the Atlantic or at neighborhood trivia night.