The 53 best travel books of 2019

Lucid, exciting and though-provoking, armchair travellers are sure to love these 2019 travelogues, guides and bestsellers. They make the perfect travel companion, destination inspiration or gift...

16 mins

1. Alone Time, by Stephanie Rosenbloom 


People have been travelling solo for millennia, although the concept pops up ‘anew’ in the media every few years, rebranded in the light of whatever trend has just swept through town.

But while there’s a dash of ‘mindfulness’ about Alone Time, Stephanie Rosenbloom’s thoughtful treatise on going it on your own will not only give you a fresh appreciation for the four cities at the heart of her book – Paris, Florence, Istanbul and New York, all rendered in impressively atmospheric detail – but also for the notion of being by oneself.

Alone time is an invitation, a chance to do the things that you’ve longed to do

— Stephanie Rosenbloom

Each experience undertaken in these breaks becomes the framework on which to hang an idea. The legendary cuisine and sensual streets of Paris makes the ideal spot to philosophise about the sheer joy of savouring what’s in front of you; a Turkish hammam is the condensation-streaked jumping-off point for trying something new; and while the artworks of Florence offer a chance to disconnect, the streets of New York afford just the opposite.

That the latter city is Rosenbloom’s adopted hometown makes clear that a lot of the thinking here can – and should – be applied to your walk to work as much as it should be to parading the Seine. Hers is an invitation to find sensation and beauty and life in the world around you.

Long-term soloists may feel they’re being taught to suck eggs, but it’s never a bad time to get a refresher. Well worth setting aside some alone time for.

2. Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know, by Sir Ranulph Fiennes

Hodder & Stoughton

It’s a fitting title. Sir Ranulph Fiennes is a man given to Byronic fits of adventure, and this update of his autobiography (timed to coincide with his 75th birthday) proves ‘Ran’ has lost none of his nerve in the decade since it last hit shelves.

As well as detailing his youthful hitchhiking and loss of several fingers to frostbite, recent feats include his ascent of Mount Everest at the third time of asking. Absorbing and utterly exhausting – in a good way.

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3. The Gentle Art of Tramping, by Stephen Graham 


Good advice travels through the generations. The ‘tramping’ being philosophised in this 90-year-old reprint is very much of the trekking variety, with Graham’s happy, poetic ode to a life well walked being as full of genuinely sensible wander-tips – ‘one of the quickest ways in which to learn the life of a people is by tramping among them’ – as it is anachronistic charm. Old school inspiration for every new adventure.

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4. Underground, by Will Hunt

Spiegel & Grau

Subtitled ‘A Human History of the Worlds Beneath our Feet’, Will Hunt’s journey isn’t always as it seems.

Sometimes it’s a physical descent, like traversing Paris’ underground with urban explorers or rattling around Turkey’s cave cities; at other times it’s the depths of the soul he plumbs, recalling those who set aside the world to burrow beneath it.

Lit up by tales of hermits, cults and ‘intraterrestrials’ (who wanted to travel to the Earth’s centre), it’s a book with genuine depth.

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5. Inspired Traveller’s Guide: Literary Places, by Sarah Baxter

White Lion Publishing 

If you’ve ever wanted to wander the  alleys and bars of James Joyce’s Dublin or explore the backstreets of Elena Ferrante’s Naples, this is the book for you.

A flick through its literary atlas offers inspiration aplenty, whether taking to the Mississippi à la Huck Finn or stalking the wild and windy moors of Charlotte Brontë’s Yorkshire.

It’s more a CliffsNotes than a strict guide, but serves up literary tasters and routes to whet the mind.

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6. Slow Trains to Venice, by Tom Chesshyre


As the frustrating Escher staircase of the Brexit process continues to unfold, its impact on travel is yet to be known. But it has already inspired many journeys.

Tom Chesshyre’s latest rail odyssey sees him amble Europe by train, winding on a shaggy clockwise loop from London to Venice via the Ukraine, ticking off a flurry of countries along the way. As ever, Chesshyre’s journalistic knack for detail and making conversation are an insightful combination.

Beyond the stations – in Bonn, Budapest, Belgrade – he hangs out with the locals to find a continent at a crossroads as it processes the shocks of the last 20 years: the Yugoslavian Civil War, the Russian threat and the Syrian exodus – and of course the ‘B’ word.

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7. Low Country, by Tom Bolton

Penned in the Margins

Engaging the locals of Essex proves slightly more difficult for Tom Bolton, as he traces the coastline of the Brexit stronghold and encounters an arms-folded suspicion of authority that runs deeper than the mud.

Beyond the neons of Southend and Clacton lies a wild, murky and – occasionally literally – forbidding land riven with marshes, islets, mythology and dark history, much beloved by writers and rebels, and entirely ignored by guidebook authors.

By the end, you gain a better understanding of both points of view.

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8. My 1001 Nights: Tales and Adventures from Morocco, by Alice Morrison

Simon & Schuster

You might remember Alice from her Morocco to Timbuktu TV series a few years ago. If not, this picks up where that left o­ff, with the same curious mind and game enthusiasm when it comes to a challenge: whether hiking the Atlas Mountains or walking the Sahara.

But it’s in the cultural aspects where she shines, and what follows is a heartfelt attempt to see, feel and experience local life, albeit through the eyes of a solo female traveller – always starting on the outside and working her way in.

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Read our full interview with Alice here

9. Our Planet, by Alastair Fothergill & Keith Scholey

Bantam Press

Our Planet may look a treat on your co­ffee table, but it’s also a fine companion to any binge watch of its accompanying Netflix series. Like the show, it’s in essence a plea: a visually led narrative on mankind’s impact on, well, ‘our planet’, condensing well-trod debate into time-saving images of the world’s most precious species and why they badly need our protection.

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Read our full interview with Alastair Fothergill here

10. Beyond the Footpath, by Clare Gogerty


Subtitled ‘Mindful Adventures for Modern Pilgrims’, this book taps into a very on-trend word: pilgrimages.

But while the amount of people to have walked the Camino now seems to outnumber those who haven’t, this book widens its gaze, serving up a rare secular view on France’s Lourdes or Mount Kailash in Nepal, as well as challenges that tug at the soul, such as tracking a river to its headwaters or even exploring a city at lunch.

Wherever your heart calls is a pilgrimage, its author seems to say, and we heartily concur.

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11. Epic Continent, by Nicholas Jubber

John Murray Press

For those who barely survived the histories of Homer or recall migraines from the annotations in Beowulf, this may not be for you.

Yet in tracing the lineage of epic poetry on modern-day Europe, the author finds travel gold: a new dimension to some familiar places.

As he unearths the poetic bones of Spain, the UK, Iceland and others, he even draws in modern tragedies, such as the refugees in Greece. A genuine epic. 

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12. Rediscovering Travel: A Guide for the Globally Curious, by Seth Kugel


What does it really mean to have an ‘authentic’ travel experience in 2019? In an age of smartphones and even smarter tour operators, the quest to package our every whim into an anxiety-free Instagrammable adventure is neverending. So what is real?

Using a mix of charm, debate and anecdote, travel journalist Seth Kugel kicks around the concept of journeying in a world that’s been ‘documented within an inch of its life’. In return, he proffers a few practical guidelines to wander by.

It’s a refreshingly uncomfortable treatise about iffyy ethics, the dangers of preconceived ideas and context-free risk assessments, and how technology – your iPhone, peer-review websites – is a bit of a joy-suck.

But this isn’t a rant about the modern travel industry; rather it’s a passionate plea for spontaneity and making ‘organic’ travel choices, putting the case for them being better experiences – and better for you – in the long run.

A tiny push towards less-planned travel experiences can improve just about any trip

— Seth Kugel 

Drawing on his six years as The New York Times’ Frugal Traveller, it’s full of tales of his attempts to put this philosophy into action – hopping off a train in a random Hungarian town, enjoying Turkish hospitality in Gaziantep and becoming a tourist attraction in China.

Whether you come away agreeing or spitting Kugel’s name, you’re sure to be re-engaged with why you travel, and making that next experience richer and, yes, maybe a bit more authentic, too. 

13. The Odysseum, by David Bramwell & Jo Tinsley


Some journeys are not meant to be repeated. From the man who tried to mail himself overseas, to the obsessed film director dragging a 320- tonne boat through the Peruvian jungle – these are the planet’s worst journeys, captured in this curious ode of follies, rulebreakers and outsiders.

The eccentrics chronicled within will find a far happier, safer home by your toilet shelf.

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14. Holiday SOS, by Ben Macfarlane

Thistle Publishing

Have you ever wondered what happens when the medical section on your travel insurance forms suddenly becomes urgently relevant?

Well, Dr Ben’s (re-released) memoir explains how the often sticky business of having to be repatriated – from the Maldives, Ibiza, Morocco – in the event of a medical emergency actually works.

It’s an enlightening peek at a little acknowledged cranny of the industry.

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15. Wild Women and Their Amazing Adventures Over Land, Sea & Air, by Mariella Frostrup


This fine anthology brings a female voice to a subject too long dominated by men: adventure.

Through the writings of a host of travel’s big hitters (Dervla Murphy, Jan Morris, etc), and others that deserve to be better known, it curates some incredible tales, including that of a 16-year-old African American girl who took off on a self-funded global tour in the 1900s, and two women who raced around the world in 1888.

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16. The Monocle Travel Guide Series, by various authors


We’ve loved Monocle’s city guides for a while. Sure, they’re pitched at the hip set, forever searching for their next liquid nitrogen cocktail or artisanal spoon.

But they also rub up against local culture in a way no other guide does through their fine essays, unpicking everything from K-pop to love motels in its recent 2018 Seoul guide.

They’re a great way to peer under the skin of modern life in some of the world’s big cities.

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17. Beginner’s Guide to Japan, by Pico Iyer


It could be argued that no author knows Japan quite like Pico Iyer. He has called the country home for the past 32 and is able to draw on readings, reflections and conversations with Japanese friends to illuminate an unknown place for newcomers and to give longtime residents a look at their home through fresh eyes

A Beginner’s Guide to Japan: Observations and Provocations is a compendium of all he has learned, a brilliantly enlightening collection of the oddities and marvels of Japanese life and culture, written in Iyer’s lucid prose. It is a playful and profound guidebook full of surprising, brief and incisive glimpses into Japanese culture.

And a worthy winner of the APA Publications Travel Memoir of the Year at the 2020 Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards.

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18. Rough Magic, by Lara Prior-Palmer


Lara Prior-Palmer’s memoir, Rough Magic, reads like the script of a Hollywood movie. Only 19 years old, inexperienced and underprepared, Lara entered the world’s toughest horse race, the Mongol Derby.

Battling bouts of illness and dehydration, exhaustion and bruising falls, she emerges the winner 1,000km later, the youngest winner ever and the first woman to take the prize.

Rough Magic: Riding the World’s Wildest Horse Race is a thrilling and unexpected as the race itself, a tale of adventure, fortitude and poetry, where Lara battles her demons and finds herself on the vast steppes of Mongolia.

It is also a tale of the unexpected kindness of strangers, as nomads take Lara in, giving her nourishment and a place to catch a few hours of sleep.

A worthy winner of the Steppes Travel Adventure Travel Book of the Year in the 2020 Edward Stanford Travel Awards.

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19. Horizon, by Barry Lopez

Bodley Head

It’s taken Barry Lopez over 20 years to release a full-blooded follow-up to his award-winning works on natural history, such as the eco-classic Arctic Dreams. But as a quick glance at Horizon’s bookshelf-creaking size reveals, he’s clearly not Just been ruminating on his fundament.

Part-autobiography, part-expansive meditation on the planet, its people, its past and its future, Horizon collects together a lifetime of thought and travel. But while the destinations Lopez visits would hit all the right spots on any bucket-list book – Nunavut, Australia, The Galápagos, Antarctic – Lopez is more preoccupied with humanity’s own movement and explorations than he is with the minutiae of local life and scenery.

The reality of quite how badly Homo sapiens have failed in their stewardship of the planet runs throughout the book

— Barry Lopez

The pioneering and often-troubling journeys of Captain Cook and Charles Darwin are pondered over, while the origin of our own species is mulled on during his time in Africa’s ‘cradle of humankind’.

Indeed, the stomach-thudding reality of quite how badly Homo sapiens have failed in their stewardship of the planet and its occupants runs throughout the whole book; a doomy stream just below the surface of the thoughtful prose and diversions that made Lopez a favourite of the likes of Robert Macfarlane.

It’s a big book full of bigger ideas, and it’s well worth taking your time over – see you in another 20 years.

20. The Unlikeliest Backpacker, by Kathryn Barnes

Hornet Books

Fired up on Wild and a post-30s malaise, Kathryn Barnes and her husband decide to leave London behind to tackle the blisters and mozzies of the Pacific Crest Trail.

But this is not a Cheryl Strayed-esque therapeutic rollercoaster; instead she delivers a cheerfully straight-forward account of the trials and triumphs of their journey north.

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21. Cicerone: Celebrating Fifty Years of Adventure, edited by Kev Reynolds


Having clocked up a half-century of sending walkers on wild adventures across the planet, you can forgive the guidebook publishers a bit of back-slapping.

This foregoes the forensic detail of spectacular trails that have made Cicerone so successful – and often essential – and instead collects together 50 amusing, inspiring and surprising tales from their trek-hardened writers.

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22. The Call of the Mountains, by Max Landerberg AND Overlander, by Alan Brown 

Luath Press and Saraband

Scotland is a land of epics – if Homer hadn’t been Greek, he’d be Scottish.

So, we’ve bundled Max Landerberg’s account of climbing Scotland’s 282 Munros and Alan Brown’s coast-to-coast cycle over the Highlands together.

Both see something deeper in the lonely views and even lonelier back roads; they find purpose in the simple goals of one more ridge or one more mile – a shared sense of the power of landscape to change us all.

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23. Cityscopes Series, by various authors

Reaktion Books

Context is everything when it comes to understanding a new destination, and the Cityscopes guides have been putting travellers under a city’s skin for a couple of years now, with Prague: Crossroads of Europe by Derek Sayer being their latest.

Typical of the series, it’s very strong on the city’s art scene, architecture and long, bloody history – the authors are often academics – though it is less practical when you’re on the ground.

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24. Underland: A Deep Time Journey, by Robert Macfarlane

Hamish Hamilton

It seems a virtual in-joke that the latest title from Robert Macfarlane is quite literally his deepest book yet, as his lyrical, poetic, thoughtful explorations of wild landscapes – at once earthy and ethereal – have inspired enough imitators to fill Pseuds Corner. This time, he heads beneath the surface, to feel his way through the total darkness and discovers roots of all sorts there – sometimes flora, more often human.

Macfarlane finds himself in the catacombs of Paris, the Metro rattling above him; in Finland, where nuclear waste lies entombed for 100,000 years (and carries a modern-day ‘Mummy’s Curse’); and in Epping Forest, where the trees seemingly talk to each other, working together as part of an epic fungal network. On he delves, uncovering Bronze Age burial spaces under Somerset and gazing at 2,500-year-old cave paintings in Norway’s Lofoten Islands; and through it all he tugs at one common human thread.

A worthy winner of the Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year.

In the underland I have seen things I hope I will never forget – and things I wish I had never witnessed

— Robert Macfarlane

No matter where they’re from, Macfarlane finds, societies are drawn to the shadow world; to the death, mystery and rebirth this represents. And as ever, he enriches his travels with a library’s worth of illuminating literature and quotations that you find yourself hoping will somehow scorch onto your memory.

These places not only chart our past but that of the planet, a ‘deep time’ of geology that dwarfs our history. They also look to the future, he seems to say, by questioning what fables the Anthropocene era will leave behind for our antecedents to find, buried deep in the darkness.

25. Elsewhere, by Rosita Boland


In German, fernweh translates as an ache for distant places. It’s something the author Rosita Boland conveys with every pen stroke as she recounts nine journeys across 30 years of travel, taking us from the Antarctic wilds to the Amazonian jungle within a heartbeat.

All travellers are collectors, but the things that stick with her are the people she meets along the way – her recollections are warm, honest and frank – in a book that ultimately celebrates the hunger for different cultures awakened by travel.

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26. Wayfaring Stranger, by Emma John 

Weidenfeld & Nicholson 

Bluegrass music is one of those things that just takes you. That was certainly the case for Emma John, whose beat is more typically the Observer’s cricket columns than the roadkill and hoedowns of the American South. She’s also a classical violinist, and it’s her journey to foot-stomping fiddler that forms the heart of this travelogue, in which she roams the Appalachians to unravel a wild region as little understood as the sudden yearning she finds in herself for its rhythms.

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27. Blue Guides, by various authors

Blue Guides Ltd

If all you cared about on your travels was finding hip bars, chances are that you wouldn’t be reading Wanderlust. You definitely wouldn’t be carrying a Blue Guide, for whom such things are anathema.

History and culture are the currency of these guides, first published back in 1918, and their latest Budapest and Travels in Transylvania books are typical of the series: filled with the kind of detail that puts others to shame.

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28. The Great Alone: Walking the Pacific Crest Trail, by Tim Voors


Why walk the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in six months? It’s a question the adventurer Tim Voors asks himself often on the 4,264km route from Mexico to Canada.

From getting caught in a storm in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, to gasping for water in the Mojave desert, his answer lies more in the spiritual than the physical changes he undergoes as he traverses the soaring highs of the American West on a very modern pilgrimage.

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29. Mud and Stars, by Sara Wheeler

Jonathan Cape

Is all publicity good publicity? Russian president Vladimir Putin seems to think so, and with a big uptick in travellers to Russia lately, he may be right – but as his countrymen might add with an ironic note, he always is.

Among recent visitors is Sara Wheeler, who finds herself crossing most of its 11 time zones.

Mud and Stars sees Wheeler hit the local homestays in search of the writers of Russia’s ‘Golden Age’ – Tolstoy, Pushkin, Dostoyevsky – seeking out the towns and estates in which these works were conceived, and meeting those who live there now.

But while each chapter is focused on one author – and you’ll yearn to reconnect with each – her pursuit keeps one foot in the now.

She traces a line from Tsarist tyranny through Soviet-era brutality to today’s bare-chested corruption, revealing how a cynical-yet-defiant people were left in its wake and why locals are happy to confound ‘Western expectations’. 

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30. Behind Putin's Curtain, by Stephan Orth

Greystone Books

The German travel writer Stephan Orth reaches much the same conclusion as Sara's Mud and Stars - in Behind Putin’s Curtain, his follow-up to Couchsurfing in Iran.

The cheerful Orth again uses his sofa stays as a hook, wandering into the lives of those who dwell in the ‘post-fact’ era of Putin to find a warm, open and varied people, who somehow simultaneously reject and absorb the propaganda around them.

Both are clear-eyed about the situation while being wide-eyed about the country.

Neither book will see you cancel Russia trips, but through their perceptive gaze, you may just see more than most.

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31. A Savage Dreamland, by David Eimer


What happened during the 50 years Myanmar (Burma) was in isolation and locked into a military dictatorship?

David Eimer sets out to find the answer, as well as what came next, in his latest book.

Veering north from Yangon to the Burmese Himalaya and down to the jungles of the south, he sees Myanmar flicker to life through the voices of royalty, monks and refugees, to sketch a portrait of a country trapped in the delicate twilight between reality and dreams.

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32. My Midsummer Morning, by Alastair Humphreys

William Collins

Some adventures are so inspiring that we can’t help but repeat them.

In his latest, Alastair Humphreys does that, as he takes to busking on Spanish roads in search of the rich and tangled lives that his idol Laurie Lee painted so vividly 50 years ago in As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning.

In doing this, his journey takes on a personal edge, as he wrestles with what he really wants from the world – a settled life or one of adventure?

Honest, revealing and funny, it’s a beautiful love letter to a much-loved classic.

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33. Just Another Mountain, by Sarah Jane Douglas

William Collins

After losing her mother at the age of 24, Sarah battled drift by focusing on one thing: Munros (Scottish mountains over 3,000 feet/914m).

She duly conquered them all, chronicling the achievement in a successful blog, with the peaks becoming a constant presence in her life – much like a parent.

Her journey takes her from Ben Nevis to Nepal in the kind of prose where you hear the gravel crunch underfoot, in an often raw recollection of a life lived on two feet.

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34. Time Out City Guides, by various authors

Crimson Publishing

They’re back. And it’s business as usual for Time Out Guides.

After four decades of hip, street-wise advice, Time Out seemingly shut its doors for good in 2016, after becoming one of the most high profile victims of the move to digital.

Thankfully, another publisher has picked up the baton. Style-wise, there’s still the same lust for the latest trends, cool hotels and arty scenes, albeit with a Euro-centric focus.

Available for London and other cities; New York comes out in November 2019.

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35. To the Island of Tides: A Journey to Lindisfarne, by Alistair Moffat

Canongate Books 

Not all journeys need to be ‘epic voyages’. Sometimes, travelling the lands that you already know can be just as rewarding. This proves to be the case for Alistair Mo­ffat, who sets off from his beloved Scottish Borders and crosses into England towards the tidal island of Lindisfarne, off­ the Northumberland coast.

Mo­ffat knows this neck of the woods extremely well. The Scottish historian has been writing extensively about his homeland and its history for over 30 years, culminating in 2017’s much-garlanded The Hidden Ways: Scotland’s Forgotten Roads, which took him o­ff-the-beaten track to reveal a rich seam of lost local detail.

From the monastery at Old Melrose, Mo­ffat’s progression towards Lindisfarne starts out as the chance to explore the life of Cuthbert, the patron saint of Northumbria, who would in AD684 become the bishop of the isolated priory that once sat on the tidal island. By the time he reaches that famous causeway, he’s wandered though Viking history and England and Scotland’s tumultuous relationship.

But it soon becomes clear that this ‘secular pilgrimage’ is also a moving personal journey. For Mo­ffat, much as for Cuthbert, Lindisfarne becomes a place of reflection, where history, his own past and current travels become one. It’s quietly rather epic in its own right, much like the island itself.

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36. A Hitch in Time, by Andy Smart 

AA Publishing

Road trips don’t come more fun than a 72,000-mile hitch-hiking escapade from Liverpool to Pamplona.

But that’s exactly what comedian Andy Smart (a long-standing member of The Comedy Store Players in London) embarked upon in the late 70s, spending six years living life from one bizarre situation to the next.

Whether he’s running with the bulls in Pamplona or placating rifle-wielding hotel guests in the Pyrenees, things often gets out of control, but Andy’s say-yes philosophy always manages to save the day, charming any reader who dares to join him on this cheerful ride back into a more innocent time.

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37. From the Lion’s Mouth: A Journey Along The Indus, by Iain Campbell

Bradt Travel Guides

Travelling along the sacred Indus River isn’t a decision taken lightly – its impossible rapids spell out a risk that most people would rather avoid.

But Iain Campbell makes his choice effortlessly, one icy evening in Tibet when his dreams of reaching its source are dashed.

Captivated by the stories that lie just beyond his reach, he returns a year later to answer the call of the river, hopping aboard unwieldy buses and bumpy trains to follow it through tiny villages, fairy meadows and Himalayan foothills, encountering tribal fishermen and Kashmiri soldiers on his way.

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38. Atlas of Vanishing Places, by Travis Elborough

White Lion Publishing

Following the success of his previous books, Atlas of Improbable Places and Atlas of the Unexpected, Travis Elborough takes readers on a voyage in search of the lost, disappearing and vanished in the beautifully illustrated Atlas of Vanishing Places.

Led by beautiful maps and stunning colour photography, readers discover ancient seats of power and long-forgotten civilisations like the Mayan city of Palenque, delve into the mystery of a disappeared Japanese islet and uncover the incredible hidden sites like the submerged Old Adaminaby, once abandoned but slowly remerging.

Winner of the DK Eyewitness Illustrated Travel Book of the Year at the 2020 Edward Stanford Travel Awards, the Atlas of Vanishing Places is a a fascinating guide to lost lands and the fragility of our relationship with the world around us.

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39. Fire Islands, by Eleanor Ford

Murdoch Books


Fire Islands picked up the highly coveted Kerb Food and Drink Travel Book of the Year award in the 2020 Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards and it’s not hard to see why. Jam-packed with easy-to-follow recipes for Indonesia’s most iconic dishes, the book is illustrated with lavish photographs guaranteed to get your tastebuds tingling.

This enchanting cookbook is full of Indonesian inspiration and cuisine and gives an intimate portrait of the country and its cooking.  Described as a cookbook for foodies who love to travel, Eleanor's recipes will transport the refined cooking of Java to the spicy heart of Sumatra and the festival foods of Bali.

Recipes include chilli-spiked sambals served with rich noodle broths and salty peanut sauce sweetens chargrilled sate sticks, as well as shared feasts of creamy coconut curries, stir-fries and spiced rice. These are the kind of meals enjoyed in Indonesian homes and will fill your kitchen with the aroma of ginger, tamarind, lemongrass and lime.

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40. Great Cities Through Travellers’ Eyes, edited by Peter Furtado 

Thames & Hudson

Have you ever read a city guide and wondered what the writer really thought about the place? This is not your typical guidebook.

Instead, this intriguing collection of travellers’ tales gives you perspectives on 38 cities across six continents from philosophers, explorers and artists. Spanning from ancient times to the 20th century, there are almost 200 extracts from letters, diaries, memoirs and reports written by famous figures such as Strabo, Marco Polo and Charles Dickens, as well as more recent accounts from journalists.

These range from the historic to the amusing to the scabrous, which together create a revealing insight into millennia of travel – and also travellers too.

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41. North Korea Journal, by Michael Palin


So, how does the nicest man in travel cope with a problem like North Korea? Putting Michael Palin into the centre of the ‘axis of evil’ is a fascinating proposition, as those who caught last year’s TV series will agree.

For those who felt that Michael Palin in North Korea was too short, this day-by-day account provides more detail and context to his two-week journey, as well as the constant behind-the-camera diplomacy that trailed them.

What makes his trip unusual is that Palin’s usual winning mix of genuine interest, good-humoured charm and that deceptively steely nose for humbug gets slightly handicapped by the regime’s potent mix of fear and propaganda and control. But how much can he risk by probing, not only for himself and his crew, but also for his handlers on the other side?

But amid the frustration, Palin perseveres. Recognising the humanity from behind the indoctrination, he then gently draws it out further, making small connections with his enforced entourage. Interestingly, as the former Python gains an understanding of this alien, secretive country, the since-stalled peace breakthrough by President Trump is reverberating around it.

After reading this, you’ll wander if maybe another ambassador – maybe one more familiar with dead parrots – would achieve better results.

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42. Sovietistan, by Erika Fatland


The early 90s saw Central Asia’s Soviet states – Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan – each become independent, only to then seemingly fall off the travel radar.

Norwegian journalist Erika Fatland passes though the marbled metropolises and sparsely peopled steppe to find darkening clouds hovering over those promised freedoms, if they ever arrived at all.

Together, her thoughtful local encounters and measured, meticulous reporting create a troubled portrait of an epic, untamed landscape.

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43. Pravda Ha Ha, by Rory MacLean


A very different travelogue to SovietistanRory MacLean doesn’t try to hide his partisanship as he quietly seethes westwards from Moscow, embarking on an occasionally chaotic journey that traces an erosion of truth and optimism.

That void has been filled with a foggy, corrosive mix of nostalgia and nationalism, and MacLean pursues this bitter wave out through Estonia, Transnistria, Ukraine, Hungary, Poland, Germany and eventually to England, picking up a Michael Jackson-obsessed immigrant from Nigeria along the way.

Sometimes darkly funny, often surprising and always compelling.

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44. Year of the Monkey, by Patti Smith


Any semblance of chronological narrative is discarded in Patti Smith’s Year of the Monkey.

But no matter – instead, we trespass into her inner world, wandering the USA with Patti and her trusty Polaroid, traipsing its west coast, hitching rides in the desert and helping her dying friend finish his final book in Kentucky.

Here, she weaves the threads of her thoughts and past relationships together, creating a dreamy memoir on the passage of time and our changing world.

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45. The Two Week Traveller, by Matthew Lightfoot

Amazon Print

Do you have an insatiable wanderlust, but no time to indulge it? Do you have a full-time job, but daydream about the adventures you could be having?

Matthew Lightfoot found himself in this position, but he decided it wasn’t going to stop him. Inspired by Wanderlust, and with a little help from a magazine competition prize, he visited over 150 countries using only his annual holiday leave.

This collection of humorous travel stories will inspire you to do the same.

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46. The Summer Isles, by Philip Marsden


Sailing single-handedly from Cornwall to the Summer Isles off the Highlands, Philip Marsden journeys to the dramatic Scottish archipelago that captivated him as a young man.

He invites us on to the small wooden sloop that sees him from his home in Cornwall, along Ireland’s west coast and up to the Scottish islands.

Battling unforgiving weather and repairing his boat on the fly, he shares the myths, legends and songs surrounding these mystery-shrouded islands.

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47. Raw Spirit, by Iain Banks 


Raw Spirit is not just ‘Banksie’s’ quest to find the perfect whisky. In fact, The Wasp Factory author’s trip around Scotland begins with no illusions – what he’s looking for may not exist.

Now reprinted to celebrate its 15-year anniversary, the book charts its own course through the social landscapes of everywhere from Skye to Lothian, where obscure distilleries compete against the world-famous with a wide cast of characters bringing them – and the liquor – to life.

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48. A Month in Siena, by Hisham Matar


After being much garlanded for his bruising, brilliant The Return, Hisham Matar is back with another part-travelogue, part-memoir, this time with a hefty side order of art criticism thrown in.

Having revisited his homeland of Libya in the hope of discovering what happened to his father – disappeared by the Gaddafi regime – Matar now opts for a spot of introspection in medieval Tuscany, driven by a longstanding fascination with the 13-15th century Sienese School of Painting.

The thoughtful interior dialogue that made The Return so moving now walks you through the corridors of Siena’s Pinacoteca Nazionale and Palazzo Pubblico. As he goes, he illuminates little details that somehow reflect our own existence back at us through the centuries; the pages pulse with the power and delight in a kind of recognition of humanity.

And this is applied to Siena as a whole. Matar walks the streets, squares, contrade and cemeteries, pondering the locals getting on with their lives with the same generous eye for minutiae. Along the way he forges new connections – he’s virtually adopted by one family – and rebuilds old ones.

Anyone expecting the Palio and pasta may be disappointed; the art really does take centre stage. But Matar’s such a wonderful guide through the galleries, you’ll not only come away booking tickets to Florence – Siena’s nearest airport – but planning a quick escape to your nearest gallery, too.

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49. On the Plain of Snakes, by Paul Theroux

Hamish Hamilton

In his latest memoir, the legendary writer is transporting us into modern Mexico in the time of Trump – not an easy place to sum up.

Yet, on his way through border towns and desert wildernesses, he faces deportees, patrol officers, border-divided families and child street performers alike, telling their story with his trademark curiosity and sketching a vulnerable yet vibrant picture of a conflicted region.

The publication of this book also saw Paul Theroux receive the Edward Stanford Award for Outstanding Contribution to Travel Writing, in recognition of his long and impressive career in travel writing.

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50. Hungry, by Jeff Gordinier

Icon Books

When Noma co-owner René Redzepi asked to meet him, food writer Jeff was sceptical.

Little did he know that he was about to embark on a four-year adventure to seek out new dishes with one of the world’s greatest chefs.

This witty, heartfelt memoir takes us on a trip from searching for the perfect taco in Mexico to foraging for sea rocket in Sydney – brilliant for those with a hunger for good food and adventure.

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51. Journeys in the Wild: The Secret Life of a Cameraman, by Gavin Thurston

Seven Dials

“And so, the lesser-spotted cameraman sighs and takes his place in the spotlight...”

The lensman behind 30 years of natural history classics including Blue Planet II and Planet Earth II, Gavin Thurston’s diaries trace his journey from patience-mastering apprentice dodging weeing rabbits to hefting his camera kit all over the world – from the Yukon to the Antarctic, the Galápagos to Papua New Guinea – with David Attenborough.

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52. Kidding Around: Tales of Travel with Children, edit by James Lowen and Hilary Bradt 


Bradt Travel Guides

Travelling with kids can feel like you’re lugging a slightly unstable hand grenade, not knowing which innocent bystanders are going to get caught in the inevitable blast.

Thankfully, Bradt’s latest collection of touching and amusing misadventures – taking the likes of Borneo, the Galápagos and Nepal – isn’t just centred on the explosions but also the rewards; that mind-expanding experience of discovery, and in turn seeing the world afresh through bright new eyes

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53. Extreme Economies, by Richard Davies


Extreme Economies is not your normal travel book and is all the more fascinating for that. Economist Richard Davies travels from disaster zones and displaced societies to failed states and hidden rainforest communities to seek out the lessons these economic outliers can provide for our future.

This is no dry economic textbook. Davies travels to these often-troubled regions to personally seek out and report the human stories behind the economies. Nor is it all doom and gloom. 

Davies finds hope and lessons in some of the most unlikely places. Like the clever tricks Syrians use to underpin trade in the world’s most entrepreneurial refugee camp.

With the world in lock down because of COVID-19, these lessons have never been more timely, shedding light on today’s biggest economic questions and providing vital lessons for our turbulent future.

Winner of the Lonely Planet Debut Travel Writer of the Year at the 2020 Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards.

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