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Lounging in a hammock on a Thai island or squeezed into a minibus with 25 locals for 12 hours, a good book can complement any scenario. Reading another generic John Grisham novel you picked up in the airport might pass the time, but the books I’m going to discuss below will transport you to another world, reinvigorate your thirst for adventure and confirm that there’s nothing quite like being on the road…


1) Shantaram: Set predominantly in Mumbai, India this is a must-read for anyone who is visiting the Asian subcontinent. The plot is based loosely on real life, where the author Gregory Roberts escapes prison in Australia and flees to Indian on a false passport. A series of incidents force him to call the slums of Mumbai his home, where he becomes a local (untrained) doctor. As time progresses he ends up in prison, fighting in Afghanistan, working for the Mumbai mafia – the book is HUGE but you’ll read it as fast as any book you’ve laid hands on.

books to read when traveling

2) 3 Cups of Tea: Wow! The true story of a true hero, Greg Mortenson, who in 1993 failed to summit K2 (the world’s most difficult mountain to climb), on his descent he was exhausted to the point of collapse when a local tribe took him in and saved his life. In return, he told them he would build them a school to repay them. With the threat of Islamic militants, kidnaps by the Taliban and a host of other problems Greg has now built 131 schools across Pakistan and Afghanistan, educating 60, 000 kids – as I say, a true hero and a captivating story.

books to read when you travel

3) Around the World in 80 Days: Jules Verne’s classic represents the essence of adventure, where the protagonist sets to circumnavigate the globe over a $20, 000 wager. From saving lives in India, to avoiding Indians in the US his journey is frought with danger and filled with excitement. Join Phileas Fogg and his loyal servent Passepartout in their manic race against the clock and you’ll understand the joys of travel all over again.

backpacking books

4) The Beach: Alex Garland’s novel was written in 1996, just as Thailand was becoming the hub of the backpacker scene. Long before Mr Di Caprio and Danny Boyle made the title famous from their big screen adaptation, Richard, the main character, was running amok around Khao San road, Bangkok, Thailand. As rumours build about this idyllic beach, Richard and a French couple decide to set sail for the mythical paradise. On their eventual arrival, they soon discover that this hidden community deal with issues in a different way to the ‘real world’ and their new backpacker scene is a lot darker than the one they left in Khao San.

books to read when backpacking

5) Life of Pi: A truly wonderful novel about a young boy who is stuck on a floating shipwreck for 227 with a fully grown Bengal Tiger, called Richard Parker, a hyena, a zebra and a orangutan. The plot explores religion, survival and spirituality in a unqiue manner and the storytelling is second to none. Naturally, I won’t ruin the story but I found the ending to be one of the greatest endings to any book I have ever read. Have fun.

traveling books

OK guys, if you’re setting off on a trip currently vagabonding around the world or harbouring desires to hit the road – get out your reading glasses and indulge in these babies.

DISCLAIMER: Should you be at home when you read these, I (Johnny Ward) hold no responsibility for you quitting your job immediately and attaching yourself to your backpack

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53 thoughts on “5 Books to Read When you Travel

  1. Pingback: 旅行时要读的5本书|一步到位4Ward-数字游民指南
  2. Cool selection, I’ll keep it for myself. Such things are very important for me as a lover of reading books, I will note that Shantaram is really very interesting, I have already studied it. On my profile, I will leave the analysis of ‘The Glass Castle’ by Jeannette Walls, go to this web-site and study interesting material in which experts analyzed the most important moments of the book and the film, there are many comparisons of parallels, read, learn more and save for yourself this info.

  3. Pingback: Book Review: The Motorcycle Diaries, Che Guevara | One Step 4Ward
  4. Hi! Someone in my Facebook grup shared this site with us so I came to look it over.

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  5. I’m glad to see two of my personal favourites in Shantaram and A life of Pi make it on to the list. But I would of love to have seen “on the road” and “Fear and loathing” make it on to the list. The whole Gonzo genre of book just fits traveling. Also if you are looking for enlightenment the you can’t go too far wrong with “Zen and the art of Motorcycle Maintenance”

    Great list but so hard to narrow it down to 5. I feel for straining over it brother.

  6. Difficult to make such a list but i love all of your nominees…. My favorite is Shantaram and The beach…

  7. hey johnny! i’m on the road in bali studying atm and then owndering if i should spend my time in the philipines or thailand. doing alot of reading too but when looking up your recommendations i found that 3 cups of tea seems to be quite a bit of a lie.. so ‘m wondering to ignore or read as fiction? great tips thou!

    1. hey mate – tough call, i’d go with thailand tho mate, cheaper to get to and easier if u plan to spend any length of time there. I love both countries though 🙂

  8. I was waiting for “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac to pop up on the list. What, you don’t like it? ;p

  9. Can’t believe I have not read any of these! Shame on me. Gerard and I are in the process of DLing books to our kindle for our trip. Definitely adding these to the list. =)

  10. Great list! I’m currently in the middle of “Life of Pi” and although the writing is really well done and imaginative I think some of the themes are a bit much. I’m getting through it either. I’ve been dying to read Shantaram though but somehow I can never actually manage to get a copy. A little birdie told me that they are making a Hollywood version with Johnny Depp – here’s hoping it doesn’t suck!

      1. I think they had to stop things when they had the writers struck a little while ago but I hope they don’t get “just anybody” to play him from what I know of the man it sounds like Johnny Depp is the right choice but that’s just me

    1. thanks! i love it when i get another recommendation from this post 😀 😀 I’ll add it to my kindle list!

  11. Great picks! Having so much time to read is one of the things I love about travel. I’d also recommend The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga. It’s set in India and is a fascinating look at modern Indian society. It’s one of those ones you’ll always find in book exchanges or second hand bookshops. I loved it.

  12. Oooh, so love a good book whether travelling or not. I cannot recommend highly enough ‘Not Unkind and Not Untrue’ its about a journalist in Africa. Hilarious, touching, gripping, grisly. Great. Life of Pi, was I the only one to wonder about that weird um (how not to ruin it for others…) bit nearish the end? Also the end: Hellooooo not that great, they spelt it out waaay too clearly.

  13. I must admit I haven’t read any of those yet, and I’m an avid reader…but decided to change that and started “Around the world in 80 days”…for the past couple of days the idea of traveling has become an obsession and been reading travel blogs like crazy, one of which is yours and I must congratulate you on what you are doing and for all the great tips (seriously considering in getting a TEFL degree, even though my mother language is not English)…keep up the good work as I will follow you for sure 🙂

    1. He Jo, english isn’t your mother tongue – that’s some impressive language skills mate! I feel under pressure to keep my grammar up to scratch in my reply 😛 I have a good German friend who did his TEFL and lived with me in Thailand, it’s more than possible. A little tougher than for us native speakers but still eminently possible – good luck mate and keep me posted!

  14. Yeah great list. Have read all of them and Shantaram was the best one i believe. I would like to add:

    Into the Wild
    Into Thin Air
    The Orientalist
    Country Driving


  15. Great list! I’ve read most of them and loved them, but haven’t heard of Shantaram so I’ll have to check it out.

  16. Heard of all of them, haven’t read any! But I’m a big fan of reading books about/set in/from the place of travel – it adds a bit more resonance (sorry about the wank word!) to what you’re reading AND what you’re seeing!!

    Happy travels!!

  17. The Beach and Three Cups of Tea are great, great books. I also recommend a cheesy book called “The backpacker.” I found it in a store in cambodia. It’s basically a tale of partying through southeast asia. It’s a fun read.

  18. I read “In Cold Blood” when I was in Costa Rica. I didn’t realize it when I picked the book up, but the killers actually travel through Central America. It was perfect to accompany my traveling.

    Oh, and thanks for telling me the title of the book “Three Cups of Tea”. I had heard that story before, but I couldn’t remember the name of the book.

      1. I really loved “The Wrong Way Down” by Peter Moore. It describes his travels by public transport from London to Syndey! I can really recommend this one 🙂

          1. Yeah I know, that one is still on my reading to-do list ; ).. Right now trainspotting is laying next to my bed, didnt yet start reading though..

    1. get onto amazon and read it Andi, you might need to take a weeks holiday from work because it’s about 10 million pages 😛

  19. Looks like a great list, Johnny. I have to agree with you about the ending of Life of Pi (which is the only one I’ve read, though you’ve got me intrigued about the others now!). I also saw it as a stage play in London a few years ago, and the ending in particular was very well done. Hope you’re keeping well, and don’t suffer too much culture shock when you return home this Christmas!

    1. hey Sam – u saw a stage production of Life of Pi, wow, thats sounds great! would love to see that. I heard Shantaram is getting made into a movie with Johnny Depp as the lead too, even more reason to get reading before it gets ruined! lol

      Where r the world are you mate?!

      1. I have read Shantaram :stunning story ! try Wild Swans. Its so epic, so gripping, a true journey of a book. 🙂

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