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23 Best Books about Travel and Self Discovery

Last Updated on November 25, 2023 by Louisa

One of the most incredible things about travel books is the ability to transport you to another place. While we may not always be able to travel, we can most certainly always read about it.

Traveling is a great way to gain new perspectives and learn more about other cultures. When you’re feeling lost and need to discover yourself again, travel will help you find a new purpose, and a new path to follow in life.

Many great authors have done just that, and have shared their stories of how they travel the world and find self discovery, showing that it can be possible to change your direction once in a while.

If you’re interested in reading the best books about travel and self discovery, read on, because I have listed all the best ones.

Affiliate Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means I may receive a small commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase through any of these links. 

Non-Fiction Books About Travel and Self Discovery

Let’s begin my list by looking at the best non-fiction books about travel and self discovery. These true stories tell of people who have taken the plunge and ventured out into the unknown.

Whether they are traveling to new and exotic places or simply exploring their own backyard, these travel books will not only inspire travel but give you the travel bug so you can see the world for yourself.

1. The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World – Eric Weiner

Both a travel memoir and humorous self-help book, The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World is a comical travel book of how happiness is not what life throws at you, but WHERE life takes you.

It follows the story of how Eric Wiener is inspired by how people from around the world find happiness in different ways. From his unique perspective,  Wiener unlocks the secret to finding what really makes people happy.

Coincidentally, I always recommend you read this book after a break up, because it offers a sunnier outlook on life, as well as infects us with the travel bug.

2. In Patagonia – Bruce Chatwin

In Patagonia is an English travel memoir by Bruce Chatwin, published in 1977.

It is about an epic journey through South America, from Buenos Aires in Argentina and down to the southernmost tip of Patagonia to experience the culture and landscape of a people who have lived there for thousands of years.

His journey is described using evocative descriptions, recounting unforgettable memories and remarkable pieces of history.

Chatwin’s love for life and adventure is paramount throughout this book, which is why it is an instant classic and a masterpiece book of travel and self discovery.

3. Holy Cow: An Indian Adventure – Sarah McDonald

Sarah McDonald once backpacked around India in her twenties and struggled with the heat, the crowds of people, pollution, and poverty.

When a fortune-teller at the airport said she would return, she laughed and gave them the finger.

Only eleven years later, the prophecy came true, and she returns to the bustling city of New Dehli with her husband.

In this hilarious chronicle of her adventure, second adventure, to the land of chaos and pollution, she shares her encounters with religion, yogis, swamis, and Bollywood stars. It is one woman’s journey to save her soul, her love life, and her sanity.

4. Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long & Happy Life – Hector Garcia, Francesc Miralles

In Japan, they believe that everyone has Ikigai – a reason to get out of bed in the morning.

In Okinawa particularly, a place known for homing the world’s longest-living people, Ikigai is considered the key to a longer and more fulfilled life.

As well as inspiring you to travel, this book will give you a new breath of life. It offers you the tools to find your own ikigai, and how to nurture friendships and put your whole self into your passions.

If you enjoy books about self discovery from other cultures from around the world, then you may also enjoy these books set in Hawaii.

5. Great Railway Bazaar – Paul Theroux

Paul Theroux 1975 railway odyssey is a unique and entertaining modern classic of travel and self discovery books.

Theroux recounts his early adventures on Asia’s most notable trains – the Orient Express, the Khyber Pass Local, the Frontier Mail, the Golden Arrow, the Mandalay Express, the Trans-Siberian Express, no great railway journey is left out of this novel.

Leaving London’s Victoria Station to Tokyo Central, and then back again, Theroux’s journey is packed with comedy and keen observations, perfect for us armchair travelers looking for an epic travel book to get lost in.

6. The Art of Travel Alain de Botton

We all know that travel is important to us, but Alain de Botton casts the answers to the question: how and why is travel important?

The Art of Travel  is a philosophical book that looks deeply into the idea of travelling ‘for pleasure.’

Mixed with personal thoughts and insights drawn from poignant figures of the past, this new take on what travel means to us is insightful and enlightening. 

Fiction Books About Travel and Self Discovery

These well-crafted tales of adventure from well-loved travel authors are the ultimate fiction books about travel and self discovery. From timeless classics to modern survival adventures, this list has it all. 

7. The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho

Paulo Coelho is without a doubt one of the most celebrated travel authors in history.

His enchanting story, The Alchemist, speaks to the beauty and power of dreaming big – taking us along with protagonist Santiago on his quest for treasure in the Egyptian desert.

Along his path Santiago encounters many whimsical characters that show him the correct way, leading to an inward journey of self-discovery rather than an outward journey of material wealth.

A beautiful reminder that life’s greatest treasures come from within.

Related Reading: Books Similar to The Alchemist

8. The Beach – Alex Garland

This compelling novel by Alex Garland tells the story of a backpacker named Richard, who meets a Scottish traveler in a hostel in Thailand, who talks of tales of this idyllic beach, untouched by tourism that only a few people know about.

The beach is said to be the most incredible paradise on Earth, and if you find it, you can live in a small community there.

When Richard finally finds the beach though, he discovers a small community of international backpackers who are residing there. This incredible story talks about how paradise may not always be what it was cracked up to be.

The Beach is a story that was bought to the world’s attention by Leonardo di Caprio in the film adaption of the novel.

However, the film is only slightly true to the book, so if you enjoyed the movie you absolutely must read the book. If you haven’t seen the film, only read the book.

9. Into The Wild – Jon Krakauer

Christopher Johnson McCandless was from a middle-class family, he had it all. He had just graduated from college and had a loving family.

In April, 1992, he abandoned his old life, giving himself a new name – Alexander Supertramp.

He donated $25,000 to charity, abandoned his car and all his possessions, and hitchhiked to Alaska where he walked alone into the wilderness, North of Mt. McKinley.

Here, he invented a new life for himself, living amongst the wilderness.

Four months later, his body was discovered by a party of moose hunters. Into The Wild is the story of how one man gave up everything to find himself, only to die alone in the wilderness.

Related Reading: Books Like Into The Wild

10. Life of Pi – Yann Martel

Life of Pi is an unforgettable classic, following the story of young Yan who grows up in a zoo in India.

When his family sets out to relocate and establish a new zoo in Canada, they soon face insurmountable odds as their vessel succumbs to a massive storm.

To survive, Yan must escape on a lifeboat with a ferocious tiger – leaving him stranded in the middle of the ocean.

With courage and determination, he finds ways to stay alive and conquer this harsh reality. This timeless tale between Canada and India is an inspiring read for any lover of books.

11. On The Road – Jack Kerouac

On the Road is a novel about a road trip by American writer, Jack Kerouac, published in 1957.

It is based on the travels of Kerouac and his friends as they journeyed across the United States.

It tells the story of a man named Dean Moriarty and a young writer named Sal Paradise, as they journey back and forth to see each other over three years of friendship, and all the crazy adventures they embark on along the way.

On The Road explores themes of father-son relationships, the challenges of survival, and the importance of family, as well as the survival of human generosity and kindness.

12. A Room with a View – E. M. Forster

A Room With A View tells the story of a young woman and her sister, who travel to Italy.

However, after their hotel room doesn’t have the incredible view they were expecting, a Mr. Emerson and his son George step up to offer their room with an amazing view.

And so begins a hilarious and romantic novel set in Italy, that tells of one woman’s experience of traveling and finding her true self in amongst the proprieties of Edwardian society. 

13. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – Robert M. Pirsig

Said to be one of the greatest books on philosophy in the world, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

It is about one man and his son’s journey across America with his motorcycle, as he engages in conversations about philosophy and romantic viewpoints about life along the way.

I will be honest, this book is a tough read. It’s fascinating and inspiring, and more about learning to have a more fulfilling life than to spark the ignition for adventure.

If you’re looking for a slow read, this insightful book is a great addition to any bookshelf. Standing on the bestseller list for over a decade and selling more than 5 million copies worldwide, it sure has earned its stripes.

14. A Journey to the Center of the Earth – Jules Verne

A Journey to the Center of the Earth is a classic novel by Jules Verne, which tells the story of a man and his uncle who believe to have discovered the path to the center of the Earth.

As they leave their home in Germany to hike into the crater of a volcano in Iceland, what they discover is more than just the entrance to the center of the Earth.

They discover the need for family, for believing in your dreams and passion, no matter what other people say or think about them, and that sometimes a little risk is worth taking.

15. Gulliver’s Travels – Jonathan Swift

Gulliver’s Travels is a hilarious story of a man, Lemuel Gulliver, who is swept up onto several remote islands inhabited by unusual people of various sizes and behaviors.

Each book tells of different adventures, where Gulliver learns of new civilizations, their culture, philosophies, and traditions. My favorite is the first one, where a storm lands on the island of Lilliput, which is inhabited by very tiny people (Lilliputians).

He is treated as both a god and a danger, but he is determined to help the Lilliputians with their troubles before eventually fleeing the island.

This delightful fiction book about travel and self discovery is whimsical and easy to read.

Memoirs About Travel and Self Discovery

I love a true story. From one person’s quest for adventure to a personal tale of survival.

Whether you’re looking to embark on your own journey or just looking for something to inspire confidence, these memoirs about travel and self discovery will get the job done.

16. Eat Pray Love – Elizabeth Gilbert

Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert is a classic novel about travel and self-discovery. It’s a memoir of how Gilbert waved goodbye to her perfect life in search of true happiness.

Her journey takes her to India, Italy and Indonesia, where she learns about love, passion and a new joy in life.

This is a novel that inspires people to think outside what is perceived as a conventional life – get married, have children, buy a house etc. It shows that you do not need marriage and a house to live a happy life.

17. Tracks – Robyn Davidson

Tracks is the incredible story of one woman’s solo walk across the Australian outback. Her 1700 mile journey took 9 months to complete, with only a dog and four camels for company.

Enduring blistering heat, battling with poisonous snakes and learing men, and looking after the animals that she kept as companions, all became challenges worthwhile as Davidson emerges victorious when she reached her ending point.

Driven only by her love of Australia’s landscape and a willingness to leave her former identity behind, Tracks is a thought-provoking odyssey of self-discovery and transformation. 

18. The Pilgrimage – Paulo Coelho

The Pilgrimage is the first book by Paulo Coelho and is the gripping true story of his pilgrimage to find true happiness.

After completing many trials and tribulations to become the master of an ancient religious tradition and possess the prize of a sword.

He is instructed by his master to take a pilgrimage from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in France to the tomb of San Tiago, Santiago in Spain.

The route is often used by pilgrims, as San Tiago was an evangelist, who spread the word of Christ following the crucifixion.

Along the way, Paulo meets many characters who both wish to aid and hinder his efforts. This pilgrimage is both spiritual, mental, and physical. It is about Paulo’s journey of self discovery and search for enlightenment.

19. A Walk in the Woods – Bill Bryson

Bill Bryson is a bestselling travel author with a ton of incredible titles under his belt. My personal favorite though, is A Walk in the Woods.

Bryson tells the story of his journey hiking across The Appalachian Trail, which spans from Georgia to Maine and is said to be one of the most scenic and breathtaking hikes in America.

Travelling across majestic mountains, whispering forests, and sprawling lakes, if you’re ever to tackle this hike, Bill Bryson would be the most epic guide.

Not only does he paint an incredible picture of his journey, but he introduces us to the history and ecology of the hike, as well as the entertaining characters he meets along the way.

For those who love the great outdoors, this book about travel and self discovery is for you.

20. The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari: A Fable About Fulfilling Your Dreams & Reaching Your Destiny – Robin Sharma

The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari is a self help book and travel memoir by author and motivational speaker Robin Sharma.

Sharma tells an inspiring tale of Julian Mantle, a lawyer who went through a spiritual crisis and unbalanced lifestyle, only to turn it around to find widsom, passion, purpose and peace.

This life-changing story is the foundation of Sharma’s step-by-step approach to living life with better balance, greater courage, and an abundance of joy. 

If you’re someone who wants to change their mentality and rethink the world we live in, this book of self discovery and travel will be the one for you.

21. The Motorcycle Diaries – Che Guevara

The Motorcycle Diaries is the memoir of the Marxist revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara, who traveled from his home in Buenos Aires, Argentina, to the Amazon basin, where he worked as a volunteer doctor in a leper colony.

When he left Argentina on his 1939 Norton 500cc dubbed La Poderosa (The Mighty One), he only wanted to see the sights of places he had only read about in books.

What he actually saw was social injustice, exploited mine workers, ostracized lepers, and the tattered descendants of the great Inca civilization.

It’s a coming-of-age story, full of adventure and purpose. It’s a book about travel and self discovery, both political and personal, and of a journey that shaped the man known best for his political influence in Cuba.

22. Wild – Cheryl Strayed

Wild is an honest account of one woman’s quest across the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), at a nightmare point in her life.

Cheryl Strayed is not an experienced hiker, nor does she claim to be. She is a woman struck by grief and is trying to find a way to stop her life unraveling after the death of her mother from cancer.

Despite her best efforts, the remains of her family were falling apart, and her marriage was failing because of her promiscuity and heavy drug addiction.

Her solution was to walk the challenging long-distance Pacific Crest Trail and find herself again.

23. Travels with Charley: In Search of America – John Steinbeck

Travels with Charley is a travelogue by bestselling American author, John Steinbeck, best known for his novel Of Mice and Men.

It tells the story of Steinbeck’s adventure, road tripping around America with his dog, Charley.

Steinbeck desired to see his country on a more personal level after he made his living writing about it.

In a specially made camper, he called Rocinante, he begins his travels in Long Island, New York, and roughly follows the East Coast of the United States, from Maine to the Pacific Northwest.

Then, he across the Salinas Valley in California and down into Texas, through the Deep South, and then back to New York.

On this trip, he covered nearly 10,000 miles and witnessed many intriguing things.

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books about travel and self discovery

Final Words on Best Books About Travel and Self Discovery

So there you have it, those are some epic books about travel and self discovery. In this list, I have covered everything from hilarious personal accounts to insightful philosophical prose, to heart-wrenching stories of loss and survival. 

There is something for everyone, so no matter what your interests are, I’m confident that you’ll find at least one book on this list that speaks to you. 

And if you need more travel inspiration, you might find an insightful read or two in my list of the best books set in France, which is full of romantic tales of Paris and beyond.

So get out there and experience the world for yourself, and I hope you find yourself along the way!

Headshot of Louisa

About Louisa Smith

Editor/Founder - Epic Book Society

Louisa is the Founder, Editor, and Head Honcho of Epic Book Society. She was born and raised in the United Kingdom and graduated from the University for the Creative Arts with a degree in Journalism. Louisa began her writing career at the age of 7 when her poetry was published in an anthology of poems to celebrate the Queen's Jubilee. Upon graduating university, she spent several years working as a journalist writing about books before transitioning to become a Primary School Teacher. Louisa loves all genres of books, but her favorites are Sci-Fi, Romance, Fantasy, and Young Adult Fiction. Read more Louisa's story here.

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