The Best Travel Books of 2020



Slide 1 of 11: Books have the power to transport us to places we’ve never been, locations we’ve never seen and sometimes even to places that don’t exist. While many of us didn’t get to go on that incredible cruise or fantastic overseas trip this year, there were still a large number of beautiful, inspirational and poignant travel books published in 2020, all of which offer a unique perspective into some of the incredible places this world has to offer.  Since October is National Book Month, we’ve pulled together a list of the ten best travel books of 2020, arranged by name alphabetically.  These books range from the funny to the serious, from the deep to the light-hearted. All of these books have one thing in common, however: they are about rediscovery. Looking at something from a new perspective. Challenging yourself to new heights. Immersing yourself in a foreign land or perhaps discovering that the foreign land in which you were immersing yourself isn’t so foreign after all.  In one word? These books represent change. Just as this year has changed so much about how we live our lives, these books challenge and inspire us to change our perspectives, open our minds and, like all great travel books, recognize the strange human need to travel. So read on, and enjoy.
Slide 2 of 11: While published in October of 2019, A Month in Siena by Hisham Matar is an honorary travel book of 2020. The book is about the author’s month-long stay in Siena as he surrounds himself with some of the most compelling pieces of art ever created. The book evokes the personal: it’s a discourse on how art provokes emotion and how life inspires art. It’s perfect for art-lovers and fans of Italy everywhere. Poetic and poignant, its focus is around the oftentimes tragic stories that inspired the artwork Matar contemplates, one of which, quite fittingly, includes the Black Death.
Slide 3 of 11: Ben Aitken’s The Gran Tour: Travels with my Elders is a perfect read. It’s funny and heartfelt, surprisingly deep and understandably eccentric. The premise is this: thirty-something Ben decides to travel with the elderly, on the cheap and on coaches, from England to Lake Como, learning from an older, more experienced generation. In time, he learns how to be honest and how to live a fuller life. He attempts to bridge the vast generation gap between millennials and previous generations, which inevitably leads to a poignant conversation about age and wisdom.
Slide 4 of 11: Sarah Baxter’s Hidden Places is the third installment of her beautifully designed Inspired Traveler’s Guide series. It’s a lovely book. Sarah ponders the world’s most hidden places: ancient ruins, abandoned towns and mysterious, dense forests abound in this book. It’s accessible for any type of reader and is broken up into easily digestible descriptions of each hidden place. One might find that they want more from her book, but it's beautiful in its simplicity. We are meant to be inspired by her book, and then we are meant to go off on our own adventures of discovery.  One of my favorite things about this book is that it features illustrations by Amy Grimes. Her colorful illustrations lend the book added mystery, and in a world that has largely agreed that there is nothing left to discover, they add a necessary element of beauty in discovery and of wonder.

Slide 5 of 11: The Middle East is a compelling topic of study in almost any field, but Leon McCarron's new book takes it one step further: literally. Traversing the Middle East from Jerusalem to Mount Sinai, McCarron traces ancient trade and migratory routes through Biblical and Bedouin history, visiting Wadi Rum and ancient Hellenic ruins.  His story, however, is largely a story of humanity: of the different people he encounters along his journey, but also of the people who used to inhabit the places in which he visits, and who used to walk the same paths he trods. Fans of history will especially love McCarron’s insight and historical context, which is so important in a travel book about the birthplace of three major religions.
Slide 6 of 11: Acclaimed journalist Sophy Roberts chronicles a seemingly unknown story: the story of Siberia’s pianos. Throughout her tale, we learn of Russia’s introduction to the piano through Catherine the Great, of how these pianos were hauled through the Russian landscape to settle in Siberia, one of the harshest places on the planet, to entertain prisoners and exiles. Throughout her story, we learn of humanity’s resilience and about music’s ability to ease suffering. The Lost Pianos of Siberia reminds us in lyrical prose that music is human, and the people will go to extraordinary lengths to make it. 
Slide 7 of 11: Sailors, sailors-at-heart and those simply fond of the sea will find John Kretschmer’s book Sailing to the Edge of Time a thoroughly enjoyable read. Filled with all the adventure one expects from someone who has sailed around the world (including a part about pirates), it is also a poignant and inspirational account of how to live your life to the fullest. Kretschmer is not only a sailor; he’s a philosopher, and if you’re at all interested in thinking as deep as the ocean, this book is perfect for you. 
Slide 8 of 11: Perhaps a very fitting book for 2020, Eric Weiner’s The Socrates Express follows his intellectual journey as he travels via train through places where the most famous philosophers have lived. More a discussion on philosophy than on travel, perhaps, Weiner’s book is easy to understand for anyone interested in learning more about philosophy but have been hesitant because it seems confusing or difficult. Weiner’s philosophy is funny, accessible and compelling, and his search for wisdom among the hometowns of his philosophers, along with his many train rides, represents a space to think and wonder about the world.  This book could not have been published in a better year than 2020. In many ways, it’s about slowing down, becoming a better human and attaining wisdom. Many of us came to a dead halt this year during lockdown, and had to adapt to the dreaded and overused “new normal.” While this year has been incredibly difficult, it’s also given us the opportunity to slow down, to reflect, to grow and ultimately to ponder how we’d like to live our lives. The Socrates Express is in many regards an opportunity to ponder and to grow. 
Slide 9 of 11: Sanmao’s Stories of the Sahara is a travel memoir that has taken Asia by storm, and it’s finally been translated for an English audience.  Sanmao, a Taiwanese woman with an insatiable wanderlust and a curiosity about the Sahara, chronicles her journey from her home country to Spain to the Western Sahara, where she lives among the local peoples. A treatise on the indigenous culture of Western Sahara as a foreigner, Sanmao’s journey is a conversation about love and loneliness, about wanderlust and curiosity, and about one woman’s need for independence in the mid-1970s. 

Slide 10 of 11: Kapka Kassabova’s book To The Lake: A Balkan Journey of War and Peace is just as much about finding yourself as it is about the borderlands of Europe, a little-known place where two lakes straddle the precipice of war and peace between Albania, Greece and Macedonia.  Kassabova’s book demonstrates how geography and history shape and affect the lives of the people that live by the two lakes today and describes the vivid and oftentimes violent history of that crossroads, that important trade route from Europe to Constantinople. The themes of human suffering and change are found throughout this book, making it a touching tale of a part of Europe so seldom read or written about. 
Slide 11 of 11: Shortlisted for the Wainwright Prize, Jini Reddy’s Wanderland brings back the magic in the world. Reddy, a journalist, traverses through Britain’s natural landscape in search of magic and the Other. Along the way, and through beautiful, compelling prose, she encounters strange, mysterious and frustrating ruins and wild natural scenery and learns about how Britain’s pagan past still lives on today.  A treatise on finding magic in the world again, in teaching yourself how to wonder like a child and in finding the beauty in the natural world around you while also learning a bit more about yourself, this book is perfect for anyone who has rediscovered the joy of the natural world this year, or who would prefer to do so without having to necessarily immerse yourself in it.

The Best Travel Books of 2020…*Drumroll, please*

Books have the power to transport us to places we’ve never been, locations we’ve never seen and sometimes even to places that don’t exist. While many of us didn’t get to go on that incredible cruise or fantastic overseas trip this year, there were still a large number of beautiful, inspirational and poignant travel books published in 2020, all of which offer a unique perspective into some of the incredible places this world has to offer. 

Since October is National Book Month, we’ve pulled together a list of the ten best travel books of 2020, arranged by name alphabetically. 

These books range from the funny to the serious, from the deep to the light-hearted. All of these books have one thing in common, however: they are about rediscovery. Looking at something from a new perspective. Challenging yourself to new heights. Immersing yourself in a foreign land or perhaps discovering that the foreign land in which you were immersing yourself isn’t so foreign after all. 

In one word? These books represent change. Just as this year has changed so much about how we live our lives, these books challenge and inspire us to change our perspectives, open our minds and, like all great travel books, recognize the strange human need to travel. So read on, and enjoy.

A Month in Siena by Hisham Matar

While published in October of 2019, A Month in Siena by Hisham Matar is an honorary travel book of 2020. The book is about the author’s month-long stay in Siena as he surrounds himself with some of the most compelling pieces of art ever created. The book evokes the personal: it’s a discourse on how art provokes emotion and how life inspires art. It’s perfect for art-lovers and fans of Italy everywhere. Poetic and poignant, its focus is around the oftentimes tragic stories that inspired the artwork Matar contemplates, one of which, quite fittingly, includes the Black Death.

The Gran Tour: Travels with my Elders by Ben Aitken

Ben Aitken’s The Gran Tour: Travels with my Elders is a perfect read. It’s funny and heartfelt, surprisingly deep and understandably eccentric. The premise is this: thirty-something Ben decides to travel with the elderly, on the cheap and on coaches, from England to Lake Como, learning from an older, more experienced generation. In time, he learns how to be honest and how to live a fuller life. He attempts to bridge the vast generation gap between millennials and previous generations, which inevitably leads to a poignant conversation about age and wisdom.

Hidden Places: an Inspired Traveler’s Guide by Sarah Baxter

Sarah Baxter’s Hidden Places is the third installment of her beautifully designed Inspired Traveler’s Guide series. It’s a lovely book. Sarah ponders the world’s most hidden places: ancient ruins, abandoned towns and mysterious, dense forests abound in this book. It’s accessible for any type of reader and is broken up into easily digestible descriptions of each hidden place. One might find that they want more from her book, but it’s beautiful in its simplicity. We are meant to be inspired by her book, and then we are meant to go off on our own adventures of discovery. 

One of my favorite things about this book is that it features illustrations by Amy Grimes. Her colorful illustrations lend the book added mystery, and in a world that has largely agreed that there is nothing left to discover, they add a necessary element of beauty in discovery and of wonder.

The Land Beyond: A Thousand Miles on Foot Through the Heart of the Middle East by Leon McCarron

The Middle East is a compelling topic of study in almost any field, but Leon McCarron’s new book takes it one step further: literally. Traversing the Middle East from Jerusalem to Mount Sinai, McCarron traces ancient trade and migratory routes through Biblical and Bedouin history, visiting Wadi Rum and ancient Hellenic ruins. 

His story, however, is largely a story of humanity: of the different people he encounters along his journey, but also of the people who used to inhabit the places in which he visits, and who used to walk the same paths he trods. Fans of history will especially love McCarron’s insight and historical context, which is so important in a travel book about the birthplace of three major religions.

The Lost Pianos of Siberia by Sophy Roberts

Acclaimed journalist Sophy Roberts chronicles a seemingly unknown story: the story of Siberia’s pianos. Throughout her tale, we learn of Russia’s introduction to the piano through Catherine the Great, of how these pianos were hauled through the Russian landscape to settle in Siberia, one of the harshest places on the planet, to entertain prisoners and exiles. Throughout her story, we learn of humanity’s resilience and about music’s ability to ease suffering. The Lost Pianos of Siberia reminds us in lyrical prose that music is human, and the people will go to extraordinary lengths to make it. 

Sailing to the Edge of Time: The Promise, the Challenges, and the Freedom of Ocean Voyaging by John Kretschmer

Sailors, sailors-at-heart and those simply fond of the sea will find John Kretschmer’s book Sailing to the Edge of Time a thoroughly enjoyable read. Filled with all the adventure one expects from someone who has sailed around the world (including a part about pirates), it is also a poignant and inspirational account of how to live your life to the fullest. Kretschmer is not only a sailor; he’s a philosopher, and if you’re at all interested in thinking as deep as the ocean, this book is perfect for you. 

The Socrates Express by Eric Weiner

Perhaps a very fitting book for 2020, Eric Weiner’s The Socrates Express follows his intellectual journey as he travels via train through places where the most famous philosophers have lived. More a discussion on philosophy than on travel, perhaps, Weiner’s book is easy to understand for anyone interested in learning more about philosophy but have been hesitant because it seems confusing or difficult. Weiner’s philosophy is funny, accessible and compelling, and his search for wisdom among the hometowns of his philosophers, along with his many train rides, represents a space to think and wonder about the world. 

This book could not have been published in a better year than 2020. In many ways, it’s about slowing down, becoming a better human and attaining wisdom. Many of us came to a dead halt this year during lockdown, and had to adapt to the dreaded and overused “new normal.” While this year has been incredibly difficult, it’s also given us the opportunity to slow down, to reflect, to grow and ultimately to ponder how we’d like to live our lives. The Socrates Express is in many regards an opportunity to ponder and to grow. 

Stories of the Sahara by Sanmao, translated by Mike Fu

Sanmao’s Stories of the Sahara is a travel memoir that has taken Asia by storm, and it’s finally been translated for an English audience. 

Sanmao, a Taiwanese woman with an insatiable wanderlust and a curiosity about the Sahara, chronicles her journey from her home country to Spain to the Western Sahara, where she lives among the local peoples. A treatise on the indigenous culture of Western Sahara as a foreigner, Sanmao’s journey is a conversation about love and loneliness, about wanderlust and curiosity, and about one woman’s need for independence in the mid-1970s. 

To the Lake: A Balkan Journey of War and Peace by Kapka Kassabova

Kapka Kassabova’s book To The Lake: A Balkan Journey of War and Peace is just as much about finding yourself as it is about the borderlands of Europe, a little-known place where two lakes straddle the precipice of war and peace between Albania, Greece and Macedonia. 

Kassabova’s book demonstrates how geography and history shape and affect the lives of the people that live by the two lakes today and describes the vivid and oftentimes violent history of that crossroads, that important trade route from Europe to Constantinople. The themes of human suffering and change are found throughout this book, making it a touching tale of a part of Europe so seldom read or written about. 

Wanderland by Jini Reddy

Shortlisted for the Wainwright Prize, Jini Reddy’s Wanderland brings back the magic in the world. Reddy, a journalist, traverses through Britain’s natural landscape in search of magic and the Other. Along the way, and through beautiful, compelling prose, she encounters strange, mysterious and frustrating ruins and wild natural scenery and learns about how Britain’s pagan past still lives on today. 

A treatise on finding magic in the world again, in teaching yourself how to wonder like a child and in finding the beauty in the natural world around you while also learning a bit more about yourself, this book is perfect for anyone who has rediscovered the joy of the natural world this year, or who would prefer to do so without having to necessarily immerse yourself in it.

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