Smart Finds

The Best Travel Books of the Year

by  Amelia Mularz | Dec 28, 2023

A spiritual trek to the Himalayas, a bike ride through Bolivia’s salt flats, and a hilarious class trip to London led by a beleaguered English professor — it’s all covered in our favorite travel books from 2023. Among them are historical accounts, personal memoirs, and two novels sure to make you laugh out loud. Bring them along as you hit the road for holiday travel, or, if you’re hanging at home, let them inspire your next escape.    

Call You When I Land: A Memoir” by Nikki Vargas

Courtesy of Amazon

It’s just two weeks before her wedding and Nikki Vargas finds herself — not bouncing from dress fittings to hair trials or putting the finishing touches on a seating chart — but standing in Argentina’s Iguazú National Park yelling “I’m not in love!” for only a few startled capuchin monkeys to hear. In this memoir, written by a true travel lover, Vargas darts around the world questioning what she wants from her love life (Marriage? Kids? White picket fences?) as well as what she dreams of for her career as a 20-something New Yorker. Buy it now.

Driving the Green Book: A Road Trip Through the Living History of Black Resistance” by Alvin Hall 

Courtesy of Amazon

If you saw the 2018 movie “Green Book” or watched 2020’s “Lovecraft Country” on HBO, you’re somewhat familiar with the guidebook that steered Black roadtrippers toward relatively safe gas stations, shops, and lodges in Jim Crow-era America. Now, dive even deeper into the legendary guides as Alvin Hall drives from New York to Detroit to New Orleans, visiting motels, restaurants, and stores mentioned in the original “Green Book,” as well as visiting cultural landmarks, like theaters where Duke Ellington and Lena Horne performed. Buy it now.

The Dog of the North” by Elizabeth McKenzie 

Courtesy of Amazon

This novel proves that it’s possible to catch a case of wanderlust from fiction (maybe minus some of the hijinks and trips to the hospital though). The book follows main character Penny Rush, who is broke, jobless, and fresh out of a marriage, as she heads from Santa Cruz to Santa Barbara to care for her ailing and eccentric grandma who has a bad habit of keeping science experiments in her refrigerator. There’s a road trip in an old van with a donkey-shaped piñata, a trip to Australia, a family mystery, and lessons in loss and healing. Buy it now.    

Brave the Wild River: The Untold Story of Two Women Who Mapped the Botany of the Grand Canyon” by Melissa L. Sevigny

Courtesy of Amazon

When botanists Elzada Clover and Lois Jotter — accompanied by an expedition leader, a zoologist, and two beginner boatmen — set out to run the Colorado River in the summer of 1938, they were told they’d never make it out alive. But the adventurous duo was determined to take on the rushing waters and intimidating boulders of one of the most dangerous rivers in the world. They were also intent on detailing the plant life growing along the Grand Canyon — the first to do so. Here, science journalist Melissa L. Sevigny chronicles their intrepid 43-day journey, including diary entries and letters written by the women themselves. Buy it now.

Airplane Mode: An Irreverent History of Travel” by Shahnaz Habib

Courtesy of Amazon

Mixing cultural history with personal accounts, Shahnaz Habib’s writing is like a witty magnifying glass, giving us a closer look at elements of travel that many of us take for granted — like guidebooks and passports. In doing so, she offers up bigger questions about who gets to travel and who gets to write about their experiences. Born in Kozhikode, India, Habib weaves in tales of family trips across continents and the complexities of globetrotting as a non-white immigrant. Buy it now.

The Life Cycle: 8,000 Miles in the Andes by Bamboo Bike” by Kate Rawles

Courtesy of Amazon

Riding a bamboo bicycle she built herself (and lovingly named Woody), Kate Rawles travels 8,000 miles along South America’s Andes Mountains over the course of 13 months. In “The Life Cycle,” she documents the full adventure, taking in rainforests, deserts, and salt flats while simultaneously exploring the most dire threats to the continent’s astonishing biodiversity. Even if this book doesn’t have you booking a biking excursion or a vacation in Peru, it may inspire your own journey into environmental activism. Buy it now.

The English Experience” by Julie Schumacher

Courtesy of Amazon

Anyone who has studied abroad or chaperoned a class trip will appreciate “The English Experience,” which follows perpetually down-on-his-luck Professor Jason Fitger as he reluctantly leads 11 undergrads on Payne University’s annual trip to England. Among the travelers, there’s a student who mistakenly thinks he’s headed to Jamaica, a young woman who has never been away from her cat, and a claustrophobe with a record. This is the third book in Schumacher’s Dear Committee Trilogy Series, but can be enjoyed as a standalone read. Buy it now.

The Half Known Life: In Search of Paradise” by Pico Iyer

Courtesy of Amazon

After decades of writing about travel for top magazines and newspapers, author Pico Iyer digs deeper than hotel recommendations and sightseeing tips, instead tackling ideas of paradise — can it be experienced here on earth or only in the afterlife? This spiritual journey, told through a series of connected essays, takes Iyer to religious shrines, natural wonders, and cultural monuments in Iran, India, Japan, and Sri Lanka, among other destinations, to explore ideas of paradise through various lenses. Such a heavy topic is in good hands with a guy who has traveled with the Dalai Lama numerous times. Buy it now.


"Smart Startups" by James H. Sherman and Catalina Daniels

Courtesy of Jim Sherman

For those who prefer to be inspired by people over places, we’ve got just the book for you. ShermansTravel’s very own founder, James H. Sherman, interviewed 18 fellow Harvard Business School graduates who’ve founded successful companies, from Blue Apron to Rent the Runway, to uncover their best advice. From sharing surprising lessons for success and common pitfalls to avoid, "Smart Startups" — a riveting read that features intellectual powerhouses having casual conversations — is designed to help entrepreneurs increase their odds of succeeding. Buy it now.

ShermansTravel uses affiliate links in this article to generate revenue. When you purchase an item after following one of these links, ShermansTravel may receive a commission. The items in this article were chosen independently by ShermansTravel's editorial team.

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