This was probably my favorite book of the year. When her husband gets a job at the Lego offices in Jutland, Helen Russell decides to head to Denmark with him, freelance write, and try to figure out why the Danes are so happy. From childcare, education, food, and interior design to taxes, sexism, and everything in between (turns out the Danes love to burn witches), Helen’s funny, poignant story kept me enthralled from start to finish. It’s informative, hilarious, self-deprecating, and tells a great story of someone trying to fit in.
2. Eat Pray Eat, by Michael Booth
I stumbled across this book in Thailand. In this book, Michael and his family travel to India — in part because he decided to write a definitive book on Indian food and, in part because his wife said it was about time they take a family trip and he reconnect with his kids. Along the way, the jaded and bitter Michael loses his cynicism and discovers that it’s never to late to change. I read this at a time I needed encouragement and inspiration, and I found Michael’s transformation a mirror for my own personal struggles.
3. A Beginner’s Guide to Paradise, by Alex Sheshunoff
I get a lot of random books sent to me by authors. Sometimes I read the books, most of the times I don’t. I picked up this one because the author sent a coconut with it and the title and cover art caught my eye. This book follows Alex as he quits his job in NYC at the end of the tech boom, moves to the South Pacific in search of the perfect life, and lugs a suitcase full of books with him to pass the time. He roams from island to island trying to find that “paradise” that we so crave.
4. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, by Mark Manson
Blogger, friend, and legend Mark Manson is one of the most well-known writers on the Internet. This book focuses on breaking down the myth that we’re all special, the illusion that we are owed happiness, and his plans on how to live a more stoic life — accepting things as they are, recognizing that problems can actually push us toward development, and becoming happy and better at the relationships we do have. This book is not about not caring, but about learning how to not sweat the small stuff and focus on the bigger picture.
5. The Backpacker, by John Harris
In this book, John travels to India, where he meets Rick, who then persuades him to go to the Thai island of Ko Phangan, where John, Rick, and their new friend Dave pose as millionaire aristocrats. After getting on the wrong side of the Thai mafia, they leave for adrenaline-fueled journeys to Singapore, Indonesia, Australia, and Hong Kong. I’ve always wondered if this was a true story since so much of it seems far-fetched, but, even if it’s all fake, it’s an entertaining read about life as a backpacker.
6. Walking the Nile, by Levison Wood
Adventurer Levison Wood had a dream to be the first person to walk the full length of the Nile. Starting at the source of the Nile (though this is very contested, since many countries claim to be the source), he starts walking, and walking, and walking. While not the most engrossing writer (side note: I feel this way about lots of adventurers-turned-writers: great stories, but poorly told), Wood still manages to weave a fascinating tale with plenty of insight into this part of Africa. I learned a lot with this book.
7. Backpacking with Dracula, by Leif Pettersen
Part travelogue, part history book, part practical guide to Romania, this book recounts my friend Leif Pettersen’s travels through the country during his time as a guidebook writer for Lonely Planet. As someone who also loves Romania (it is such an underrated country. I don’t understand why more people don’t go!), I found his witty and funny retelling of Romanian history compelling. I’m not sure some of practical tips still hold true but Pettersen’s book was a good light read that gives a very good overview of the country!
8. Skeletons on the Zahara, by Dean King
This enthralling narrative recounts the experiences of twelve American sailors who were shipwrecked off the coast of Africa in 1815, captured by desert nomads, sold into slavery, and taken on a two-month journey through the Sahara. This vivid account of courage, brotherhood, and survival was a page-turner. I’m not sure I would have survived similar circumstances. Based off accounts from the few survivors, it gives you a window in a part of the world and culture that wasn’t well understood during this period of time.
9. The Joys of Travel, by Thomas Swick
Veteran travel writer Thomas Swick writes about “the seven joys of travel” through a series of personal essays that detail his experiences visiting destinations across the globe, including Munich, Bangkok, Sicily, Iowa, and Key West. I dig this book because it talks about the personal journey and meaning travel has for us. As a traveler, it’s easy to relate to Swick’s experiences, even if you haven’t been to all the same places. He’s an old-school travel writer who really brings the destinations to life.
10. Encore Provence, by Peter Mayle
In his follow-up to A Year in Provence, this book contains a series of essays and comments on the changes in the region, thoughts on the popularity of his first book, and a “how to guide” to visiting the area. Just as beautifully written as his previous book, I loved how he not only writes in detail on life in the region but also how he provides practical tips on visiting markets, what to buy, and where to eat, and even trashes a food writer for poor reporting of the food scene in the area! This is a must-read!
11. Getting Stoned with Savages, by J. Maarten Troost
In this follow-up to The Sex Lives of Cannibals, Troost finds himself living in Vanuatu and Fiji. Though they spent two years in Washington, DC, after returning from living in Kiribati, he and his wife move back to the South Pacific after she gets a job, he gets fired, and they decide it’s a better place to start a family. Falling into one misadventure after another, Troost struggles against typhoons, earthquakes, and giant centipedes and soon finds himself swept up in the laid-back, clothing-optional lifestyle of the islanders.
12. Eating Vietnam, by Graham Holliday
While I don’t love Vietnam (I didn’t have a great experience there), I do love Vietnamese food! Holliday’s awesome book about the history and culture behind the country’s street cuisine provides a unique perspective on the country. He lived in Vietnam for over ten years, devouring anything he could get his hands on. In this engrossing and hunger-inducing book, you’ll wander through the back streets of Vietnam, learning about street food, and begin to understand the country and its people through their first love.
If you’re looking for some earth-shattering books, consider some of these!
And if you’re a book junkie like I am, join our monthly book club where I send a list of the best books I’ve recently read. You’ll get a list of 3-5 suggested books sent once a month. Just enter your name and email below to sign up:
Book Your Trip: Logistical Tips and Tricks
Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner. It’s my favorite search engine because it searches websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is left unturned.
Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com as they consistently return the cheapest rates for guesthouses and hotels.
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:
- SafetyWing (best for everyone)
- Insure My Trip (for those over 70)
- Medjet (for additional evacuation coverage)
Ready to Book Your Trip?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel. I list all the ones I use when I travel. They are the best in class and you can’t go wrong using them on your trip.