12 Travel Books to Gift This Holiday Season

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By Alaina Leary

Growing up, I didn’t travel often. My mom was physically disabled and visually impaired, which made it impossible for her drive and difficult for us to even think about leaving the country. Instead, I often relied on books to be my travel guides—to teach me what I needed to know about the world and to inspire me to do traveling of my own someday. When I felt like exploring, I could open up a book and dive into a new world.

For that reason, I almost always received books as presents for holidays. These twelve books are some of my favorites, and they’ll make the perfect gift for the bibliophile with wanderlust that you’re shopping for this holiday season.

1. “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho 

“The Alchemist” will take readers on Santiago’s journey from Spain to the pyramids to follow his lifelong dream. On his travels, Santiago learns all about alchemists, men who believe that heated metal can become the “Soul of the World” after many years. Santiago’s journey, both literal and spiritual, takes him into the mentorship of an alchemist in this inspiring fable.

“It’s very approachable for young ages, but even for adults, it makes you want to embrace uncertainty and just go!” said Desira Fuqua, a travel writer.

2. “Where the Peacocks Sing” by Alison Singh Gee

This memoir follows Alison Singh Gee as she learns that her fiancé was raised in a 19th-century palace outside Old Delhi. The story chronicles her relationship with the house, with India and with her fiancé’s family, and has been hailed by many readers as an inspiration to them to take a leap and travel.

“‘Peacocks’ is the most transporting read I can recall—and this is coming from a travel journalist!” said Katie O’Reilly, a lifestyle editor at Sierra Magazine.

3. “The Rainy Season” by Maggie Messitt

This is the story of three generations of South Africans, 10 years after the country’s first democratic election. “The Rainy Season” is a multi-threaded narrative, rich with detail of the complicated daily life of three protagonists who are learning what it means to live in the new South Africa.

“It was one of the best deep, authentic looks into a culture I’ve ever read,” said Jessie Voigts, publisher at Wandering Educators.

4. “What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding” by Kristin Newman

Kristin Newman’s memoir follows her adventures abroad, especially her “vacationships”—romances with strangers in other countries—which have left her battling a phobia of commitment. The book is part romance, part wanderlust, and both are equally satisfying.

“I read this book right before I booked my flight for a yearlong solo trip around the world,” said Katie Williams, a travel blogger. “After reading the book, I realized that I’m never going to be too old to pick up and travel.”

5. “13 Little Blue Envelopes” by Maureen Johnson

Ginny’s Aunt Peg has been dead for three months when Ginny receives the first blue envelope from her. The letter inside tells Ginny to travel to London and includes $1,000 toward the trip, with instructions on how to find the next 12 letters. Peg’s letters lead Ginny from Amsterdam to Edinburgh and across Europe where she learns about Aunt Peg, grief and herself.

6. “Girls Who Travel” by Nicole Trilivas

“Girls Who Travel” follows Kika Shores, newly home from a yearlong backpacking tour, who is itching to cure her wanderlust again. So she takes a nanny job in London for the opportunity to experience adventure—and learn what it means to love traveling.

“I’m currently about two months into my one-year solo around the world trip, and I picked this book up in hopes it would give me a little motivation to keep going,” Williams said. “It did just that! This book has even started to motivate me to start looking into ways I can work from the road. ‘Girls Who Travel’ made me realize I’m not alone.”

7. “The Geography of Bliss” by Eric Weiner

Combining humor with self-help, “The Geography of Bliss” uses moments of “un-happiness,” to investigate not what happiness is, but where it is. The book mixes travel and culture with psychology to discover whether the grass truly is greener on the other side.

“I love dissecting the sense of place and how place makes such a difference,” said Kayla Lewkowicz, a marketing coordinator and freelance writer.

8. “Love With a Chance of Drowning” by Torre Roche

Romance and travel combine for a once-in-a-lifetime adventure in “Love With a Chance of Drowning,” when a city girl unexpectedly falls in love with an Argentinean man who is about to sail the world. She reconciles her fear of sailing for the opportunity to be with the man she loves.

“It’s both a travel memoir and a coming-of-age story,” said Gigi Griffis, a travel writer.

9. “Are We There Yet?” by David Levithan

Elijah and Danny are brothers who couldn’t be more different, and their parents know it—which is exactly why their parents tricked them into taking a trip to Italy together. In Italy, Elijah meets Julia, and then Julia soon decides she wants to be with Danny, and suddenly, Danny has to choose between salvaging his relationship with his brother and listening to his heart.

10. “Just One Day” by Gayle Forman

Allyson Healey is in Europe for a post-graduation tour when she meets free-spirited actor Willem, who convinces her to abandon her trip to join him in Paris for “just one day.” The next 24 hours change everything she knows about life, love and exploration.

11. “Homage to Barcelona” by Colm Toibin

This book is a celebration of Barcelona, from its founding to the lives of its most prominent residents, such as Picasso and Dali. “Homage to Barcelona” is a portrait of the city’s history and contemporary flair, and it wonderfully guides any would-be travelers through one of Europe’s greatest cities.

“The writing is gorgeous, and he clearly knows the city and its fascinating history well,” said travel writer Mona Gable. “I only wish I’d read it before I went to Barcelona!”

12. “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” by Ann Brashares

Four best friends, one pair of pants, one summer. “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” follows four childhood best friends as they spend their first summer apart. As Lena travels to Santorini, Carmen travels to South Carolina, Bridget travels to California and Tibby stays home for the season, the girls learn a lot about friendship and the life-changing adventures that can be had whether you’re abroad or meeting new friends in your hometown.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alaina Leary is a native Bostonian currently earning her M.A. in publishing and writing at Emerson College. She’s also an editor, writer and social media manager. Her work has been published in Cosmopolitan, Seventeen, Marie Claire, The Establishment, BUST and others. She can often be found re-reading her favorite books and covering everything in glitter. You can find her at www.alainaleary.com or on Instagram and Twitter @alainaskeys.
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