There is nothing I enjoy more then escaping from the world and into a good book. When you bury your nose into the pages of something special you find yourself transported to a different world. Some books inspire. Some books take you around the world. Some books even help you put life in perspective.

When I moved home from Italy I filled one of my suitcases not with Tuscan Wine, Limoncello, or Disaronno, but books. For a college student this was a bizarre thing. But, I have always loved books. A good book can change your life. Here is a list of books that have changed mine. They make excellent travel companions, and were compiled based on their ability to inspire, make you reflect, or help you lose yourself in the world.

essential books

Not interested in reading a brief synopsis for each book? No worries, here is a pdf list of the books.

The Odyssey by Homer:

An epic story of the adventures and obstacles one man undergoes in an effort to return home. It is a tried and true book that has withstood thousands of years of scrutiny. If you think travel isn’t supposed to be filled with pitfalls now and again you are wrong.

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius:

Read the personal thoughts and journal of a great Roman Emperor. He, just like us, struggles with questions of right and wrong, virtue, freedom. Marcus Aurelius teaches us that no man is exempt from doubts and questions about life.

Erewhon by Samuel Butler:

A man on an adventure stumbles upon Erewhon (an anagram for Nowhere), a satirical utopia where technology is considered evil, an person with an illness is considered a criminal and criminality is an illness. His book is important today for its controversy on the influence of artificial intelligence and the relationship between machines and humans.

Education of a Wandering Man by Louis L’amour:

L’amour takes us through his days hoboing across the United States, the people he met, the good and bad fortunes and how all of this was just “grist for the mill.” Filled with short stories and life lessons Louis L’amour’s autobiography raises questions about the pros and cons of formal and informal education and how his experiences in life allowed him to write 85 novels and countless other works of literature.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman:

A sad novel exploring the magic of the world. A man returns home after 40 years to rediscover lost memories from his childhood and finds more in his noggin then he bargained for. Gaiman explores the quest for identity and the wall separating adulthood and childhood.

fear trembling

Fear and Trembling by Soren Kierkegaard:

Warning: A very dense, philosophical read. Kierkegaard explores the struggle and individuality of true faith, drawing a distinction between the person who finds hope within himself and the person who finds something external to bring happiness. There is a moment in all our lives when we are ready to move past the finite world and grasp something greater, something infinite. Will you grab hold when the moment comes? More importantly, do you have the conviction and the fortitude to do so?


The Divine Comedy by Dante:

Dante spent the second part of his life banished from home and forced to wander Italy, surviving on the good graces of friends along the way. He wrote this three part book series while on the road. More than just a depiction of heaven, purgatory and hell Dante’s divine comedy wrestles with human questions.

From Wild Man to Wise Man by Richard Rohr:

Rooted in ancient stories and traditions Rohr highlights a path of personal growth and answers the question “What does it mean to be a man in today’s world?”

Forever A Novel

Forever by Pete Hamill:

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live forever? That’s the question behind Hamill’s fascinating novel. Set in New York City, you can follow the transformation of this thriving metropolis and the powers of greed, hope and energy that make it all possible.

Seven Years in Tibet by Heinrich Harrer:

An Austrian mountaineer living as an expat in India escapes from an interned Indian camp and flees to Tibet. At the time Harrer and his companion were some of the first western individuals to live in and experience the very private Tibetan Culture. This is a memoir of his insights into Tibet, everything from the ceremonies to the yak butter they regularly drank.

Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck:

Steinbeck is known famously for novels such as Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden but in Travels with Charley he explores the changing landscape of America. As an old man Steinbeck and his dog take a trip across the U.S. for one last adventure. Blending a bit of fiction with reality Steinbeck blurs the lines set by our own travels and shows that sometimes a story grows into something new entirely when you retell it. Interested in finding out more? Check out the full review of Travels with Charley

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien:

Written as a preface to the Lord of the Rings series The Hobbit follows one small creature who at first dreaded leaving the safety of home. But in breaking from the norm he undergoes a life changing adventure.

Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss:

Book one in a trilogy that follows Kvothe, an orphan who surmounts every obstacle possible and learns powerful magic along the way. A science fiction/ fantasy read that searches to uncover why one man with so many adventures and travels under his belt is now content with living out the rest of his life resigned to boredom.

The Sun also Rises by Ernest Hemingway:

Hemingway. He is concise, and brief. This book popularized San Fermines, the running of the bulls festival in Pamplona, Spain. A party. A struggle. A reconciliation of life to this crazy world.

Giants in the Earth

Giants in the Earth by O.E. Rolvaag:

Follow Per Hansa and his family as they settle the great west in America. These Norwegian immigrants struggle to carve out a plot of land to call their own and doubt many times in the American Dream, a dream that can be tough to see when things are not going your way.


Don Quixote by Cervantes:

Inspiration and hope, are the two things you will find here. Inspiration to follow your dreams no matter how crazy or outdated they may seem to others and hope in remembering that at the end of the day if you want to charge windmills go ahead and charge regardless of what others think.

travel diary_philosopher

The Travel Diary of a Philosopher by Herman Keyserling:

Back in the early 1900’s when travel was still an activity for the wealthy Keyserling, with the best schooling and education possible, went on a journey of self-exploration. An, often times, deep read that puts in to words many of the things you feel when traveling and the reasons why travel is so important to growing as a person.

Jesus Son by Denis Johnson:

After reading this short, collection of stories you will never look at the world the same. Instead you will find yourself absorbed in the details and the world the mind can create…but without the drugs.

Creativity Inc. by Ed Catmull

The co-founder of Pixar elaborates on how he created a company that stretched the boundaries of what people thought was possible. Learn his methods of creativity, leadership and helping people unlock their own potential.


Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

Love it or hate it, but according to the Library of Congress this books ranks number two (only behind the bible) as the second most influential book ever by people who have read it. In a nutshell, the world is slowly collapsing in on itself and the only people capable of preventing disaster are a select group of people who must decide what is wrong with the world and if it is worth saving.

The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin:

Waitzkin is a chess prodigy and martial arts champion. If you are looking for a way to super charge your ability to take in and process information, as well as achieve greater things then Waitzkin’s book is for you.

Metamorphoses by Ovid:

A collection of Roman myths and stories filled with life lessons, morals and entertainment. Each story is tied to the central theme of transformation, and characters find themselves changed by the situations they find themselves in.


The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran:

Short quick insights into love, rationality, emotions and more that are perfect for reflection. I’m a big fan of reflection on public transportation, anonymity among the many. This book is perfect for that.


The Magic of Thinking Big by David Schwartz:

A good reminder to aim big. After reading I’ve always felt like I can take on the world and do anything.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

What is our essential human nature? If we put a bunch of boys on an island, without any direction, instruction or help, what would happen. Golding makes a very strong case for what humans beings would become without the mesh of society and the social contract that keeps us civil. Is he right? Even if you don’t agree with him, you will find that he lays his case out in a simple, straightforward manner. No fluff. Only the essentials. Plus, this book is worth reading so that you skip all those crappy hunger game films, maze runner movies and the whole host of other movies that bastardize his concept.

Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki:

If you want to focus on travel or any other passion over a career then you had better start thinking about your finances. Income is even more important when you don’t have a steady stream. So learn how to build the life you want by developing and managing multiple income streams.


The Tempest by Shakespeare:

Written in the latter part of his life Shakespeare confronts questions about his legacy, life and more. A beautifully written piece with, at times, sad, reflective underpinnings about managing age and the constant desire to know our lives are worthwhile.

The Zurich Axioms by Max Gunther

This book is a classic investing book that lays out 12 major and 16 minor axioms for managing risk. While the content is geared towards investing, the nature of the material can be translated to many different things where risk should be taken in to account, mitigated when possible and so on (areas of life, travel, business, investing and entrepreneurship)

Early from the Dance by David Payne

Arguably, this is Payne’s work. This is a novel that reminisces on youth, the joy of living carefree, love, loss, and so much more. Payne manages to capture the existential angst of our youth, the time period when we were searching for who we were, what we wanted to be and what the world meant to us. Tying it all together with eloquent prose and wonderful insights this book is worth a read… or two.

The Autobiography of Andrew Carnegie by Andrew Carnegie

A capitalist at heart, this man tracks his own life from Scotland to his emigration to the United States and beyond. While much of his life was consumed with producing and creating, many are not aware that Carnegie spent his later years giving it all away. He amassed, and then returned much of his wealth for such things as libraries, universities and more. If you are looking for ambition to make a major life change, or need a way to overcome self-doubt, Carnegie’s story of hard work, failure, persistence and success will light that fire within you.

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

Part adventure story, and part philosophical study, this dense novel explores semiotics. Semiology is the study of how we give meaning to shapes, signs, and words. Have you ever wondered how humans are able to communicate even if they do not know the same language? While part of this falls under linguistics study, when we look at signs and shapes we are talking about semiotics. Bringing in Aristotelian logic, Aquinas’ theology, Bacon’s empiricism and more, this book is filled with tons of information if you dig deep enough.

Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon

Metaphors, symbols, puzzles and self-realization through human interaction. Don’t let the short length of this novel mislead you, for it packs a punch. Filled with philosophy, psychology and deep questions we follow Oedipa Maas as she finds herself wrapped up in an international conspiracy.

Food for Thought: What are your go to books when traveling? Let us know in the comments below.