The first exploring I did was discovering new worlds through books and movies. As an adult, much of my travel is inspired by places I first knew about in stories. These books are also the perfect reads to transport you to another place if you can’t travel right now. So read on for my favorite books to read about countries around the world.
Before I travel to a new country or state, I search out books or stories about the area, often historical fiction or stories about people. These books have enhanced my trips, as they give me an idea of the culture of the place. Historical spots come to life as I have already learned about the people and events that happened in them. Enjoy my favorite stories that have inspired my journeys or have me excited to visit new places. Included are some of the best travel memoirs, but sometimes the books that make you want to travel are about events in the place. I often read stories before I arrive in an area, but books about locations are also the best books to read while traveling. What all the stories have in common is that I love them. They have also helped me understand the cultures and history of people around the world and have made my travels better for it.
If you have a book- and travel-lover in your life, any of these books will make a perfect gift. Another option is a Kindle and a Kindle Unlimited Plan so that they can read all of them! (This post contains Amazon links. I am an Amazon affiliate, so make a commission on anything you buy.)
Table of Contents
Stories to Inspire Travel to Asia
Books About China
The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
This story is set in turn of the century China. It explores class relations, the movement from an agricultural society, and family. It reminded me that no matter the time or place, people have a lot more in common than we think.
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
This is one of my absolute favorites of any story I have read. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is the story of a life-long friendship of two females in the time of foot binding in China. The history of foot binding was exciting to learn. Looking at it concerning feminism today is quite illuminating.
The Russian Concubine by Kate Furnivall
I know that the title implies the book is about Russia. Still, it is about a mother and daughter who escape Russia into an international settlement in China from the Bolshevik Revolution. The characters are powerful and sophisticated, the descriptions magical and the action quick. This book is an intriguing look at China’s relationship with communism around the time of Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai-shek.
Best Travel Books India
Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
Fiction loosely based on the author’s life
First of all, Roberts’ writing style is beautiful. I love the characters and colorful descriptions of the city of Bombay. The whole story is pretty incredible if it’s close to being true. The last portion of the book moves out of India, and I didn’t like it as much, but still found the whole book a delight.
Books About Japan
Shogun: A Novel of Japan by James Clavell
Shogun is a complex, epic novel about a ship-wrecked Englishman in Japan in the 1600s. It is an intriguing study of the time of Shoguns and Japanese culture.
Books About Korea
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
This book follows three generations of a family beginning in rural Korea and following their immigration to Japan. It is an intriguing look at the strength and experience of Koreans as their country was splitting. I have not spoken to a person who didn’t enjoy this book.
Island of the Sea Women by Lisa See
This has become one of my favorite books. Lisa See brings her typical enlightening of the power of women, the strength of friendship, and the need for forgiveness through the story of the diving fishing women (haenyeo) of Jeju Island in South Korea.
Stories to Inspire Travel to Europe
The Century Trilogy by Ken Follett
This fabulous series is an engaging way to learn about the relationships of European countries during the world wars. You can read a complete review here.
Stories to Inspire Travel to England
Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
If you are going to England, you will see at least one looming cathedral. The churches will come to life with this book’s epic story of a cathedral’s creation.
And Follett wrote a follow-up book, so you can be involved in the world for quite a long time.
World Without End by Ken Follett
Set 200 years after Pillars of the Earth, but in the same town, World Without End will introduce you to the feud between Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth and the religious struggles of the time.
The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory
Any of Phillipa Gregory’s novels about English royalty will help you appreciate all the castles and grand homes. When you visit the Tower of London, you will be able to picture Anne Boleyn walking proudly onto the green to meet her fate.
The Crown on Netflix
An intriguing look at the life of Queen Elizabeth, as a person, not just royalty.
The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
The story of Merlin told from a female perspective. This is one of my favorite books ever.
Inspiring Stories about France
How to Eat a Small Country: A Family’s Pursuit of Happiness, One Meal at a Time by Amy Finley
When things aren’t going too well for a US family, they decide to spend the year road-tripping France and eating dishes representative of the regions they visit. The author is a chef, and her descriptions of French food make me want to repeat her journey without the angst, then head to Italy to do the same thing.
Buy your copy of How to Eat a Small Country.
Books to Inspire Travel to Italy
The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant
Many books about Italy are inspired by Italy’s art scene, including this story set in Florence in the 15th century.
Stories About Scotland
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
Historical fiction and fantasy
An English woman travels back in time through standing stones into Scotland during the Jacobite rebellion. The result is an epic romance that travels through time. The series on Netflix perfectly portrays the books, and the casting is dreamy. And if you love it, many books follow in the series!
Stories to Inspire Travel to Spain
The Alchemist by Paul Coehlo
This charming philosophical parable about a shepherd who travels from Madrid through Morocco to Egypt will leave you thinking.
Stories to Inspire Travel to Sweden
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
This book is the story of Ove and his relationships. The story is told through flashbacks and moves deftly into the present. This book is a perfect lesson on the adage that you can’t understand someone unless you walk a day in their shoes. I think it is easy to quickly judge people for many things, like being mean or curt. We may not realize the havoc that today or life has played on them. Although you won’t imagine it from the beginning, Ove is a character you will fall in love with, and, hopefully, you can take that empathy with you into life for other people.
This book is set in Sweden, but that is irrelevant to the story. I went to Sweden to pick up a Volvo. Ove wouldn’t love me for that. He would rather I get a Saab. But in the end, we may still be friends. Especially since I have a cat… But I digress.
The Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson
The other books I have read set in Sweden and loved is the Stieg Larsson’s trilogy that begins with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. This thriller will keep you interested despite the initially daunting list of characters. This series will not leave you with a positive view of the world but is a very worthwhile series to read. What this book has in common with A Man Called Ove are wounded black-and-white thinkers as main characters.
Stories to Inspire Travel to Ireland
The Heart’s Invisible Furies: A Novel by John Boyne
The story of a gay man’s life in the 1960s to 1980s moves from Ireland to Amsterdam and finally New York City. It is more a depiction of time and character than a place but will be a good novel before you head to Ireland.
Stories to Inspire Travel to Africa
See Spain for more details about The Alchemist set in Morocco and Asia.
Stories to Inspire Travel to South America
The House of the Spirits by Isabelle Allende
A beautifully written novel about three generations exemplifying the very South American concept of magical realism, exploring politics and family relationships.
Stories to Inspire Travel to North America
Books to Inspire Travel to Alaska
The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
If you want a peek into the sort of person you need to be to live in rural Alaska, be sure to read this story about a young woman’s journey through adolescence in the turbulent 1970s with her equally chaotic family.
Books about Hawaii
Molokai and The Daughter of Molokai by Alan Brennert
These two books were the best things I read in 2021. They follow two generations of women born on the Hawaiian islands. The first woman, Rachel is sent to the leper colony on Molokai, right off the coast of Maui. Her daughter, Ruth, ultimately ends up in a Japanese internment camp in California. The books bring both the characters and lands to life, as well as opens readers’ eyes to history we may not have known before.
Books about Maine
A Piece of the World: A Novel by Christina Baker Kline
This fictional book is about a famous painting set in northern Maine, Andrew Wyatt’s Christina’s World. Not only do you learn about the life of one of Maine’s most famous painters, but it provides a picture of family life in the coastal wilds of Maine.
Books about Boston, Massachusetts
The Boston Girl by Anita Diamont
Reading The Boston Girl will allow the history of Boston to come alive in your mind. The book is the simple, but beautiful story of Addie Baum, a Jewish immigrant growing up in 1920s Boston. Her story is told through an interview by Ava, Addie’s spirited granddaughter. The Boston Girl explores how women’s roles have changed throughout the last hundred years. It reminded me of Brooklyn, another story of an immigrant’s life in its complicated simplicity. The theme of how life’s routine happenings can shape a person or a generation is one of my favorites in literature.
Like most US cities, Boston was shaped by the immigrants who first visited it. Our old towns are a beautiful mix of old and new. The Boston Girl will allow you to picture days gone by in this beautiful, old city. When you walk by the Old Trinity Church now, or through the Boston Gardens, you will be able to picture Addie’s world.
Books about New York State
Fool on the Hill by Matt Ruff
When I was in college, I was first delighted by this fantastically silly and mythical book about magical happenings on the Cornell University campus in the town of Ithaca.
Books About South Carolina
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
Set in Charleston, South Carolina, around the time of the abolition of slavery, this novel explores slavery and women’s’ rights.
Beach Music by Pat Conroy
I have not read a book by Pat Conroy that I didn’t love, even when the description sounds like something I wouldn’t like. This is my favorite of his books, and it doesn’t only stay in the south, but travels to Rome and Vietnam. I feel like I have lived a life in the south with Pat. I am so sad that he passed recently.
Books about Rhode Island
The Storied Life of AJ Fikry: A Novel by Gabrielle Zevin
This is a charming book set in a fictitious town off the coast of Rhode Island, where I live. In my mind, the setting is much like my beloved Block Island. The minor setting is a book store, which is also a place I love and brings great memories to me of my grandparent’s house and their bookstore.
The story is about a curmudgeonly man and his love of stories. Through the novel, you see how love transforms and stories complete and complement our lives. The characters are vibrant and quirky and the writing lovely to read, and although I am never intimidated by a long book, I know some people will appreciate its shorter breadth.
“We aren’t the things we collect, acquire, read. We are, for as long as we are here, only love. The things we loved. The people we loved. And these, I think these really do live on”
Books about Washington
Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
Where’d You Go Bernadette is a quirky story about a mother and architect whose life has gotten away from her. It is presented in the form of e-mails and letters. Bernadette is coming to terms with living in Seattle, a town about which she has some severe judgment.
Read a Travel Guide Book
I sometimes read guide books to explore a place that I don’t even have a trip planned to which helps shape future trips. Guide books can help pinpoint which part of a country to visit. I especially like Insight Travel Guides, which have an ebook you can download to access on your phone without needing to travel with the book.
Read a Book Wherever You Are!
Did you know that you can read your Kindle book on your cell phone through the Kindle app? Since I usually travel with only carry-on, this saves me so much space!
If you need something bigger to read on, shop for a Kindle.
Keep checking back as I read more and add more to this post.
Also, you can find more travel-related books in Books That Inspire Travel: Travel Blogger’s Favorite Books.
Happy reading and exploring!
Have you been inspired to travel by a story? Please let me know about it in the comments.