Where would you like to go today? Whether it’s Provence or North Korea, a bike tour of the British Isles, or a world tour on rails, the best travel books can get you there – often for no more than a dime.
With the easing of Covid restrictions, traveling in the real world is slowly getting easier; however, there are so many places you can visit in your lifetime. Fortunately, a travel book means you don’t have to be too picky. The number of trips you can make in a year is limited only by your reading speed. Plus, there’s no chance of losing your luggage, no need for vaccinations or visas, and no risk of getting nauseous, it truly is the cheapest, safest and most convenient way to see the world.
So hop on board as we explore the best books for the sofa traveler in 2023.
READ NEXT: The best biographies to read
The best travel books to buy in 2023
1. Around the World by 80 Trains: The best travel book for rail fans
Price: £5 | Buy now from Amazon || Also available on Kindle (£4.74); Kobo (£7); Audible (£20)
There’s a reason trains are loved by so many long-distance travelers: they give a journey context. As Monisha Rajesh points out, towards the end of a 45,000-mile rail route across much of the northern hemisphere, these give you an idea of the hinge on which cultures and currencies coexist with one country. You don’t understand this when you get off a plane in the suburbs.
Its journey begins in St Pancras and travels through Europe to Russia, China and North America. Doubling down, he travels through North Korea, Mongolia, and Kazakhstan, visiting more countries in seven months than most of us can accomplish in a lifetime.
Europe gets covered pretty quickly, but that’s not a bad thing – at least for British readers, because couch travel is always best when it takes you to places you’re less likely to visit in person. Immersing yourself in unfamiliar cultures leaves you more time to observe unfamiliar customs and eat foods that are so unrecognizable that you won’t feel hungry. The fact that much of this book is set in Asia, Canada and the USA is what makes it so enjoyable.
2. See You Again in Pyongyang: The best travel book to explore the unknown
Price: £14 | Buy now from Amazon || Also available on Kindle (£3.99); Audible (£27)
It is easy to find stories of life in North Korea written or dictated by those who fled to China, South Korea, or the West. However, in-depth travel logs from non-natives are rarer. Obtaining a permit to travel both within and outside the country can be difficult, and when granted, visitors are often kept under close surveillance and their movements regulated by official guides.
But Travis Jeppesen found another way. He enrolled as one of the first three western students to attend a Korean language course at Kim Hyong Jik University in the capital. In doing so, he achieved a unique and comprehensive view of what is often referred to as the “Hermit Kingdom”. He still had guides (identified for their own safety, and some of the characters in the book are a combination of several people he met on his trip), but he was able to travel to a wider area and visit places that were not part of it. normal tourist route.
Having been to the country five times, he had a good understanding of its history before arriving, and as an American, he is neutral in retelling. It neither ignores the mismanagement of America and the West in its relations with this country, nor does it parrot the North Korean line if it has reason to doubt it. It’s a refreshing approach.
Accompanying him on his long stay, even in text-only form, provides a satisfying read and also makes you feel better informed. You might even start questioning what you hear on the news the next time you’re in North Korea.
3. Brown Sauce with Red Sauce – An English Breakfast Epic: The best travel book for foodies
Price: £10 | Buy now from Amazon || Also available at: Kindle (£2.99); Kobo (£2.99); Audible (£14.49)
Guardian food columnist Felicity Cloake’s latest travel journal, One More Croissant for the Road in 2019, saw her cycling 3500km across France in pursuit of the perfect croissant. The 2022 sequel, Red Sauce, Brown Sauce takes the format to British roads as it sets off on two wheels and a tent to explore regional differences for the most important meal of the day. (And, as the name suggests, to discover whether brown or tomato sauce is the nation’s preferred accompaniment.)
Part travel diary, part cookbook, and part social commentary, this chronicle of an ambitious journey at the back end of Covid is filled with enough historical curiosity to cite (no one spoke of “Full English” until the early 1930s). marmalade.
While some of his attempts to visit the factories behind the most famous brands on our breakfast table have failed due to post-pandemic restrictions, Cloake’s passion for all things food shines through. Also an infectious passion that saw him research the history of gyros, Little Scarlet strawberries (commercially grown in Essex but nowhere else in the world) and Arnold Bennett, a haddock omelet in Savoy. customer named after him.
4. A Year in Provence: Best Classic Travel Book
Price: £7.69 | Buy now from Amazon || Also available at: Kindle (£4.99); Kobo (£4.99)
It’s been more than 30 years since advertising executive Peter Mayle replaced London with Luberon, but One Year in Provence is still relevant, the story of his wife Jennie’s first year in France. In many ways, Mayle reinvented travel writing with this book, and its influence is still felt today. Indeed, although he died in Aix-en-Provence in 2018, you can take a tour from the city to the villages, inspired by Peter Mayle, which is so featured in his travel diary.
In many ways, it’s a book about the mundane of life: long lunches, supporting the bar, waiting for the builders to arrive. These are the things we all do on a daily basis; but here are truffle hunts, trips to the farm to get olive oil at the source (rather than the supermarket), and country goat races where the secret to picking a winner is to bet on the winner. it does the most mess right before it shuts down.
But Mayle doesn’t see everything through her pink sunglasses. The entire state receives no sunlight, and Mayle warns visitors: “snowfall, sub-zero nights and strong winds… Provence has been correctly described as a cold country with a high percentage of sunshine.” That said, that doesn’t make the idea of following his lead – throwing everything into the air and heading to the south of France – any less appealing, at least to this reader.
It’s a book to hold onto and review, and its episodic nature, where each chapter is a month, makes it easy to dive in whenever you feel like it, and re-acquaint with the characters, sights and sounds of the region. Sit once again at the stone table that has become the focal point of the year.
A Year in Provence should be a must read for any travel writer wannabe. A perfect escape from reality for the rest of us.
5. Tent, Aquarius and Me: The best travel book for 40s
Price: £10.95 | Buy now from Amazon || Also available at: Kindle (£7.99); Kobo (£7.99); Audible (£23.99)
Travel books are snapshots of people, places, and politics as at a moment in time. For anyone who grew up in the 1970s, that decade will be vividly brought back to life by Tent, Aquarius and Me, as actor and writer Emma Kennedy chronicles her family’s disasters under canvas.
Laughing out loud may be a cliché, but in this case it’s justified – especially if you buy audiobooks. The author’s own narration is deliciously lifeless, making the misadventures of himself, his family, and their buckets (you can guess what it’s for) even more hilarious. A particular highlight is the pitch-dark mishap in a French squat toilet.
It’s a book we’re really sad to finish. So much so that we read it twice.