The Best Books to Gift Travelers This Holiday Season

See recent posts by Margot Bigg

When shopping for holiday gifts, books are usually a good bet, especially if you know a bit about your recipient's tastes and interests. For travel lovers, the choices are aplenty, from destination-specific memoirs to non-travel-related page-turners for whiling away time on the beach. Here are 10 of the best books to give travelers this holiday season.

“Figures in a Landscape: People and Places” by Paul Theroux

The latest from acclaimed travel writer Paul Theroux, this collection of essays takes us to far off corners of the world, introducing us to places and people through the author’s straightforward, sometimes irreverent, and always engaging prose. The collection spans over half a century of the author’s travels, and includes guest appearances from plenty of well-known figures with whom he’s hobnobbed over the years.

“Flights” by Olga Tokarczuk

Originally written in Polish, “Flights” takes readers through approximately 400 years of travel and discovery, via the eyes of a female narrator. It’s divided into 116 sections that range from a line to a couple dozen pages, in the style of a fragmentary novel. In 2018, it became the first Polish novel to win the Man Booker International Prize.

“Letters to Iris” by Elizabeth Noble

While not a travel book per se, “Letters to Iris” is the kind of page-turner that’ll make a long flight (or day at the beach) fly by. It follows the interwoven stories of several beautifully created characters, including a young woman (Tess) who accidentally becomes pregnant, her grandmother (Iris) who’s losing a battle to dementia, and Tess’s new friend (Gigi). From start to finish, Noble explores the depths, beauty, and heartache of family and human relatioships. 

“Calypso” by David Sedaris

If you like laughing yourself into fits, you can’t go wrong with David Sedaris’ books. The “Me Talk Pretty One Day”author is at it again. A mix of stories about expat life, travel, and everyday experiences retold with engaging wit, this hilarious book centers around the amusements that come with getting on in age. 

“Exit West: A Novel” by Mohsin Hamid

Yet another engaging novel by Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid, “Exit West” tells the story of two young people — Nadia and Saeed — who meet in night school as their country is on the brink of war. When things deteriorate, they have no option but to figure out a way to get out. This book is particularly relevant today, as massive forced migration is among the world’s greatest geopolitical tragedies.

“Mythos: A Retelling of the Myths of Ancient Greece” by Stephen Fry

If you liked reading “Mythology” when you were a kid, you’ll adore “Mythos: A Retelling of the Myths of Ancient Greece” by actor, comedian, and writer Stephen Fry. While much of the prose is humorous and irreverent, it’s never glib. The author simply offers his well-researched insights into the stories of the Greeks in a way that is both accessible and fun.

“The Best American Travel Writing 2018” by Cheryl Strayed

You can’t go wrong with books in the Best American Series, a collection of books that’s published annually and showcases everything from short stories to essays. The best choice for most travelers is “The Best American Travel Writing,” which has been guest edited and curated by the likes of Bill Bryson, Pico Iyer, and even Anthony Bourdain. The editor of this year’s edition is Cheryl Strayed, best known as the author of “Wild,” her memoir of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.

“The River of Consciousness”by Oliver Sacks

The last in a long series of engaging books by neurophysiologist and author Oliver Sacks, “The River of Consciousness” is a collection of 10 essays outlined by the late author just before his death. Here, he writes about Darwin and Freud, memory and the sense of self, all with illuminating prose that draws on science and philosophy.

“The Bucket List: 1000 Adventures Big & Small” by Kath Stathers

Even the most seasoned travelers have lists of places they want to visit and experiences they want to pursue. This book will make those lists even longer, with all sorts of ideas arranged by geolocation. While it’s designed to encourage new travel dreams, it’s equally suitable as a coffee table book for armchair thumb-throughs.

“Microadventures: Local Discoveries for Great Escapes” by Alastair Humphreys

While many people associate travel with passports, long flights, and jet lag, this book guides readers on how to experience adventure in their own backyards. It demonstrates that the joys of travel can be accessible to everyone, even those with a small amount of time and money to spare. And while it does have a U.K.-centric angle (as the author is British), the book is a fun and inspiring read for anyone wanting an adventure close to home. 

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