10 Wanderlust-Inducing Travel Novels and Story Collections

Travel Books: Frank Bures on the books to read when you're seeking inspiration

06.29.10 | 3:11 PM ET


Most of us can’t travel all the time, and sometimes we find ourselves at home, yearning to explore. It’s the feeling of standing before the edge of possibility. It’s the feeling that our life has turned some corner we can’t grasp yet, and that we are going in a slightly different direction. 

Fortunately, there are books we can turn to that capture those feelings of motion, disorientation and discovery. Here are works of fiction—both novels and short stories—to take you across the world.

God Lives in St. Petersburg: and Other Stories, by Tom Bissell

These spare yet vibrant stories almost perfectly capture the disorientation and recklessness of life overseas, as well as how it can change us. “Travel scraped him away to reveal not some dulled surface but bright new layers of personality,” Bissell says of one character.

The Sheltering Sky, by Paul Bowles

Bowles’ classic book may have been one of the first to capture the aimlessness of modern life, as his three protagonists travel through North Africa with no particular destination in mind. The book is a beautiful, haunting echo of travel today, with all its melancholy gifts.

Lucky Girls: Stories, by Nell Freudenberger

This much-hyped collection deserves all the praise: The writing is beautiful, the characters are real and complicated, and they are yearning for something they can’t quite understand, but which they know is out there somewhere.

The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo, by Peter Orner

I have a soft spot in my heart for this book because, like Orner, I was among some in the same generation who didn’t see much on offer in mid-1990s America and went overseas. The story of a young, somewhat bewildered Midwesterner teaching at a school in Namibia has the ring of real truth to it.

The Beach, by Alex Garland

There is, perhaps, no better book that captures the thrill of travel. Of course, it doesn’t turn out so well for the characters, but then again, some journeys don’t. Garland’s genius was to take that feeling and turn it inside out, and to write a page-turner about the search for authenticity.

Whites, by Norman Rush

This slim collection is less weighty in many ways than Rush’s other award-winning tome, “Mating.” Both are set among the expat community in Botswana, where Rush spent five years as the director of the Peace Corps. “Whites” is lighter and revels more in the humor and humanity of the lives of the characters who find themselves so far from all they know. It’s also said to be more closely based on real events.

A Moveable Feast, by Ernest Hemingway

Okay, this isn’t fiction, but this memoir by a master writer has a novel-like quality to it: It’s one of the best evocations of being in Paris in the 1920s (or anywhere). It has a sense of boundless horizons, a lightness of touch, and a kind of urgency as the young writer struggles to find his place in the world.

The Razor’s Edge, by W. Somerset Maugham

Maugham’s masterpiece is generally considered one of the greatest travel novels of all time, and for good reason: Not only is it powerfully rendered, but this story about Larry Darrell’s journey east in search of meaning was a prescient foretelling of all the seeking (in both fiction and reality) that would follow.

Come to Africa and Save Your Marriage: And Other Stories, by Maria Thomas

These stories are not for the faint of heart, and can be a little on the dark side. But Thomas, who lived in East Africa for many years, knows the place and the people, and is able to connect the usually disconnected lives of foreigners and locals. Better yet, unlike in much fiction set abroad, the locals are always rich, full characters, and Thomas has a deep empathy for all sides involved.

On the Road, by Jack Kerouac

No list like this would be complete without the archetypal road novel. Few books capture the headlong momentum and pure joy of the road like this one, the book that has launched a million crappy cars across the continent, as well as a million hearts across the world.

Frank Bures is a contributing editor at World Hum, where his stories have won several awards. More of his work can be found at frankbures.com.

4 Comments for 10 Wanderlust-Inducing Travel Novels and Story Collections

Marcy Gordon 06.29.10 | 4:16 PM ET

Yay comments are working…anyway I just really think this list is a great mix of the expected and unexpected. Especially like the inclusion of Norman Rush. “Whites” and “Mating” are great reads that I still find my self thinking about years after I read them.

Danielle 06.29.10 | 8:36 PM ET

Not a huge fan of Hemingway (I know, I know), but Garland’s “The Beach” has been my go to novel for years. I absolutely love that book and recommend it to anyone and everyone. So much better than the movie version, though I didn’t think the movie was horrible. I might be alone in that as well.

Travel-Writers-Exchange.com 06.30.10 | 11:19 AM ET

Great list!  Of course, The Beach is famous thanks in part to Leonardo Dicaprio’s portrayal of Richard.  The movie may not have been as great as the book but it had its moments.  It seems Hemingway is always on some list.  He has his moments as well.

Erich 07.09.10 | 3:39 AM ET

It’s a good list, but I wonder about adding Graham Greene….

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