Trip planned? Check. Packing list done? Check. New bikinis? Check. What is the only thing left to sort out? The perfect reading list to pair with those swaying palm trees. I got you covered. Here are some of the best travel books to read this summer either on a real old fashioned book (like me!) or on a kindle.

For armchair adventure travelers

We cannot always embark on true adventures and, to be fair, we may not want to. These are books which will take you somewhere, on exotic or unthinkable adventures all from the comfort of your sun lounger or armchair.

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On the edge is a compilation of stories from all around the world about the greatest adventures from crossing the Sahara to searching from Timbuktu, from the Orinoco to the Amazon. This Lonely Planet book gathers stories from some of the greatest travel writers and adventurers who went where nobody had been before and put their bodies to the limit. Perhaps the easiest way to go on a life changing trip without any scratches and without putting your life in danger

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Lance, from Travel Addicts, recommends a great adventure book. “In college, I read the Lost City of the Incas by Hiram Bingham III; the book captured my imagination and it was a large reason for our visit to Peru. The Lost City of the Incas is the story of the 1911 Yale University Expedition to Peru and the ultimate “discovery” of Machu Picchu.  Bingham had become enchanted with stories of Inca warriors and heard tales of a lost capital in the Andes Mountains. The book chronicles the discovery of this capital, blending stories of the archeological digs and trips to other Incan sites. The find and PR campaigns in National Geographic and Life magazines put this mountain on the world map and with it came the tourists. The book inspired us to make our own trek to Machu Picchu.”

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Don’t climb Kilimanjaro, climb Rwenzori is a fantastic way to fill your head with the better alternatives to the most popular places in the world. The book claims that instead of going to the famous landmarks, there are cheaper and less frequented versions which will give you the feeling of being alone. So instead of climbing famous Kilimanjaro, go to the Ugandan mountains instead. This is the book to “Read if you’re looking for a new adventure next time the holidays come around”, I can’t guarantee that you will not book another holiday…

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The Conde Nast Traveler Book of Unforgettable Journeys: Great Writers on Great Places is a collection of stories from the best writers from Capri to Tanzania or Jordan, Conde Nast Traveler brings a great bucket-list inspiring book with tales from well traveled and lesser known destinations. Some of the stories are more offbeat whereas others happen in the most visited places but the prose and writing of the authors keep your captivated even about the places you thought you knew

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Dark Star Safari is my all-time most favourite book. Brilliantly sarcastic and no-bullshit Paul Theroux recounts the adventures and misadventures of his overland trip from Cairo to Cape Town 30 years after he spent time as a teacher in Malawi. The book was the most beautiful way for me to remember all the places I worked in in Africa and it was also slightly sad to realise that, for some of them, those 30 years Theroux talks about were actually detrimental to their development. Dark Star Safari is the most poignant and honest view of the continent from the point of view of an outsider. Beware that Theroux has no qualms in being to the point and very honest, sometimes bordering insult, when describing the people and places. There are no taboos in his vocabulary and no holy cows, he tells it how it is

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The Lonely Planet story is the perfect inspirational book to read while on vacation. I bought my battered second hand copy in Fiji, as I was about to board my plane to Tonga and Samoa, and it was the perfect companion for that solo adventure across the Pacific. Aga, from A Matter of Taste, also recommends it as a “Great read for travel bloggers & travel lovers, but also for those who are trying to build a new business and are looking for inspiration/motivation to keep going forward.”. Armed with little luggage, a sun tan and a world of opportunities but without any booking, Tony and Maureen Wheeler, the founders of The Lonely Planet, were my inspiration to continue on and fear nothing. In this book, they share the story of the Lonely Planet, how it all started and the challenges they faced, a remarkably fascinating and interesting entrepreneurial pursuit that brought them to be one of the most famous travel brands and the guide to the world most people experience closest when traveling.

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The new age of adventure is National Geographic’s 10 year anniversary book gathering the best adventurers and travel writers under the same cover for a wanderlust inducing and inspirational collection. Meet the greatest and fiercest characters from the yeti to an Afghan warlord through the eyes of National geographic explorers

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Incredible journeys without leaving the ground is a group of travel tales from trips that did not involve any flight from tuk tuk to delivery bikes roller blades. The stories as fascinating and include intercontinental or world trips that took months to complete. Among the pages of this book one can find what drove these adventurers to take the route less flown

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Lonely Planet’s founder Bad lands, a tourist on the Axis of evil explores Tony Wheeler’s travels to what the US considered the Axis of Evil countries: Afghanistan, Albania, Burma, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea and Saudi Arabia. Having been or worked for clients in some of these countries I found Tony’s stories fascinating and familiar. It is interesting to note that despite the book was published a few years back, the media still consider some of countries the most dangerous and horrifying in the world with the exception of Myanmar and Cuba, alas there is progress.

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Heart of darkness is one of the greatest British novels of all times. The book recounts the semi auto-biographical story of the author’s trip up the savage-infested Congo River where no other white man had been before. Apart from being a tale of adventures and near death encounters, the author, Joseph Conrad, challenges the notions of good and evil and compares Imperialism, spread across Africa at the time, with the notion society had at the time of civilised people. It is easy to be engrossed into the novel and lose track of time.


To understand Africa, a little more

As I spent a long time working and traveling across Africa I became more and more fascinated with the intricate and complex social and cultural values and structures. Every time I would work in a new country I would try to immerse myself as much into the local ways of life as possible by trying to understand the national psyche. These are some of the books I enjoyed reading the most.

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Understanding East Africa comes only after understanding the intricate political and tribal conflicts and tensions. I know better than most because I lived through the post-election violence that shook the country in the aftermath of 2007 elections. It’s our turn to eat is an honest and well-researched account of the real story behind one of Kenya’s most famous anti-Corruption czar, and the consequences of trying to fulfill his promise. It is an insightful if dramatic way to understand the way politics work in one of the countries in Africa with the most promise for growth and development. The Guardian’s review serves as testimony

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Mugabe is sadly, one of the most famous African leaders, for all the wrong reasons. I regularly chat with the lady who used to clean and care for my apartment when I was living in South Africa. She is Zimbabwean and her family still lives in the country. Live is an overstatement though, as the daily basics are a constant struggle against famine and poverty as the country crumbles down. Dinner with Mugabe is a great way to retrace back to his earlier steps with a writer who had dinner with him 3 decades ago. As with most people, his original intentions were good, but it all went south. When and how? 

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Baking cakes in Kigali is one of my most favourite books about Africa, this time focused on a cake store in Rwanda’s capital, this is a tender and heartwarming, if very real, tale of life in one of Africa’s tiniest countries through the eyes of a regular Tanzanian woman living in Kigali who, through her cakes and the celebrations they are the center piece to, gives an insight into the daily life of Rwanda post genocide. Although the massacre happened six years prior, the sadness still hoovers around most of the celebrations. Read the Independent’s review for more details.

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Back from Africa is a follow up from The White Masai, the auto-biography of Corinne Hofmann, a German/Swiss woman who married a Masai warrior and moved to live with him in Kenya. In this third book, she talks about counter-culture shock and the difficulties surrounding her return to Switzerland with her daughter after escaping Kenya

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Heather, from Conversant Traveller, is in love with Morocco. “I travel there several times a year, sometimes just for a weekend (!), and like to think I know her pretty well. Which is why I read The Caliph’s House in just one sitting. In his book, Tahir Shah recounts the highly amusing tale of setting up home in the edgy city of Casablanca. He really takes you beyond the surface of this fascinating place to discover the real life that goes on behind all those gorgeous closed doors. It’s inspired us to visit Casablanca later this year, and I can’t wait to explore all the scenes from this fabulously entertaining true story.”


A different perspective in life

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An often heart breaking and incredibly sad book about life at the forefront of a famine epidemic and the life or death decisions a nurse had to take during the great famine that stroke Ethiopia. Claire Bertschinger was tasked with the decision of choosing, every day, which children would be admitted into the feeding station and which ones were too sick to be saved. A photo of her surrounded by thousands of starving children shook the world in 1984. The book helped me humanise poverty in Africa by giving it a name and a reality. Claire also inspired Bob Geldof to launch the first single of Live Aid

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Happiness: Lessons from a new science is a remarkably rationale look at the drivers of happiness and how it can be a better measure of a country’s wealth that GDP. A scholar at London School of Economics and a specialist in Happiness, Lord Richard Layard explains how politicians should care more about the country’s happiness than about people’s money and how a happier nation is also a more efficient one. An interesting look at a concept that is often remarkably void of any rationality 

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I found the recommendation from Gemma, from Two Scot’s Abroad, one that made me incredibly curious. Marching Powder by Rusty Young is a ‘what the actual f….’ type of read. This easy to read, non-fiction book is set in Bolivia’s infamous San Pedro Prison. This is where English drug smuggler, Thomas McFadden, was sent to after a dodgy deal went bad. Rusty was an ordinary backpacker travelling around South America who visited Thomas in prison. This one off visit then became an organised tour around one of the biggest cocaine manufacturers in Bolivia – yes, the prison! These tours helped Thomas survive financially, the more money you had in San Pedro, the more comfortable your stay was. Unfortunately San Pedro Prison tours don’t make the list of top 10 things to in in La Paz anymore as they no longer run.”

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In line with Gemma’s recommendation, one of the books I had to read almost all in one go is Shantaram, all 900+ pages of it! The book recounts the semi-fictional autobiography of an Australia convicted fugitive who ended up in a prison in Mumbai and his tales of the incredible life in the slums before being arrested, tortured and locked up in the horrific conditions of the Indian prison he barely survives. In the process he buys a hut in the slum, opens up a clinic, confronts cholera and all sorts of tropical diseases, falls in love and becomes the protege of an Aghan warlord and a drug smuggler. The author is graphical, unapologetic, dramatic and brutally descriptive but it is the fascinatingly underground world he talks about that makes the story an addictive one


For the reflective ones

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What should I do with my Life is the result of long research work carried out by the author trying to answer the ultimate question. He interviews and follows various people who have found the answer and shares the insights and learnings in this book. A rather insightful, if human, look at what makes us happy in plain and simple terms 

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Gladwell’s Blink is a fascinating insight into how we, humans, make decisions and how much the first impressions count when we meet someone or are faced with a new situation. It breaks down stereotypes and pre-conceived notions and helps us understand how this evil we call cultural bias helps us navigate the complexities of life. A truly interesting book 

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A recommendation from Grasya “Like a flowing River is a a compilation of short stories by Paulo Coelho. One of my favourite chapters was a collection of prayer from different religious leaders aimed at attaining unity and peace. Like the one titled “Lao Tsu, China”

If there is to be peace in the world, the nations must live in peace

If there is to be peace among nations the cities must not rise up against each other

If there is to be peace in the cities,

neighbors must understand each other

If there is to be peace among neighbors, there must be harmony in the home.

If there is to be peace in the home, we must find our own heart


To put faces on Middle East’s stereotypes 

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A thousand splendid suns offers a harsh and real tale of life in Afghanistan through the eyes of two child brides sharing the household. A thousand splendid suns gives a human face to the many stereotypes and stories the West hears about the world’s most battered country. To understand is to learn. Khaled Hosseini also wrote the famous The kite runner. 

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I loved Khaled Al Khamissi’s Taxi because if the very detailed view on Egyptian society and life. A country that seems to be yo-yoing from conflict to peace but which never stops attracting hordes of tourists to its heritage, but also a country whose social ties rules are as strict as the harassment you get in the zouks. A well wroth book into Arabic and Egyptian life 


For an easy laugh

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A funny book that follows the TV series of the same name. Karl Pilkington does not like to travel but he is sent around the world to visit al the Seven Wonders of the World while his two friends observe what he does. Some of his adventures are pure stupidity and he does sure make a fool of himself making the story all the more appealing, and entertaining 

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Cityboy is perhaps one of the rudest most incredible books I have read in a while. It is full of swear words, stupidities, questionable behaviours and despicable acts all of them with the same character: a very honest banker from London’s City who decides to break the code of silence and explain what really goes on in a world of debauchery and abuses. He tells of his own story though, he does not reveal other’s secrets but only his own “devious and corrupt heart” although other people can often be guessed if you lived in the time and place

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30 stories as told by a flight stewardess that recount the ironical and untold stories at 30,000 feet. Get behind the scenes and read on for the author’s funniest stories from the best to the worst travellers, the ones who try to squeeze into premium classes, the unavoidable accidents and the funny situations. 

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How to land a jumbo jet is a book for nerds and number crunching people who love to put things into perspective and read about curious facts and figures. Among its pages, the book compiles plenty of funny and interesting facts like the sizes of cockroaches or the number of planes there are at any given point in the air, an interview question I used to ask when I was a consultant (I know, not very fair) 

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The Mile Hi! Club is a book written by a long term stewardess on Singapore Airlines. It is fascinating not only from the point of view of life in the air, so interesting for mere mortals, but also because Singapore Airlines has additionally interesting elements like the hairstyle and dress code that makes the airline so easily recognisable. It made me think of a Geisha! 

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