Books have both inspired and informed a lot of my travels. And they’ve taken me places I haven’t been and might never go. I’ve gained as much insight into people and cultures from a good novel as I have from any travel guide.
Books are an escape from the here and now, which we can all use at a moment when so much travel has had to be canceled or put off indefinitely and we’re all spending way too much time at home.
Here are 30 books where the setting is as important as any of the characters. Some are fiction and some non-fiction; a few are travel memoirs. In each category there is a book for kids, tweens or teens, too.
I tried to avoid weighty tomes and dark themes in favor of lighthearted romps; though in some parts of the world this is difficult.
I hope they provide colorful escapes for you and maybe they’ll inspire your next vacation, when we can travel again.
30 Great Books To Read on Your Next Staycation
Table of contents
- More great summer staycation resources
- 30 Great Books To Read on Your Next Staycation
- Books About U.S. and Canada
- Books That Take You To Europe
- Books That Take You To the Middle East and Africa
- Books That Take You To Asia
- Books That Take You To Latin America
- Books That Take You To Australia and New Zealand
- Pin it for later!
Books About U.S. and Canada
1. Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil
This book has inspired thousands of visits Savannah to experience it’s gentile, Southern facade.
Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil breaks down the facade—a bit. It brings you behind the doors of the city’s stately homes.
It introduces you to its many varied characters and denizens while also chronicling a controversial shooting that reverberated through local Society.
2. The Day The World Came To Town : 9/11 in Gander, New Foundland
The inspiration for the Broadway play Come From Away, The Day The World Came To Town is the book you need to read right now. Gander s a tiny town that was inundated with planes that needed someplace to land when the U.S. closed its airspace on 9/11.
It tells how the Gander’s community came together to feed, clothe, shelter and provide solace to a few thousand people during an exceptional few weeks.
It will restore your faith in people and community.
3. A Walk in the Woods
A Walk In The Woods invites you to virtually hike the Appalachian Trail with middle-aged, out-of-shape Bryson and his more-out-of-shape companion Katz.
Bryson is one of my favorite non-fiction writers. He does a good job of weaving the trail’s facts and history with the highs and comical lows of their time backpacking on this iconic path.
4. The Captain’s Daughter
Maine’s idyllic coastal towns are synonymous with summer vacation for a lot of East-Coast families.
In The Captain’s Daughter, a now-affluent woman returns to the lobster-fishing town where she grew up.
Once there, she must wrestle with her dad, one of many rough-and-tumble local lobstermen, who has had an accident, and of course with her past.
5. Beach Music
Pat Conroy’s books are always packed with drama and often epic. But he loves the South Carolina low country, and I dare you to read this book without wanting spend time there.
In Beach Music, a man flees to rome to try to cope with the suicide of this wife. But he is called back to South Carolina by further family tragedy, which he eventually comes to terms with.
Forever begins in Ireland in the 1700s but most of it is set in New York City as it grows from a colonial port town to a modern Metropolis.
Our guide on this journey is Cormac O’Connor. After being wounded in a skirmish during the revolution he’s granted eternal life, as long as he stays on the island of Manhattan.
It’s Pete Hamill’s love letter to his hometown and watching the city grow and evolve through Cormac’s eyes is a truly enjoyable journey.
For school-age Kids: The Little House series
The Little House series pulled my city-dwelling third-grader into the sprawling plains of the Midwest and had her pretending she lived on the prairie, even if that prairie probably looks quite different these days.
In particular, The Long Winter has some good lessons for those of us living in unexpected extended solitude.
Books That Take You To Europe
7. A Moveable Feast
In A Moveable Feast you can visit the Paris everyone wants to visit, the City of Lights in the 1920s when it’s cafés were filled with cultural luminaries.
Hemingway takes us to his favorite cafés and bistros where he drinks coffee and wine and debates with his fellow writer Ford Maddox Ford. We also visit his home, his writing garret and the sitting rooms of the friends like Gertrude Stein.
Once you’re done, start planning a trip to Paris to visit the places in the book that still exist, like the elegant Café Lipp.
Kirsten Maxwell at Kids Are a Trip loves the book Ireland, Frank delaney’s “Tale of a young boy who’s world is changed by the arrival of an Irish traveler who spends days weaving stories, fairytales and Irish history for the locals.”
She says, “It was a great book to read while traveling the Irish countryside because it really grabs you and makes you feel the Ireland magic.”
9. The Corfu Trilogy
Read all three Corfu books to fully romp across the white sand beaches and green and brown olive groves of this Mediterranean island with 10-year-old Gerald Durrell.
This trio of humorous memoirs recounts his family’s relocation from grey England to beautiful Greece to right their troubles after their father’s death.
The First book is My Family & Other Animals, an irresistable title.
10. All Creatures Great & Small
My mother, my husband, my tween and I have all let country veterinarian James Herriot bring us along on his visits to farms and villages across the Yorkshire Dales in the years leading up to WWII.
11. A Year in Provence
Really, anything by Peter Mayle will transport you to sunny southern France and keep you entertained.
But why not go with A Year in Provence, the book that launched an entire generation of travel memoirs, and countless Provence vacations.
It also has one of my favorite opening lines: “The year began with lunch.” How can you resist digging in?
12. City of Falling Angels
In this follow up to Midnight, John Berendt unveils intriguing and hard-to-know Venice for us.
The mystery at the heart of City of Falling Angels is a fire at a famous opera house, but along the way he introduces us to some of the finest palazzos and most entertaining denizens of this wonderful canaled city.
13. 44 Scotland Street
After 13 books in the series that started with 44 Scotland Street, I feel like Edinburgh’s New Town is my own neighborhood (in many ways it’s a counterpart to my Brooklyn neighborhood) and the characters in the books are my friends.
As soon as one book is out I read it and start counting the days until the next one will be released so I can visit Scotland Street again.
This Alexander McCall Smith book began as a newspaper serial. All the chapters are exactly the same length and further the story in a compact way, making it ideal for travel reading.
For Kids and Tweens: Murder Most Unladylike
Teen detectives Hazel Wong and Daisy Wells take tween readers to the Deepdean School and beyond to Cambridge, London, Hong Kong, a Nile cruise and the Orient Express (the last two are homages to Agatha Christie).
It certainly inspired our tween’s interest in afternoon tea, cream buns and amateur detectives.
Tip: Try to buy the original U.K. prints and not the U.S. versions; they have better titles and plenty of British vernacular, which is way more fun.
Books That Take You To the Middle East and Africa
14. Couchsurfing in Iran
Iran looms large in daily news headlines but there’s an awful lot about the country that westerners don’t know or understand. Couchsurfing in Iran tries to pull the curtain back a bit.
German millennial Stephan Orth travels through Iran doing exactly what the authoritarian government doesn’t want visitors doing: Mingling with every day citizens and learning about their lives while he sleeps on their couches and floors.
It’s not something I would recommend emulating, but I’m glad he did it.
15. The Elephant Whisperer
16. An Elephant In My kitchen
Think of these books, written by a husband and wife, as your virtual visit to their South African game preserve.
In Whisperer, written by Lawrence Anthony and Graham Spence, Anthony works to bond with a herd of wild elephants he has agreed to allow into his preserve.
Kitchen is written by Katja Willemsen and Anthony’s Parisienne wife Francoise Graham Spence. In it Spence struggles to keep the Thula Thula preserve open after she’s widowed in 2012.
17. Out of Africa
Dinesan moved from Denmark to Kenya with her husband to start a coffee plantation. The marriage didn’t work. He went home. She stayed.
The memoir Out of Africa recounts her years running the plantation, living as a neighbor to big game, learning about native festivals and even receiving a royal visit.
18. Dark Star Safari
Dark Star Safari follows Paul Theroux’s journey across Africa from Cairo to Cape Town.
Jacquie Hale Flashpacking Family says, “It’s one of my favorite travel reads and inspired my love of the African continent.”
She continues, “It’s also the reason I did my own overland journey through Africa. His journey is so descriptive, you can’t help but fall in love with Africa.”
19. O Jerusalem (Mary Russell Series #5)
In this adventure series Sherlock Holmes and his exceedingly capable fictional wife Mary Russell roam far and wide, often with Mary leading the way.
This book takes them to British-owned Palestine in 1918. Disguised as Bedouins, they travel across desserts and through famous towns solving a murder mystery while on a mission for the British government.
Other books in the series take the reader to Morocco, Imperial Japan and the Bodleian Library at Oxford.
For tweens: The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind
Part adventure, part STEM narrative.
The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind is the story of William KamKwamba’s effort to build a windmill in his Malawi village to stave off the drought that is sweeping his region. Improbably, he succeeds.
Tip: You can listen to this book for free with an Amazon Audible trial.
.You can see the movie, which Chiwetel Ejiofer directed and starred in, on Netflix DVD. It’s great for kids ages 8 and up to see this part of the world and to see another child use basic engineering and technology to solve a real-world problem.
Books That Take You To Asia
20. Memoirs of A Geisha
Memoirs of a Geisha takes the reader to pre-WWII Kyoto for a Cinderella-type adventure in the city’s famous Gion Geisha district.
The story’s protagonist is sold into Geisha-hood as a child, and goes through myriad trials and hardships. She gradually learns how to control her own destiny and finds happiness.
Golden’s ability to get into the mind of a early 20th-century Japanese woman won critical acclaim when the book was released.
A fictionalized account of the first Englishman’s to visit Japan. Cathy Winston of Mummy Travels says “It’s an incredible introduction to the country’s history and culture (and a cracking story!).”
It has all the hallmarks of a good historical fiction saga, including a love triangle between the Englishman, A Japanese warlord and a local woman.
Winston adds, “I re-read it every few years, including during my trip to Japan, where I got to see some of the places in the book first-hand.”
22. Crazy Rich Asians
Touch down in modern day multi-cultural Singapore.
Crazy Rich Asians trilogy is a series of fun rom-coms that look at the less staid, more sezy side of Singapore tourists don’t always see.
In the first one, Asian cultures intermingle in the smells and tastes of Hawker food stalls, but not necessarily in families. And the newest couture is as important as the old traditions.
23. A Suitable Boy
In A Suitable Boy Vikram Seth takes readers to India in the early 1950s, post-Independence and post-Partition.
Winston says, “It’s another book I re-read regularly. I learned more Indian history reading this than I did at school, for sure.”
She explains, “But it’s the richness of the descriptions, the characters, and how they portray different aspects of India a point where the country was changing dramatically. Everything from the spices to the colors to the squalor seems to come alive.”
For tweens and teens: Somewhere Only We Know
It’s Roman Holiday, but the setting is Hong Kong. A young K-Pop star steps in for Audrey Hepburn’s princess as the famous ingenue looking to be a nobody for one night.
Somewhere Only We Know still has a charming reporter (or paparazzi in this case) and adventures and romance still ensue. But the backdrop is Victoria Peak instead of the Colisseum.
Books That Take You To Latin America
24. Like Water For Chocolate
Like Water For Chocolate is a beautiful book. It has love, heartache, family, food and magical realism on a Mexican hacienda in the early 1900s.
Savor the recipes along with the characters and their story.
I loved this book. It shows a side of Mexico we seldom see and it packs a lot into a short novel.
25. Turn Right at Macchi Picchu
Mark Adams is a travel and adventure magazine editor who has never actually slept in a tent—which increasingly is my kind of adventure.
Nevertheless, in Turn Right At Macchu Picchu he sets out to retrace the journey to Macchu Picchu that explorer Hiram Bingham took in 1911 when he “discovered” the Incan ruins for the world outside of Peru. Trek along with him.
26. State of Wonder
I read a lot of Ann Patchett. Her books always have just enough well-written drama to keep you pulled along, without being heavy reads.
State of Wonder takes us on a Heart-of-Darkness-like journey up the Amazon River. This time, a doctor is on the hunt for her missing mentor who was researching a promising new drug.
I’ve been “reading” more audio books lately and a book like State of Wonder makes for an especially good listen.
For Tweens and Teens: The Cat King Of Havana
The Cat King of Havana is a teenager known in his New York City high school for making cat videos. He invites a classmate to visit his family in Cuba in an attempt to woo her.
They practice salsa, explore Havana and learn his family’s secrets along with the dark side of Cuban politics. It’s a great introduction for teens to Cuba’s colorful culture and complex modern history.
Tip: Read it for free when you download the Kindle app to your phone.
Books That Take You To Australia and New Zealand
27. Commonwealth of Thieves
In the late 1700s England had far more petty thieves than it had room for in its prisons. When it could no longer send them to the American colonies it began exporting them to Australia, a land about which it knew absolutely nothing.
The hubris that went into settling the first Australian penal colony, the titular Commonwealth of Thieves was astounding.
More amazing were the the prisoners who actually pieced together new lives for themselves and laid the foundation for a new country.
This narrative history has a enough detail and the right pace to make you feel like you’re right there with them.
28. In a Sunburnt Country
Early on in the travelogue In a Sunburnt Country, Bryson, a lover of facts, statistics, and trivia, enumerates some of the many things in Australia that can kill you.
From the safety of your couch, join him on his humor-infused journey and you’ll learn a lot about a country that feels familiar but that we actually know little about.
29. Do They Speak English Down There
Explore New Zealand with Tunney, an expat who moved there with her family from San Diego.
In Do They Speaak English Down there?, Susan Tunney shares the wonders of their new country and the challenges to adapting to a new home, from which they are separated by a common language.
30 The Phryne Fisher Mysteries
Pick any of the books in this series and join the daring, independent, slacks-wearing Phryne Fisher as she sleuths her way across 1920s Melbourne.
These breezy, suspenseful novels are great vacation reads, and great to read when you need a vacation, too.
Because for the well-healed, every place was more fun in the roaring 20s and the Honouroable Ms. Fisher makes the most of it.
Tip: Watch the television series on Acorn or Netflix DVDs. It’s so worth watching just to admire Phryne’s fabulous flapper wardrobe and her flirtations with Inspector Jack Robinson.
For Kids and Tweens: Red Rocks
Red Rocks delves into the Celtic roots of New Zealand’s citizens with. In the story a boy named Jake accidentally acquires a selkie’s seal skin, leading to adventure and magic on the island’s Wellington coast.
Selkies are shape shifters who slip between human and seal form by slipping outof their sealskins. They can be men or women and are enchanting in human form.