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 learned as much about a place 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

Books About U.S. and Canada

1. Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil

This is the book that inspired thousands of visits to gentile, southern Savannah.

Midnight brings you behind the doors of the city’s stately homes and introduces you to its many varied characters and denizens while also chronicling a controversial shooting that reverberated through local Society. 

By John Berendt (Buy it!)
Or watch the movie with John Cusack, directed by Clint Eastwood.

2. The Day The World Came To Town : 9/11 in Gander, New Foundland

The Day the World Came To Town, book cover.

The inspiration for the Broadway play Come From Away, this 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 om 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.

By Jim Defede (Buy it!)

3. A Walk in the Woods

Virtually hike the Appalachian Trail with middle-aged, out-of-shape Bryson and his more-out-of-shape companion Katz. He mingles the trails facts and history with the highs and comical lows of their time on the trail. 

By Bill Bryson (Buy it!)
Or watch the movie with Robert Redford and Nick Nolte.

4. The Captain’s Daughter

Cover of the Captain's Daughter, book

Maine’s idyllic coastal towns are synonymous with summer vacation for a lot of East-Coast families. In this novel, 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.

By Meg Mitchell Moore (Buy it!)

5. Beach Music

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.

The story: A man trying to cope with the suicide of this wife is called back to South Carolina by further family tragedy (which he eventually comes to terms with).

By Pat Conroy (Buy it!)

6. Forever

The NYC skyline on the cover or Forever, book

The story begins in Ireland in the 1700s but most of it is set in New York City as it grows from a small colonial port town to a modern Metropolis.  

Our guide on this journey is Cormac O’Connor, who has been granted eternal life, as long as he stays on the island of Manhattan. It’s Hamill’s love letter to his hometown and I didn’t want to end. 

By Pete Hamill (Buy it!)

For school-age Kids: The Little House series

The 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 solitude.

By Laura Ingalls Wilder (Buy it!)
Or watch the series, especially the 97-minute pilot. 

Books That Take You To Europe

7. A Moveable Feast

a photo of Hemingway in  Moveable Feast

Visit the Paris everyone wants to visit, the City of Lights in the 1920s when it was filled with cultural luminaries. H

emingway takes us to his favorite cafés and bistros where he drinks coffee and wine and debates with Ford Maddox Ford, as well as the sitting rooms of the friends like Gertrude Stein. T

hen plan a trip to Paris to visit the places in the book that still exist, like the elegant Café Lipp

By Ernest Hemingway (Buy it!)

8. Ireland

Kirsten Maxwell at Kids Are a Trip loves this “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.” 

By Frank Delaney (Buy it!)

9. The Corfu Trilogy

boyi swings on a rope on the cover of The Corfu Trilogy

Romp across the white sand beaches and green and brown olive groves of the Mediterranean island of Corfu with 10-year-old Gerald Durrell.

This humorous trio of memoirs recounts his family’s relocation from grey England to right its troubles after their father’s death.

By Gerald Durrell (Buy it!)
Or watch the popular PBS series.

10. All Creatures Great & Small

My entire family, from my mother to my daughter has let country veterinarian Herriot bring us along on his visits to farms and villages across the Yorkshire Dales in the years leading up to WWII. The book (one in a series) is funny and surprisingly relatable. 

By James Herriot (Buy it!)          
Or watch the long-running PBS series.

11. A Year in Provence

opening sketch and line from A year in Provence

Really, anything by Peter Mayle will transport you to southern France and keep you entertained.

But why not go with the book that launched an entire generation of travel memoirs. It also has one of my favorite opening lines: “The year began with lunch.”

How can you resist digging in?

By Peter Mayle (Buy it!

12. City of Falling Angels

In this follow up to Midnight, John Berendt unveils Venice for us.

The mystery at the heart of this book 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 canaled city.

By John Berendt (Buy it!)

13. 44 Scotland Street

The cover of 44 Scotland Street with Bruce the House and Pat.

After 13 books in the series that started with this one, 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 and read I can’t wait for the next one so I can visit Edinburgh again. 

By Alexander McCall Smith (Buy it!)

For Kids and Tweens: Murder Most Unladylike

This mystery series featuring two girls at an English boarding school heavily influenced our last trip to the U.K.,

Hazel and Daisy take tween readers to Cambridge, London, the English countryside, Hong Kong and even on the Orient Express.

It certainly our tween’s interst in afternoon tea, cream buns, scones and frosted buns.

By Robin Stevens (Buy it!)

Books That Take You To the Middle East and Africa

14. Couchsurfing in Iran

The author of Couhsurfing In Iran sitting in front of an elaborate Persiab mural.

Iran looms large in daily news headlines but there’s an awful lot about the place that westerners don’t know or understand.

Orth, a German millennial travels through Iran doing exactly what the authoritarian government doesn’t want visitors doing, mingling with every day citizens and learning about their lives. 

By Stephan Orth (Buy 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, Lawrence Anthony works to bond with a herd of wild elephants he has agreed to allow into his preserve.

In Kitchen, his Parisienne wife Francoise Graham Spence struggles to keep the Thula Thula preserve open after she’s widowed in 2012. 

By Lawrence Anthony and Graham Spence (Buy it!)
Or by  Françoise Malby-Anthony and Katja Willemsen (Buy it!)

17. Out of Africa

A green and yellow illistration of a garden on the cover of 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.

This memoir recounts her years running the plantation, living as a neighbor to big game, learning about native festivals and even receiving a royal visit. 

By Isak Dinesan (Buy it!)
Or watch the movie starring Robert Redford and Meryl Streep, directed by Sydney Pollack.

18. Dark Star Safari

Jacquie Hale Flashpacking Family explains that this travelogue of Theroux’s journey from Cairo to Cape Town “Is 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.” 

By Paul Theroux (Buy it!)

19. O Jerusalem (Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes Series #5)

The cover of the book O Jerusalem, about Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell

Sherlock and his exceedingly capable fictional wife Mary roam far and wide in this adventure series.  

This book takes them to British-owned Palestine in 1918. Disguised as Bedouins, they travel across desserts and through towns solving a murder mystery while on a mission for the British government. 

By Laurie R King (Buy it!)

For tweens: The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind

Part adventure, part STEM narrative.

This is the story of KamKwamba’s effort to build a windmill in his Malawi village to stave off the drought that is sweeping the region. Improbably, he succeeds.

By William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer (Buy it!)
Orry the Young Readers’ Edition, too.

Books That Take You To Asia

20. Memoirs of A Geisha

A geisha on the cover of Memoirs of a Geisha, book.

Travel to pre-WWII Kyoto for a Cinderella-type adventure in the city’s famous Gion district.

The story’s protagonist is sold into Geisha-hood as a child, goes through myriad trials and hardships and gradually learns how to control her own destiny. 

By Arthur Golden (Buy it!)
Or watch the movie with Michelle Yeoh and Ken Watanabe and directed by Rob Marshall.

21. Shogun

A fictionalized account of the first Englishman 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!).”

She 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.”

By James Clavell (Buy it!)

22. Crazy Rich Asians

The profile of a stylish Asian woman on the cover of Crazy Rich Asians.

Touch down in modern day multi-cultural Singapore. In this rom-com skyscapers rise, Asian cultures intermingle in the smells and tastes of Hawker food stalls and the newest couture is as important as the old traditions. 

By Kevin Kwan (Buy it!)
Or watch the movie with Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh and Awkwafina.

23. A Suitable Boy

This book 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 continues, “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.”

By Vikram Seth (Buy it!)

For tweens and teens:  Somewhere Only We Know

Young Asian woman and man back-to-bacl on the cover of 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.

 There’s still a charming reporter (or paparazzi in this case) and adventures and romance still ensue.

By Maurene Goo (Buy it!)

Books That Take You To Latin America

24. Like Water For Chocolate

Love, heartache, family, food and magical realism on a Mexican hacienda in the early 1900s. Savor the recipes along with the story. I loved this book. 

By Laura Esquivel (Buy it!)
Or watch the award winning amovie.

25. Turn Right at Macchi Picchu

A drawing of the Andes and the Inca remains on the cover of Turn Right at Macchu Picchu

Adams is a travel and adventure magazine editor who has never actually slept in a tent.

Nevertheless, 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.

By Mark Adams (Buy it!)

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.

This novel takes us deep into the Amazon as a doctor takes on a Heart-of-Darkness-like hunt for her missing mentor who was researching a promising new drug. 

By Anne Patchett (Buy it!)

For Tweens and Teens: The Cat King Of Havana 

Silhouette of Cuba's Capital on the cover of The Cat King of Havana.

A teenager known in his New York City high school for making cat videos, invites a classmate to visit his family in Havana 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.  A great introduction for teens to Cuba’s colorful culture and complex recent history.

By Tom Crosshill (Buy it!)

Books That Take You To Australia and New Zealand 

27. Commonwealth of Thieves

The amount of poorly informed optimism that led to the colonizing of Australia after the American Revolution is astounding.

The story of how the prisoners who were shipped off here actually pieced together the beginning of a new country is pretty amazing.

This history book has a keen narrative pace that makes you feel like you’re right there with them.

By Thomas Keneally (Buy it!)

28. In a Sunburnt Country

A kangaroo and her joey on the cover of In A Sunburnt Country.

Early on in this travelogue 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. 

By Bill Bryson (Buy it!)

29. Do They Speak English Down There

Explore New Zealand with Tunney, an expat who moved there with her family from San Diego.

Share the wonders of their new country and the challenges to adapting to a new home, from which they are separated by a common language. 

By Susan Tunney (Buy it!)

30 The Phryne Fisher Mysteries

A women with a bob, 1920s dress and pearls on the cover of A Phryne Fisher mystery book collection.

Pick any of the books in this series and join the independent, slacks-wearing Phryne Fisher as she sleuths her way across 1920s Melbourne.

Because for the financially independent, every place was more fun in the roaring 20s and Phryne makes the most of it. 

By Kerry Greenwood (Buy it!)
The TV series is worth watching just to appreciate Phryne’s fabulous wardrobe and her flirtations with Inspector Jack Robinson .

For Kids and Tweens: Red Rocks

Delve into the Celtic roots of New Zealand’s citizens with a story about a boy who accidentally acquired a selkie skin, leading to adventure and magic on the island’s Wellington coast.

By Rachael King (Buy it!)

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