Obsessive Travelers on the Books That Changed Their Lives

(Photo: Eduard Bonnin/Stocksy)

By Yahoo Travel Explorers

Every traveler has one: the book that changed their life — the book that ignited a spark and made them want to travel. Why a book? Simple: Because books transport us. Their whole purpose is to open new worlds and encourage us to explore them, even when those landscapes are on another planet or inside a person’s heart.

Ask any fellow road warrior, and they’ll be able to pinpoint the exact literary experience that flipped the switch for them. And for many, these books weren’t even specifically about travel —they were adventure stories, science fiction sagas, memoirs of personal triumph, or even favorite childhood picture books. Below, our Yahoo Travel Explorers share the stories that inspired their life-long desire to explore the world. 

What was the story that made you a traveler?

In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson

(Photo: Broadway Books)

Bill Bryson’s hilarious book In a Sunburned Country really inspired me to travel to one of my favorite places on earth: Australia. Bryson has such funny stories to share about life in this fascinating place (which is home to some of the world’s deadliest creatures) and the book is an epic exploration of the world’s smallest (and quirkiest?) continent. Part guidebook, part travel diary, In a Sunburned Country is anything but typical and Bill Bryson unearths the most extraordinary experiences to share with readers. Whether you’ve been to Australia more times than you can remember or are planning a visit, this book is guaranteed to entertain and ignite the travel flame within you.
Johnny Jet

James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl

(Photo: Puffin Books)

I was enchanted with Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach as a child. The idea of climbing inside a giant fruit and taking off for wild adventures with a posse of oversized insects was exciting and not the least bit scary. I still view travel as a way to step outside of myself and to play make-believe for a short while. It’s a wonderful way to escape!
— Catherine Bennett Kopf, The Open Suitcase  

Related: Want to Start a Travel Blog? The Truth from Successful Bloggers

National Geographic magazines

(Photo: National Geographic)

It wasn’t a book that first inspired me, though I have many favorite travel-themed books (On the Road, A Walk in the Woods…), but rather a magazine. My mom had a collection of National Geographic magazines when I was growing up, and I remember looking through them for hours and hours, inspired by the photographs and daydreaming about seeing such places and people and animals. The first one that really captivated me was the one that I think is still the most recognized NG photo ever — the little Afghan girl. It was her eyes and expression; I was equally haunted and mesmerized. I think I painted eyes in every art class for like a year in the mid-1980’s! But it was also the magazine’s African safari photos that claimed a part of my travel spirit early on. Needless to say, it was a dream come true when I finally got to experience my first safari a few years ago.  
— Lindsay Taub, Voyage Vixens

Not only did National Geographic inspire me, before I started traveling I actually amassed one of the largest collections of National Geographic in the world. That includes an original Issue 1, Number 1 from 1888, and the original report of the expedition to Machu Picchu, of which only 500 were published.
— Gary Arndt, Everything Everywhere  

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts, Papillon by Henri Charrière, and The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

(Photos: St. Martin’s Griffin; HarperOne)

Shantaram and Papillon for me and The Alchemist for [my wife and co-blogger] Nirali. For me travel has always been about escape from the drudgery of routine life; vacations during childhood and impromptu trips later on. Somehow both the books were symbolic in the protagonist’s attempt and success in escaping prison and then wholeheartedly embracing their new lives in their adopted cities/countries. They became an unexpected inspiration for long-term travel. For Nirali, travel is all about discovering yourself through the many others you meet in your journeys which The Alchemist is all about. For both of us these weren’t the triggers for our wanderlust, but definitely something which helped us understand why we travel.
— Rishabh Shah, Gypsy Couple  

Related: Can’t Travel? Let These Books Take You Cross-Country Instead

Travels by Michael Crichton

(Photo: Vintage)

We all know Crichton as the genius behind the tech-thriller genre with works like The Andromeda Strain, Sphere, and of course Jurassic Park. But in 1988 he wrote a book about his life and his travels, both physical and metaphysical. Crichton’s life was a lot more interesting than I had previously thought, and learning about how he started his career (he paid for his Harvard Medical School training with the profits from The Andromeda Strain) turned out to be more important to me personally than I could have realized. Crichton always had a fascination with the world, with foreign cultures, and with mystic encounters that bend and commingle the realms of science and mysticism. Reading this at a time in my life when my own wanderlust was threatening to burst, it was an escape to far-flung areas and an early introduction to the wonders of the world and the many human cultures that grace it. What’s more, the book helped me refine my own travel desires, teaching me to go beyond seeing just pretty sights, which are great, but also to learn from my travels as much as I possibly can. Crichton’s own travels around the world necessarily changed him, as travel changes all of us, but his experiences were more momentous than the average person’s. I quickly realized the reasons for this was that he wasn’t just open to that education, but actively sought it out. An important lesson for all of us I think.
—Matt Long, LandLopers

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

(Photo: Riverhead Books)

The first time I remember having any sort of desire to travel was in third grade when I wrote a story about how I wanted to study abroad in Australia when I was old enough to do so. When it came time to study abroad, which was also my first proper trip overseas, I instead moved to Europe to do a semester in Italy (I was 19) and I read Eat, Pray, Love on the plane ride over. It’s so cliché, I know, but there is a quote from that book that’s among one of my favorites of all time: Don’t wear your wishbone where your backbone should be. I’ve always thought about that quote whenever I feel nervous about decisions I’m making on the road (like when I eventually did move down to Oz after meeting my boyfriend while traveling).
— Alexandra E. Petri, The Write Way Around  

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg

(Photo: Atheneum Books for Young Readers)

Growing up in a small town a long way from New York, I thought it was the most glamorous idea in the world to live inside a museum. I knew someday I would grow up and run away with a violin case full of clothes and sleep in a famous historic bed. I recently re-read the book with my children and it still enchants me.
—Kim-Marie Evans, Luxury Travel Mom

The Stand by Stephen King

(Photo: Anchor)

I’ve always been a bit of a Stephen King fan; I even took a tour centered around the author when I was in Maine. The Stand not only inspired my travels, it also inspired my mode of travel — slow travel. Every character in the book heads out on their own personal journey while dealing with their own internal struggles. Some were good and some were evil and some were a combination of both, but they all traveled on foot which gave them the opportunity to soak in their surroundings and take in everything slowly and on a deeper level. 
—Lauren Bassart, The Constant Rambler

Related: 8 Great Summer Reads for the Escapist in All of Us

Nothing to Declare: Memoirs of a Woman Traveling Alone by Mary Morris 

(Photo: Picador)

Here was this young woman, traveling in Northern Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala, alone, mind you, in the 1970s. I was fascinated by Mexico, Central and South America already, but Mary was actually there, on her own, alone. I will never forget her description of her mother, who inspired her to travel — the homemaker mother, who only traveled in her dreams. She had been invited to a Suppressed Desire Ball. “You were to come as your secret wish, your heart’s desire, that which you’d always yearned to do or to be…. The night of the ball, she descended the stairs. On her head sat a tiny, silver rotating globe. Her skirts were the oceans, her body, the land and interlaced between all the layers of taffeta and fishnet were Paris, Tokyo, Istanbul, Tashkent. Instead of seeing the world my mother became it.” I wanted to be Mary and not her mother.
— Cacinda Maloney, Points and Travel

The Adventures of Tin Tin

(Photos: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers; Egmont Books)

As a child, I was mesmerized by the adventures of Tintin. I owned most of the books, and imagined myself as the young intrepid reporter. I dreamed of going on mysterious adventures around the world with my friends — from China to the Middle East to the moon. I never expected my life to end up being a lot like Tintin’s! Although instead of a little white dog as a companion, I have a fat earless cat.  
La Carmina

My number one would be all the Tin Tin books. I learned so much about the world, from Peru to Tibet to China to the American West through this series. I always wanted to have the adventures of Tin Tin, and those little cartoon boxes gave me an insight into the world at a young age. Another that I loved: A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle: I was absorbed in the minutiae of daily life in small-town France. I fell in love with the beauty of the details and it made me want to live abroad.
Kelley Ferro

Cranberry Thanksgiving by Wende and Harry Devlin

(Photo: Purple House Press)

Growing up, we had this old book called The Cranberry Thanksgiving. It was never a favorite of mine, and yet there was something alluring about the setting. The pictures of leafless trees, cranberry bogs, and a little girl in galoshes were pretty foreign to me, a California girl. And though other later books (The Secret Garden and much later The Sun Also Rises) made me want to discover new settings, I think my obsession with the East Coast began with The Cranberry Thanksgiving. Last year, I finally got to go out on a bog in MA and join in the harvest — and it definitely lived up to all that I’d imagined all these years!
— Suzanne Russo, offMetro

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