Books wrapped in ribbon
Finish your Christmas shopping with one of these tomes. (Photo: dodi31/Shutterstock)

What Are the Best Travel Books for the Holidays?

What travel books should I put on my holiday gift shopping list?

Books wrapped in ribbon
Greg Melville

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Since you’re reading this column, Walter, you’re obviously an extremely literate and thoughtful person with excellent taste. So I’ll skip over the travel classics like Kon-Tiki or A Walk in the Woods and give you titles that are either new on the shelves or have fallen under the radar. The pages of these books will take you on a spiritual journey in the Himalayas, a quest to save endangered elephants in Africa, and a search for intrigue and mystery in the south of France.

Additionally, if you just can’t get enough Adventure Adviser, check out Greasy Rider, a book I wrote about a cross-country trip in a cooking-oil-powered station wagon I took with a college buddy of mine in search of the keys to a sustainable future.

Love, Life, and Elephants
To a Mountain in Tibet
Visit Sunny Chernobyl
The Marseille Caper

The Best Travel Books: ‘Love, Life and Elephants’

Daphne Sheldrick and an elephan
Love, Life, and Elephants (Courtesy of Farrar, Straus and G)

If you’ve seen the IMAX movie Born to Be Wild, you know the story of Daphne Sheldrick, the first person ever to successfully hand-rear newborn elephants. This book by Sheldrick recounts her five decades of efforts protecting wildlife in Kenya’s Tsavo National Park and her creation of the David Sheldrick Trust, an elephant rescue organization named after her late husband. This is a warm, heartfelt, and sometimes graphically tragic non-fiction tribute to Africa, where the animals are real and have more personality than the ones you’ll find in a Disney movie.

The Best Travel Books: ‘To a Mountain in Tibet’

To a Mountain In Tibet. (Courtesy of Harper)

When prolific British travel writer Colin Thubron’s wrenching A Mountain in Tibet was released in hardcover a year ago, reviewers on both sides of the Atlantic couldn’t stop praising it. Yet the book never really caught fire with the reading public. (Probably because it doesn’t involve talking dogs, vampires, a dystopian future, or talking vampire dogs in a dystopian future.) Now out in paperback, the book relates Thubron’s long trek to Mount Kalais, the sacred peak for Hindus and Buddhists, or, as he puts it, one-fifth of the world’s population. Thubron, who is single and has no children, uses his trip to this solitary mountain rising over the Tibetan plains to sort through the grief and sense of loneliness he harbors over his mother’s death. Yes, the whole “spiritual journey in Tibet” theme has been done before, but seldom—if ever—so poetically.

The Best Travel Books: ‘Visit Sunny Chernobyl’

Nuclear towers in Chernobyl
Visit Sunny Chernobyl. (Courtesy of Rodale Books)

In Visit Sunny Chernobyl, Andrew Blackwell turns the typical travelogue upside down. Instead of leading the reader to the best places to go before you die, he travels to the world’s dead zones—where some of the worst environmental catastrophes have taken place. Written in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek but backed up by impressively detailed reporting, Blackwell recounts his adventures to human-ravaged nuclear wastelands and polluted rivers with an unjaundiced eye.

The Best Travel Books: ‘The Marseille Caper’

The Marseille Caper
The Marseille Caper. (Courtesy of Knopf)

In his classic book, A Year in Provence, British author Peter Mayle loosely stuck to facts and pissed off half the people in the south of France with his quirky, lighthearted depictions of the folks he met and befriended near his Provencal home. He chooses pure fiction in his second mystery novel The Marseille Caper, which focuses on a roguish, food-loving American named Sam Levitt who becomes entangled in intrigue in France when he stumbles into a shady real estate deal. An easy but fun read.

Lead Photo: dodi31/Shutterstock

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