• Kara Cushway

Best Books for Travel

Note: This post contains links to the OverDrive app's website. Please be aware that this post is not sponsored or partnered in any way. This is just a super helpful app that I recommend from my own experiences and think you may enjoy as well!

Maybe this isn’t the best time to craft a compilation of travel books. After all, summer is over, kids are heading back to school, we’re all hunkering down for another busy year, and vacations and travel have taken – if you’ll pardon the pun – a back seat, possibly until next summer.

Kyle and I are lucky in that we have a long weekend starting today, and we plan to take a road trip down to Houston, Texas for several days to enjoy the city and the beach. This will be our last long weekend of the season before he graduates from his captain’s training course and we begin the craziness of moving (again).

So, what with this weekend’s road trip and the upcoming craziness of moving happening, I thought it might be fitting to gather a list of some of my favorite books for traveling. If I could read these books for the first time over again, I’d pick them to read while traveling (although… some of these books I DID read for the first time while traveling). My hope is that, if you’ve got any day trips, road trips, long commutes, flights, short commutes, cruises, or other vacations coming up, you’ll return to this list of suggestions when selecting your literary travel companion.

If you like to do the reading yourself …

If you’re like me, you prefer to read words on a page (or on a screen). You don’t want somebody else’s reading voice muddying up your reading experience. These books are for you, whether you choose to pick up a hard copy, read them on a Kindle or e-reader, or read them on your phone via one of the many amazing library apps that are popular now in the literary community. More on my preferred app, OverDrive, in the last section of this post!

The Tea Rose by Jennifer Donnelly

If you like to travel back in time (see what I did there?), you might want to get down to the library and pick up The Tea Rose by Jennifer Donnelly. I love how meaty this book is – sorry if that’s a weird way to describe it, but it is substantial and totally engaging. The story takes place at the turn of the 19th century, and incorporates many historical milestones, such as the exploitation of factory workers, Jack the Ripper’s reign of terror in London, and American money in the Gilded Era. And if that’s not enough, the book’s main elements might sway you: it’s got it all, from love and loss to hatred and revenge, all told within the framework of a good old-fashioned rags-to-riches storyline.

This book is a big’un, but not a slog. If your travel plans include a flight with a long layover (or several layovers), or you plan to be away from home for a week or longer, this book might be a good choice!

As you can see, this is from the Army OverDrive library!

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

As a member of the jet-setters league yourself (assuming you’re traveling), you may appreciate the wasteful use of Earth’s precious resources in this book, where people hop on separate private jets to get to the same party, who have multiple private chefs and own entire islands. Personally, I enjoy a good fictional tale of excess, because it’s fun to imagine being that rich, even if the reality of it is unfathomable and (if we’re being realistic) unsustainable otherwise – but I’m not trying to ruin your opinion of the book ahead of time with ecopolitics! It’s such a fun and extravagant story; and there really is no other word for it – this book is crazy.

Though not long, this book can get overwhelming if you get anxious easily (what, you don’t get sympathy-anxiety from reading stressful books?). It would be a great travel companion for a long weekend or short business trip.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows

Yes, the title is a mouthful. Yes, there is now a Netflix original movie based off of this book. I’ve seen it, I love it, and if you watch it, I think you will, too! Since WWII books are basically their own genre at this point, I felt it was only fair to include one on this list. The main character is a writer who heads off to the island of Guernsey in the English Channel in pursuit of a story surrounding members of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, started during the German occupation of the island. It’s part mystery, part love story, told in epistolary fashion – that is, entirely through letters from one character to another. These kinds of books are perfect for travel because the letters are bite-sized – ideal if your travel plans are constantly interrupting your reading plans!

Another book of modest length. The letter format might mean this book is a quicker read than usual for you, so this one would be great for an overnight trip or a road trip (one in which you’re not driving).

For my Michigan friends: this story is partially set along Lake Michigan. I think I saw it marked as a "Great Lakes Read" at the Peter White Public Library in my hometown of Marquette, MI!

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven follows a band of actors and musicians who travel around the country to carry on the traditions of classic art and entertainment after a catastrophic flu pandemic sweeps the nation. Now, I wouldn’t normally recommend a book which I myself consider to be a “travel” book – one in which the characters are in an almost perpetual state of travel (think The Hobbit or some parts of LoTR and other classic adventure novels where the point is that, well, they’re traveling to somewhere else – not that I have anything against The Hobbit or LoTR!) – but this is one exception, where the focus isn’t as much on the actual travel as it is on the characters themselves and their gripping stories, both past and present. Not to mention, the writing is on point.

This book is slim, but amazingly thought-provoking. I’d recommend reading it when you can be guaranteed plenty of time to focus on and absorb what you’ve read, maybe on a quiet camping trip or non-major holiday weekend.

If you like to have books read to you …

I don’t listen to that many audiobooks, for several reasons:

  1. Even if you have a membership on Audible, it can still get kind of expensive.

  2. If you rent audiobooks from the library, you will definitely save money, but sometimes the library doesn’t carry audiobook versions of the books you’re interested in listening to.

  3. Sometimes audiobook readers just don’t read right. I prefer my own mental reading voice, not the voice of some rando off the street.

Nevertheless, here are two audiobook selections – whose narrators were actually exceptional – one of which I got on Audible, and the other which I rented from my digital library. (Scroll to the end of this post if you'd like more information on my preferred digital library, OverDrive, and directions on how to install this app!)

This one is from the Tennessee READS OverDrive library. Though I don't live in Tennessee anymore, my TN library card is good till 2020. I exploit the system.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty, read by Caroline Lee

First of all, Caroline Lee has an Australian accent. This is important to note, as this novel is set in Australia; I loved listening to the story told in Lee’s voice, because it gave me much more of a sense of place while I followed along with the story. (Is this the key to audiobooks? Reading the ones told in other accents? Have I cracked the code?!) The novel itself is sort of a whodunit/domestic mystery in which the reader is kept guessing throughout the whole story as to not only what Terrible Thing happened, but who did the Terrible Thing.

Personally, I enjoyed this book on our flights to and from Ireland on our trip last year – having the audiobook read to me made it so easy to just plug in and knock out a few hours of the long flight. So naturally, I recommend this audiobook for flights, or, failing that, for a day by the pool.

This is what the "inside" of the OverDrive app looks like when you're listening to an audiobook.

As You Wish by Cary Elwes, read by Cary Elwes

I grew up on The Princess Bride, and genuinely believe that the film advised my sense of humor to this day. My family certainly can't get through a nice dinner without at least one reference to it. If you’re anything like me/us, and you just can’t get enough of this odd, heartfelt love story, you’d do well to get the audiobook version of As You Wish, read by Westley himself, in which he shares heartwarming and awe-inspiring glimpses into the behind-the-scenes of the filming of this iconic movie. And, I mean, no matter what the book is about, how could you not want Cary Elwes to read to you?

I listened to this one on my drive from Tennessee to Oklahoma this spring, when my poor husband had to drive the UHaul, so we were driving separately; therefore, in my experience, it’s perfect for a long road trip by yourself – but it’s interesting and funny enough for a road trip with the whole family, especially if everyone’s familiar with the movie!

Tennessee R.E.A.D.S. is Tennessee's "online library" powered by OverDrive.

OverDrive: Your Library, Online

As promised, here's a bit about OverDrive app I've mentioned throughout this post. Check out OverDrive here and find your local digital library! As a fan of books and reading, and a relatively frequent traveler who usually only has temporary access to brick-and-mortar libraries even under the best of circumstances, I literally cannot say enough good things about this app. Plus, for books in series, you can rent sequels right from the comfort of your own home (!!!). The upgrade this app has made on my life is on par with the time I got my Kindle and could start reading in the dark. And for those of you who don’t like to read full books on your vacations, you can even rent MAGAZINES from your local library on the OverDrive app! (Oh, and for my friends in the military - be sure to look into the Army, Air Force, or Navy OverDrive libraries to supplement your regular library's electronic selections!)

I promise this isn't sponsored or anything, I just seriously love this app, especially for traveling! (I mean, can you see how many exclamation marks I'm using?!)

Here's the How-To:

Click this link and scroll down to the bottom of the page. On the left side of the bottom of the page, you'll see the “Help” header. Below it, select “Getting Started” and follow the instructions on the new window. It’ll have you download the OverDrive app (or Libby app) onto your device. Then, after setting up an account in the app, you can add libraries using your library cards or military ID, and download books onto your devices right from your phone, usually in the form of your choosing (you can download to your Kindle, listen to audiobooks in the OverDrive app, or read directly on your device using the OverDrive app). How cool is that?!

Your turn! Do you have any favorite books for travel? Have you read any of the books on this list? How about OverDrive - have you used this resource before?


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