A good book is an adventure you can take anywhere. For the eager traveler, it’s also a way to indulge your travel dreams, learn about new places and build excitement for your next trip.
Here are the eight best travel books to help your family get inspired for your next vacation.
For Parents and Older Children: “The Gondola Maker,” Laura Morelli
Set in 16th century Venice, this vibrant and lively novel follows Luca Vianello, the heir to the city’s most esteemed gondola-making family. When a tragedy strikes his boatyard, Luca searches for the meaning of his life elsewhere but cannot resist the pride he feels in his craftsmanship. This story depicts Venice in powerful detail, with passages highlighting the Doge’s palace, the Grand Canal, Rialto Bridge and many more of the city’s most gorgeous spots. The story also explores the beautiful intricacies of authentic gondola craftsmanship as well as the city’s other artisanal traditions, giving an authentic window into every day the life of Venetian artisans.
For Teens: “Love & Gelato,” Jenna Evans Welch
This witty, fun coming-of-age novel follows Lina, an American girl spending time with her father in Italy. One day, she discovers her late mother’s journal, filled with details of her past and secret romances. Inspired to learn more about her family’s history, Lina goes on an adventure with her charming companion, Ren, to discover the importance of family and the joy of dreamlike love. This charming adventure is filled with wonderfully Italian experiences and beautifully rendered descriptions of Florence.
For Parents and Older Children: “Costa Rica: A Traveler’s Literary Companion”
This collection of short stories pulls together 26 pieces of fiction from writers across a century of Costa Rican history. It’s a sincere showing of Costa Rica’s people, culture and landscapes for the curious traveler.
“The best of Costa Rica’s writers conjure the country’s allure and vitality, its coffee fields and palm groves, cicadas and songbirds, shrouded mountains and blazing savannas, while telling stories of Costa Rican life,” according to the book’s Goodreads page.
This collection was published in 1993 and continues to serve as a travel guide to the country’s fantastic savannas, seas and mountains. The book’s portrayal of the Costa Rican people’s struggles also provide a useful framework for understanding the country’s contemporary challenges.
For Teens: “The Monkey Thief,” Aileen Kilgore Henderson
Set in the depths of the Costa Rican rainforests, “The Monkey Thief” tells the story of twelve year old Steve, who is sent to live with his uncle for the summer. While there, he sees a rare monkey in the forest, and it becomes his quest to tame it. His plans go awry when he runs into smugglers, and he must escape their grasp to return home.
Henderson’s fast and fun adventure is as much educational as it is engrossing. Her familiarity with Costa Rica gives the descriptions of the rainforest, wildlife and the culture a true-to-life authenticity.
For Parents and Older Children: “Trail of Feathers: In Search of the Birdmen of Peru,” Tahir Shah
In this travel memoir, Tahir Shah discovers traces of blood on a bird feather along with a shrunken head from Peru. Inspired by these clues, Shah sets out on a surreal, bizarre and amusing adventure across the mountains, deserts and jungles to discover if the Incas ever had the ability to “fly” over the jungle, as Spanish monks had once reported. He encounters scholars, headhunters, and sorcerers in his quest for answers. The writing describes the rich variety of landscapes and people of Peru with a descriptive talent that is sometimes hilarious and always colorful.
For Teens: “Go and Come Back,” Joan Abelove
Set in a mountainous village in Peru, the story follows Alicia, a teenager, as she struggles to understand the cultural differences of two American anthropologists who live in her community. The story shows the breadth of misunderstandings that arise between them. Alicia thinks they are rude and stingy, and the townspeople have a hard time accepting them. With her friend Elena, Alicia works to help the anthropologists understand how life in their Peruvian village works.
It’s important to keep in mind this novel is written by an author from the United States. Still, this book can be a valuable resource for young readers. The story, rendered with heart and vulnerability, highlights an important part of being a responsible world citizen: things considered normal by one cultural group may be considered unusual to another.
For Parents and Older Children: “Barefoot Over the Serengeti,” David Read
This autobiographical memoir tells the story of David Read’s boyhood in the Serengeti during the late 1920s and early 1930s. Known as “Debbe” to the Maasai community where he lived, he spent his childhood learning their customs on the plains. The book is filled with the stories of Read’s adventures and information about Maasai people, who have carried their community’s traditions into modern Tanzania. Read also writes with an abundance of warmth and love for the people of Tanzania and the open plains where he grew up.
For Teens: “Love Bombs,” Richard Mabal
“Love Bombs” follows the silly antics of brave, stubborn Marietta as she plans to ensure her guardians, Uncle and Auntie, don’t divorce each other. The story is inspired by Richard Mabala’s 15 years of work with children and youth in Tanzania, and focuses on Marietta’s search for love and support from her elders.
With a touch of soul and plenty of humor, this story also depicts the everyday lives of modern middle class families in Tanzania.