Under the Tuscan Sun
If you’re going to…Tuscany
Read: Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes
Warning: If you read this memoir during your trip, you might just be inspired to swap your current life for one as an expat living in an adorably cozy villa in the Italian countryside. Mayes’ tale of doing just that is told through lyrical prose that’s meant to be read while sipping a morning cappuccino on the veranda. But the best part of Mayes’ story is that it’s both dream-like and real; settling into her perfect Italian lifestyle after a heartbreaking divorce requires battling loneliness, plenty of hard work, and self-discovery. Even if you don’t put the book down and buy your own Tuscan home, her story will stick with you for many future trips to come.
If you’re going to…the Mediterranean
Read: The Vacationers by Emma Straub
The next best thing to reading a coming-of-age story about a family with lots of drama? Reading a coming-of-age-story about a family with lots of drama—set in a sparkling beach town. Straub’s novel takes place in the Balearic island of Mallorca, off the coast of Spain, where we meet the Post family. There are parents half-heartedly trying to save their marriage, a daughter who falls for her Spanish tutor, and a son with a less-than-liked, much-older girlfriend. If that’s not enough to draw you in, the author’s descriptions of sunny beaches and delicious post-swim Mallorcan meals will.
The Signature of All Things
If you’re going to…South America
Read: The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
When you think of Liz Gilbert and travel, what most likely comes to mind is her Italy-India-Indonesia travel memoir Eat, Pray, Love. But her oft-overlooked novel shouldn’t be missed, either. It tells the tale of Alma Whitaker, an intrepid young scholar whose passion for adventure and fierce determination were fearless for a woman during the nineteenth century. We won’t give away too much, but know: This book is brimming with rich descriptions of botany, breathless explorations in South American jungles, and, at the core, the familiar, fervent search for the meaning of love and family.
Dreaming in Cuban
If you’re going to…Cuba
Read: Dreaming in Cuban by Cristina García
Now that it’s a little bit easier to visit this gorgeous, stuck-in-the-50s island, it’s time to go ahead and book your ticket—and if you do, tuck this novel into your suitcase. Garcia’s multigenerational tale begins in the 1930s with matriarch Celia del Pino, and continues through to 1980 as her family struggles with Communism, idealism, and poverty in one of the world’s most beautiful yet complex countries. And if that’s not gripping enough for you, the author includes her own unique touches of magical realism throughout the novel. The only thing that might get you to put this down is an icy mojito.
Death in Venice and Other Stories
If you’re going to…Venice
Read: Death in Venice by Thomas Mann
This novella is often acclaimed as one of the best of the 20th century, and for good reason. It’s so twisted and haunting, it’s hard to summarize here without any plot spoilers, but a quick overview: The protagonist is an aging German author searching for inspiration. He heads to Venice to find it, but instead discovers a young Polish boy who changes his life. The backdrop is the cold, mysterious, and ethereal Venice, dark yet somehow so alluring that you’ll sigh whenever you finish a chapter. Note to the reader: Make sure you pick a well-reviewed translation; Mann’s complex German grammar makes some translations hit-or-miss.
If you’re going to…a New England beach town
Read: Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead
Ok, we’re starting to see a pattern here: Some of the best, relaxing vacation reads center on the stressful challenges of family. Go figure! Shipstead’s novel about the Van Meter clan is no different, beginning on the eve of daughter Daphne’s nuptials on the Nantucket-like fictional island of Waskeke. The story is mostly told through the eyes of the father of the bride, with a little help from his wife, his younger daughter, and an escaped lobster, resulting in a fast-paced drama that ends with one memorable wedding. Don’t dog-ear this one too hard—you’ll want to pass it on to your traveling partner when you’re finished.
If you’re going to…Thailand
Read: The Beach by Alex Garland
Richard is a wide-eyed traveler backpacking his way around Thailand. An encounter with a strange man leads him to search for an idyllic island in the Gulf of Thailand, using nothing more than a hand drawn map as a guide. On his journey, he meets a host of interesting characters and—after some jungle treks and many other harrowing adventurous—ends up at the sought-after island. The story morphs into the tale of a self-sufficient community that has built itself up on “The Beach”—and how this completely unexpected discovery changes the once-naïve British traveler Richard, for better or for worse. Added bonus: Once you finish the book, you can check out the visually stunning film adaptation starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes
If you’re going to…Africa
Read: All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes by Maya Angelou
Many people remember Dr. Angelou as a brilliant writer and prolific poet, but what some tend to forget is that she was also an intrepid traveler, picking up in her early 30s and moving to Africa. This seventh volume in her collection of autobiographies begins when Dr. Angelou is 33 and has recently moved to Accra, Ghana. She narrates her encounters with romantic prospects, how she adjusts to life on an entirely different continent, and her search for connections between herself as an African-American woman and her ancestors. In the end, she returns to America, as will the reader—but like Angelou, you’ll likely never forget this magical land.
Sometimes, choosing the book to read on your getaway is just as important as selecting the vacation destination itself. Finding the right read to have on hand at your location—for the beach, or on long train rides, to curl up with before bed, or to devour on the plane ride—has the power to transform the mood of your entire trip. There are hundreds of books—fiction and non-fiction—set in enticing, faraway lands, so we did some of the work for you. Whether you’re headed to a tranquil stay on the Amalfi Coast or a tropical adventure in South America, we’ve got the perfect literary travel companion for you. Sit back, relax—and leave a little extra room in your carry-on. And don’t worry: We’re assuming you’re already well-acquainted with classic travel narratives On the Road, Eat Pray Love, and Wild, so we haven’t included those here!