Book Recommendations for Every Kind of Vacation

Especially when packing space is limited, choosing the right book to bring with you is a fraught decision

Whether you’ll be journeying to a lake, boarding a cruise ship, or setting off an a whirlwind tour of Europe, you can’t go wrong with these novels and memoirs that’ll transport, challenge, and inspire you in equal measure. No matter what kind of trip you’re going on, we have the perfect read for you to bring along.

Happy travels–and as always–happy reading!

Hopping behind the wheel for a top-down road trip?

road trip


Bring this: Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck

Jack Kerouac’s On the Road might seem like the obvious book to take on the road (der). But, if you’re revving up for a cross-country adventure, you might also consider bringing John Steinbeck’s lesser-known book, Travels with Charley. The book recounts a road trip the author took across the country in 1960 with his poodle (yes, his poodle) Charley. The man-dog team begins its adventure on Long Island and travels to the Pacific Northwest before descending on Steinbeck’s old stomping ground, the Salinas Valley in California.

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Shipping out on a cruise?

cruise ship

lada Z/

Bring this: A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace

The end-all-be-all of “cruise literature”—if there is such a thing—is David Foster Wallace’s essay collection A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again. In the title essay, the late author recounts his experience aboard a cruise ship, bringing to the often over-the-top vacation experience his famously incisively wit. While the book isn’t exactly an advertisement for Carnival, it might add some necessary levity (and maybe a little queasy-making black humor) to your stay on the seas.


Trekking to a family reunion?

road trip

Elzbieta Sekowska/

Bring this: The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

Will this be the summer your scattered family members finally come together in one place? Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections captures a reunion of sorts—an alternately heralded and dreaded “one last Christmas”—of the Midwestern Lambert family. Shifting between each of the members’ points of view, the novel captures the mixed emotions people often bring to such an events, and the odd satisfactions that reunions, however imperfect, can deliver.


Going on a Eurotrip?



Bring this: The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

This season will see many people—and many college graduates in particular—flocking to Europe to view its sights, enjoy its food, and brush up on its many languages. The Sun Also Rises documents a similar trip made by a group of American and British young adults to Madrid in the 1920s. Hemingway’s crisp prose evokes the sense of adventure felt by travelers, both then and now. As one character muses, “Everyone behaves badly—given the chance.”


Flying off to a destination wedding?

destination wedding

Maciej Czekajewski/

Bring this: Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead

Many summer trips pivot around far-away nuptials, with ceremonies drawing attendees to new cities, counties, and exotic locations. Maggie Shipstead’s Seating Arrangements documents a wedding located on a fictional New England island that, over the course of a weekend, becomes the setting for envy, resentment, and, improbably, a beached whale. RSVP: Yes.


Voyaging to New York City?

trip to nyc


Bring this: The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Despite its pavement-melting temperatures, New York is a magnet for summer travelers. Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar details one woman’s summer-long-stay in the city. The novel’s darkness is matched only by the glamour and urbanity it evokes. “I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery,” the protagonist says at one point. “I thought, ‘This is what it is to be happy.’”

Visiting the in-laws?


John Rodygin/

Bring this: Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

While the protagonist of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited isn’t marrying into the Marchmain family—he’s visiting his friend from school, Sebastian, instead—his experience amid the aristocratic clan members will resemble any visit to the in-laws, with his feelings pendulating from idolization to revulsion and back again.


Relaxing for a week at the beach?

the beach

Galyna Andrushko/

Bring this: The Vacationers by Emma Straub

Emma Straub’s The Vacationers follows one family’s complicated vacation on the Spanish island of Mallorca. Featuring intergenerational drama and luminous landscapes, it’s the ideal book to read while lounging in the sand.


Lacing up for a hiking trip?


Galyna Andrushko/

Bring this: Wild by Cheryl Strayed

If you can bring only one book with you on your hiking trip, make it a wilderness guide. But, if you can bring two, consider Wild, Cheryl Strayed’s now-classic memoir of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. Detailing Strayed’s grueling trek, and the series of personal misfortunes that led her to embark on it, the book will serve as a daily dose of comfort and motivation.


Rocking out at a music festival? 

music lovers

Monkey Business Images/

Bring this: A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

If you’re en route to one of the many music festivals taking place across the country this summer, you’re probably already something of a music lover. Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad will only enhance your appreciation of the art form. The novel-in-stories follows a diverse cast of characters, many of whom are involved in some way with the music industry, who experience love, death, loneliness, and redemption—all through the lens of music.


Journeying on a humanitarian mission?


Chris Warham/

Bring this: The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

No book can tell you the best way to be charitable to those in need. But, if you’re determined to do good for the less fortunate this summer, consider reading a novel like Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible. Through the story of a family of missionaries who settle in Belgian Congo, the book examines the complex politics and mixed emotions that arise when individuals from one culture try to help individuals from another

Heading to a weekend at the lake?



Bring this: The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner

Rachel Kushner’s The Flamethrowers is an ideal summer read for many reasons, not the least of them being that a significant portion of it is set on Italy’s Lake Como, one of the most famously beautiful lakes in the world. Kushner’s lush descriptions of the region will instantly transport you.


Sticking around for a staycation?

reading staycation


Bring this: Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Let’s face it: Some of the best vacations are the ones that involve no travel at all. If you’ll be holding down the fort this summer, consider taking a literary adventure that will far outweigh, in sheer weirdness, any trip your friends or family members might embark on. Alice, of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, was the original staycationer. Who knew taking a nap outside could lead to the wildest vacation of all time?

About E. Crane

E. CRANE is a writer for Read It Forward, who loves books as much as you do.

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