15 books to take you on a vicarious vacation

15 books to take you on a vicarious vacation

One of the most common book recommendation requests I get—be that in my inbox, on the podcast, or in the MMD Book Club—is escapist reads. Believe it or not, this was a familiar query long before a pandemic upended all our travel plans!

Longtime readers know that a good book, carefully chosen, can take you on a grand adventure—even while you never leave the comfy chair in your living room.

Today, I’m sharing a list of books that invite you to come along on a vicarious vacation, or inspire your future travels. This mix of nonfiction and fiction features a variety of enviable vacations, from family cruises to solo backpacking adventures to sun-drenched island getaways.

I also included a little bonus category packed with vacations-gone-wrong. These thrillers might not stir up daydreams about faraway locations, but they will keep you turning the pages to find out what happens next, and the action unfolds in interesting and should-have-been idyllic locales.

This summer, I hope you find the restorative escape you need, whether by plane, on the road, or in the pages of a good book.

10 books to inspire wanderlust

The Enchanted April

The Enchanted April

The perfect read for a rainy summer day, this escapist classic begins when one woman reads an advertisement for a small tumble-down medieval castle addressed to “Those Who Appreciate Wistaria and Sunshine.” She is suddenly struck by desire on this dreary, dripping day and finds a partner-in-travel to get away for a month. The two friends seek out two strangers to make a party of four women—one young, one old, two somewhere in the middle. As they travel to the Italian castle and spend the month finding out what they have in common, they find they are all unhappy with the life they find themselves leading. It's no spoiler to tell you: they come into their own. More info →
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The Vacationers

The Vacationers

Author:
I don't want my real vacation to be filled with family drama, but a vicarious vacation? Give me ALL the juicy secrets, relationship tensions, and high-stakes arguments. This backlist book takes readers to the island of Mallorca, where Franny and Jim have invited their close family and friends to celebrate some major milestones. It all seems like sunshine and swimming pools until secrets come to light and longstanding rivalries reemerge. When it comes to complicated family dramas, you can count on Emma Straub to deliver. Her characterization shines, and though you may not like any of the people here, you will want to know what happens to them. More info →
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The Unhoneymooners

The Unhoneymooners

In this enemies-to-lovers romance, bridesmaid Olive steels herself to get through her twin sister's wedding, which forces her to spend the day with her sworn enemy and best man Ethan. But when the rest of the party falls prey to food poisoning, Olive and Ethan find themselves on an all-expenses-paid honeymoon trip to Hawaii, determined to leave each other alone—until they are forced into pretending to be newlyweds to save Olive's job. They quickly discover that pretending can be a whole lot of fun. Fun and funny, this one had me fondly reminiscing about my own tropical honeymoon. More info →
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Loveboat, Taipei

Loveboat, Taipei

In this fast-paced YA debut (and 2020 Summer Reading Guide pick), a girl travels halfway around the world to find herself, and maybe find love, too. Ever Wong is an eighteen-year-old Asian American girl in Ohio, a talented dancer who, unbeknownst to her family, harbors dreams of pursuing professional dance. When her parents find out she’s considering dance instead of med school, they send her to Taiwan to spend the rest of the summer at Chien Tan—an immersive high school program devoted to language and culture. When Ever arrives she’s surprised to discover that far from the scholarly summer she expected, the students themselves call the program “Loveboat,” because it’s tons of fun and so many long-term relationships begin here. I can't wait to read the sequel, coming in early 2022. More info →
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Without Reservations: The Travels of an Independent Woman

Without Reservations: The Travels of an Independent Woman

Author:
This is a wonderful guide for anyone contemplating solo travel. Journalist Alice Steinbach took a four-month sabbatical from work to travel to London, Oxford, Paris, and Milan when she was in her 50s (what a dream!). Her memoir is as much about the places she goes as it is about the people she befriends, such as one acquaintance who asks her, “Why not turn this mishap into an adventure?” Witty, wise, and transporting, Steinbach's journey will make you feel as though you're traveling far from your own armchair—and perhaps inspire you to plan your own solo trip. More info →
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A Year in the World: Journeys of A Passionate Traveller

A Year in the World: Journeys of A Passionate Traveller

Author:
Frances Mayes is best known for her memoirs exploring life as an expat in Tuscany, but here she shares about travels to Spain, Portugal, France, the British Isles, Turkey, Greece, the South of Italy, and North Africa. As much as possible, she rented a house and did her best to shop and eat like a local, thinking all the while about what it would be like to call that place home. Full of descriptive detail, this travel memoir is best suited for readers who love all things art and architecture, or who enjoy a slow meandering walk down an unfamiliar cobblestone street. More info →
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World Travel: An Irreverent Guide

World Travel: An Irreverent Guide

“I am a storyteller. I go places, I come back. I tell you how the places made me feel.” — Anthony Bourdain. Before he died, Bourdain’s co-author and long-time collaborator Laurie Woolever met with him about this project just once, a meeting she details in the book’s heartfelt opening. Yet she managed to deliver a transporting reading experience in a true travel guide that combines Bourdain’s stories and travel tips with colorful essays from his friends and colleagues. Vicariously experience Bourdain’s favorite destinations near and far—from Toronto to Tanzania, Manhattan to Myanmar—as Bourdain tells you how to get there, where to stay, and, perhaps most importantly, what to eat. Jam-packed with potential for adventure and exploration (real or imagined). This title appears in the Expanded Edition of our 2021 Summer Reading Guide. More info →
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People We Meet on Vacation

People We Meet on Vacation

Author:
Globetrot with Alex and Poppy in this modern twist on When Harry Met Sally (our June MMD book club pick). The pair of opposites once shared a ride home from college and their witty banter ignited a decade-long friendship. Now free-spirit Poppy lives in NYC, working as a travel writer for a posh magazine. Strait-laced Alex lives in their small Ohio hometown, longing to start a family and live that picket-fence lifestyle. Connecting once a year for an epic vacation, these besties were always in sync…until they weren’t. Now they haven’t spoken in two painful years, and against all odds, Poppy is hoping one great vacation can save them. More info →
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Sex and Vanity

Sex and Vanity

Author:
Jake cited this "champagne cocktail in book form" as a recent favorite in WSIRN Episode 277: Books that feel like a vacation for your brain. When I read it last year, I didn't realize it was a retelling of A Room with a View until I thought "hmm, the name Lucy Church seems familiar," and started picking up more connections. But you do not need to be familiar with E.M. Forster's classic in order to enjoy this glittery, glamorous, and gossipy novel that opens on an island holiday in Capri—and then jumps forward seven years later to a decadent summer vacation in East Hampton. More info →
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Sag Harbor

Sag Harbor

If The Underground Railroad or The Nickel Boys made your favorites list, have you dipped into Colson Whitehead's backlist yet? This humorous coming of age story will take you to 1985 Manhattan, where 15-year-old Benji Cooper, the only Black student at his prep school, attempts to fit in with his classmates. Trying to break free of his label as a bona fide nerd proves exhausting, but escape comes every summer when Benji's family stays in Sag Harbor, along with a whole community of upper-middle class Black families in their social circle. With freedom from school, parents, and the perception of his peers, Benji thinks this summer might be the perfect time to reinvent himself. Travel to the Hamptons with Benji for summer vacation vibes, teenage angst, and Whitehead's stunning writing style. More info →
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5 books about vacations gone horribly, terribly wrong

Descent

Descent

Author:
This heart-pounding thriller is set in the Rocky Mountains, where the whole Courtland family hoped to enjoy a wilderness vacation, and the parents specifically hope to reconnect and patch up their broken marriage. Daughter Caitlin is about to begin college on a track scholarship, and sees the mountain trails as a challenge for her running strength and stamina. But their peaceful vacation turns into a nightmare when Caitlin and her younger brother Sean set off on a hike together, and only Sean returns. Each member of the family deals with Caitlin’s disappearance alone, yet they grapple with the same unspeakable questions. More info →
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Do Not Become Alarmed

Do Not Become Alarmed

Author:

Liv and Nora are cousins, close as sisters. After a rough year and lots of family drama, they're in desperate need of a low-key family getaway. The cruise was going to be perfect. And it is, for a while. But then on a normal—almost boring—Central American shore excursion, a series of misunderstandings and misjudgments ends with terrifying confusion—where are the children? Soon enough, the adults realize six children have vanished—and from alternating points of view, we discover where they went, and why, and who's to blame. (There's lots to go around.) Readers take note: this is messy, and a little racy.

More info →
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Nine Perfect Strangers

Nine Perfect Strangers

Author:
Moriarty says this story actually started as a joke: after a stressful season, she began saying her next novel would take place at a tropical resort, and she'd have to spend a lot of time vacationing "for research purposes." But as she thought about it, she realized it really would make a good story. Swap out the tropical setting for a luxurious health retreat, bring in nine strangers, each with their own reason for renewal, and you're in for a great reading experience. The miniseries boasts a star-studded cast and is set to premiere on Amazon Prime August 20th. More info →
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The River at Night: A Novel

The River at Night: A Novel

Author:
When Winifred Allen's best friends suggest a wilderness adventure in Maine for their annual girls' trip, she reluctantly agrees. Swimming in depression and grief, Wini could really go for more of a beach vacation. But hiking and rafting through the Allagash Wilderness proves to be revitalizing...until their trip takes a treacherous turn. After a freak accident, Wini and her friends are stranded and forced to rely on strangers for supplies and shelter. Just when the women think they're safe, the battle for survival really begins, and Wini must prove her strength. More info →
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Death on the Nile

Death on the Nile

Author:
Does Hercule Poirot ever get a vacation? It seems that wherever he goes, he must investigate. His cruise along the Nile is interrupted by a shocking murder (of course). Honeymooner Linett Ridgeway has been shot, and Poirot might know the culprit: he overheard a passenger say incriminating, threatening things about the beautiful (and filthy rich) young woman. But it wouldn't be a Christie novel without a few unexpected twists and turns. Devoted Poirot fans will enjoy several references to his other mysteries sprinkled throughout the novel, and heads up: it's been adapted for another Kenneth Branagh film, set to release in 2022. More info →
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What books have YOU enjoyed as a vicarious escape? We’d love to hear your recommendations—please share them in the comments section!

P.S. Keep traveling with 20 novels that will transport you to the shore, 20 travel memoirs to take you around the world, or 20 more books for armchair travel and vicarious adventures. You can find more literary tourism posts here.

15 books to take you on a vicarious vacation

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33 comments | Comment

33 comments

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  1. Aimee says:

    I love Bill Bryson’s Notes from a Small Island. It’s my all time favorite travel memoir. A close second, however, would be Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence.

  2. Susan says:

    Without Reservations is a fantastic book! I read it a long time ago but seeing it here made me want to read it again!

    • Brenda Gelhar says:

      Susan same! I loved Without Reservations as much as I hated Eat,Pray,Love (I know, NOT a popular take on that book!) Definitely moved Without to my TBR-again pile!

  3. Carol M Sander says:

    Thank you for THE BEST list I’ve seen. I’ve added six (!) of these titles to my Audible list. Summer reading list complete!

  4. Adrienne says:

    Such a fabulous list! Adding some of these to my TBR list… I read Nine Perfect Strangers when it was released a couple of years ago, and didn’t enjoy it as much as other Liane Moriarty books, so it will be interesting to see how the series does.

  5. Stacey says:

    Do not become alarmed was right at my threshold for scary books — but so good! Frances Mayes had a new one come out a few years ago that didn’t get much press but really made me want to return to Italy — women in sunlight. Our Stop by Laura Jane Williams is set really well in London, Sex and Vanity by Kevin Kwan is perfectly set in Capri, Love Lettering by Kate Clayborn in NYC

  6. Donna says:

    In the vacations gone horribly wrong category, I would add Departure by A. G. Riddle. Very suspenseful, lots of interesting twists and turns. The audio book is also very good.

  7. Laura Webb says:

    I love this! I’m putting several on hold and looking forward to reading other recommendations in the comments. Thank you!

  8. Lanne says:

    Three books in the grand adventure category for me and make me want to lace up hiking shoes and grab a walking stick:
    Grandma Gatewood’s Walk by Ben Montgomery
    Wild by Cheryl Strayed
    The Salt Path by Raynor Winn
    Also enjoyed House on the River by Nessa Rapaport (about a houseboat jaunt.)

    • Elizabeth says:

      I loved Grandma Gatewood’s Walk & Wild! I also like Heather Anderson’s books about her Pacific Crest hike and AT hike.

  9. Amy says:

    I am excited to read some of these!

    My recommendation to add would be The Corfu Trilogy by Gerald Durrell. That’s my ultimate escapist book.

  10. Katie says:

    For vacations gone horribly wrong, I’d add Leave the World Behind. It’s extremely dark (not “boo!” type of scary, but definitely creeping sense of horror), but I absolutely couldn’t put it down and it really made me think. I also liked The River for the same category, which was a reading recommendation that I got from your blog! I’d second the vote for Bill Bryson – I particularly love A Walk in the Woods.

  11. Brittany says:

    We are huge Rick Steves fans! We’ve been watching a lot of his Monday Night Travels Zoom meetings. Good food and lots of adventure! We also use his books as we travel…obviously not a novel, but he does tell some good stories!

    I recently shared a list of my favorite books for family vacations on our children’s book blog! https://themiraculousjourneyofbooks.com/family-vacation/

    My favorite on the list is Kate DiCamillo’s book Louisiana’s Way Home. It’s a beautiful story and definitely “takes you places.”

  12. Debbie says:

    Just finished People We Meet On Vacation. Not my normal go-to genre, but I enjoyed it. Would have liked a lot less profanity, but overall a 4 star read for me.

  13. Shannan says:

    I’m reading People We Meet on Vacation now. It’s fun visiting the different locations. Adding a couple more from this list to create a book flight for the summer. Thanks.

  14. This series isn’t new, but I re-read this four book series by CA Belmond starting with the first book ‘A Rather Lovely Inheritance’ every other year. The audiobook books are wonderful, read by the stellar Katherine Kellgren, and the madcap adventures take place in exotic locals all over Europe. There aren’t many books that tick all the boxes for me like these do.

  15. Beverly J Wrigglesworth says:

    My husband and I both love Bill Bryson’s “In a Sunburned Country” (Australia), especially his description of listening to a cricket game on the radio as he was driving.
    I have not read Peter Mayle’s “A Year in Provence,” but I did read his “Toujours Provence” and “French Lessons” many years ago and loved them both.

  16. Suzy says:

    If you consider buying a second home in France a vacation (I do!) or doing an exchange year, besides A Year in Provence, you might be interested in these favorites of mine:
    Almost French by Sarah Turnbull
    French Impressions by John Littell
    Lunch in Paris by Elizabeth Bard
    At Home in France, by Ann Barry
    I’ll Never Be French, Mark Greenside
    My Grape Year, Laura Bradbury
    And I’ll add, Juliet went to Guernsey in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Pie Society, and Anthony Doerr went to Rome in Four Seasons in Rome.

  17. Elizabeth says:

    So many books added to my TBR list!

    I love the travel memoirs “At Home in the World” by Tsh Oxenreider and “A Home is a Roof over a Pig” by Aminta Arrington

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