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With travel advisories and restrictions once again in the news due to the fast-moving Omicron variant, cross-country trips and overseas vacations are temporarily on hold for some people at the moment. But you can still hit the open road – vicariously, at least – by losing yourself in a great travel audiobook.
Although nothing will ever match the exhilaration of visiting a new city or country in person for the first time, an expertly written travel book can come surprisingly close when it’s penned by a highly skilled author with a sharp eye for detail. Moreover, the best travel writers often report back from remote destinations that the average tourist is unlikely to experience on their own.
So if you’re feeling cooped up and could use a little getaway or are hoping to start planning a trip soon, here are a dozen audiobooks that are well worth listening to. Some are contemporary memoirs, others are modern works of fiction, and two are memorable classics, but all of them will transport you to places you’ve never gone before.
‘In the Weeds’ by Tom Vitale
Anthony Bourdain’s award-winning series “Parts Unknown” and “No Reservations” took viewers to some of the most incredible destinations in the world, and now a brand new book transports readers back to those locations and reveals what it was like to film there. Written by Bourdain’s longtime director and producer, Tom Vitale, who narrates the audiobook himself, “In the Weeds” is much more than a revealing behind-the-scenes peek at the making of two landmark television shows. It’s also a thoughtful and penetrating portrait of a man whose passion for life, curiosity about cultures, and love of a great meal revolutionized the way we think about travel. Best of all, Vitale’s own observations about each of the many filming locations are every bit as evocative as what viewers saw on screen.
‘Leave Only Footprints’ by Conor Knighton
After a painful broken engagement, Emmy-winning CBS news correspondent Conor Knighton came up with an admittedly unusual idea to snap himself out of a melancholy funk. Rather than indulge in heartache at home, he decided instead to spend a year visiting each of America’s National Parks in the hope of distracting himself. Curiously enough, what he discovered while traversing the vast forests, mountains, glaciers, sand dunes and volcanos was a newfound view on love, career, the environment and his own place in the world. Narrating the audiobook himself, Knighton’s palpable sense of wide-eyed wonder shines through page after page. After reading about his trips to more than 60 National Parks, even the most hesitant traveler will want to hit the road and spend their next getaway sleeping under the starry sky.
‘Aftershocks’ by Nadia Owusu
Acclaimed author Nadia Owusu has lived in many different countries throughout her life, and she writes about them with candor and poetic sensitivity in “Aftershocks,” a profoundly moving memoir about her nomadic childhood and the devastating effect it had on her search for identity later in life. Abandoned by her mother when she was only two years old, Owusu spent her younger years traveling across Europe and Africa with her father, a United Nations official. But when he died when she was barely in her teens, she found herself unmoored and virtually alone in the world, and had no choice but to seek her own path moving forward somehow. Narrating the audiobook herself, Owusu describes a life of near-constant geographic upheaval, and she conjures up vivid images of Rome, New York, Ghana, Tanzania, London, Ethiopia and several other places she’s temporarily called home.
‘We Came, We Saw, We Left’ by Charles Wheelan
In 2016, journalist Charles Wheelan and his wife Leah – an elementary school principal – decided to take a “family gap year” and explore the world with their three teenage children. Their charming adventures navigating six continents in nine months are chronicled in Wheelan’s recent book “We Came, We Saw, We Left,” which often reads like a modern version of “National Lampoon’s Vacation.” Combining practical travel tips, wry descriptions of each location, and some genuinely hilarious family bonding moments, this brisk and refreshing travelogue is ideal for armchair tourists or anyone whose sense of wanderlust has been stifled during the pandemic. Favorite moments include a trek up Machu Picchu, sojourns through Cambodia and South Viet Nam, and a visit to both Iran and South Africa. Actor P.J. Ochlan narrates the audio edition, and his enjoyable delivery makes every minute fly by.
‘Becoming Forrest’ by Rob Pope
No one who’s seen the 1994 Oscar-winner “Forrest Gump” is likely to forget the sequence where the indefatigable protagonist spends three years running a cross-country marathon in order to put the past behind himself. And that’s certainly the case for Rob Pope, a veterinarian and champion marathoner from Liverpool, who set out to duplicate that cinematic run in real life. His 422-day, 15,700-mile adventure made him the first person to recreate the route traveled by Tom Hanks’ fictional character, a feat which helped raise more than $50,000 for charity. That remarkable journey is brought to life in Pope’s recent book “Becoming Forrest,” which offers a first-person account of the kindness and humanity he encountered along the way. It’s an epic fish-out-of-water travelogue of the countless small towns across the United States, seen through the eyes of a world-class athlete.
‘From Scratch’ by Tembi Locke
A sparkling tribute to serendipitous love, it’s easy to see why “From Scratch,” the literary debut of actor, producer, and healthcare advocate Tembi Locke, not only earned a coveted spot on Reese Witherspoon’s popular Reese’s Book Club, but has also been adapted as an upcoming limited series for Netflix, starring Zoe Saldana. This warm – but often heart-wrenching – memoir about travel, food, family, and resilience in the aftermath of loss recounts Locke’s life-changing trip to Florence, where she fell in love with Saro, a caring and passionate Sicilian chef, while studying abroad. Their tender courtship and eventual marriage is beautifully captured here, as are the sights and sounds of Florence, New York, Los Angeles, and Sicily. Although tragedy ultimately strikes in the form of a rare cancer diagnosis, Locke’s climactic return to Sicily to bury her love’s ashes hints at the nurturing power of place in our lives. The audiobook is read by the author, whose narration will make you laugh and cry, often at the same time.
‘Nine Continents’ by Xiaolu Guo
Award-winning novelist and filmmaker Xiaolu Guo’s poignant memoir tells the story of her extraordinary journey from a small fishing village on the East China Sea to the prestigious Beijing Film Academy to a bustling maternity ward in contemporary London where her daughter was born. Penned in painterly prose that often reads like literary fiction, she confronts the harsh and abusive childhood she endured in China and the personal and artistic freedom she eventually discovered in England. The book’s title was inspired by a visit Guo made to a Taoist monk as a very young girl. The monk proclaimed her to be a “peasant warrior” and went on to predict, “she will cross the sea and travel to the Nine Continents.” Unflinchingly honest at every turn, this is a thoroughly absorbing coming-of-age story unlike any other. Voiceover actor Emily Woo Zeller delivers a stellar narration of the audiobook.
‘The Meaning of Travel’ by Emily Thomas
Part travelogue, part philosophy text, part sociological treatise, Dr. Emily Thomas’s insightful book “The Meaning of Travel” will change the way you think about your own relationship with globetrotting. Reflecting on the long history of travel, while simultaneously incorporating personal stories about her own eye-opening excursion to Alaska, Thomas asks challenging questions about the ethics of tourism and what it means to navigate the world responsibly. One particularly illuminating section delves into the history of 17th and 18th-century travelogues, revealing the anachronistic observations the explorers made about about the people and places they encountered. But perhaps the most interesting chapter is the one focused on travel and gender. As Thomas points out, female travelers have faced enormous restrictions right up to the last century. The audio edition is elegantly narrated by voice artist Esther Wane.
‘Royal Holiday’ by Jasmine Guillory
You don’t need to read the first three books in novelist Jasmine Guillory bestselling “Wedding Date” series to enjoy her cheeky travel romance “Royal Holiday,” but you’ll definitely want to acquaint yourself with them once you’ve finished it. Filled with characters who are both funny and relatable, Guillory’s sweet story about a middle-aged social worker/mom who falls in love with the Queen of England’s personal secretary while on an impromptu Christmas vacation in Great Britain is the kind of bubbly fantasy that could warm even the Grinch’s heart. Superbly narrated by voiceover artist Janina Edwards, “Royal Holiday” recalls classic cinematic romances like “Roman Holiday,” “Shirley Valentine,” and “Chocolat,” but with a sexy twist that’s all its own. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself booking an international flight once you’ve read it
‘Outlandish’ by Nick Hunt
Rather than explore well-trodden territory, travel writer Nick Hunt walks through some of the most unlikely terrains in Europe and reports back in “Outlandish,” his most recent work. The existential dread of climate change looms over many of the locations Hunt finds, making this an especially urgent book. His reverence for the natural world and respect for the people he encounters on his odyssey is apparent on every page, as is his unsurpassed ability to capture the look, sound, smell, and overall atmosphere of some truly haunting landscapes. You’ll know you’re in for a special experience when you listen to the opening section of the audiobook – which is narrated by the author himself – where Hunt stumbles across a spectacular patch of Arctic tundra in Scotland of all places. That surprising discovery is one of many uncharacteristic ecosystems you’ll encounter within these captivating pages.
‘Travels with Charley’ by John Steinbeck
Easily one of the most beloved travelogues ever written, John Steinbeck’s 1962 classic about a edifying road trip he took with his standard poodle Charlie as a faithful traveling companion continues to inspire similar expeditions across the United States year after year. Though some of the events and dialogue in the book were embellished by the author for dramatic effect, the overarching narrative remains as genuine and brilliant as ever. Even if you’ve read it several times in the past, be sure to give the audiobook a listen. Beautifully narrated by Oscar-nominee Gary Sinise, who uses an impressive assortment of believable voices that bring each new character to life, the audio edition adds an unexpected level of depth to an already moving tale of life on the back roads and interstates of 1960s America.
‘Thrilling Cities’ by Ian Fleming
It makes sense that the writer who created the most well-traveled secret agent in history would also pen one of the most unique travel guides of all time. Shortly after the publication of “Goldfinger,” Ian Fleming embarked on a lavish all-expenses-paid trip around the world to write a series of travel articles for The Sunday Times. Hoping to gain ideas for future 007 books, he visited 13 cities in five weeks, including Hong Kong, Macau, Tokyo, Honolulu, Los Angeles, New York, Berlin, Vienna, and Monte Carlo. With an eye for intrigue, Fleming spent much of his trip exploring the vibrant nightclubs, red light districts, exquisite hotels and cosmopolitan hot spots that each city offers, and the result reads like a real-life James Bond adventure, minus the diabolical megalomaniacs, of course. Frequent “Dr. Who” actor Barnaby Edwards narrates the audiobook and perfectly captures the author’s amusingly sardonic wit and attitude.