These novels and memoirs about rootless young travelers were made to travel in dusty rucksacks alongside heavily stamped passports, Eurail passes, and journal crammed with first-time experiences.
The Beach by Alex Garland
This backpacker’s bible gets to the point: “Escape through travel works.” Follow Richard and co. as they trip through Thailand in search of a near-mythical beach that divides not just traveler from tourist, but the typical backpacker of the well-worn trail, from those seeking that elusive something more. Of course, not unlike the overrun, tourist-choked Southeast Asia that Richard seeks to bypass, this book has become a bit of a parody of itself: it can be found in the bunk bed of every hosteller because we’re all in search of an authentic experience these days. That doesn’t mean this modern cult classic hasn’t earned its right to be there.
The Invisible Circus by Jennifer Egan
Follow Phoebe through free-spirited, 1970s Europe, where she’s searching for answers about the death of her older sister. Not short on romantic description and atmosphere, the Euro-hippie backdrop serves as a tried-and-true place to come of age and have questionable sex.
Wanderlust: A Love Affair with Five Continents by Elisabeth Eaves
“When you were somewhere else, you could be someone else,” says Eaves in this introspective and witty travel memoir. Much of the tale centers on boys and boinking, but that could be said about the perspective of most in their early twenties. Regardless, the poignant doses of true-to-form travel writing and verbal snapshots of culture make this a trip-instigating read.
The Rum Dairy by Hunter S. Thompson
This novel — basically about being drunk in a hot and exotic locale — captures the whirlwind spirit of a backpacking tour that tries to cram too much into one trip. Though it’s based almost exclusively in Puerto Rico, it’s sprinkled with nuggets of general traveling truth. (Listen to Uncle Hunter, kids: “Arriving half-drunk in a foreign place is hard on the nerves.”)
Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan
This fatalistic and oh-so-French novella is not so much about the trip, but more the destination. Narrated by precocious seventeen-year-old Cécile, the story captures that languid, carefree mood of a long, hot summer spent in a holiday home (in this case it’s a secluded white villa in the French Riviera) rife with sun, sea, sex, and symbolism.
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
In minimalist, declarative prose, Hemingway gives us the unofficial manual on “How To Be An Expat.” Set in the 1920s, much of the Lost Generation’s traveling style can be still be replicated today: eat, drink, and be discontent — in Paris and Pamplona. Jake tells his buddies, “You can’t get away from yourself by moving from one place to another,” but we can’t fault these world-weary social-alcoholics for trying — not when it’s so damn entertaining.