The 17 Best Books to Bring on Vacation, Based on Where You’re Traveling
Vacation is one of the few times that we can lose ourselves in a good book with no pressing deadlines, interminable meetings, or mandatory office lunches to distract us. However, after choosing a vacation destination (The Riviera? The Desert? The Big Apple?), a hotel, and figuring out what to pack and what to put on the itinerary, decision fatigue may have set in. Even in daily life, choosing a new book can be downright exhausting.
If you find yourself with book-buying paralysis while standing in the middle of a packed bookstore, we’re here to help. We’ve sorted out 17 different vacations—from trips to Spain to solo adventures, family outings, and beach weeks—and matched them with the perfect reading material. That’s one less decision to make before your trip.
Ahead: 17 different vacations and the books to read while you’re on them.
Read: The "Neapolitan" trilogy by Elena Ferrante. This haunting novel has set the literary world ablaze and will get your imagination running.
Other books to add to your Italian reading list include “Beautiful Ruins” by Jess Walter, set on the Ligurian coast, Delia Ephron’s “Siracusa,” which follows two families on their journey through southern Italy, or Cornelia Funke’s young adult novel, “The Thief Lord,” which offers a view of the darker side of Venice. For a more classic read, try E.M. Forster’s refined love story, “A Room with a View.”
Read: “Half of a Yellow Sun” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The award-winning book tells the story of Nigera’s Biafran wars as told by five memorable characters.
Other options would include Beryl Markham’s “West with the Night,” the memoir of the aviatrix and adventurer who grew up in Kenya, or “Homegoing”—the debut novel by Yaa Gyasi, which is set in West Africa. For a non-fiction choice, try Peter Allison’s memoir/guidebook, “Don't Run, Whatever You Do: My Adventures as a Safari Guide.”
Read: “The Shadow of the Wind” by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. Set in 1940s Barcelona, the thriller revolves around a secret rare book repository and a special book that sends a boy into the heart of a deep mystery.
New York City Vacations
Read: “Brooklyn” by Colm Toibin, which tells the story of an Irish immigrant trying to find her own American dream in 1950s Brooklyn.
For a more classic New York City read, try F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Beautiful and the Damned” or Edith Wharton’s “The Age of Innocence.” For a grittier look at the city, try Richard Price’s “Lush Life,” which reads like a Law & Order episode, Jay McInerney’s “Bright Lights Big City,” or Patti Smith’s memoir, “Just Kids,” which shares stories from her life coming up in the NYC art world alongside Robert Mapplethorpe.
Read: “Dreams of Trespass: Tales of a Harem Girlhood” by Fatima Mernissi. As the title suggests, the riveting, illuminating memoir recounts Mernissi’s childhood spent in a harem in Morocco in the 1940s.
If you want to add to your reading list, try Paul Bowles existential classic, “The Sheltering Sky” and Annie Hawes’s travelogue, “A Handful of Honey: Away to the Palm Groves of Morocco and Algeria.”
Read: “One Special Summer” by Jacqueline and Lee Bouvier. The illustrated memoir follows the woman who would become Jackie Kennedy as she and her 18-year old sister travel to Europe alone.
Other reading material includes Mindy Kaling’s “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns),” Caitlin Moran’s laugh-out-loud funny, “How to Be a Woman,” and Rosemary Mahoney’s “Down the Nile Alone in a Fisherman’s Skiff.”
Read: “The Elegance of the Hedgehog” by Muriel Barbery, which gives a peek into the lives of the residents of those grand apartment buildings that line the streets of the city’s most elegant arrondissements.
For something less, well, elegant, try either Diane Johnson’s “Le Divorce” or “I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You” by Courtney Maum or Claude Izner’s “Murder on the Eiffel Tower." Food lovers should also sample Julia Child’s “My Life in France.”
Read: “Like Water for Chocolate” by Laura Esquivel, a book that is equal parts culinary guide and sprawling family epic. The story of love, food, and family is a Mexican classic.
Caribbean Beach Vacations
Read: “Miguel Street” by V.S. Naipaul, the semi-autobiographical collection of linked short stories set in wartime Trinidad and Tobago. The book shows a side of the West Indies, rarely seen at a luxe resort.
Read: “Oh! You Pretty Things” by Shanna Mahin, which offers a peek into the lives of Hollywood’s elite as seen through the eyes of a harried assistant.
Other books to read pool side at Chateau Marmont include Stewart O’Nan’s look at F. Scott Fitzgerald’s years spent working on the lot at MGM in “West of Sunset,” or Manuel Muñoz’s “What You See in the Dark,” which follows a new relationship that takes a dark turn when Alfred Hitchcock arrives in town.
Read: “Dreaming in Cuban” by Cristina Garcia, which follows three generations of Cuban women and their relationship with their homeland.
Other options include Reinaldo Arenas’s powerful memoir, “Before Night Falls” or Rachel Kushner’s “Telex from Cuba” set in the American community in Cuba in the halcyon days before Castro's revolution.
American South Vacations
Read: “Brown Girl Dreaming” by Jacqueline Woodson. The book paints an evocative portrait of life in the South.
Other reading material includes, Harper Lee’s masterpiece “To Kill A Mockingbird,” Fannie Flagg’s “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe,” or true crime thriller “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” by John Berendt. And if you’ve never read it before, add Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone with the Wind” to your list.
Read: “A Walk in the Woods” by Bill Bryson. The humorous tale of life on the Appalachian Trail will have you laughing all the way until the last page.
Read: “Maine” by J. Courtney Sullivan. The story follows a tetchy Irish-Catholic clan family who comes together at the beach, for better or worse.
Other books to slip in your beach bag include Judy Blume’s “Summer Sisters,” a gossipy mediation on female friendship, Patricia Highsmith’s sleek thriller “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” Jacqueline Susann’s delightfully scandalous “Valley of the Dolls,” and Helen Oyeyemi’s collection of short stories, “What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours," which has something for everyone.
Read: “Prep” by Curtis Sittenfeld. Set at a New England prep school, the charming story is told from the perspective of a scholarship kid trying to make sense of the strange new society.
American Southwest Desert Vacations
Read: “Black Elk” by Joe Jackson. The comprehensive history of the life of Black Elk, the Oglala Lakota medicine man who spent his life trying to help the Oglala despite great odds.
Other options include “Lonesome Dove,” the quintessential cowboy novel by Larry McMurtry, Edward Abbey’s “Desert Solitaire,” and “Tracks: A Woman's Solo Trek Across 1,700 Miles of Australian Outback” by Robyn Davidson.