Welp, y’all, it’s here — time to test our mettle. With the World Health Organization declaring the novel coronavirus a pandemic in March 2020, safety precautions must be taken. This includes measures like quarantine, social distancing and, yep, canceled travel. Which is why we’re here to save the day (and your self-imposed home arrest) with books that will take you on the vacation you can’t go on anymore.
Hey, we’ve watched enough pandemic movies and TV shows to know that just staying put and keeping to ourselves is probably a good idea. It doesn’t mean we aren’t all already going a little stir-crazy, though. Being given a solid excuse to stay home and avoid peopling for a bit sounds nice… until day three when you’ve run out of snacks, your kid is running circles around you (because they’re all hopped up on those snacks) and you come to the realization that maybe you wouldn’t fare as well in the zombie apocalypse as you once thought.
Meanwhile, the luggage you’d packaged for your now-canceled-trip is collecting dust in your closet — a reminder of the trip you’re not taking. Take heart! You can still take a vacation, no luggage required. Let these books transport you to faraway lands and distract you from the fact you’ll be living off of canned green beans for the next two weeks.
See You in the Piazza by Frances Mayes
If you’re dreaming of a sun-drenched Italian getaway, there’s no better resource than Frances Mayes — bestselling author of Under the Tuscan Sun. Sure, you know about landmarks like the Leaning Tower and the Roman Forum. But in this delicious travel narrative, Mayes and her husband Ed take you on a journey through thirteen food-and-wine-filled regions. Along the way, they introduce you to treasures you won’t find in the guidebooks.
Turn Right at Machu Picchu by Mark Adams
If you’re anything like us, you’ve been bucket-listing a trip to Machu Picchu for years. What’s been holding us back? Well, perhaps the slight fear that we don’t have what it takes to make the expedition. Self-proclaimed “unadventurous” writer Mark Adams felt the same… until he decided to re-create Hiram Bingham III’s original 1911 discovery of this breathtaking archeological site. The end result is a fascinating and often downright funny account of visiting one of the world’s most majestic locales from a man who’d never even gone on a proper camping trip prior to his journey.
Wild Horses of the Summer Sun by Tory Bilski
When most people talk about travel to Iceland, it’s typically to see the Northern Lights or swim in the Blue Lagoon. But Tory Bilski’s witty memoir of her annual “horse sabbaticals” to Iceland will open up an entirely new side of this scene travel destination for you. Between the descriptions of the landscapes and wildlife, you’ll feel the tug of Bilski’s self-discovery — a pull to be our most “ridiculous selves.”
The Umbrian Thursday Night Supper Club by Marlena de Blasi
Calling all lovers of the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel! This book is right up your alley. Fall in love with the story of four Italian women — Miranda, Ninucia, Paolina, and Gilda — who meet every week on Thursday evenings to cook, eat, drink and talk together. But be forewarned: you’re going to fall head-over-heels for the Italian countryside in the process.
Patterns of India by Christine Chitnis
Some books transport you via your imagination. Others, like Patterns of India, send you on a journey through vibrant, near-tactile photos of a place. A textile-based tour of colorful Rajasthan, India, Christine Chitnis’ photographic exploration features more than 200 pictures of everything from architecture to everyday goings-on. Throughout, essays introduce you to the history and culture of this vibrant corner of the world.
The Last Resort by Marissa Stapley
Remember the movie Couples Retreat? This is kind of like that, but better. At the Harmony Resort, celebrity power couple doctors Miles and Grace Markell promise hope for struggling marriages. And where better to revive the romance than a luxurious resort on the Mayan Riviera? A little dark and full of drama, this novel will keep you riveted as the secrets of each couple begin to surface. Plus, it’ll make you feel like you’re on an all-inclusive tropical vacay.
The Summer House in Santorini by Samantha Parks
If the cobalt blue waters of the Aegean Sea are calling, consider diving into this escapist lit. Go along as Anna runs away from her complicated life and lands in sunny Santorini. There, on the picturesque island, she rebuilds an aged summer house handed down by her estranged father and, along the way, rebuilds her life. It’s not the most profound book on the list, but it is fun, flirty and perfect for when you need a break from reality.
The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook by Andrew Doughty
Why not put all of your restless energy to good use? Plan that trip to Hawaii you’ve always wanted to take! Start with this candid, humorous guide to the island of Kaua’i, and you’ll be on your way to a killer trip in no time. Written by best-selling author and longtime Hawai’i denizen Andrew Doughty, it’ll open your eyes to all of the breathtaking sites and locals-approved things to do when you make your pilgrimage.
Royal Holiday by Jasmine Guillory
Who among us hasn’t imagined a London vacay that includes running into the royal family? That might not be in the cards for you right now, but you can let Jasmine Guillory give you the second-best thing: the fictional tale of Vivian Forest, a mother who tags along with her daughter on a trip to the U.K. and finds herself having a holiday romance with a certain private secretary. Go ahead, indulge! And when you’re done, you can start jotting down ideas for your royal-adjacent Christmas break.
Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
Classics are classics for a reason, y’all. If you’ve been sleeping on Elizabeth Gilbert’s life-changing memoir, now’s your chance to catch up. This heartfelt memoir is an especially apt pick if you’ve been feeling a little burnt out over corporate America. Even if you don’t leave it all behind to explore Italy, India and Bali (like Gilbert did), her sojourn might just inspire you to schedule a soul-searching trip of your own.
Frommer’s Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks by Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan
Raise your hand if the majestic west is at the top of your dream travel destinations list! (*Raises hand*) If your travel plans to Yellowstone and beyond were for this summer and you’ve placed them on hold, use the extra time to read Frommer’s latest guide to this rugged and breathtaking part of the U.S.
Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton
It’s impossible not to be intrigued by Havana: a place so vibrant and colorful that it looks like living art, and yet with enough rumblings of a dark undercurrent to give you pause. Ignite your desire to make this a near-future destination with Chanel Cleeton’s stunning Next Year in Havana. The book follows freelance writer Marisol Ferrera who, after listening to romantic stories of Cuba from her late grandmother Elisa, travels to her childhood country to scatter her grandmother’s ashes. There, she leans into her family’s past and, just maybe, changes the course of her future.
Magdalena: River of Dreams by Wade Davis
If it never crossed your mind to visit Colombia, it will now, friend. Set aside any preconceived notions you may have, and let award-winning writer and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Wade Davis transport you to the mighty Rio Magdalena, a river that defines the country and its people. Using his deep love of the region as the core of this travel narrative, Davis paints a portrait of Colombia that covers its complex past and present — as well as its unique ecological and geographical diversity.
Greenwood: A Novel by Michael Christie
It goes without saying that during times of being stuck at home, fresh air is the holy grail. And while reading Michael Christie’s Greenwood, you’ll practically be able to feel the crisp atmosphere of British Columbia fill your lungs. Bonus? This generational saga takes place in the future in one of the world’s last remaining forests, so it’ll fit right in with the current dystopian world mood.
A Month in Siena by Hisham Matar
Lovers of Pulitzer Prize-winning author Hisham Matar’s The Return will find themselves engrossed in Matar’s follow-up. On the surface, it’s exactly as it sounds: Matar traveled to Siena, Italy, and spent a month there in the pursuit of solace and pleasure. But the deeper inner workings of the memoir examine how art can illuminate what lies within, even when that art is centuries-old works from the Sienese School of painting (full-color reproductions of which are printed on the book’s pages).
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
This international best-seller has been around for decades, but it has yet to lose its luster. Or wonder. Or pure magic. And those all sound like things we could use right now, yeah? Coelho’s modern classic sends you on the journey of Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd boy who goes on a quest to travel the world in search of earthly treasures. But the riches he finds, well, they end up being a treasure far more valuable than he could ever have imagined.
The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin
N.K. Jemisin’s The City We Became is just the salve to heal your New-York-yearning heart. This brand-new book (and beginning of a new series) is rooted in fantasy, yes, but it manages to trap the living, breathing, real-life soul of New York City in its pages. Get your Big Apple fix by seeing how five people become the embodiments of each of the city’s five boroughs, and what these New Yorkers do when their beloved city comes under attack by an ancient evil.
Queen Bee by Dorothea Benton Frank
For those of us who’ve been charmed by the South Carolina Lowcountry, the time until our next visit always feels too long. Late New York Times best-selling author Dorothea Benton Frank’s final book (available via pre-order) will take you right back to the inherently charming Southern town of Sullivans Island. There, you’ll become immersed in the life of beekeeper Holly McNee Jensen, who works at the local library when she isn’t tending to her hives. When estranged family members return to town (eccentric kinfolk was Frank’s true art!), Holly’s world is upended — but what ensues is warm and real and laugh-out-loud funny. And the beautiful Lowcountry serves as a dreamy backdrop.
Women in Sunlight by Frances Mayes
We started our list with a book by Frances Mayes, and we’ll finish it with one, too. We make no apologies, either, because Mayes is simply a writer with a talent for transporting you. In this novel, she weaves the tales of four American strangers who meet and bond in Italy. Over the course of one extraordinary year in a Tuscan village, these ex-pats learn to embrace life with gusto like the locals. And somewhere along the way, the sun-drenched Italian town shines a light on the passions that had been hiding in the shadows of their own souls.
While these books will help you escape, click here if you’re feeling like leaning into pandemic content.