Photograph by Christian Berg, Laif/Redux
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Open a book and hit the road any way you wish. In Catfish and Mandala, Andrew X. Pham cycles through Vietnam and reconnects with the country of his birth.

Photograph by Christian Berg, Laif/Redux
TravelBook Club

Follow that writer! 10 wild trips by road and rail

These travel books are all about the journey—Siberia by train, Nigeria by motorbike, and America by car (with a poodle).

A travel book is a boarding pass. Strike that. A travel book is better than a boarding pass: it’s a window seat with infinite legroom and inflight service that actually nourishes you. When you land you’re not just in a different place, you’re a slightly different person. The journey you embarked upon lingers and grows with you over time.

In this dispatch of our series “Around the World in 80 Books,” we feature 10 wheeled adventures that take us on unforgettable journeys by train, bike, and car. Take a spin with these titles—there’s more than enough here to set curious minds turning.

Road Fever (1992), by Tim Cahill. Why limit an American road trip to the north? Cahill didn’t. In a hilarious and harrowing (and world record-setting) 23.5 days, he drove from Argentina to Alaska, learning how to navigate border checkpoints and surviving close quarters with his co-driver and adventurer friend Garry.

The Great Railway Bazaar (1975), by Paul Theroux. Theroux takes the train from London to Tokyo and back across Siberia in a pre-cellphone era where chaos, cultural clashes, and third-class cars color a career-defining account.

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Looking for Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria (2012), by Noo Saro-Wiwa. Driven by the death of her father, activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, the author embarks on a journey to rediscover his homeland, Nigeria. While hitchhiking across the country she dismissed in her youth, she finds a land of ancient palaces and lush jungles, but also the world’s third-largest movie industry and a deserted amusement park of American kitsch.

Driving Mr. Albert (2000), by Michael Paterniti. In this stranger-than-fiction drive from New Jersey to California, Einstein’s brain is delivered in a Tupperware bowl to his granddaughter. The delivery man? Eighty-four-year-old pathologist Thomas Harvey, who performed the autopsy on Einstein in 1955 and had kept the brain at his home ever since.

The Dharma Bums (1958), by Jack Kerouac. Beat generation Buddhism enthusiasts hitchhike around the West in this jazz-fueled semi-autobiography. “Happy. Just in my swim shorts, barefooted, wild-haired, in the red fire dark, singing, swigging wine, spitting, jumping, running,” Kerouac writes. “That’s the way to live.”

Around the World in 80 Trains (2019), by Monisha Rajesh. Rajesh has a serious obsession with trains. She traveled 25,000 miles around India on 80 trains for her first book. Here, she boards the Eurostar from London’s St. Pancras station to travel 45,000 miles on trains through Russia, China, Japan, Canada, the U.S., North Korea, and beyond. “Trains are rolling libraries of information,” she writes, “and all it takes is to reach out to passengers to bind together their tales.”

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Travels With Charley (1962), by John Steinbeck. “When I was very young and the urge to be someplace else was on me, I was assured by mature people that maturity would cure this itch,” begins Steinbeck. But wanderlust was a lifelong condition, and the author hit the road with his dog to find an America in transition.

America Day by Day (1948), by Simone de Beauvoir. In 1947, de Beauvoir arrived at LaGuardia Airport and set off on a four-month coast-to-coast tour of post-war America by car, train, and bus. Along the way, the French writer kept a diary of all she saw and did, from gambling in a Reno casino to smoking her first marijuana cigarette at the Plaza hotel in New York.

Catfish and Mandala (2010), by Andrew X. Pham. “Touring solo on a bicycle, I discover, is an act of stupidity or an act of divine belief,” writes Pham in his stirring travelogue-meets-memoir. Pham pedals off on a yearlong cycling journey that takes him from California back to Vietnam, almost two decades after his family fled to America as refugees.

Revolutionary Ride (2017), by Lois Pryce. The note left on her motorcycle outside the Iranian Embassy in England read: “I wish that you will visit Iran so you will see for yourself about my country. We are not terrorists!” With that, against the advice of friends and family and the news, BBC journalist Lois Pryce smuggled her bike into Iran and sped off to see if the nation was indeed part of an “axis of evil,” as former U.S. President George W. Bush called it. (Spoiler alert: It’s not!)

What travel-inspiring books are you reading during the coronavirus shutdown? Share with our well-read community by tagging us on Twitter with the hashtag #natgeotravelbookclub or email amy.alipio@natgeo.com, and we’ll include some of your favorite reads in our weekly Travel newsletter.

George W. Stone is a longtime editor of National Geographic Travel. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.