A visit to any decent bookstore will reveal a mind-boggling assortment of travel-related books. Here is a small and very carefully chosen selection of what I personally consider to be the "best of breed"… a few superb books certain to enhance your skills (and thus your travels). Some provide detailed information on specialized topics; others are more general in nature. Each one, however, is a significant cut above the usual travel fodder. And buying them here not only gets you a good discount, but helps to support this Web site.

Recommended Books

An excellent book on a wide variety of travel topics, and one that most readers would find valuable, is Rob Sangster's Traveler's Tool Kit: How to Travel Absolutely Anywhere (published by Menasha Ridge Press), with over 500 surprisingly comprehensive pages. The third/final edition of this now out-of-print book came out in 2000, so some of the information is no longer current (particularly that pertaining to post-9/11 flying). Inexpensive used copies are commonly available, though, and worth tracking down.

Alternatively, you can pick up a copy of Traveler's Tool Kit: Mexico and Central America. The title is a bit misleading: it looks like a guidebook, but is really an overview of the region (comprising about 25% of the content), coupled with a 2008 revision of the earlier book.

Were I to own a single book on travel skills, I'd choose one of these.

If you've ever tried to figure out how to get budget airfares on international travel, you're not alone; this is an extremely complex issue. The best book I know of to help sort it all out is Edward Hasbrouck's The Practical Nomad: How to Travel Around the World (fifth edition). As the title suggests, this book has far more than just airfare information: it covers most things you'd want to know about long distance travelling, and makes for an entertaining read besides.

Author Paul Otteson brings his significant writing skills to The World Awaits: How to Travel Far and Well (second edition, Avalon Travel Publishing). This book is somewhat "backpack" oriented, but it offers much sage advice to the traveller of any stripe. With a minimalist perspective, informed advice, and a focus on extended, long-distance travel, Mr. Otteson offers plenty of well-considered philosophy on why we travel for pleasure, and how to succeed at doing so.

A detailed book on packing technique is Judith Gilford's The Packing Book: Secrets of the Carry-On Traveler, from the wonderful Ten Speed Press. Now in its fourth edition, it includes an illustrated description of the "bundle wrapping" method (that differs only slightly from mine), along with enough related information to more than justify its modest price. Ms. Gilford cofounded a (now defunct) travel product company, which tended to influence her product recommendations, but this is a minor defect in a generally excellent work.

Unless visiting developing countries, most people don't worry too much about medical issues; frankly, though, any far-from-home travel should have you thinking seriously about what to do in case of an emergency. Few books on health for travellers qualify as carry-on items; a notable exception is Dr. Stephen Bezruchka's outstanding The Pocket Doctor: A Passport to Healthy Travel (published by The Mountaineers, and now in its third edition). It's shirt-pocket-sized, densely packed with almost 130 pages of detailed, up-to-date medical information, and a surprising bargain to boot. Also worthwhile, though with more of a wilderness emphasis, is Dr. Eric Weisz's A Comprehensive Guide to Wilderness & Travel Medicine (fourth edition).

Only the smile is universal. Pouring wine with your left hand, giving a "thumbs up" sign, and exposing the sole of your shoe are rude or insulting gestures in some parts of the world. Even the common American "OK" sign can mean zero, money, or a sexual reference, depending on the country you're in. Arm yourself against committing any such faux pas by reading Roger Axtell's illuminating Gestures: The Do's and Taboos of Body Language Around the World (published by John Wiley & Sons, revised edition) before visiting unfamiliar cultures. Some of this information can also be found on Wikipedia.

Most of the people in the world don't use the kind of toilets familiar to the residents of North America and much of Europe. If your own experience is confined to same, consider reading Eva Newman's unique Going Abroad (published by Marlor Press), a handy compendium of the toilets of the world, and how to deal with them, presented in entertaining fashion. Now in its second inexpensive edition, this is good bathroom reading in all senses of the phrase. Not to mention the perfect gift for the person who has everything. (Really!)

Women, particularly those on their own, will enjoy (and benefit from) reading Thalia Zepatos' A Journey of One's Own (published by Eighth Mountain Press), now in its third edition. She brings the experience of having visited 29 countries, and is a strong proponent of solo travel (though she addresses travel with a partner or child as well). And it should come as no surprise that she also advocates the carry-on approach.

This book (geared to long distance hiking) may seem slightly off-topic here; nonetheless, anyone studying the minimalist approach to travel will find it eye-opening, if not invaluable. Author Ray Jardine & his wife Jenny have lived on the trails (thus carrying shelter, bedding, stove, etc.) with packs weighing an astonishing 8.44 pounds or less! Some 35 years and 20,000 miles of experience are distilled in Trail Life: Ray Jardine's Lightweight Backpacking. Many walkers claim that this book, which has evolved through several versions over the years (and an annoying propensity for going out of print!), has changed their lives.

In a broadly similar category is Don Ladigin's Lighten Up!; this is definitely a more lightweight book, in both senses of the term, but the neophyte lightweight hiker will find it a pleasant read, and a good — if simplified — introduction to the topic. It's a limp substitute, however, for the authoritative, exhaustive (but sometimes expensive!) Jardine tome.

Clicking on any of the book titles listed above will take you to the online bookstore, where you can purchase them at a substantial discount. If you're looking for a particular book that I haven't listed, you can search (with the same discount) from here:

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Travel Guidebooks

guidebook choicesGuidebooks are an important component of many journeys; for independent travellers, they are a necessity. Because individual travel styles vary widely — from budget to luxury, from mainstream to off-the-beaten-path, and more — it's best to spend a bit of time exploring the great diversity of available guidebook series, in order to find one or more that best match your own preferences.

Most important, ensure that you are using the most recent edition of whatever guidebook(s) you choose; it's also wise to check the publication date. Buying outdated versions is usually a false economy; things change rapidly in the real world, and much guidebook information (particularly that related to prices, and places to eat and sleep) quickly becomes obsolete.

Particularly popular guidebook series include those produced by (alphabetically) Bradt, Cadogan, Eyewitness, Fodor's, Footprint, Frommer's, Insight Guides, Karen Brown, Let's Go, Lonely Planet, Michelin, Rick Steves, Rough Guides, and TimeOut.

And there's certainly no shortage of other good ones, such as those from AAA, Access Guides, Avant-Guide, Baedeker, Berkeley Guides, Blue Guide, Culture Shock!, Culture Smart, Fielding, Globetrotter, InsideOut, Insiders, Knopf, Moon, National Geographic, Off the Beaten Path, Open Road, Passport to History, and Sierra Club.

Travellers who confine their impedimenta to articles that they can carry themselves and take into the [rail] carriage with them will be spared much expense and annoyance.

Baedeker Travel Guide (1912)

Appreciate that specific lodgings recommended by popular guidebooks (such as Rick Steves' European guides) will fill up early, especially during tourist season, so plan accordingly. In the same vein, "back door" locations are unlikely to remain secret for long.

Finally, guidebooks can never be quite as authoritative as they sometimes seem: don't be afraid to listen to your own inner voice when out exploring the world. Especially if you don't want to follow the crowd!