If there is one constant when I travel, it’s that I will have a book in my hand carry bag no matter the journey I am taking. I love being able to escape inside the pages of a book on the beach, in a hotel, or on a long-haul flight.
Below you’ll find a mix of my old favourites and recently discovered delights, and I hope you discover something you enjoy reading on your next flight.
If you have any recommendations on the best plane reads, please let me know in the comments as I’m always looking for something to read on my next flight!
PS: While I have linked to locations where you can buy my favourite travel reads online, please consider supporting your local bookstore!
The best books to take on a long flight
The Almost Nearly Perfect People – Michael Booth
The perfect read for those who are fascinated by Scandinavia and the regions quirks and charms.
Journalist Michael Booth has lived among the Scandinavians for more than ten years and has grown increasingly frustrated with the rose-tinted view of this part of the world offered up by the Western media. In this timely book, he leaves his adopted home of Denmark and embarks on a journey through all five of the Nordic countries to discover who these curious tribes are, the secrets of their success, and, most intriguing of all, what they think of one another.
Why are the Danes so happy despite having the highest taxes? Do the Finns really have the best education system? Are the Icelanders as feral as they sometimes appear? How are the Norwegians spending their fantastic oil wealth? And why do all of them hate the Swedes? In The Almost Nearly Perfect People, Booth explains who the Scandinavians are, how they differ and why, and what their quirks and foibles are, and he explores why these societies have become so successful and models for the world. Along the way, a more nuanced, often darker picture emerges of a region plagued by taboos, characterized by suffocating parochialism, and populated by extremists of various shades.
The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
The perfect read for those who want a page turner and heart churner.
The unforgettable, heartbreaking story of the unlikely friendship between a wealthy boy and the son of his father’s servant, The Kite Runner is a beautifully crafted novel set in a country that is in the process of being destroyed. It is about the power of reading, the price of betrayal, and the possibility of redemption; and an exploration of the power of fathers over sons—their love, their sacrifices, their lies.
A sweeping story of family, love, and friendship told against the devastating backdrop of the history of Afghanistan over the last thirty years, The Kite Runner is an unusual and powerful novel that has become a beloved, one-of-a-kind classic.
Make sure you pack some tissues if you are reading this one on your next flight.
Ready Player One – Ernest Cline
The perfect read for those seeking something light or those who like 80s references.
In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines, puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them.
But when Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade’s going to survive, he’ll have to win—and confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.
It has more recently been made into a movie (directed by Steven Spielberg!), but let’s face it – the books are always better than the movies!
The Silk Roads – Peter Frankopan
The perfect read for history buffs.
For centuries, fame and fortune were to be found in the west – in the New World of the Americas. Today, it is the east which calls out to those in search of riches and adventure. Sweeping right across Central Asia and deep into China and India, a region that once took centre stage is again rising to dominate global politics, commerce and culture.
A major reassessment of world history, The Silk Roads is a dazzling exploration of the forces that have driven the rise and fall of empires, determined the flow of ideas and goods and are now heralding a new dawn in international affairs.
I’ve only just begun reading this book, but so far its turning into an incredibly insightful read about an area of the world so few discuss.
Lion: A Long Way Home – Saroo Brierley
Aged just five, Saroo Brierley was separated from his family in India when he boarded a train that took him 1500km from his hometown. After weeks surviving alone on the streets of Calcutta, he was eventually adopted by an Australian couple.
As an adult, Saroo couldn’t help but think about the family he’d lost. Years later, he swapped the map of India on his wall for Google Earth, scouring it for landmarks he knew from his childhood. One day, he saw something he recognised, and he set off on a journey to find his mother…
Shoe Dog – Phil Knight
The perfect read for those with an entrepreneurial spirit.
In this candid and riveting memoir, for the first time ever, Nike founder and CEO Phil Knight shares the inside story of the company’s early days as an intrepid start-up and its evolution into one of the world’s most iconic, game-changing, and profitable brands.
In 1962, fresh out of business school, Phil Knight borrowed $50 from his father and created a company with a simple mission: import high-quality, low-cost athletic shoes from Japan. Selling the shoes from the trunk of his lime green Plymouth Valiant, Knight grossed $8,000 his first year. Today, Nike’s annual sales top $30 billion. In an age of startups, Nike is the ne plus ultra of all startups, and the swoosh has become a revolutionary, globe-spanning icon, one of the most ubiquitous and recognizable symbols in the world today.
But Knight, the man behind the swoosh, has always remained a mystery. Now, for the first time, in a memoir that is candid, humble, gutsy, and wry, he tells his story, beginning with his crossroads moment. At 24, after backpacking around the world, he decided to take the unconventional path, to start his own business—a business that would be dynamic, different.
North Korea Journal – Michael Palin
The perfect read for those wanting an easy to digest personal memoir with lots of photos accompanying the journey.
In May 2018, former Monty Python stalwart and intrepid globetrotter Michael Palin spent two weeks in the notoriously secretive Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, a cut-off land without internet or phone signal, where the countryside has barely moved beyond a centuries-old peasant economy but where the cities have gleaming skyscrapers and luxurious underground train stations. His resulting documentary for Channel 5 was widely acclaimed.
Now he shares his day-by-day diary of his visit, in which he describes not only what he saw – and his fleeting views of what the authorities didn’t want him to see – but recounts the conversations he had with the country’s inhabitants, talks candidly about his encounters with officialdom, and records his musings about a land wholly unlike any other he has ever visited – one that inspires fascination and fear in equal measure.
Written with Palin’s trademark warmth and wit, and illustrated with beautiful colour photographs throughout, the journal offers a rare insight into the North Korea behind the headlines.
Around the World in 80 Trains – Monisha Rajesh
When Monisha Rajesh announced plans to circumnavigate the globe in eighty train journeys, she was met with wide-eyed disbelief. But it wasn’t long before she was carefully plotting a route that would cover 45,000 miles – almost twice the circumference of the earth – coasting along the world’s most remarkable railways; from the cloud-skimming heights of Tibet’s Qinghai railway to silk-sheeted splendour on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express.
Packing up her rucksack – and her fiance, Jem – Monisha embarks on an unforgettable adventure that will take her from London’s St Pancras station to the vast expanses of Russia and Mongolia, North Korea, Canada, Kazakhstan, and beyond. The ensuing journey is one of constant movement and mayhem, as the pair strike up friendships and swap stories with the hilarious, irksome and ultimately endearing travellers they meet on board, all while taking in some of the earth’s most breathtaking views.
From the author of Around India in 80 Trains comes another witty and irreverent look at the world and a celebration of the glory of train travel. Monisha offers a wonderfully vivid account of life, history and culture in a book that will make you laugh out loud – and reflect on what it means to be a global citizen – as you whirl around the world in its pages.
Year of Yes – Shondra Rhimes
In this poignant, hilarious and deeply intimate call to arms, Hollywood’s most powerful woman, the mega-talented creator of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal and executive producer of How to Get Away with Murder and Catch, reveals how saying YES changed her life – and how it can change yours too.
With three hit shows on television and three children at home, Shonda Rhimes had lots of good reasons to say no when invitations arrived. Hollywood party? No. Speaking engagement? No. Media appearances? No. And to an introvert like Shonda, who describes herself as ‘hugging the walls’ at social events and experiencing panic attacks before press interviews, there was a particular benefit to saying no: nothing new to fear.
Then came Thanksgiving 2013, when Shonda’s sister Delorse muttered six little words at her: You never say yes to anything. Profound, impassioned and laugh-out-loud funny, in Year of Yes Shonda Rhimes reveals how saying YES changed – and saved – her life. And inspires readers everywhere to change their own lives with one little word: Yes.
The Wonder Trail – Steve Hely
Steve Hely, writer for The Office and American Dad!, and recipient of the Thurber Prize for American Humor, presents a travel book about his journey through Central and South America. Part travel book, part pop history, part comic memoir, Hely’s writing will make readers want to reach for their backpack and hiking boots.
The Wonder Trail is the story of Steve’s trip from Los Angeles to the bottom of South America, presented in 102 short chapters. The trip was ambitious – Steve travelled through Mexico City, ancient Mayan ruins, the jungles and coffee plantations and remote beaches of Central America, across the Panama Canal, by sea to Colombia, to the wild Easter celebration of Popayán, to the Amazon rainforest, the Inca sites of Cuzco and Machu Picchu, to the Galápagos Islands, the Atacama Desert of Chile, and down to the jagged and wind-worn land of Patagonia at the very end of the Western Hemisphere.
Steve’s plan was to discover the weird, wonderful, and absurd in Central and South America, to seek and find the incredible, delightful people and experiences that came his way. And the book that resulted is just as fun. A blend of travel writing, history, and comic memoir, The Wonder Trail will inspire, inform, and delight.
Prisoners of Geography – Tim Marshall
The perfect read for those who are fascinated by geography, geopolitics, or maps!
This is one of my favourite reads, as the author, Tim Marshall uses ten maps of crucial regions to explain the geo-political strategies of the world powers.
All leaders of nations are constrained by geography. Their choices are limited by mountains, rivers, seas, and concrete. To understand world events, news organizations and other authorities often focus on people, ideas, and political movements, but without geography, we never have the full picture. Now, in the relevant and timely Prisoners of Geography, seasoned journalist Tim Marshall examines Russia, China, the USA, Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, Europe, Japan and Korea, and Greenland and the Arctic—their weather, seas, mountains, rivers, deserts, and borders—to provide a context often missing from our political reportage: how the physical characteristics of these countries affect their strengths and vulnerabilities and the decisions made by their leaders.
In ten, up-to-date maps of each region, Marshall explains in clear and engaging prose the complex geo-political strategies of these key parts of the globe. What does it mean that Russia must have a navy, but also has frozen ports six months a year? How does this affect Putin’s treatment of Ukraine? How is China’s future constrained by its geography? Why will Europe never be united? Why will America never be invaded? Shining a light on the unavoidable physical realities that shape all of our aspirations and endeavours, Prisoners of Geography is the critical guide to one of the major (and most often overlooked) determining factors in world history.
Seven Years in Tibet – Heinrich Harrer
This incredible autobiography is written by Austrian mountaineer, based on his real-life experiences. He escaped from an English internment camp in India in 1943 and spent the next seven years in Tibet, observing its social practices, religion, politics, and people in the period before the CCP invaded Tibet in 1950.
The Year of Living Danishly – Helen Russell
Denmark is officially the happiest nation on Earth. When Helen Russell is forced to move to rural Jutland, can she discover the secrets of their happiness? Or will the long, dark winters and pickled herring take their toll?
A Year of Living Danishly looks at where the Danes get it right, where they get it wrong, and how we might just benefit from living a little more Danishly ourselves.
Sahara: A Journey of Love, Loss and Survival – Paula Constant
Having walked more than 3,000 miles from Trafalgar Square to Morocco, Paula Constant finds herself at the westernmost edge of the Sahara Desert and the brink of sanity.
Sahara is the story of Paula’s struggle to overcome her innermost demons and take control of her journey, her camels, and the men she hires to guide her through one of planet’s most extreme regions.
Illness, landmines, and political red tape stand between Paula and the realization of a life’s dream. Though the wheels have fallen off her marriage on the course of her journey and her funds are quickly drying up, she is determined to complete the walk through the romantic Big Empty of Northern Africa to Cairo.
Both a thrilling adventure and a story of joy, heartache, inspiration, and despair, Sahara isabove alla celebration of the greatness of human spirit in all its guises.
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