There are so many ways to ‘travel’ these days. There’s the ability to embark on virtual tours or whip up recipes from far-flung countries like Thailand’s green chicken curry or Ethiopia’s doro wat (chicken stew).
There’s also reading.
Books have been transporting us from our daily lives into the Alaskan wilderness, through the Australian Outback, and onto the streets of Paris for centuries. Travel book clubs let us actually share the adventure.
Let’s be honest: Some of us hear the phrase “book club” and go running for the covers (the kind on your bed, not on books). This doesn’t have to be the case.
Seriously, don’t worry if deadlines aren’t your thing, or if you prefer the reading pace and discussion a little more low-key. Book clubs specializing in travel literature (including novels, memoirs, and even books that are best read on a journey) exist for all types of personalities.
Here are a few of our favorites.
The Wanderer's Book Club
This is the perfect book club for anyone looking for a travelesque book to read but doesn’t actually want to discuss it.
Travel site The Wander Theory has put together this curated selection of travel books, memoirs, and paperbacks ranging from the history of olives to solitude in the Falkland Islands, all meant to inspire wanderlust in some way.
There’s always a ‘book-of-the-moment,’ along with the site's collection of past reads. Readers can peruse these anytime, and read them really whenever they feel like it.
The current book is A House in the Sky, a memoir about Canadian journalist Amanda Lindhout who was held captive for 15 months by extremists in Somalia. The club’s list also includes books like Bleaker House, a memoir about a woman who heads out to the remote Falkland Islands to write a novel.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is not even about travel at all, unless you count the 'internal journey' kind. Still, The Wander Theory writes, “This would be a fantastic travel read, on a long flight or train ride, as it makes the hours slip away.”
Read only the books you want and skip those you don't. In the meantime, rest assured that somewhere out there, others are reading them along with you. At least in some similarly structured order.
It’s billed as a book club for the world's best travelers, which makes sense, since one of the travel magazines we respect the most, AFAR, puts it together.
Each month, a different AFAR editor selects a book for members to read and posts it on the club’s Goodreads page. Selections range from classic novels to contemporary nonfiction, while others have been translated from their native language into English.
The books may even be less about ‘travel,’ per se, and focus more on a sense of place. For instance, Americanah is a novel about a Nigerian woman who immigrates to America, the new way of living she encounters, and the life she left behind.
Editors typically post some prompt questions in the Goodreads feed to get you thinking. It’s also where they provide the info for upcoming discussions, which take place both via Zoom and through AFAR's Instagram feed. Another perk: these discussions sometimes even include Q&A sessions with the authors themselves.
The club’s latest book is Land of Big Numbers, a debut collection of stories highlighting the voices of China and its diaspora into the modern era.
International Book Club
In this book club, members meet virtually for about two hours on the third Monday of each month, to discuss selections like Bill Bryon’s humorous Australia travelogue In a Sunburned Country to Haruki Murakami’s magical realism-evoking Kafka on the Shore.
The heart-wrenching Behind the Beautiful Forevers, a non-fiction work describing life in Mumbai’s Annawadi slum, is another selection.
North Carolina-based International House, a nonprofit dedicated to helping local immigrants and international culture thrive in the greater Charlotte area runs the bookclub.
One thing they ask is that you actually read the book before participating, meaning good intentions aside: Real work is required.
If you’re the type of person who likes deadlines, this is the club for you.
Other fun virtual travel bookclubs include The NM Travel Community Book Club, which showcases a monthly selection of four-to-five books already vetted by travel blogger Nomadic Matt and the Journey Woman Book Club, where you don’t have to read the monthly selection to attend.
Remember, whichever one you choose: book clubs are like travel. You get out of them what you put into them. So really, the sky’s the limit. Get reading!