Books are an integral source of knowledge when we’re trying to make sense of the world. Whether it’s graphic novels, fantastical tales, or riveting pieces of literature, books have affected all of us, and hopefully in a positive way. This is especially true in the world of travel. A quick glimpse into an author’s mind can shape our outlook on foreign places and inspire us to take a leap of faith and finally purchase that ticket out of town. With that sentiment in mind, we asked around the Passion Passport office to see which books have left the biggest imprint on our team members.
“A Moveable Feast” by Don George
“Every meal, whether a single mango or a multi-course molecular masterpiece, is really a communing of spirit… We feast on the love behind and within the offering, love for a moment, a lesson, a gift, for companions and connections, that will never be repeated and can never be replaced.”
Not to be mistaken with Ernest Hemingway’s memoir, “A Moveable Feast” is a collection of short stories from chefs, travel writers, and food writers describing moments abroad when they were deeply touched by an experience centered on food. These reflections teach us to be open to culinary experiences because they’re often lessons in disguise.
While living in Denmark for six months, I read this book when I was feeling pretty home sick. It opened my eyes to the amount of thought and love my host family put into every meal we shared, and I was able to find comfort in the seemingly simple ritual.
— Lily Allen (marketing)
“All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr
“Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever.”
If I could only recommend one book for the rest of my life, this would be it. Set primarily in France and Germany during the 1940s, the novel weaves together several narrative threads, resulting in the most beautiful story I’ve ever read. At its most basic level, the book is about the unlikely and fateful meeting between a blind French girl and a science-loving German orphan. But, if you look deeper, it’s about finding beauty in a dark world. It’s about connecting with strangers and having the courage to stand up for your most deeply held beliefs.
In other words, “All the Light We Cannot See” teaches the same lessons that we often learn while we’re away from home. Like the events in the novel, travel tears down our assumptions and reminds us of what matters most. And again, similar to the book’s plot, travel builds bridges between people who meet by pure chance. For me, these are some of the most important things we can learn in this life, and I’m grateful to have good books and eye-opening journeys as my teachers.
— Whitney Brown (editorial)
“Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India, and Indonesia” by Elizabeth Gilbert
“I’ve come to believe that there exists in the universe something I call ‘The Physics of The Quest’ — a force of nature governed by laws as real as the laws of gravity or momentum. And the rule of Quest Physics maybe goes like this: ‘If you are brave enough to leave behind everything familiar and comforting (which can be anything from your house to your bitter old resentments) and set out on a truth-seeking journey (either externally or internally), and if you are truly willing to regard everything that happens to you on that journey as a clue, and if you accept everyone you meet along the way as a teacher, and if you are prepared — most of all — to face (and forgive) some very difficult realities about yourself… then truth will not be withheld from you.’ Or so I’ve come to believe.”
I was introduced to this book when I was 16, a time when most of us are trying to figure out who we are, who we want to be, and how the world sees us. I always knew I wanted to travel, but I only understood it as tourist attractions and family vacations. This book opened my eyes to the idea that travel can be more intentional than that; it can be eye-opening and uncomfortable, and most importantly, it can hold a power that shifts your perspective on life. Reading the story of a woman traveling on her own instilled a confidence in me as well — it taught me that I could do it too, as soon as I was old enough. In fact, I set out on a road trip to Montreal the moment I turned 18 and I haven’t stopped since.
— Rachel Heckerman (design)
“Everybody Cooks Rice” by Norah Dooley, Illustrations by Peter J. Thornton
“The Huas came from China a year ago. Mrs. Hua is just learning how to speak English. We smile at each other a lot. Mrs. Hua was steaming white rice for her family and the boarder who lives in the back room. She was also making tofu and vegetables in the wok — that’s a big pan with a round bottom. Mrs. Hua always makes me sit down and eat something when I come over.”
This story is told by a young girl named Carrie as she visits neighbors in search of her younger brother. It’s supper time, and as she stops at each house, she samples each family’s dinner, all of which reflect a different culture — from Haitian to Vietnamese — and include some variation of rice. I can still remember the colorful pictures of the dishes, and almost smell them, too. But this children’s book inspired me because it illustrates an inclusive worldview, even if its setting is a single neighborhood. Since I was adopted from a foreign country, I have always had a natural curiosity about other cultures. And I liked how this book ties the world together through something as simple as food.
— Elliot Vernon (social)
“One Hundred Years of Solitude” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
“The men on the expedition felt overwhelmed by their most ancient memories in that paradise of dampness and silence, going back to before original sin, as their boots sank into pools of steaming oil and their machetes destroyed bloodied lilies and golden salamanders. When they woke up, with the sun already high in the sky, they were speechless with fascination. Before them, surrounded by ferns and palm trees, white and powdery in the silent morning light, was an enormous Spanish galleon. The whole structure seemed to occupy its own space, one of solitude and oblivion, protected from the vices of time and the habits of the birds. Inside, where the expeditionaries explored with careful intent, there was nothing but a thick forest of flowers.”
This is my favorite book — ever. Nothing else even comes close. I first opened it during a major turning point in my life, when my family made a transatlantic move from the U.S. to Wales. In it, Garcia Marquez perfectly balances the danger of excessive individualism versus that of excessive oppression, and he does this by explicitly warning the reader against what’s right there in the title: solitude. As manifold miracles and tragedies befall a rural town, the story affirms that life is worth living in a world that is constantly changing, unpredictable, and full of magic. It showed me that you can only ever begin to understand yourself by trying to understand the world around you.
— Joseph Ozment (editorial)
“Other Americas” by Sebastião Salgado
“The seven years spent making these images were like a trip seven centuries back in time to observe, unrolling before, at a slow, utterly sluggish pace — which marks the passage of time in this region — all the flow of different cultures, so similar in their beliefs, losses, and sufferings. I haunted the universality of this world apart, traveling from the torrid coastal lowlands of northeastern Brazil to the mountains of Chile, to Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Guatemala, and Mexico.”
In a world filled with wanderlust-inducing images, “Other Americas” has always stood out to me by showcasing a completely different realm of travel photography. More of a fine art photography book, it features raw and real imagery that immerses you in Latin American culture and the beauty of slow travel. It shows you where veering from the beaten path may lead, and the harsh realities that may come with that. Through it, you bare witness to the warmth and kindness that one human is capable of sharing, the hospitality and graciousness that a complete stranger can extend, and the power your camera possesses to create awareness and bring you closer to the world around you. In short, this book reveals universal truths — so similar are our beliefs, our losses, and our sufferings.
As a photographer, it moved me to learn how Salgado lived and breathed his passion. He risked everything, from his family to his financial stability. He spent long periods of time away from his wife and son, but the love they had for one another was unbreakable. They supported each other in every aspect of life, and his son later joined him on expeditions. Beyond the book itself, this story really resonated with me. I too had studied finance and was working for a corporate bank, but something was missing. For years, I felt my love for photography rooting deeper in my identity — it was all I could ever think about some days. Learning about Salgado opened my mind to another form of storytelling, and it really inspired me to pursue my love for photography and leave my career in banking behind.
— Alex Ortega (social)
“The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern
“And there are never really endings, happy or otherwise. Things keep going on, they overlap and blur, your story is part of your sister’s story is part of many other stories, and there is no telling where any of them may lead.”
On the surface, Erin Morgenstern’s “The Night Circus” is the type of book you fish out of your carry-on when you need to escape for a few hours. The cover broadcasts magic and whimsy, setting white silhouettes of two well-dressed late-19th-century magicians against a black backdrop speckled with stars — and the story certainly delivers on what it advertises. These figures are Celia and Marco, young magicians engaged in a lifelong duel who begin to fall for one another as their journeys take them all over the world, from the cobblestoned streets of Prague to the grassy fields of Massachusetts. But when I flew through the pages on an overnight train from Boston to D.C. for a Christmas Eve adventure a few years ago, I didn’t expect it to also change the way I think about travel, storytelling, and life itself.
The book represents fantasy at its most powerful, lifting the veil of adult life for just a moment and reminding us that, even if there’s no such thing as Le Cirque de Rêves (the traveling nighttime circus that serves as the arena for Marco and Celia’s duel), magic and wonder exist — you just have to know how to look for it.
— Devon Shuman (editorial)
“The White Album” by Joan Didion
“Certain places seem to exist mainly because someone has written about them. Kilimanjaro belongs to Ernest Hemingway. Oxford, Mississippi, belongs to William Faulkner… A place belongs forever to whoever claims it hardest, remembers it most obsessively, wrenches it from itself, shapes it, renders it, loves it so radically that he remakes it in his image.”
Although this collection of essays isn’t traditionally thought of as travel-focused, it was one of the literary works that opened me to new ways of thinking about the places we live in and journey through. The collection begins with a simple, yet impactful truth: “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” From there, it snowballs into detailed portraits of both people and places and explores American cultural trends and movements with a refreshing perspective.
“The White Album” captures Hollywood, Berkeley, Honolulu, Hoover Dam, Sacramento, and Bogatá with vividness, and covers subjects ranging from the Manson cult to the Black Panthers, the life of Georgia O’Keefe, and the author’s personal struggle with anxiety in the late 1960s. Through these pages, Didion charts her own interior journey through the era and dissects the ways that writers make sense of the world around them, and, in turn, how their environments shape them and their work.
From the first the time I read through it, I was taken by the way Didion paints pictures through words, depicting places I knew well and places I’d not yet seen for myself. It inspired me to view the world in the same way — through evocative detail — and to write down everything that I saw.
— Kacie McGeary (editorial)
“Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail” by Cheryl Strayed
“I had diverged, digressed, wandered, and become wild. I didn’t embrace the word as my new name because it defined negative aspects of my circumstances or life, but because even in my darkest days — those very days in which I was naming myself — I saw the power of the darkness. Saw that, in fact, I had strayed and that I was a stray and that from the wild places my straying had brought me, I knew things I couldn’t have known before.”
This book changed my perspective on travel by reminding me of the beauty that can come from struggle. It’s encouraged me to venture to places I wouldn’t necessarily have considered before and to challenge myself in capacities that might have seemed too uncomfortable in the past.
— Camille Danielich (editorial)
“Franny and Zooey” by J.D. Salinger
“I mean treasure is treasure, for heaven’s sake. What’s the difference whether the treasure is money, or property, or even culture, or even just plain knowledge?”
In classic Salinger fashion, the dramatic prose of “Franny and Zooey” is intelligent, philosophical, and full of italics, and it involves the famous Glass Family. The quote above comes from Zooey, a character who, oddly enough, I don’t really like. He comes off as snarky and rude, and pretty cynical, too. But what Salinger shows us through him is something that’s stuck with me.
Zooey is a talker, and his lengthy monologues have helped me realize that, indeed, “treasure is treasure.” To me, this means that being different is okay, as long as it makes you happy and doesn’t hurt anyone. Though a simple insight, it didn’t click until the third or fourth time I read the book — but once it did, I couldn’t shake it. It made so much sense, not only in my personal life, when I catch myself comparing my status and success to others or question my aspirations, but also when I travel. It’s helped me become more compassionate and understanding as I experience more and more of the world, and it reminds me that I won’t always agree with or have the same interests as everyone I meet. And that’s perfectly okay.
— Brad Donaldson (editorial)
Do you have a favorite travel book that’s shaped the way you see the world? Share it in the comments below! Or, check out our adventure book recommendations.