Traveling immerses us in the world, but sometimes in the less eventful moments in between destinations, we just need to escape. “The Layover” is a weekly roundup of books, music, podcasts, and other forms of entertainment brought to you by your favorite world travelers.

In this week’s special edition, we reached out to Madeline Lu, a freelance photographer and travel blogger based in San Francisco. In addition to being a seasoned world traveler, Madeline is a mother to two children — but don’t think that those two titles are mutually exclusive. She and her husband believe that traveling is the best gift they can offer to their children, and they’ve been blessed to make memories in 31 countries so far. In today’s Layover, Madeline shares the audiobooks their family uses to pass time on the road.

Next time you embark on a road trip with your family, don’t leave home without a few good audiobooks. Instead of giving our kids tablets or phones to keep them busy, we play these captivating stories to help the hours pass more quickly. Not only does this keep our minds engaged, give us a few laughs, and keep the peace (yes, our kids have been known to fight and bicker from time to time), but it also allows us all to enjoy the beautiful world around us — the small towns, the rural roads, and the majestic mountains that we throughout our journey.

With that in mind, here is a list of audiobooks we’ve been listening to on our recent road trips.

The “Harry Potter” series by J.K. Rowling

Though we’d been told the American rendition of the classic series read by Jim Dale is great, we opted for the British version read by Stephen Fry, which is phenomenal. The guy is such a legend. He uses different voices and impressions for each character — and keep in mind that there are hundreds of characters in the book. It truly brings the story to life.

We started this series the summer after we moved to California, on our road trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles on Highway 1. We were completely hooked after listening to it for just five minutes. Our kids’ English wasn’t so great at the time, and listening to the “Harry Potter” audiobooks helped to improve both their listening skills and their vocabulary. But most importantly, the story teaches kids to be more empathetic and less prejudiced. For instance, the way that some of the wizards look down upon muggles (non-magical people) reminds us a lot of what’s happening right now in the real world. We think it is great for kids to learn not to stereotype or discriminate against people based on their race, skin color, beliefs, or anything else that they have no control over.

“The Chronicles of Narnia” series by C.S. Lewis

This is another classic series that we fell in love with. We first encountered Narnia through the movie adaptation of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” and the kids loved it and wanted to know more about the magical kingdom. Starting from “the Magician’s Nephew,” we listened to the adventures of the Pevensie siblings as they explore the Kingdom of Narnia throughout the ages. We always encourage the kids to read a variety of books — science, non-fiction, and biographies, but also fiction and fantasy books. The most important benefit of reading fantasy is that it excites not only the kids’ imagination, but also their curiosity. Each tale in this series is just so captivating that before we knew it, we had completed all seven books! The 17-hour drive from San Francisco to Yellowstone National Park flew by in an instant.

“Wonder” by R.J. Palacio

You may have seen the recent movie adaptation of this tale, but the book is even better. The story of Auggie Pullman, a boy with facial differences caused by a rare genetic condition, is not only interesting and comical, but also incredibly inspiring. As Auggie enters middle school after years of homeschooling, he makes friends, faces bullies, and ultimately makes it through the gauntlet of fifth grade. The message of the story is about the power of kindness: how it can provide strength and change people for the better. For my fifth-grade son, the audiobook was relatable, as it offers a sympathetic look at the inner worlds of teens and tweens. We listened to this on our way to Hana in Maui, Hawaii, and it quickly became one of our favorites.

The “How to Train Your Dragon” series by Cressida Crowell

If you have Netflix, it’s likely that your kids have seen the “How to Train your Dragon” series. But the novels are completely different from the animated films. Our kids love the tales of Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III, and through his stories, they learned many lessons that can help them to deal with real-life struggles, such as self-acceptance. In the book, Hiccup does not look as big and beefy as the other kids in his Viking village, and killing dragons is not something he wants to do. Instead, he uses his wits and skills (reading, researching, engineering, etc.) to learn about dragons, debunk old myths, find out the truth, and ultimately help the flying creatures. Through Hiccup’s story, the kids can learn that rather than trying to be someone else, they should accept who they are and lean into their true strengths.

“The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien

This is another English classic that we think every kid (and adult) should read at some point. Through the unexpected journey of Bilbo Baggins, the kids learned the value of being adventurous, courageous, loyal, and kind. We listened to this book during our road trip through Washington State, and it ended up fitting with the passing landscapes perfectly. The magical and enchanting forests and mountains resembled the locations described in the audiobook, making this the ideal match for that journey.

Tip: Borrowing audiobooks isn’t too difficult — local libraries are a great source. In fact, many of them even offer apps, through which you can borrow the audiobooks and download them to your phone for free.

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Madeline Lu
Madeline Lu is a photographer and global wanderer who lives in San Francisco South Bay, California, with her husband and two kids. Originally from China, she lived in Canada, the UK, Switzerland, and Germany before moving to the U.S. in 2016. Madeline and her family have made memories in over 31 countries and counting. She believes traveling is the best gift she can offer to her children to help them appreciate how wonderful the world is and how diverse different cultures are. She hopes her travels can inspire others to go out and explore as well.