Top reads for armchair travellers

Most of us can’t travel as much as we’d like to — but that doesn’t stop us from dreaming. When it comes to learning about the world, there’s something satisfying about curling up with the colourful pages of a good travel book.

Whether you’re looking for a gift or a good read, these daydream-worthy books will inspire your travels.

10 top travel reads

Best in Travel 2011. (Lonely Planet, $14.99 USD). It’s a job we’d all like to have: every year, the experts at Lonely Planet pick their top choices for travel for the coming year, including top countries, cities and regions that offer great value. Get to know each destination with interesting insights like “defining experiences” and “most bizarre sights.” The guide also offers up a list of unique experiences like quirky festivals and special events — like the opening of the September 11 Memorial in New York.

If you love lists, then 1000 Ultimate Experiences ($22.99 USD) will keep you busy for a while. (Consider it an extension of the lists section of the Best in Travel guides.)

The Travel Book, 2nd Edition( Lonely Planet, $50.00 USD). This popular title has certainly grown up since it’s first edition. With it’s new larger size — perfect for your lap or the coffee table — there’s more room for the stunning photography and quirky facts you’d expect from Lonely Planet. The subtitle “A journey through every country in the world” isn’t an exaggeration either. From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, each country gets its own two-page spread with photos, a map, top things to see and do and other tidbits that capture its unique essence. (If you’re looking for a more manageable size, the first edition is still available too.)

Make The Most Of Your Time On Earth(Rough Guides, $34.99). Want to build a “bucket list” or add a few more items? Leave plenty of room because this guide could turn it into a very long list. The experts at Rough Guides compiled their list of not-to-missed experiences from across the globe, from finding the best Key Lime Pie in Florida to “the Greatest Show on Earth” — a safari in Kenya or Tanzania. While not every adventure is suited to all tastes and travel styles, there’s a little something to inspire any traveller.

10 Best of Everything (National Geographic, $19.95 USD). Want to know where Arnold Palmer’s favourite golf courses are, or where to find the best vintages, top architecture or poshest pubs? If you love lists, this title won’t disappoint. The categories cover a broad range of topics from food and drink to top journeys — including the ” Grand Tour” of classic adventures. Don’t expect bare-bones lists, however. This 480 page guide has plenty of room for photographs, insider travel tips and practical information like the best way to get to your destination.

Book of Everything Series (MacIntrye Purcell Publishing, $14.95). It’s hard to pick just one — there are many titles from across Canada, from Vancouver Island to Newfoundland and Labrador. Written by local experts like historians, mayors, local celebrities and travel experts, these books run the gamut from local lore and trivia to must-see places and top activities. (Where else would you find chapters dedicated to strange place names or a list of places to take an out of town guest?) While they have lots of information for travellers and newcomers, they’re also a great read for local trivia buffs.

If exploring is more your angle, the company’s Book of Musts is geared towards travellers, whether from near or far.

National Geographic Simply Beautiful Photographs (National Geographic, $35.00 USD). It’s okay to admit you’ve never lost your love of picture books. In fact, go ahead and indulge it. To create this book, award-winning photographer Annie Griffiths Belt delved into the magazine’s vast archives to find the most spectacular images of nature, culture, wildlife and exploration. However, it isn’t just about the content of the images — photography buffs will appreciate how each chapter focuses in on elements like light, colour and movement.

The Traveller’s Guide to Planet Earth (Lonely Planet and the BBC, $22.99 USD). In love with the BBC’s documentary series, Planet Earth? We’re willing to bet at some point you thought, “Wow, I’d like to see that in person.” From caves to jungles and seas to rainforests, this guide explores 50 extraordinary destinations featured in the series. However, you’ll get more than a re-cap: each destination section offers ways to build on what you saw on the screen — like what to experience and other things to see and do while you’re there. There’s also practical information to help you plan, like when to go and how to get there, but what will really grab your attention are the photos.

Clean Breaks (Rough Guides, $34.99). Travel trends come and go, but eco-tourism and sustainable travel continue to have staying power. If you’re not sure where or how to travel, this book helps everyone think outside the box of traditional travel and explore options that support the people, the local economy and the planet. It isn’t all trekking and home stays in far-flung destinations — there are options for just about every area, including travel hotspots like Europe and North America. Yes, you can even find eco-friendly beach breaks and other unique accommodations here too.

500 Places Where You Can Make a Difference (Frommer’s, $23.99). More and more people are putting their vacation time to good use making a difference in other’s lives. If you’re considering a volunteer vacation, this guide will show you where to start. Not only does it offer practical advice like deciding if an opportunity is right for you, it covers a wide range of opportunities where you can put your skills to use. Join an animal rescue mission, or work to help the environment. Get involved in the lives of children with coaching or teaching opportunities. You can even find out how to volunteer for festivals and special events.

Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader Plunges Into Canada, Eh(The Bathroom Reader Institute, $21.95). If you’ve ever owned one of these books, you know the anecdotes, lists and other tidbits are fun to read out loud (and in any room of the house). Find out what happens when the publishers of this popular series make a cross-Canada trip and uncover some quirky tales about our country — like the history of Harlequin romance novels and why the media once labelled a prominent politician and his wife as serial killers. While this book isn’t as picturesque as your typical travel book, it will cater to a Canadian sense of humour.

Tips for sharing

Shop around . We’ve linked to the original publishers and listed their suggested prices, but bookstore prices may be much lower. Do some comparison shopping to find the best price, take advantage of book stores’ sales and promotions, and keep your eye on used book stores too.

Read the specs. If you’re shopping online, you might overlook the size and weight. Some of these books are pretty hefty and could be difficult for some gift recipients (like children) to manage. However, their larger size makes them ideal for sharing — like reading with a child or grandchild in your lap. Other guides are pocket-sized and perfect for travelling, but don’t feature as many full-sized visuals.

Preview it.  If you can’t make it to the bookshop, check around on publishers’ websites. Many companies offer excerpts or interactive “look inside” features that give you a glimpse of the content before you buy. Even a table of contents or indices can give you an overview.

For more great book ideas, check out 12 tantalizing travel reads.

Got a favourite read we didn’t mention? Add it to the list in the comments!