We can lose hours browsing travel photos, but the most evocative, wistful wanderlust comes from travel books. We stash them all over the house, so we can read a page or two whenever we have a moment.
Our picks for family travel books range from pure travel writing, to inspirational fiction, food writing, straight-up guidebooks and, of course, atlases. They all make us want to travel by hinting at a feeling, taste or experience our family craves for our next adventure.
Without further ado our picks for best family travel books:
Paris to the Moon – Adam Gopnik
Lauded New Yorker journalist Adam Gopnik fulfills the ultimate yearning for Francophile parents. He takes his wife and infant son to live in Paris. The year is 1995.
Gopnik’s thoughtful prose makes the tiny differences one discovers in daily life in Paris versus New York come alive, both as a parent and as a traveler. His essays unfurl slowly, with plenty of gently revealed revelations and laugh-out-loud cultural observations along the way.
Maps: The Mizielinskis
This playfully illustrated world atlas is intended for children. They love it. The visual reminders of each country’s biodiversity, inventions, personalities, and cuisine will get parents’ trip-planning wheels turning as well. An ideal combo of discoveries for kids and teasers for parents looking for new possible destinations.
Peter Pan: J.M. Barrie
This is not your typical travel book, but think about it. No adult author has come so close to capturing the spirit of children’s travel, or being a kid in general, since this play debuted in 1904. Peter Pan has always challenged and confused viewers and readers. Is it for kids? Is it for adults? What does it mean? Who is Peter Pan?
We consider it a superb family travel book because kids from the same family, The Darlings, fly to new territory, Neverland, with another child as their guide. Along the way they have swashbuckling adventure, test personal and limits, flex their powers of discovery and imagination, all the while pondering the meaning of growing up, family, travel, and home.
Travel with Children: The Essential Guide for Travelling Families – Lonely Planet
We like this book because it’s starting premise is: do better than Disney and resorts. Our second favourite thing to do is poke fun at it, mostly for embarking on the unwieldy task of writing a book that covers the whole world and all ages of children from babes to teens. They’ve overreached. What you’ll get from it: confidence and inspiration. What you won’t get: details.
A London Pub for Every Occasion – Herb Lester Associates
Herb Lester guides represent the best of new school travel guides. Rather than list everything a destination has to offer, they carefully curate lists of classic and lesser-known choices. The authors have opinions; they’re witty.
We love their London pub guide for two reasons. First off, it focuses on a classic London pub experience, and tells you what you need to know to do it well. Second, they have a section for family pubs, making it bl**dy obvious that parents are expected to have fun too. Kids are an integral part of life experiences, not an accessory you ditch when you want to have fun. Preach!
The Little Prince – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
The Little Prince is all-ages travel book disguised as a fairy tale for children. The story? An aviator, downed in the desert, encounters a strange boy, who has travelled from his solitary home on a distant asteroid, where he lives alone with a single rose. The rose has betrayed him so he uses a flock of birds to convey him to other planets. He has two travel advisers: a wise fox and a sinister snake.
There is no one lesson to pull from this complicated fable. Musings touch on themes ranging from conservation, to how to see the world with fresh eyes.
National Geographic Guide to the Parks of the U.S. – National Geographic
This guide covers the 58 scenic national parks that conserve and protect the flora and fauna in some of the USA’s last wilderness areas. Not only do they include a ton of maps (drool) and photos of wildlife (look at it with your kiddos), they also tell you when to visit each area.
This is a fantastic and comprehensive way to introduce your small folk to the wonders of the natural world. Because accommodation is usually camping, this is also budget-friendly family travel at its finest.
360 Degrees Longitude – John Highham
If you’re looking for the book to buy in the family sabbatical genre, this is it. John and September Highham take their two kids (age 8 and 11) on world trip. In 52 weeks they cross 24 time zones and visit 28 countries. The Highhams planned and saved for almost a decade before embarking.
What we love: their sense of adventure, humor, and the fact that they’re approachable middle class, not super wealthy. You’ll laugh out loud. You’ll get a glimpse of how to escape with school-age kiddos. Bonus: there’s an online Google earth companion so you can peek at their adventures. What we don’t love: we prefer slow travel with in-depth looks at certain locations, not the do everything in one whirlwind approach. It’s overwhelming for small folk and big folk alike.
Two Towns in Provence – M.F.K. Fisher
M.F.K. Fisher is among the world’s greatest food writers. She launched her food writing career with Long Ago in France, a book on her life as a new American bride attending university, eating and making a home in Dijon in 1929. In Two Towns, she writes about daily life in Aix on Provence and in Marseille with her children and sister.
Her prose beats Hemingway, her observations about markets, apartments, cafes, doctors, and all elements of daily life with children in France are invaluable. If your travel style is to live in a destination, to see the beautiful minutiae of daily life is as a local, than M.F.K. Fisher is your patron saint, and this is her family travel book.
This is… – Miroslav Sasek
Sasek turned out a collection of gorgeous illustrated kids’ travel guides between 1969 and 1980. He begins with This Is Paris and takes young readers through destinations including Hong Kong, Edinburgh, and San Francisco.
The concept for the This Is… series came to Sasek while on a three-week holiday in Paris, where he noticed that parents on vacation with their children were too absorbed to show their small folk the wonder of their surroundings. The drawings are playful but convey valuable information. They show what makes each city special. Theses classics are also pretty enough to serves as coffee table books for hipster parents.
Lead image: M. Sasek