Armchair Travel: Books to Take You on a Journey Through the United States

With gas prices so cheap and the National Parks’ 100th anniversary celebration, this year may be an excellent time for a road trip.

The following are some suggestions for curing your wanderlust.

 Cover image for Travels with Charley : in search of America
In 1960, John Steinbeck, the Nobel Prize in Literature winner well-known for Grapes of Wrath, a fictional road trip in itself about the Joad family migration from a farm in Oklahoma to the central California valley via Route 66 during the Great Depression, travels via camper through forty states with his poodle Charley and poignantly describes what America is like during that period including a good look at political and race relations in 1960s America. He speaks to everyone from farmers to cooks at diners. A true classic road trip book.
 Cover image for Blue highways : a journey into America
Blue Highways: A Journey into America by William Least Heat-Moon 
Another road trip classic is this book. In 1978, William Least Heat-Moon, an unemployed teacher, departed on a three-month 13,000 mile road trip around the perimeter of the country exploring the “blue” rural highways on his old Rand McNally map and stopping at small towns with interesting names such as Dull, Tennessee and Gnawbone, Indiana.
 Cover image for On the road
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
This classic originally published in 1957 is actually fiction, but is based on Kerouac’s travels with his Beat generation counterculture friends in late 1940s and early 1950s America.
 Cover image for Roughing it
Roughing It by Mark Twain
Another classic by author, journalist, and humorist Mark Twain describes his travels west by stagecoach with his brother from St. Louis, Missouri to Carson City, Nevada where his older brother was designated territorial secretary in 1861 and he lives for six years. Twain documents his adventures with hilarious passages of the stagecoach trip, his colorful life in mining towns such as Virginia City, his time in roaring San Francisco and his side trips exploring the Sierras in California. One of the most memorable and humorous passages was when he and a friend accidentally started a forest fire at his campsite on lonely Lake Tahoe and his descriptions of Mono Lake. Includes his illustrations as well.
 Cover image for Life on the Mississippi
Life on the Mississipi by Mark Twain
If you’re travelling on the Mississippi River or along it, you may wish to read this amusing memoir by Mark Twain. With his trademark wit, he describes life along the Mississippi River from when he was a steamboat captain on the Mississippi River before the Civil War. He returns twenty years later and discusses all the changes he observes in transportation, technology, and culture along the river.
 
This is Bryson’s first travel memoir written in 1989 and it cleverly chronicles his almost 14,000 mile cross-country road trip through 10 states. His purpose is to visit small towns and little known tourist sites and his biting sarcasm is apparent throughout the book.
 Cover image for Assassination vacation
Assassination Vacation by Susan Vowell
National Public Radio commentator and author Vowell, who is obsessed with death and history, drags her nephew on a comical road trip or “pilgrimage” of presidential assassinations. She visits museums, cemeteries, and other various historical sites associated with the first three American presidential assassinations of Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, and William McKinley.
 Cover image for The Oregon trail ; The conspiracy of Pontiac
For a genuine view of the original emigrants who traveled the Oregon Trail, historian Francis Parkman Jr. wrote this book in 1849 of his two-month travels along the trail in 1846. He encounters pioneers, traders, and fur trappers, lives among the Sioux Indians, and joins a buffalo hunting party.
Cover image for The Oregon Trail : an American journey 
In 2011, Rinker Buck and his brother recreated a modern day cross-country trip through six states by mule-drawn covered wagon on the Oregon Trail, along which many of our forefathers took to get to the west. Filled with a comprehensive history of the trail, the country they crossed and information on the pioneers who fought for their lives against storms and Native Americans to make their way west for a better life.
Cover image for Undaunted courage : Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the opening of the American West 
Eminent historian Stephen Ambrose wrote this spellbinding account of the 1803 expedition of Lewis and Clark to explore the newly acquired Louisiana Purchase. Sent by Thomas Jefferson, they traveled west on the Missouri River, over the Rockies and the Continental Divide, on the Columbia River through to the western coast of Oregon studying and mapping the geography and natural history of the area along the way and documenting their accounts with Native Americans such as Sacagawea.
 Cover image for Appetite for America : how visionary businessman Fred Harvey built a railroad hospitality empire that civilized the Wild West
Friend’s book combines fascinating history, culture, and famous American and international figures in a book about Fred Harvey who built hotels and restaurants along the railroad routes for people travelling by train along the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe railroad to the West in the mid-1800s to mid-1900s. He made famous the Harvey Girls, single women who travelled out west to serve the hungry travelers, and left behind many historic hotels such as The El Tovar in Grand Canyon National Park. Many of the remaining hotels follow the famous Route 66.
 Cover image for The longest road : overland in search of America from Key West to the Arctic Ocean
Like Steinbeck and Least Heat-Moon before him, Philip Caputo travels across the United States describing America at a certain point in time, in this case 2011. He attempts to answer the question, "What keeps Americans united in a country as big and diverse as ours?”, in his cross-country road trip by Airstream trailer. He travels from Key West, Florida in the South to Deadhorse, Alaska in the North in mostly rural areas over four months and chronicles his encounters with everyday people from Cuban immigrants in Florida to Inuit Eskimos in Alaska.
 Cover image for Deep South : four seasons on back roads
Paul Theroux, renowned for his travel memoirs in many exotic locations on other continents like Africa, Asia, or South America, instead focuses on the United States this time with this 2015 book about his four trips to the Deep South exploring rural highways and the folklore, history, and current physical and social condition of the region.
 Cover image for My Southern journey : true stories from the heart of the South
If you’re travelling through the South, you may enjoy reading these essays Bragg wrote to give you a strong sense of place and identity of what it means to be in the American “South”. These essays collected from the past ten years of his writing allow you to experience the regional food, language, culture, religion and sense of what it is to live and travel through the South.
Cover image for Dogtripping : 25 rescues, 11 volunteers, and 3 RVs on our canine cross-country adventure 
Rosenfelt, a mystery writer with a canine protagonist, travels by RV crosscountry with 11 other volunteers from Silverado Canyon in Orange County where he lived to Maine to move his 25 rescue dogs. So, if you love dogs and travel this humorous book may be a good match for you.


If you’re idea of travel is on foot with a backpack, you may enjoy the following.
 Cover image for Wild : from lost to found on the Pacific Crest Trail
This recent biography by Cheryl Strayed was written in 2012 and concentrates on her 1,000 mile backpacking trip on the Pacific Crest Trail. People are compelled to travel for different reasons and her book focuses on her motivations for hiking, like coming to terms with her mom’s death from cancer at a young age, as well as the people she meets and the beautiful scenery she sees.
 Cover image for A walk in the woods : rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail
This hilarious book follows Bryson’s attempt along with his friend Stephen Katz to through-hike the Appalachian trail from Georgia to Maine. It was also made into a 2015 movie starring Robert Redford and Nick Nolte.
 Cover image for Grandma Gatewood's walk : the inspiring story of the woman who saved the Appalachian Trail
In 1955, while in her mid 60s and after raising eleven children, Grandma Emma Gatewood became the first person ever to traverse the Appalachian Trail from its beginning in Georgia to its end in Maine with none of the fancy backpacking equipment backpackers nowadays feel compelled to own. In fact, she also was the first person to through-hike it a second and third time and went through seven pairs of sneakers and carried her supplies in a drawstring sack during her first trip. She inspired many to walk the little-known trail and became famous for rallying for major repairs to be made to it. As a side note, she also walked 2,000 miles of the Oregon Trail from Missouri to Portland, Oregon in 1959 averaging 22 miles per day to commemorate the Oregon Trail Centennial.


If your taste runs more to fiction, James Michener writes long epic historical fiction of different states in the United States such as HawaiiTexas or Alaska. So, if you're travelling                                         to any of the states below, I suggest them.

 Cover image for HawaiiCover image for TexasCover image for Alaska


Happy travels, trails, and reading to you!

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