Do you have the urge to jump into a car and drive into the distance for a new adventure? Not everyone can just drive away on an adventure, but reading about doing so is just as big a sign of escapism.
In this selection, I’ve compiled the best road trip books that are sure to make you think about the bigger picture.
Whether you’re looking for adventure or the experience of reading through someone’s memoir, I’ve found something for everyone.
The 22 Best Road Trip Books
In this section, I’ve compiled a selection of 22 of the best road trip books.
Whether you want a classic road trip novel or whether you want an informative journey across the country, I have something for everyone here. So, strap yourself in as I take you on an adventure to find your next read.
On The Road By Jack Kerouac
Jack Kerouac wrote On the Road based on the travels he and his friends made along the United States.
Between 1947 and 1950, Sal Paradise and his friends travel around the country, where they go on a journey of self-discovery and experience.
This is a novel that focuses on the desire for freedom and the longing for adventure that everyone has felt and continues to feel since the book was published in 1957.
- The quintessential American road trip novel serves as a fictional autobiography for the beat generation.
- Adapted into a drama film of the same name.
- Some readers may not enjoy the stream of consciousness writing style that Kerouac uses.
Rules Of The Road By Joan Bauer
Jenna Boller is a gawky teen who works at the Gladstone Shoe Store in Chicago. With a dysfunctional home life, her job is where she can escape.
When she has the chance to drive Madeline Gladstone across the country to stop her son from taking over the company, she takes it.
These two women from different generations are brought together, where they learn lessons about the rules of the road and life itself.
- A coming-of-age novel that brings two women from different generations together on an eye-opening road trip.
- Winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Young Adult Literature.
- The first book in the Rules of the Road duology.
- Despite being a young adult novel, it may not be as relevant to its target audience as it was when it was published in 1998.
Travels With Charley By John Steinbeck
The award-winning writer John Steinbeck goes on a journey to rediscover the country he has written about for his life. Joined by his French poodle, Charley, Steinbeck drives around the country to reflect on the American Dream.
On this journey, he ponders the future that America faces as he travels to meet old and new friends.
- It was a New York Times bestseller for Non-Fiction when it first came out.
- John Steinbeck’s travelog examines the country that he wrote so much about, not only looking into the past but the future too.
- There have been some arguments about whether it has been partly fictionalized, which may bother some readers who are solely here for a travelog.
Between Two Kingdoms By Suleika Jaouad
When she graduated from college, Suleika Jaouad had plans to move abroad and become a war correspondent. However, her dreams were stalled when she discovered she had leukemia a few weeks before she turned 23.
After three years of treatment and chronicling her life for The New York Times, she wasn’t sure what to do next. So, she went on a journey to meet the people who wrote to her to discover what she should do next.
- Nominated for the Goodreads Choice Award for Memoir & Autobiography.
- A sympathetic memoir focusing on a cancer survivor’s journey to find out how to live after spending so long working to survive.
- While this is a road trip memoir, it has a wider focus on coming to terms with a life that was put on hold after being diagnosed with cancer.
Into The Wild By Jon Krakauer
This non-fiction book tells the story of a young Christopher McCandless, who gave up his personal possessions to live off the grid. Renaming himself Alexander Supertramp, he threw his maps away to experience nature.
However, in 1992, he was found dead in an abandoned bus in Alaska. Jon Krakauer wrote this book to explore McCandless’ life before his final days.
- Winner of the Washington State Book Award.
- Adapted into a biographical drama film of the same name.
- It offers a sympathetic look into Christopher McCandless’ story as Krakauer goes into in-depth detail about what happened to the late traveler.
- Krakauer treats his theories as fact and is otherwise a little bit too biased about his perspective on McCandless and his fate.
Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas By Hunter S. Thompson
When they go to report on a Mint 400 motorcycle race, Raoul Duke and his attorney, Dr. Gonzo, are distracted by the wide variety of recreational drugs on offer. In a drug-induced haze, these two go on a destructive rampage.
However, they also find themselves lost, considering the death of the American Dream and the ‘60s counterculture movement.
- It was adapted into a film of the same name.
- Described as a crowning achievement in gonzo journalism, combining fiction and journalism together brilliantly.
- While the writing style is amazing, the plot is incredibly bare and can become dull for some readers.
NOS4A2 By Joe Hill
When she was a child, Victoria McQueen found a path that would take her wherever she needed to go. However, she is warned to keep an eye out for the Wraith, a disturbing Rolls-Royce driven by Charles Talent Manx.
Known for kidnapping children and bringing them to Christmasland, he comes across Vic one day. However, Vic is able to escape, but only for a while. After all, Manx now has a new target: Vic’s own son.
- Nominated for the Bram Stoker Award for Best Novel.
- Adapted into a television series of the same name.
- A horrifying novel that offers a fresh take on both vampires and road trips that will make you weary of untraveled roads.
- While well-written and horrifying, some readers may not enjoy the length of this novel which is roughly 700 pages long.
Lovecraft Country By Matt Ruff
Atticus’s father, Montrose, went missing in 1954, and Atticus, with his Uncle George and friend Letitia, went on a road trip to find him.
On this journey, they discover an array of horrors, from terrifying spirits to the dangers that come with being black in the Jim Crow era. When they find Montrose, they are in danger of a ritual that will destroy their entire family.
- Adapted into a television series of the same name.
- Nominated for the Goodreads Choice Award and Locus Award for Best Horror Novel.
- The first of the Lovecraft Country series.
- Combines fantasy and horror with the Jim Crow era, adding even extra tension to this novel.
- If you’re looking for a book that delves into Lovecraftian horror, you may be left disappointed.
Are You Listening? By Tillie Walden
Bea runs away from home and meets Lou, and together, they are joined by a mysterious cat. However, this isn’t a simple road trip, for the two are hunted by mysterious men.
They can only survive by trusting each other with their own personal stories of loss and heartbreak.
- The winner of the Eisner Award for Best Graphic Album-New.
- An emotional but hopeful story about a road trip that brings two strangers together as they bond over their respective trauma.
- If you don’t enjoy graphic novels, you may want to skip this one.
The Traveling Cat Chronicles By Hiro Arikawa
Satoru takes his beloved pet cat on a road trip, but Nana doesn’t understand why. Together, they cruise through Japan and visit several of Satoru’s old friends. However, for some reason, they’re all interested in Nana.
Yet, Nana isn’t interested in them, and he doesn’t understand why Satoru is encouraging them to take care of him.
- Winner of the Futaro Yamada Literary Award.
- An emotional story of a cat brought on a road trip with his beloved owner to find a new home for his cat.
- Not everyone will like the writing style, which is more simplistic due to the light novel format.
Paper Towns By John Green
Margo Roth Spiegelman has lived next door to Quentin Jacobsen for a lifetime and has loved her for just as long.
One night, she climbs through his window to get his help with an ingenious revenge plan, and they stay out all night.
But when Q goes to school the next day, he discovers that Margo has disappeared, and she has left him clues to find her. Now, Q goes on a journey through these paper towns to discover the mystery that is the girl he loves.
- New York Times Bestseller and Edgar Award Winner for Best Young Adult Novel.
- Adapted into a feature film of the same name.
- An enjoyable comedy-drama that focuses on the mystery of the girl next door for young adult fans.
- If you’ve read any other John Green books, you may be disappointed to find that this one is similar to his first book: Looking for Alaska.
American Gods By Neil Gaiman
Shadow gets the news that his wife has died only a few days before he is meant to be released from prison. Numb to the world, he returns home for the funeral, where he meets the enigma known as Mr. Wednesday.
Together, they travel across America on a strange and unsettling journey where Shadow discovers the reality of Gods and the threat of war.
- Winner of the Bram Stoker Award, Hugo Award, and Nebula Award for Best Novel.
- Adapted into a television series of the same name.
- A brilliant concept of the struggle between Old Gods and New Gods as they walk the Earth.
- Despite its interesting concept, American Gods is slow-paced and can feel like a chore to get through.
Flaming Iguanas By Erika Lopez
Tomato Rodriguez jumps onto her motorcycle to embark on an adventure. Searching for the meaning of life and love in her journey across the country, she can only hope to find the answers she’s looking for.
Combining artwork and attitude, this all-girl adventure is truly a wild ride.
- The first book in the Mad Dog Rodriguez trilogy.
- A hilarious novel that combines art with a heartwarming story about finding the meaning of life and love.
- Not everyone will appreciate the variety of artwork, which gives off a diary aesthetic compared to other graphic novels.
American Nomads By Richard Grant
Spending 15 years wandering the U.S., Richard Grant never spent more than three weeks in one place. In this book, he explores the history of American nomads as he lives the same kind of life.
In this comedic travelog, Grant looks into the myths and truths of the life of a nomad by including his own wandering adventures.
- Winner of the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award.
- Adapted into a documentary of the same name.
- An intimate memoir about Richard Grant’s own journey and the history of the nomads who came before him.
- It loses itself in history lessons within the book, which may lose the interest of some readers.
In The Footsteps Of Crazy Horse By Joseph M. Marshall III
Jimmy McClean is half-white and half-Lakota, and his grandfather takes him on a journey to connect with his Lakota heritage.
Throughout, he learns more about Crazy Horse and his Lakota history through his grandfather’s tales. Ultimately, it helps him to understand himself better than before.
- Nominated for the Texas Bluebonnet Award and Winner of the American Indian Youth Literature Award for Best Middle-Grade Book.
- A moving story that explores Lakota tradition and the history of Crazy Horse through an intergenerational road trip.
- It does find itself lost in the historical narrative and loses focus of the present-day characters.
The Road By Cormac McCarthy
A father and son walk through the burned vestiges of America, which the apocalypse has ravaged.
They plan to make it to the coast, but the road they walk is dangerous. Now there are no laws, and all they have is each other. Together, the father and son hope to find a haven to rest, with only one another to rely on.
- Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Fiction, and many more.
- It was adapted into a film of the same name.
- An emotional journey of a father and son that creates a road trip, but not in the traditional sense.
- The writing style may not interest everyone, as McCarthy writes a very bleak post-apocalyptic world.
The Remains Of The Day By Kazuo Ishiguro
For decades, Stevens served as a butler at Darlington Hall, but when his employer passed away, he was unsure of what to do next.
At this point, he hears from his old colleague, Miss Kenton, whom he once had feelings for. His new employer encourages him to take his car and visit.
With the belief that his old colleague is in an unhappy marriage, Stevens considers his past relationships with both Miss Kenton and Darlington as he travels to her.
- Winner of the Booker Prize.
- Adapted into a film with the same name.
- An emotional story about a man reminiscing about his life and career and a focus on looking into the future instead of the past.
- It does have a slow, almost leisurely pace that may bore some readers if they want a more exciting novel.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy By Douglas Adams
Earth is about to be destroyed to make room for a galactic freeway, and Arthur Dent is taken away by his friend, Ford Prefect.
With the help of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which Ford has been researching, the two travel through space and meet new friends as they consider the answers to the universe.
- Adapted into a film, television series, and radio series.
- The first book in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series.
- A hilarious twist on the road trip that became a pop culture landmark in science fiction.
- Not everyone will enjoy the absurdist humor used in Douglas Adams’ work.
The Wangs VS. The World By Jade Chang
The Wangs are an affluent Chinese family who lost everything in the 2008 financial crisis. Charles Wang realizes nothing is left for his family in America, so he plans to take them back to China.
But his family can’t get over what they’ve lost, and he’s not sure how he can keep his family together while he also dreams of returning home.
- Nominated for the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize.
- Currently in the process of being adapted for TV.
- A hilarious twist on the usual immigrant novel that twists the American Dream on its head.
- It relies on the character’s relationships to drive the story instead of the plot itself.
As I Lay Dying By William Faulkner
After the death of the Bundren family matriarch, they embark on a trip across the Mississippi countryside to bury her where she wants. However, the journey isn’t easy, and each family member is affected.
This is a classic take on the dysfunctional family road trip that also explores their grief as they head to their destination.
- A literary classic that is among one of the best made in the 20th Century.
- An amusing black comedy that focuses on a road trip to bury the family matriarch with various emotions encapsulating a family’s grief.
- Many readers don’t enjoy the stream of consciousness style and complicated narrative with too many perspectives.
Under The Skin By Michel Faber
Isserley is a small yet attractive woman who picks up muscular hitchhikers. While the hitchhikers are a mixture of thugs and philosophers, her only concern is whether they’re muscular or have the muscles needed.
However, she begins to wonder whether what she’s doing is right and how long she can continue living like this.
- Adapted into a film with the same name.
- A surprising twist on the usual alien abduction story, focusing on hitchhikers and abductions instead of UFOs.
- It does have a slow pace that, while it works with the disturbing horror aspect, may not be fun for all readers.
The Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet By Becky Chambers
Rosemary Harper joins the Wayfarer crew hoping to escape her past, and in doing so, she learns more about the motley crew she’s joined.
When they’re offered the job of a lifetime, they travel across the galaxy to reach their next job.
But Rosemary isn’t the only one keeping secrets, and soon, she learns more about the rest of her newly established found family as they learn to live with each other on a year-long journey across the stars.
- Nominated for the Arthur C. Clarke Award and Women’s Prize for Fiction.
- The first book in the Hugo Award-winning Wayfarers series.
- A new take on the road trip, with a sci-fi ensemble on a journey to build a tunneling wormhole while learning more about one another.
- It doesn’t have much of a plot and is far more suitable for any reader looking for a light-hearted, character-driven novel.
Are you having difficulty deciding on what to read? I’ve compiled this helpful buyer’s guide to explain my choices of pros and cons for each book.
Not all road trip novels have to be set in America, so I included novels that may not align with the usual road trip adventure.
There are a host of different takes on the road trip novel, which is why I’ve included memoirs, science fiction adventures, and horror novels too.
If you want a different take on the road trip novel, there should be something suitable for all readers in my selection.
These books are in a variety of different formats and genres. While I’ve included a lot of fiction and non-fiction in my selection, I felt it would be best to include graphic novels too.
There are so many different uses of the road trip that I believe including more variety would be perfect for anyone looking for their next read.
One way to know whether a novel is worth it is how many accolades it has received. While accolades and awards don’t always mean a novel will be great for everyone, it shows how well-received it has been.
This ties into both critical reception and fan reception in many cases, so if you care about the awards it has received, then this is a great way to judge if a novel is worth your time or not.
Although this ties into the accolades a novel has received, sometimes, novels are critically acclaimed without winning any awards. Sometimes, this ties into how much of a bestseller it was.
Other times, a novel may be better received after the fact. In many cases, some novels are critically acclaimed because of how successful the author who wrote them was in the past.
Being a bestseller often ties into how well it sold and whether it became a bestseller or not. However, I’ve also taken into account the reviews that fans of the book have left.
If there have been comments from fans about how it’s written or whether they’re popular, I thought it would be best to include these accounts.
The way a book is written can make or break it for some readers. Within the writing style, I’ve included the number of perspectives and whether it’s more of a stream of consciousness.
Not all writing styles are for all readers, which is okay. However, I felt that it would be best to include whether the writing style made an impact on fans of the novel or whether it deterred them from continuing to read it.
Have you ever read a book and wondered if there was a film or vice versa? This would be great to mention if you want to watch a film or TV series based on the book.
Not all adaptations are good, but I understand how tempting it is to want to find more material available.
If you want more to read or just want a different perspective, then you may be interested in any film, TV, or radio plays based on these works.
Series Or Standalone
Sometimes, you don’t want to begin a new series again, especially if you’ve only just finished one.
I’ve had times when I’ve finished a series but then wanted to take a break and read a standalone novel or memoir.
To help you find your next read, I’ve mentioned whether these books are part of a series or can be read independently.
I’ve incorporated a range of books from young adult, children’s, and adult fiction to ensure something for everyone on this list.
There are so many different types of road trip novels, so I felt that anyone looking for the best road trip book should have a range of different target audiences.
If you’re looking for a road trip novel to drive you away on an adventure, then you can experience wanderlust with these road trip books.
Whether you want a light-hearted adventure or something more, I’ve got something for everyone in this excellent selection of road trip books.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Makes A Road Trip Book?
A road trip book is about the journey the character takes to get to their destination. Most road trip books are about the adversities they face on their journey as they try to reach their destination.
Not every book ends with them reaching their destination as intended, as they may learn something along the way.
Do Road Trip Books Have To Be Literary Fiction Or Memoir?
Most readers assume that books about road trips must be about a journey by car or bike. However, many authors have changed genres to build on the road trip formula to offer a different type of journey.
What Is The Main Message Of On The Road?
On The Road by Jack Kerouac is viewed as the definitive road trip novel that everyone must read. This is mostly due to the message that lies within the book of freedom, travel, and wandering.
What Is The Main Idea Of Travels With Charley?
Contrary to On The Road, Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck is about being lost. Losing one’s self is about feeling lost and also losing a sense of identity within your own country.
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