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The Best Vacation Books You Ever Read

Sometimes a book is an indelible part of a journey. Our staffers share their lasting memories. What are yours?

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

My husband had brought Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer on our Hawaiian honeymoon, and I reluctantly read it after I had finished the books I’d packed—my husband is nonfiction, and I’m a novel reader. Though I didn’t enjoy it as much as Krakauer’s more dramatic Into Thin Air, it made me focus on the joy of seeing the world through your partner’s perspective. In the nearly seven years since that trip, I’ve tried to read almost every book that he does so I can stay open to a whole world of stories and lessons. —Lauren Gelman, Features Editor

The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe

On the last day of a trip in Vera Cruz, Mexico, a hurricane shut down the airports. I spent the entire day reading Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities and I could not put it down, reading nearly all of it in one sitting. A few years later I was driving around, lost in the South Bronx, when a beat-up car stopped and the driver, looking just as beat up, asked if I needed help. Memories of the book came flooding back. My wife pleaded for me to drive on but I leaned out and said, “I’m lost.” He proceeded to rob me. No, just kidding! He gave me the best, cleanest directions I’d ever received. A far cry from what happened in the book. —Andy Simmons, Features Editor

Lily’s Crossing by Patricia Reilly

Even though I’d read Lily’s Crossing by Patricia Reilly Giff a million times already, young me still made my mom get it from the library to take on vacation to the Outer Banks. It takes place by the seaside, which is where I was, and the main character was a girl my age during WWII. On another family trip, this time to the Caribbean when I was in college, I binge-read The Forever War by Dexter Filkins while tanning by the pool. One journalist’s account of his time covering the war in Afghanistan and Iraq is as far from a “beach book” as you can get, yet I couldn’t put down this sad, informative, chilling, and absolutely amazing read. —Alyssa Jung, Assistant Research Editor

The Skeleton Crew by Stephen King

In 1985, at age 14, summer vacation meant living with Dad in Vermont, whom I did not see during the school year because of my parents’ divorce. The book was Skeleton Crew by Stephen King, which included the short story “The Raft.” It’s about a group of college kids who go swimming in a pond—exactly the kind of place I learned to swim in as a child growing up in Vermont. The kids get eaten alive by an “oil slick” that turns out to be a devious alien creature…. I was afraid to swim all summer. —Courtenay Smith, Executive Editor

Pop Goes the Weasel by James Patterson

I read Pop Goes the Weasel by James Patterson while traveling solo from Tucson to Richmond, Virginia to visit family. I was a teenager, and nervous about flying cross-country for the first time on my own. Before I left, my dad gave me the book. I’d seen him reading James Patterson’s murder mysteries on our living room couch every Sunday for years, but this was the first time he had passed one on to me. It was comforting. I’ll never forget the late nights at my aunt’s house in Richmond, eating sunflower seeds and reading Patterson on a pull-out bed. It was the first time I felt like an adult. —Brandon Specktor, Editorial Assistant

A History of Love by Nicole Krauss

I remember reading A History of Love by Nicole Krauss on a beach in Bermuda and being haunted by this beautiful passage: “Once upon a time, there was a boy. He lived in a village that no longer exists, in a house that no longer exists, on the edge of a field that no longer exists, where everything was discovered, and everything was possible. A stick could be a sword, a pebble could be a diamond, a tree, a castle. Once upon a time, there was a boy who lived in a house across the field, from a girl who no longer exists. They made up a thousand games. She was queen and he was king. In the autumn light her hair shone like a crown. They collected the world in small handfuls, and when the sky grew dark, and they parted with leaves in their hair. Once upon a time there was a boy who loved a girl, and her laughter was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering.” —Alison Caporimo, Senior Associate Editor

The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough

I read The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough while Eurailing as a college student. It was a huge, juicy novel about life on exotic Australian ranches—while I lay crammed into a tiny couchette. Then, Emma Donaghue’s Room was my companion on an all-night ferry between Helsinki and St. Petersburg. Alone on this trip and sharing a sleeper cabin with weird strangers, I mostly stayed on the enclosed deck and read this harrowing novel nearly through. And in Belize, I got through a trip cursed with pouring rain and food poisoning by immersing myself in the very moving Booker Prize-winning Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre. Always pack a book! —Brenda Schmerl, Director of Digital Operations,

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

After our daughter graduated from college, my husband and I drove out to St. Louis to visit her. We listened to audiobooks during our two-day, 18-hour drive and laughed all the way through Ohio and Indiana. One of the most memorable was A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson, the story of his hike on the Appalachian Trail—hilarious, fascinating, and full of historical detail about the trail and the characters he met along the way including his entertainingly oddball friend, Stephen Katz. We often find ourselves saying, “Better you than me” when imagining a trip with him as a trail mate. —Ann DiCesare, Head Librarian

Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All by Allan Gurganus

I read Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All by Allan Gurganus while riding a very old train from Montreal to Quebec City. There was something unforgettable about being absorbed in a sweeping historical novel, told in the voice of a 99-year-old woman, while rolling slowly through a timeless-looking landscape. Obviously, this was before my children were born, or this quiet journey would’ve been a bit louder. —Dawn Raffel, Features Editor

Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust

Over twenty years ago, on a rainy day in our rented Martha’s Vineyard farmhouse, I opened Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past and was instantly distracted by a commotion at the riding camp next door. Across a narrow lawn and on the other side of a fence, a chocolate-brown horse had slipped in the mud and broken one of its front legs. A vet arrived and gave the horse a shot. Then the horse laid very still. A bulldozer rolled up and dug a large hole in a grassy area beside the corral. A winch lifted the horse high, then slowly lowered the body into the hole. A plow pushed piles of dirt into the hole and scraped the top of the hole even, as a knife would frosting on the top of a cake. The riding girls were crying. I never read the book. —Barbara O’Dair, Executive Editor

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

I was in London for the first solo vacation I’d taken since having a kid, and I was exhausted. One afternoon I ducked into a charity shop to get out of the rain and found a mass-market copy of Eat, Pray, Love for a pound. I bought it and continued my own vacation searching for self while reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s significantly more baroque tale. —Diane Dragan, Executive Digital Director,

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

I remember reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed while on a five-day road trip north on Route 101 from San Francisco to Portland. I did a lot of hiking on that trip—Redwoods National Park, Glass Beach, Tillamook State Forest. I think the expanse is what stays with me: the road ahead, the trees above. Strayed writes about her own “journey within a journey,” and I could identify. —Beth Dreher, Features Editor

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

When I was in seventh grade, I read Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card over summer vacation while staying with an unfamiliar family in Italy. It’s sort of embarrassing in retrospect, but I was miserable—being able to lose myself in the fiction gave me the opportunity for excitement while challenging me with its ethical dilemmas. —Damon Beres, Associate Editor

Looking for Alaska by John Green

When I traveled to Hilton Head, South Carolina two summers ago, I was determined to catch up on some reading. Though I finished John Green’s Looking for Alaska within a few hours, it stayed with me the rest of the trip—Green’s emotional writing made it impossible to focus on my surroundings, even though mostly they were a beautiful, warm ocean. Relatable and heart-wrenching, that book went so much deeper than any other young-adult novel I had ever read. —Emma Kapotes, Digital Art & Photo Assistant

Originally Published in Reader's Digest