Holiday Reading: Travel Writers Share Their Favourite Books

Looking for tips on what to read on your holidays? Who better to ask than those lucky folks who travel for a living – we caught up with some of Europe’s leading travel writers to find out where they’re heading next and what books they’ll be packing in their carry-on bags. Check out their suggestions:

Joan Scales

“I always like to read a book about a place I’m going to beforehand to get a feel for the location.  Recently I was in Istanbul and I read the Istanbul Puzzle by Irish author Laurence O’Bryan. It’s a thriller that takes the reader over and under the streets of this famed city. In and out of iconic buildings with heart stopping moments sandwiched between great details and historical background. Though I’m not planning on going to Siberia, the Kolymsky Heights by Lionel Davidson has already piqued my interest.  Academic and linguist turned super spy Dr. Johnny Porter, takes on an unbelievable challenge to gain access to an ultra-secret scientific outpost under a mountain in Siberia. The bone chilling temperatures of Siberia are not the only problems he faces.   I’ll be reading this in the sun on the beach in lovely Biarritz. Summer is also when I have time to read my favourite magazine from cover to cover, Vanity Fair.  I love the mix of celebrity news, politics, fashion, satire and beautifully written in depth features.”


Joan Scales is a travel writer at The Irish Times

Eleanor Ross

“This summer I’ll be heading back to Budapest where I have a flat. It’s a great little city to spend time in over the summer. It gets pretty hot so I’ll probably be spending lots of time reading in parks and next to the Danube. I’m really into books about the art world at the moment, so I’ve just picked up a book called  The $12 Million Stuffed Shark, a rollercoaster exploration of galleries, modern art and money. It sound a bit dry but it’s perfect for Budapest where there are lots of small indy galleries to explore, and a great modern art gallery up by Heroes Square.”


Eleanor Ross is a freelance travel writer for newspapers and magazines including Vice, The Guardian, and The Independent

Steve Vickers

“I’m spending the summer in Sweden, but will be reading about an adventure that took place much further north. Bea Uusman’s book called The Expedition: A Love Story tells the tale of the Swedish men who set off on a hare-brained expedition to reach the North Pole in an air balloon. Their bodies were found 33 years after their disappearance, with enough food, guns and warm clothing to have kept them alive. What really happened to them? And why, more than a century after the event, did Uusman become obsessed with solving the mystery?”


Steve Vickers is a freelance travel writer and founder of Routes North travel site

Pól Ó Conghaile

“It pains me to say it, but the more I rely on devices in travel, the less I read. Whereas previously, I set off on trips armed not just with guidebooks, but several paperbacks written by local authors, or relevant to that country, now the time I once spent reading is spent updating social media, scanning websites and word-of-mouth tips, and keeping up with workflow back home. I carry a camera, lenses and laptop on my back too, so books are judged as much on weight as content. I haven’t forsaken books entirely, of course. Visiting Connemara this year, I packed Tim Robinson’s trilogy called ‘Connemara’. Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way (O’Brien Press), a book of photographs by Carsten Krieger, is within reach as I write. The western seaboard has been my most visited Irish destination over the past 18 months – and I love seeing how other writers and photographers interpret it… and whether they got better weather than I did! Maybe I should mix it up more. Writing this has me hankering after a good book.”


Pól Ó Conghaile is travel editor with


Mary Novakovich

“I’ve just started reading Tim Parks’s Italian Ways: On and Off the Rails from Milan to Palermo. It’s a hugely entertaining insight into the often bewildering state of Italy’s railways. Parks has been living in Italy for about 30 years, so he really knows the Italian mindset. Next up on my Kindle is Rory Maclean’s latest book, Berlin: Imagine a City, in which he dives into the city’s fascinating history. I’m also looking forward to reading Albania’s Mountain Queen by Marcus Tanner, which tells the story of Edith Durham, an intrepid British woman who set off for the Balkans in 1900. I’ll be in Eastern Europe as well this summer, namely in Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia.”


Mary Novakovich is a freelance travel writer at The Independent and The Guardian, amongst others.

Matthew Teller

“Since my forthcoming trip to Iraq has been postponed to the autumn – part of me is going ‘phew!’ – I’m at a bit of a loose end, though I’m looking forward to returning to Oslo later in the summer. Having thoroughly enjoyed Elif Shafak’s marvellous The Architect’s Apprentice – about a boy and his elephant in 16th-century Istanbul – I’m looking forward to young Egyptian writer Youssef Rakha’s The Book of the Sultan’s Seal, billed as a fantasy woven around a series of drives across modern-day Cairo. I’m also partway through – and loving – F**k The Radio, We’ve Got Apple Juice, a brilliant set of essays by Miranda Ward about up-and-coming Oxford rock band Little Fish and how they dumped the music industry in favour of true happiness. Good for them.”


Matthew Teller writes and broadcasts on the Middle East and travel for the BBC and other global media. The new edition of his ‘Rough Guide to the Cotswolds’ is out now. Follow him @matthewteller.


Have you ever been inspired to visit a destination after reading about it?  Leave a comment below, we’d love to hear from you!


- Fiona Hilliard