Books that Inspire Travel: Classic United States Road Trips

Looking to hit the road? These five road trip classics will get you going!

On the Road by Jack Kerouac

Originally published in 1957, On The Road chronicles Kerouac’s adventures traveling across the United States. Reportedly written in 3 weeks on a 120-foot typewritten scroll, the manuscript was revised over the next decade before being published, most notably being edited for obscenities and changing the names of fellow Beat generation companions like Allen Ginsburg and Neal Cassady to avoid libel. The original ending of the manuscript was lost – the missing end of the scroll is noted by Kerouac:  ‘Ate by Patchkee, a dog’.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream by Hunter S. Thompson

The story follows Raoul Duke (an alter ego of Thompson) and his attorney Dr. Gonzo on two trips to Las Vegas in 1971. This lurid tale highlights the drug frenzy and culture coming out of the 1960s and the decline of the American Dream. Originally published as a two-part series in Rolling Stone, it later became a book in 1972. Fear and Loathing gained a resurgence of fame when it was produced as a movie starring Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro in 1998.

Travels with Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck

Travels with Charley is a chronicle of a road trip across the United States in 1960 taken by author John Steinbeck and his standard poodle Charley, in a pickup truck/camper named Rocinante after Don Quixote’s horse. He started from Long Island, New York, and traveled approximately 10,000 miles along the outer border of the U.S. in order to find the America he felt he had lost touch with. Steinbeck had spent 20 years traveling in Europe as a well-known author after he won the Pulitzer Prize for Grapes of Wrath in 1939. Travels with Charley was first published in 1962, the same year Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America by Bill Bryson

In 1987-1988, Bill Bryson traveled from his childhood home of Des Moines, Iowa, and began a journey that would take him across 38 states in a bid to rediscover his youth. His telling of the road trip would become the first travel story of many. Well-known for his witty writing, Bryson serves his take on everything from Times Square in New York to Williamsburg, Virginia, and beyond in the search for the “perfect” American small town.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig

Pirsig’s classic is based on a road trip he took in 1968 with his then 12-year-old son across the United States. It was rejected by 121 publishers before being published in 1974. Since then, over 5 million copies have been sold and it now appears in the Guinness Book of Records as the most bestselling book rejected by the largest number of publishers.

What are your favorite American road trip books?


  • Seeds by Richard Horan (2011) One Man’s Serendipitous Journey to Find the Trees That Inspired Famous American Writers. This is a road trip book in which the author literally collects seeds from literary landmarks all over the country. Great, well-written book. Recommended.

  • My favorite travel book is IN QUEST OF AMERICA, a memory of my days traveling by thumb and eventually vehicle down the East Coast, then westward following the sun to the Pacific Coast, 1963-65, with ann added venture afterwards of return to the West Coast in ’66.

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