During the travel "off-season" I like to read travel essays or other works in which the setting and plot involve travel. Such works as those by Francis Mayes or Peter Mayle are among the more popular of this genre, but it would also include the work of Steinbeck, Twain, and even Benjamin Franklin. When I find one that I really enjoy, I will buy it as a gift for various friends that suffer from the addiction / affliction of travel. I would like to know what travel writings others have found inspiring, funny, true to life, or reminiscent of their own wanderings. I am not trying to start a book club here, but simply to compile a bibliography of the suggestions posted.
Some of my favorite travel essay books are those by Tim Cahill. There are a number of them, and they are about interesting, often "off the beaten path" places -- and are often funny. I love Paul Theroux, too, but some of his experiences were so long ago now that, while entertaining, they aren't very informative. "Riding the Iron Rooster", his journey through China by train, was perhaps groundbreaking for the time because almost no one had access to the country for this type of trip. But his experience of having a government "handler" everywhere, for example, is absolutely not the way things are there now.
I prefer to read things that give me ideas for places I'd like to visit. I also like accounts of foreigners who move to a new country and try to assimilate into the local culture ("Driving Over Lemons", "The Caliph's House", "On Mexican Time", etc.) And how could I leave out Bill Bryson ("A Walk in the Woods", "Notes from a Small Island", " In A Sunburned Country", etc.)??
A couple of books come to mind right now. One favorite, which is great for women contemplating their first trip, is A Journey Of One's Own by Thalia Zapatos. It was written in 1992 and some of the details are a bit out-dated, but it's a great book for inspiration.
Another favorite is Portraits Of France by Robert Daley. It's a series of essays, specific to various French locales, of the author's experiences living in France as a young man wishing to emulate Hemingway. It's beautifully written; I've read it twice and also given it as a gift. It was also published in the 90's.
Travel writing is a favorite genre of mine, and I look forward to learning of new titles to check out.
Ditto to those listed above. Not all of my suggestions are travel essays, but many have enriched my past visits to these places and help get me excited about upcoming trips.
Ireland - "McCarthy's Bar" and "Road to McCarthy" (Pat McCarthy); "The Last of the Donkey Pilgrims" (Kevin O'Hara)
Italy - "Reluctant Tuscan" (Phil Doran); "Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling" (Ross King); "Brunelleschi's Dome" (Ross King); "Galileo's Daughter" (Dava Sobel)
Bill Bryson's "Notes on a small island" is well worth a read.
To add to previous comment, Bill Bryson has several humorous books. "Notes from a Small Island" is about travelling around Great Britain. There is also "Neither Here Nor There" about travel across Europe and "Notes from a Big Country" (published under a different name in the U.S.) on travelling around the U.S. after living as an expat in Britain for 20 years.
In the US, it's called "I'm a Stranger Here Myself"
Some I would suggest that many might miss would be Dava Sobel's Galileo's Daughter. Another would be Ross King's Michaeloangelo and the Pope's Ceiling. Christopher Hibbert's The Rise and Fall of the House of Medici. Italian Days by Barbara Grazzuti Harrison. Any of Paul Hoffman's many books about Italy. Hibbert has others on Roma and Firenze too.
There are many classics of course and some of those have been mentioned, some fiction and some non-fiction, but these are a bit more factual that many others and cover more history and more of the Italian culture and mind than some others.
If you want something quicker to read, try the annual series of "Best American Travel Writing", published by Houghton Mifflin Co. Each year, one editor is selected to assemble their favorite 20 or so essays and articles that appeared in various travel magazines, newspapers, journals, etc throughout that year. Each story, no longer than 35 pages, is quick and cover a wide variety of subjects. Some are of travels to absolute, most exotic locations, while others cover the places we've all been, like Paris, London, etc., but from a fresh perspective. It's only in paperback, great for the plane or airport, since none of the stories are longer than about 35 pages. Happy reading!