Wanderlust: according to the New Oxford American Dictionary, it means “a strong desire to travel.” In my opinion, the word encompasses so much more. To me, wanderlust has more to do with an adventurous spirit, generally, than it does with the specific act of traveling. It holds a feeling of yearning, of wanting to go on an adventure, with a touch of something intangible. In other words, the word wanderlust feels a little magical to me.
So how do books inspire not just or necessarily a desire to travel, but wanderlust? Well, like the word itself, there isn’t a list of characteristics or a concrete definition to point to. It’s more of an undertone and has more to do with a book’s atmosphere than the story’s actual content. While an international setting or travel within the book itself can certainly foster wanderlust in certain occasions, a book doesn’t ever have to go to what we might consider a romanticized location or even be set in a real place to make its reader suddenly want to explore.
Many of the books I’ve chosen have magical elements or are fantasy books (in fact, I think only one of them is a pure contemporary). It might seem counterintuitive, and I certainly was surprised upon realizing that these were, in fact, the books I thought best fit the wanderlust theme. Because how could a fantasy book inspire a want to travel when it’s impossible to actually go to the book’s location? Or how could a historical book do the same thing, when we can’t travel back in time to experience the book’s setting?
It all comes back to the magic of wanderlust and the feelings these books inspired in me. For me, each of the following books has that intangible quality that I think of when I think of “wanderlust.”
Mosquitoland by David Arnold
This is the one contemporary that made it onto this list; in fact, it’s the book that inspired this article. There is an actual road trip that takes place in this book, but it’s the characters and writing style that give this novel its magic. David Arnold’s writing is wonderful, strange, and introspective in its own unique way. While reading this story, I wanted nothing more than to jump into its pages and become a part of its cast; I wanted to meet and become best friends with its characters; I wanted to go on my own spontaneous road trip and see who I could meet or what I could experience along the way.
Grim Lovelies by Megan Shepherd
Ok, yes, this is a fantasy book. But it also takes place in a fantasy version of Paris, so it feels more like a real-world-turned-magical story than anything else (but don’t worry, I’ve got a pure fantasy coming soon ;)). In this story, the main character leaves the tiny world of the apartment she’s always lived in for the first time and discovers the vastness of the outside world. She explores the magical Paris underground and she voyages to the French countryside. What she finds along her journeys surprises her: the world isn’t at all what she thought it was, and much of this book is her being simultaneously awed and terrified by both the beauty and ugliness that exists in the world. Anouk’s amazement and character development, alongside Shepherd’s fantastic world-building, made me want to venture to unexplored places and feel Anouk’s awe for myself.
The Infernal Devices series by Cassandra Clare
This series is both supernatural and historical. It does, though, take place in a real place: London. While this series may have taken place about 250 years ago, it still made me want nothing more than to hop on a plane and explore London. Clare’s writing style was beautiful and atmospheric, and it felt like I was discovering London alongside Tessa.
That doesn’t mean I don’t still want to actually go to London, though. I need to make that happen someday.
To Kill A Kingdom by Alexandra Christo
Here it is! The one book on this list that isn’t set in any kind of real or existing location. This book is one of my absolute favorite retellings ever, and it didn’t hurt that there was a lot of travel and exploration taking place alongside the epic plot. This book is a standalone, so Christo really had to weave an incredible amount of world-building throughout the story. The characters ventured to countless kingdoms and lands that absolutely popped off the page, that I could see so clearly it felt like I was there. It made me want to visit the world of the story, of course, but Christo’s writing and vivid descriptions really just made me want to go on any kind of adventure to see what I might find in places I’ve never been.
The summary of Passenger on Goodreads literally reads “a perilous journey across centuries and continents.” Need I say more? We get to explore different places and different time periods in this book. Not to mention that Bracken’s writing is gorgeous, lyrical, and atmospheric. This series is the epitome of a wanderlust set of books, and they’ll make you daydream of exploring faraway places.
Are you ready to book a flight yet? Because I certainly am. Just thinking about the books I’ve discussed makes me want to plan an adventure. Each of them has that special and magical wanderlust quality in addition to being phenomenal stories. Through reading them, you’ll both have been on an incredible trip and be longing to actually take one.