My Favorite Books of 2019

a hallway of colorful stacked books
Posted: 12/10/2019 | December 10th, 2019

Another year is almost over, which means it’s again time for my annual best books of the year list! This year, I sort of fell off the book-reading wagon. Writing my own book, moving to Paris and then Austin, and running a conference was exhausting and, by the end of the day, I was often too tired to read.

But, while Netflix often whisked me away to dreamland, I did manage to read a lot of great books this year. It may not have been as many as I would have liked but one can still not be made at averaging two books a month.

So, as we come to end of 2019, here are my favorite travel and non-travel books I think you should pick up to consume:

Ten Years a Nomad, by me!

Ten Years a Nomad by Matt KepnesThis is my new(ish) book!!! Unlike my previous books, this is not a “how to” guide but a collection of insights and stories from the road. It’s a memoir of my ten years backpacking the world and the lessons I learned along the way. This book gets to the heart of wanderlust and what extended travel can teach us about life, ourselves, and our place in the world. It’s available as an audiobook too!

I think it makes for the BEST Christmas gift and it would mean a lot if you picked it up! Gift it to a friend! Leave it in hostels! Whatever you want!

River Town, by Peter Hessler

River Town by Peter HesslerThis book is about American writer and journalist Peter Hessler’s time living in Fuling, China, in the 1990s as one of the first Peace Corp volunteers allowed back in China. I loved his book Oracle Bones, so I was excited to read this one. I don’t think it’s as good, but it’s a detailed, fascinating, well-written account of what living as an expat during a time of great change was like.

Lands of Lost Borders, by Kate Harris

The Land of Lost Borders by Kate HarrisI read this right after I handed in the final draft of my book and was blown away by Kate Harris’s magical prose. Kate writes the way I would love to be gifted enough to write. The book follows her journey cycling the Silk Road from Turkey to Tibet and is filled with vivid descriptions of the people and places she encountered. It’s one of the best books I read all year.

The Joys of Travel, by Thomas Swick

The Joys of Travel by Thomas SwickThomas Swick has been a travel writer and editor for decades and is one of the giants in the industry (it’s been fun to get to know him over the years, and I only regret not finding his work sooner). The book is a quick but thoughtful read on the emotions we feel as travelers and is filled with lovely stories from his time living abroad in Poland and how mass communication has changed travel. It’s a book that will surely inspire you to see more.

Here Lies America, by Jason Cochran

Here Lies America by Jason CochranThis book examines death tourism in America and the forgotten history that comes along with it. My friend Jason Cochran spent time roaming the country exploring the secret past of America’s greatest memorials through the lens of his family’s history. It’s an intriguing and absorbing look at the history of the US (I learned a lot I didn’t know) and how we remember our history (and what we choose to forget). I can’t recommend it enough!

The Atlas of Happiness, by Helen Russell

The Atlas of Happiness by Helen RussellWritten by Helen Russell (who also wrote the entertaining book The Year of Living Danishly), this book examines what makes certain cultures happy and others not. (In many ways, it’s like The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner.) The book’s writing style makes it an easy read that will give you lessons you can use in your own life.

Stillness Is the Key, by Ryan Holiday

Stillness Is the Key by Ryan HolidayWritten by Best-selling author and modern-day philosopher Ryan Holiday, this book is a short and easy (but insightful) read about the need for stillness in your life. In this fast-paced world, we forget that slowing down can provide us with calmness, thoughtfulness, and help us lead a happier life. As someone who has gone through a lot of change this year, I found a lot of wisdom in the book. It’s some of Ryan’s best writing to date.

Why We Sleep, by Matthew Walker

Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker PhDAs an insomniac, I was hoping this book would help me learn how to sleep better. It didn’t. But what it did do was show me just how important sleep really is and why I need to try to get a lot more of it. “Sleep when you’re dead” is a common phrase, but reading this taught me that if I don’t try to sleep more, I’ll be dead quicker.

Dark Matter, by Blake Crouch

Dark Matter by Blake CrouchWithout giving too much away, this sci-fi book by Blake Crouch revolves around the idea of an infinite multiverse where every possible outcome of a decision plays out — and each decision thereafter creates another split, and so forth and so forth. It made me really think about regret and the decisions we make in our lives in a way I never thought about before. I couldn’t put the book down and found it a profoundly impactful book. It changed how I view regret.

Mistakes Were Made (but Not by Me), by Carol Tavris

Mistakes Were Made (but Not by Me) by Carol TavrisI know that I’m raving about a lot of books on this list, but this is hands-down the best I read all year, one that made me look at people differently. We have a hard time saying, “I was wrong” (even when presented with facts that show 100% we were wrong). This book delves into why people double down on false information. In an age of “fake news,” it was an eye-opening look into how people reduce cognitive dissonance.


So there you have it! My favorite books of 2019. I wish the list was longer so I could say I kept my promise to read more, but all you can do is pick up and keep going! I have a pile of books on my coffee table I’m getting through quicker, now that I’m at home more.

Regardless, if you’re looking for some good books this holiday season, pick one of these up (especially mine, because, hey, let’s be real, I’d appreciate the support!).

If you have any suggestions on what to read, leave them in the comments. I’m due for another big book buy soon!

If you’d like to see some of the other books I’ve recommended (or are currently reading), check out this page I created on Amazon that lists them all!

Book Your Trip: Logistical Tips and Tricks

Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner or Momondo. They are my two favorite search engines because they search websites and airlines around the globe, so you always know no stone is being left unturned.

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You can book your hostel with Hostelworld as they have the largest inventory. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use, as it consistently returns the cheapest rates for guesthouses and cheap hotels. I use them both all the time.

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Looking for the best companies to save money with?
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