Stuck at home, in a car, or on a long flight? There’s no better way to pass the time than by enjoying a book hands-free. Here are some of the best audiobooks for travelers.
True West, Sam Shepard
Heading west on a road trip? Kick off the adventure with True West, a dark comedy and American classic about a sibling rivalry that plays out in the California desert. A screenplay about a film script, True West might be a better listen than it is a read, and it doesn’t hurt that actors Kit Harrington and Johnny Flynn are the narrators.
Length: 87 minutes
What People Are Saying: “Kit Harington (Games of Thrones) and Johnny Flynn (Beast) smolder and burn as sparring brothers in Sam Shepard’s darkly comic 1980 drama. The Cain and Abel conflict is a showdown of sibling rivalry, to be sure, but also bears witness to a legacy of booze-fueled family brawls.”–Amazon
Heads Will Roll, Kate McKinnon
SNL fans and comedy connoisseurs alike will love and laugh at Heads Will Roll by Kate McKinnon and Emily Lynne—which is not to be listened to within earshot of kids. The SNL star and her sister steer this 10-episode theatrical audiobook comedy with the help of big stars ranging from narrator Tim Gunn to Meryl Streep.
Length: 4 hours
What People Are Saying: “The series stars McKinnon as a malevolent monarch and her sister, Emily Lynne, as a scatterbrained minion. It appears to poke fun at tired tropes of the evil queen and the hero’s journey while also relishing in their theatrical value. In terms of plot, the story focuses on McKinnon’s character, Queen Mortuana of the Night Realm, who catches wind of a potential peasant uprising and realizes that in order to put down the rebellion, she and her assistant JoJo (played by Lynne) must go on a quest.”—PopDust
The Buried, Peter Hessler
The telling of the most recent Egyptian revolution through the lens of ancient archaeology, The Buried: An Archaeology of the Egyptian Revolution is authored by New Yorker writer Peter Hessler, who moved to Cairo with his family just before the Egyptian Arab Spring began in 2011. History, politics, and cultural norms converge through the lives of the locals Hessler meets, and link today’s Egypt with ancient times in a satisfying explainer of Egypt’s rich past and complex present.
Length: 16 hours, 44 minutes
What People Are Saying: “Seen from afar, tectonic political shifts often look as if they consume a society. But have you ever been someplace in the middle of momentous political events and found everyone around you getting on with daily life? Few reporters seem better placed to fathom the complexities of this dynamic—ripples of disquiet permeating routine existence—than Peter Hessler.”—The Wall Street Journal
The Pioneers, David McCullough
History buffs can revel in the years during which the first band of settlers set out from Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin to conquer the American Northwest, with David McCullough’s The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West. The real-life accounts are drawn from rare diary entries by the subjects of the novel.
Length: 10 hours, 23 minutes
What People Are Saying: “McCullough tells the story through five major characters: Cutler and Putnam; Cutler’s son Ephraim; and two other men, one a carpenter turned architect and the other a physician who became a prominent pioneer in American science. They and their families created a town in a primeval wilderness while coping with such frontier realities as floods, fires, wolves and bears, no roads or bridges, and no guarantees of any sort, all the while negotiating a contentious and sometimes hostile relationship with the native people. Like so many of McCullough’s subjects, they let no obstacle deter or defeat them.”—Amazon
Life Will Be the Death of Me, Chelsea Handler
The latest memoir by talk-show comedian Chelsea Handler surprises audiences with its rawness that transcends comedy by addressing the state of American politics. Life Will Be the Death of Me … and You Too is Handler’s sixth book.
Length: 5 hours, 25 minutes
What People Are Saying: “You thought you knew Chelsea Handler—and she thought she knew herself—but in her new book, she discovers that true progress lies in the direction we haven’t been.”—Gloria Steinem
Game of Thrones, George R.R. Martin
HBO’s hit show might be over, but you can go back to the beginning with Game of Thrones: A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 1. Or choose from the entire series, which are some of the best audiobooks for road trips even if you’re new to the saga—although you will need a lot of time to get through them all.
Length: 33 hours, 46 minutes (Book 1)
What People Are Saying: “There have been many fantasy sagas published in the last half century, but few can boast the scope, depth, and attention to detail of A Song of Fire and Ice.”—Common Sense Media
From Scratch, Tembi Locke
Travelers of all backgrounds will appreciate this romance about cross-cultural boundaries, love at first sight, family, food, and death. From Scratch: A Memoir of Love, Sicily, and Finding Home also ends with a collection of recipes (included in text form).
Length: 10 hours, 17 minutes
What People Are Saying: “The writing in From Scratch is sublime. Locke allows her readers to revel in the sensory experiences of Sicily. She offers a peek into her deeply satisfying relationship with her daughter, her husband, and their family.”—The Associated Press
The Night Tiger, Yangsze Choo
A book-club favorite of late, The Night Tiger: A Novel follows a hardworking dressmaker whose small Malaysian village encounters a series of puzzling deaths and rumors of men who turn into tigers. It’s a dense but fantastical tale that makes it one of the best audiobooks for road trips spanning many hours.
Length: 14 hours, 8 minutes
What People Are Saying: “Choo narrates this richly complex novel herself, her gorgeous writing delivered in a voice that is deep and precise and lovely, both British and not quite. Her tone and words transport us.”—San Francisco Chronicle
Elizabeth II: Life of a Monarch, Ruth Cowen
Queen Elizabeth’s early private life and public reign still read like a blockbuster movie, whether or not you’re headed for the U.K. anytime soon. Elizabeth II: Life of a Monarch is written by British journalist Ruth Cowen and narrated by respected British royal correspondent Jennie Bond.
Length: 3 hours, 47 minutes
What People Are Saying: “Wife, mother and head of state, who is the real Elizabeth? What do the headlines hide? How close to reality are the television interpretations? … Admired by many, she has reigned through a period of unprecedented change, steering the monarchy through the end of an empire, public scandals and private losses.”—Goodreads
Before She Knew Him, Peter Swanson
A tale of paranoia and unsolved murder in a suburb of Boston, Before She Knew Him: A Novel is a complex crime novel that will keep you guessing as to what’s reality and what’s not.
Length: 10 hours, 15 minutes
What People Are Saying: “Before She Knew Him is a wicked thriller that does not disappoint. Peter Swanson has written another gem that pulls the reader in and never lets go, even as the story comes to a close. This is a book that will keep you up at night and haunt your thoughts. A fun, chilling read.”—Manhattan Book Review
More from SmarterTravel:
- 8 Best Travel Books and Their Real-Life Destinations
- 11 Travel Movies and Shows to Inspire Your Next Trip
- 15 Great Summer Books to Read at the Beach
SmarterTravel Editor Shannon McMahon writes about all things travel. Follow her on Instagram at @shanmcmahon.
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2019. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.