Got the circuit breaker blues? These travel books and shows will help you forget you’re stuck at home. 

After living over a month into lockdown, we’ve all come up with our ways to cope — from whisking Dalgona coffee to binging on whiskey. Hey, whatever floats your boat!

But with at least another month of quarantine looming ahead, we’ve gotta be ready for even more restlessness. The kind that makes you wish you were on vacation.

Castle Hill New Zealand

Yeah, we wish.

While we can’t travel now, there are ways to replicate that sense of adventure, i.e. even if your body can’t go on holiday, your mind can.

Immersive travel books and shows can transport us far beyond the confines of our rooms. They’re also a much-needed reminder that there’s a lot of joy and beauty in the world, though it may be hard to see that now.

Person reading a book in a tent - Travel Books and Shows

Photo credit: Lê Tân via Unsplash

Maybe you’re thinking, “I like to travel, but travel shows and books aren’t really my thing.” Well, it’s not pure wanderlust — this list includes travel-related comedies, novels, and even a K-drama! To make your journey easier, we’ve matched each one to something you like to do during the circuit breaker.

So take a breather and replace your default quarantine activity by exploring the world (while staying safe).

Read also: The Ultimate COVID-19 Staycation — 15 Ways To Pamper Yourself Like You’re On Vacation

Best travel books and shows based on your go-to quarantine activity

1) Annoying your family: Conan Without Borders

Being in lockdown means many of us are spending a lot more quality time at home. With all that restless energy, you might be doing what you do best: Annoying family members. Whether you’re playing pranks or forcing your mum to do a TikTok, you know they already can’t wait to be rid of your ass.

Give your family a break and instead, watch Conan O’Brien troll people around the world. Who knows, you might even get some new ideas.

In Conan Without Borders, the iconic talk-show host provides an intimate, hilarious glimpse into different cultures. Conan’s terrific at connecting with the locals, making them laugh (or giving him judgy looks). Some of his antics include visiting an Armenian matchmaker and going for a Japanese etiquette class, where he gets roasted by his instructors. He even rents a fake family in Japan, since having just one to annoy isn’t enough!

It’s not just jokes, either. The show provides educational backstories on each unique culture. Conan also doesn’t shy away from discussing heavier topics like the West Bank refugee crisis, with on-the-ground interviews and a whole lot of empathy.

Where to watch: Netflix

 2) Lying in bed all day: An Idiot Abroad 

Give a grunt if this is you: When lockdown rolled around, you weren’t particularly fussed. You’re perfectly comfy being at home. And if there’s nothing to do, you can always sleep!

You’ll relate to Karl Pilkington, an Englishman who loves nothing better than being at home. He’s never felt the need to travel further than Wales — until his ‘friend’ Ricky Gervais decides to send him around the world.

Karl, who truly is An Idiot Abroad, complains his way through exotic countries like Brazil and Egypt. What’s more, Ricky tortures him with wacky situations in each destination, like staying with “former cannibals” in Peru and visiting a penis-bending yogi in India. Karl’s reactions are ridiculously entertaining and his no-bullshit honesty is refreshing for a travel show.

While you’re probably not as extreme, it’s pretty funny to see him mangle his way through intense overseas adventures. And of course, you can always watch this while staying cosy in bed.


Where to watch: Amazon Prime

3) Pining for your SO: Crash Landing on You

Before 2020, who knew long-distance relationships (LDRs) in tiny Singapore would be a thing? If you’re really feeling the separation anxiety from your SO, there’s no better distraction than finding another couple to ship. Live vicariously through Crash Landing On You‘s complex love story, which transcends cultural divides and military boundaries. 

The show begins like this: Because of bad weather, South Korean socialite Se-ri paraglides across the DMZ into, yep, North Korea. There, she literally crash-lands on elite North Korean officer Captain Ri. You can guess what happens next.

Scene from Crash Landing On You - Travel Books and Shows

Photo credit: AFP via South China Morning Post

While Crash Landing On You isn’t your typical travel show, it’s praised for its accurate portrayal of life in North Korea. The production team aimed to be as realistic as possible. On top of conducting in-depth interviews with North Korean defectors from all walks of life, they also hired one on their writing team.

Fun fact: Even the paragliding accident is technically possible — a similar incident took place in 2008, where a boat carrying a South Korean actress almost crossed the border due to bad weather.

Overall, the show will give you a rare glimpse of life in North Korean villages outside Pyongyang, with details like DIY steam baths, train breakdowns, home inspections, and the strength and spirit of the local people. And of course, all this along with the exciting forbidden romance between two leads from different worlds.

Where to watch: Netflix

4) Raiding the fridge: Street Food

Whether you’re sad, happy, or just plain bored, comfort food is always a good idea. If you’re spending too much time (and calories) on raiding your fridge, maybe it’s a good idea to feast your eyes instead.

Street Food brings you on a gastronomical adventure through Asia’s busy streets. The makeshift stalls are not five-star fancy, but the food they serve is undeniably tasty. There’s a true craft in the dishes the stallholders whip up; each with a recipe that’s been passed down through generations. Indeed, it’s often said that street food captures the essence of a place better than any upscale restaurant can.

P.S. Singapore is featured in one of the episodes, so you can even binge on some of the dishes as you binge-watch!

Where to watch: Netflix

5) Getting creative: The Alchemist 

The Alchemist Book - Travel Books and Shows

Photo credit: @the.cozy.bee via Instagram

Been busy Painting by Numbers or making terrariums? If creativity runs through your veins, then you’ll need an extra-fantastical book to fire up your imagination.

Brazilian writer Paulo Coehlo is famous for filling his novels with vivid imagery that transports you into his world. His bestseller The Alchemist is a perfect example of his art.

The book tells the story of Santiago, a shepherd from Andalusia, who goes on an epic journey to find the pyramids in Egypt. It’s also an allegorical book, meaning that there are lots of hidden meanings and lessons weaved into the story, which are sure to both captivate and inspire.

Where to read: Read or listen to the audiobook for free on the NLB online catalogue

6) Reading the news: Dark Tourist

With so many bleak headlines in the news, many of us have chosen to avoid reading them altogether. Not you, though. You’re reading and researching every new nugget of info, even if it’s not pretty. While some believe that ignorance is bliss, you’re dedicated to finding out more.

That’s also the philosophy of New Zealand filmmaker David Farrier. In the hit series Dark Tourist, he ventures into the world’s most offbeat and macabre destinations. These include a voodoo-practising village in Africa, a murder tour in the US, and Japanese towns wrecked by the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Along the way, he interviews the tourists drawn to these dark places, and gets local insight on their complex history.

While visiting these controversial locations may not be the best idea (and not possible anytime soon), it’s fascinating to explore them onscreen.

Where to watch: Netflix

7) Online parties with friends: On The Road

On The Road Book - Travel Books and Shows

Photo credit: @travelsbookstore via Instagram

The social gatherings may have stopped, but the party goes on! If you’re hitting up your friends for (online) drinks and quality bantz, you’ll appreciate the whirlwind travels in Jack Kerouac’s On The Road.

This 1957 novel is considered one of the greatest books ever written, with beautiful prose that transports you all across America. It’s based on Kerouac’s real-life experiences with his recklessly free-spirited friends, as they live moment to moment travelling across the US.

The wide American expanse and freedom on the road are a much-needed escape while we’re stuck between four walls. And hey, you might get some inspiration for a road trip in future (but maybe without as many vices). 😉

Where to read: Read for free on the NLB online catalogue

8) Taking long walks outside: Our Planet

Having an especially hard time staying at home? Just want to be out in the great outdoors? If your daily walk is your favourite time of the day, or you find yourself staring helplessly out your window, why not explore the natural world through your screen?

Our Planet is withdrawal medicine for nature-holics, taking you through stunning landscapes over 50 different countries. You’ll get to explore jungles, deserts, and deep seas, all in Ultra HD! While you don’t get the salty smell of the ocean or the chill of the waves, Our Planet comes pretty close to that immersive experience.

And best of all, it’s narrated by Sir David Attenborough! You don’t get that on your morning walk.

Where to watch: Netflix

9) Being a nervous wreck: The Geography of Bliss 

The Geography of Bliss Book - Travel Books and Shows

Photo credit: @memoirsandmeaning via Instagram

No shame, but these are difficult times. If you’re struggling to stay happy, then you might find comfort by reading the funny, thoughtful words of foreign correspondent Eric Weiner.

The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World is Weiner’s memoir of his year living abroad. In his quest to unlock the secret to happiness, Weiner decided to travel to the world’s “unheralded happy places”. In each country, he makes amusing yet insightful observations about what happiness means, and how to find it wherever you are in the world.

Where to read: Read or listen to the audiobook for free on the NLB online catalogue

10) Playing with your pets: The Travelling Cat Chronicles

The Travelling Cat Chronicles Book - Travel Books and Shows

Photo credit: @plantworkscreative via Instagram

While some of us are terribly bored or have a lesser form of pets (children 😬), pet parents are a lucky bunch during this circuit breaker. These sweet, sweet animals are endlessly entertaining, and are cute(ish) even when they misbehave. If you’re savouring every second with them during this period, The Travelling Cat Chronicles is the book for you.

The story is told through the eyes of a cat, as he follows his owner on a long trip across Japan. Written by Japanese writer Hiro Arikawa, it’s an authentic and loving look at his home country. More than that, however, is the story of friendship and unconditional love. No spoilers, but you’ll need the tissues for this one.

Where to read: Listen to the audiobook for free on the NLB online catalogue

11) Making Dalgona coffee: Parts Unknown 

Raiding the fridge (see point 4) isn’t enough for your refined tastes. That’s why you’ve gone to the lengths of whisking coffee powder and sugar till your arms ached, then plopping it into a glass with delicate aplomb. Yes, you’re a chef.

Which is why you’ll want to take it up a notch with some lessons from the late, great Anthony Bourdain. In Parts Unknown, the legendary chef explores the unique dishes of each country, using food as a gateway to understanding the local culture.

It’s mouthwatering, beautifully-shot, and immensely educational. From the US to Congo, Bourdain provides insightful commentary. Of course, he also talks about all things food, with useful tips for recipes like authentic Peruvian ceviche.

Where to watch: Amazon Prime

12) Meditating and doing yoga: Eat, Pray, Love

Eat Pray Love Book Cover - Travel Books and Shows

Photo credit: @eatpraylove_officialhouse via Instagram

For you, this circuit breaker is truly food for the soul. You’re taking deep breaths (in your air-conditioned room), and finding balance in a world that’s pretty damn unstable.

Inner peace is the theme of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India, and Indonesia. In her 30s and coming out of a difficult divorce, Gilbert embarked on a year-long personal journey across three different countries.

Eat Pray Love - Travel Books and Shows

Photo credit: Goodreads

The book focuses on her growth and healing as she embraces the three unique cultures — finding pleasure and indulgence in Italy, devotion in India, and spiritualism in Indonesia. Told with lots of honesty and heart, Eat, Pray, Love is one of the most famous travel books out there. It was even adapted into a movie starring Julia Roberts.

Where to read: Listen to the audiobook for free on the NLB online catalogue

13) Planning your travels: Vagabonding

Vagabonding - Travel Books and Shows

Photo credit:

Maybe you’ve had to cancel that epic once-in-a-lifetime trip. Or you’re sick of dreaming about being someplace else, and want to just do something! If you’re a real-life restless vagabond, then yep, Vagabonding is the book for you.

Written by travel writer Rolf Potts, Vagabonding is a practical guidebook on how anyone can live the dream of extended travel. He goes through tips like budgeting (no begpackers, please), working and volunteering overseas, and adapting to life on the road. It all comes from experience, with little details and tips that you might not expect.

Even if you’re not planning on a crazy overseas adventure, Vagabonding is a great inspirational read for living life on your own terms.

Where to read: Listen to the audiobook for free on the NLB online catalogue

Escape your room with the best travel books and shows

Travel Reading - Travel Books and Shows

Photo credit: Craig Cameron via Unsplash

Not being able to travel doesn’t mean we have to feel stuck. Immersive travel books and shows can help you lose yourself in different cultures — one of the best ways to take a break!

So if you’re getting tired of always doing your go-to quarantine activity, why not explore the world instead? You can always go back to what you’ve been doing after you’re done.

Read also: 21-Day Around The World Itinerary For S$0

Featured image credit: Craig Cameron via Unsplash

Facebook image credit: @karaalberts via Instagram, CJ ENM via BBC

Got any other travel books and shows to recommend? Let us know in the comments!

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