The holiday season can mean long hours stranded in airports while trying to shuttle around the country and connect with family. This year, go farther: These four books can inspire the adventure of a lifetime, or provide a perfect armchair getaway for those who’d rather keep their feet on terra firma.


The folks at National Geographic don’t mince words: World’s Best Travel Experiences: 400 Extraordinary Places lays out several lifetimes’ worth of amazing locales, from the hill country of Texas to Lake Titicaca. Themed sections (exotic locales, open spaces, urban centers) are broken up with top 10 lists (best romantic getaways, religious pilgrimages, paintings you have to see in person), along with stunning photos, maps and the occasional observation from the likes of Bill Bryson and Anna Quindlen. Experienced travelers will love to read and quarrel with the lists here; surely we each have our own top 10 favorite bungee-jumpable volcanoes, right? Dreamers will find inspiration, and maybe motivation to renew that passport after all.


For more detailed ­itineraries, anyone who longs to experience Paris, Berlin, Göteborg or Tbilisi will happily spend hours leafing through the suggested sights in 36 Hours: 125 Weekends in Europe, a collection of columns from the New York Times’ popular “36 Hours” travel feature. Both well-known tourist attractions (London’s Tate Modern, the Cologne Cathedral) and smaller, quirkier spots (such as Sziklakorhaz, a museum of the Cold War in Budapest) get the Times’ treatment, in brief sections jampacked with everything you’ll need to make the most of your time in Porto, Zagreb, Copenhagen, Genoa. . . . Use this book to plan a quick weekend jaunt, to find new ideas for your next trip to a favorite destination, or just to savor the thrill of a continent full of possibilities.


Great Adventures offers an exciting collection of once-in-a-lifetime trips. Combining maps, must-do experiences, travel specs and a fun “armchair” section, this book will kickstart your next vacation. The photography is astonishing, often begging a double- or triple-take to absorb, for example, prayer flags streaming in the wind atop Annapurna. The writing combines history, travel pointers and unexpected humor. (Would Handel be flattered to hear his “Water Music” described as a “chillaxing masterpiece”?) Sections on diving, mountain biking, climbing, rafting and sailing, often through high-risk terrain, offer a new appreciation of nature’s power. Utah’s Paria Canyon is starkly lovely and packed with historical significance, but flash flooding killed explorers there in 2005 and 2008. Pick up Great Adventures and let yourself get truly lost in a book.


Those who would rather be immersed in one adventure at a time will gravitate to The Condé Nast Traveler Book of Unforgettable Journeys, Volume II. At 83, Martha Gellhorn explores Belize and finds even cursory exploration “opened up to me vast vistas of my ignorance.” Calvin Trillin wanders the streets of Cuenca, Ecuador, and eats nearly everything that crosses his path, proving to readers it’s possible to laugh out loud while your mouth waters. Russell Banks goes mountain climbing in Quito, eats mostly Pop-Tarts and comes home with a broken collarbone. These pieces all appeared in Condé Nast Traveler magazine, which maintains a distance from the travel industry so writers can offer a portrait untainted by an excess of complimentary shampoos. It seems to work, as when Robert Hughes claims Leningrad’s prostitutes are supermodel-lovely but for the bad teeth and heavy hand with the blusher. Make a pot of coffee, curl up with ­Unforgettable Journeys and plot your next great escape.

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