Robert Reid is the U.S. Travel Editor for Lonely Planet. In a column written exclusively for BookPage, he highlights terrific travel books, both old and new. This month, he selects some of the best books to give to family and friends this holiday season.

Travel often begins in an armchair—sitting back and poring over atlases, photo books and travelogues of journeys past and present. And dreaming. I used to spend hours poking at maps and plotting out road trips to towns with funny names, or flicking through National Geographic and dreaming of experiencing those places myself. The good news is that 2012 has been a great year for holiday gift fodder for the budding traveler or world-wise reader.

The Longest Way Home, the first book by Brat Pack actor-turned-travel writer Andrew McCarthy, does double duty, sharing both the behind-the-scenes reality of a writer on the road while also showing how the Pretty in Pink actor comes to terms with his notion of “home” in the weeks before his Irish wedding. It’s quite a read, particularly as the insular McCarthy opens up to expats, travelers and locals in some of the world’s most varied destinations (including Baltimore), and, most importantly, to his readers.

Those observers who lament the disappearance of the “pilgrimage” in travel in recent years will treasure Gideon Lewis-Kraus’ A Sense of Direction. This engaging and often funny travelogue follows three historic pilgrimage routes: the Camino de Santiago in Spain, a 900-mile temple-hopping trek in pure solitude in Japan and a journey with his dad and brother to visit the tomb of a Hasidic mystic in Ukraine.

I’ve always wanted to see more competition between destinations. That’s one of the reasons I responded to the playful, artistic showdown between the world’s two greatest cities in Vahram Muratyan’s Paris Versus New York with 50 side-by-side visual comparisons (e.g., baguette or bagel). In addition to the original book, there’s also a fun postcard version. New York? Paris? Can there be a tie?

Sometimes it’s the photos that transport a reader. Lonely Planet released several new photo-filled coffee table books this year. My favorite—and the one with the most “Really?” moments—is Great Adventures, which offers lore and logistics as well as stunning images of the world’s greatest journeys. Trek up Chile’s Torres del Paine, raft the Nile, go baboon-spotting in Ethiopia—all from your armchair (if you can restrain yourself).

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