The 10 Best Audiobooks for Your Next Road Trip
From fantasy to thrillers to '80s classics—experts say these are the top audiobook picks.
Packing up the car and heading out on a road trip is a rite of passage. Many of us remember our first road trip as a kid, when we loaded up our suitcases to venture out toward a new destination. Maybe you also hit the road with friends after college, or have taken your kids on a road trip of their own, seeing the sites or exploring different national parks. But if you're spending hours in the car—no matter who you're with—you need something to pass the time. Music and podcast episodes can only cover so many miles, which is why you might be in the market for an audiobook.
According to Hayley Yager, bookstagrammer and blogger of Backpacking Bookworm, there are a few key factors that go into selecting the right audiobook for a road trip. To maximize your listening experience, she recommends looking for "engaging and authentic narrators," who will keep your attention. Second, consider the genres or types of books you're most interested in. Podcast-lovers might prefer a non-fiction pick, and if you've always wanted to learn about some historical or contemporary figure, a biography or memoir could be a great option. Fiction is also a great option, and you'll find a plethora of different stories that you can immerse yourself in on a long drive.
If you're having trouble making the right call, travel experts and book bloggers have recommended some of their top audiobook choices, which you can either purchase or borrow from your local library. Read on to find out what you should be listening to while on the road.
READ THIS NEXT: The 8 Most Charming Towns in the U.S. for a Fall Getaway.
The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America, Bill Bryson
Anything by renowned nonfiction author Bill Bryson is worth a read or a listen. He writes about complex concepts—including the intricacies of the human body and the history of the universe—but does so in an accessible, often comical way. Of Bryson's many worthy reads, Anthony Presti, travel writer of ValueQuack, recommends The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America.
"Follow Bill on his cross-country road trip in the United States. From the backwoods of Kentucky to the badlands of South Dakota, Bryson covers it all in this hilarious account of his journey," Presti says.
Bryson travels across 38 states in total over the course of the travelogue, as he searches for the perfect small American town—and you'll be waiting to see if he finds it. "If you're looking for a laugh-out-loud book to listen to on your road trip, this is the one for you," Presti says. "It is one of the funniest books you'll ever read, whether at home or on the road."
The Flight Attendant, Chris Bohjalian
If you love a good modern mystery, The Flight Attendant is a solid choice for your next road trip. Full of suspense, this story follows Cassie, a binge drinker who finds herself in the middle of a murder investigation. It's also been turned into a popular show on HBO Max, so you can engage in the age-old debate of book versus TV series when you're done listening.
"Why not infuse a little 'travel talk' into your travels? With the release of the new HBO show based on this novel, I wanted to give the book a try before watching it," Bryan Mullennix, founder of the travel website Feeling Vegas, explains. "It's a suspenseful novel and makes for a good road trip audiobook because of how it is written and also the fact that it kind of relates to travel."
This audiobook has three narrators, meaning you'll hear different voices for different characters in this chilling and thrilling read. Looking for something even darker? You might want to opt for Yager's thriller pick, The Night Swim by Megan Goldin.
For more travel advice delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.
Under the Whispering Door, TJ Klune
If you just want to be transported to another world, let TJ Klune take you there by listening to Under The Whispering Door. Klune has quickly become a mainstay in the fantasy genre, often featuring LGBTQ+ characters. Under The Whispering Door also adds a splash of romance, humor, and some more intense themes of grief and loss.
John Hubbard, founder and CEO of the outdoor blog Urban Dare, recommends Under The Whispering Door if you want something that will truly keep your attention. "The audiobook gives you all types of feeling with every character's unique and suitable voice," he explains, adding that Kirt Graves, a well known audiobook reader and audio producer, narrates. "It provides a great message from life and love to death with its lovable characters."
Hubbard recommends this for a long drive, "as it will take some time to understand the deep questions Klune's tale poses throughout." The audiobook has a listening length of 14 hours and 54 minutes, so it'll get you through a good stretch of your trip. "Some listeners might find the audiobook a bit slow at the start," he notes. "It is better to listen at 1.5 speed until you begin to understand the plot of the story."
Becoming, Michelle Obama
If you're choosing a memoir for a long-haul drive, Yager recommends selecting one that is recorded by the author. "In my experience, stories are brought more to life when read by the person who knows the book better than anyone," she tells Best Life, suggesting Becoming by Michelle Obama as a notable choice.
The former First Lady narrates her memoir, discussing her childhood all the way through her time in the White House and after. You'll feel connected to Obama when listening to her tell her story, and if you needed any more convincing, she won the 2020 Grammy for Best Spoken Word Album for her audio edition of the book.
If you've already checked Becoming off of your reading list—it was, after all, the best-selling book of 2018—Presti also recommends Barack Obama's 2020 memoir A Promised Land. "It chronicles his upbringing, his time in office, and the challenges he faced throughout his presidency," he says. "It's an inspiring story that will leave you feeling hopeful and motivated—perfect for a road trip where anything can happen."
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, J.K. Rowling
One of the most beloved series of all time centers on a young wizard named Harry Potter. The stories have captivated young and old readers alike since Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was first published in 1997. Presti recommends this audiobook for your next trip on the open road, especially if you've got your kids in tow.
"If you're looking for a book the whole family can enjoy on your road trip, look no further than Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," he explains. "With its magic, adventure, and suspense, this book is sure to keep everyone entertained on a long car ride."
As The Sorcerer's Stone is the first installment in the seven-part series, you might also want to bring Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets along as well, just in case the kids (or you) can't wait to find out what happens next.
The Switch, Beth O'Leary
While you can't watch a rom-com while you're driving, you can certainly listen to one. Yager recommends The Switch, which is set in the U.K. and features a plot line that might remind you a little of the movie The Holiday. The story focuses on a newly-single grandmother looking for love in the rural town of Yorkshire and her granddaughter, who has become exhausted by life in London. The two decide to switch places, and drama, romance, and comedy ensue.
The audiobook is read by two English actors, Daisy Edgar-Jones, of Normal People and Where the Crawdads Sing, and Alison Steadman, award-winning stage, film, and television star.
"This is an easy and light listen with two celebrity narrators, which evokes familiarity," Yager says. "The chapters are the perfect length, enabling you to get invested in one storyline before moving on to the next when the narrators switch."
You can listen to this 10-hour audiobook on a longer drive, but Yager notes that you can also "dip in and out for shorter trips."
READ THIS NEXT: The 5 Newest National Parks You Need to Add to Your Bucket List.
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
Some stories are classics for a reason, and even if you haven't picked up a copy of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, odds are you've heard of it. First published in 1979, it was adapted from author Douglas Adams' radio series and follows the journey of the only man to survive after earth is destroyed.
"Full of laughs, science fiction, and awesome '70s and '80s references, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is the perfect audiobook for a road trip," Tim White, CEO and founder of the travel site MilePro, says. This pick is more "lighthearted," he adds, making it a good choice for those who don't want an audiobook that's too intense.
The book is just under six hours long, White points out, making it optimal for shorter journeys. It's also narrated by English actor and broadcaster Stephen Fry, so you might recognize a familiar voice.
The Funny Thing About Norman Foreman, Julietta Henderson
Another one of Yager's fiction picks is The Funny Thing About Norman Foreman, which has all the necessary components of a family comedy—think Little Miss Sunshine with a twist.
"This is the perfect road trip listen as the book itself revolves around a family taking a detour-heavy road trip up to Edinburgh so 12-year-old Norman can perform at the Fringe," she says.
For those unfamiliar with the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in Scotland, it's the largest arts festival in the world, dating back to 1947. In this contemporary fiction novel, young Norman is hoping to take his comedy act to center stage at the event. "It's an absolute rollercoaster of one hilarious feat after another, yet still manages to retain every ounce of authenticity," Yager says. "It's a feel-good book that anyone can enjoy, making it perfect for a long road trip."
When You Are Engulfed in Flames, David Sedaris
For those who want an audiobook that is chock-full of different stories, check out David Sedaris' When You Are Engulfed in Flames.
"If you're looking for a more introspective, thought-provoking read, When You Are Engulfed in Flames is the book for you," Presti tells Best Life.
Sedaris narrates the audiobook himself, and you're sure to be entertained by his wit as he covers topics that range from ridiculous to deeply insightful. "It's a hilarious and poignant look at the human condition that will have you thinking about it long after you've finished reading," Presti says. "Follow as David travels the world and tries to make sense of it all."
Ready Player One, Ernest Cline
Ernest Cline's fantastic 2011 novel Ready Player One is a must-read—or listen, in this case—for anyone interested in gaming, virtual reality, or just science fiction in general.
"If you're looking for a lighthearted, fun book to keep you entertained on a road trip, look no further than Ready Player One," Presti says. "This science fiction novel follows the story of Wade Watts, a teenager who finds himself thrust into a virtual world in search of an Easter egg that will grant its finder ultimate power and control over the world. Along the way, he makes allies and enemies as he fights to be the first to find the egg."
The novel has also been adapted into a film directed by Steven Spielberg, but the book has significant differences. S0, even if you've seen the movie, you should still give the book a go. "It will have you laughing, crying, and cheering—the perfect way to pass the time on a long car ride," Presti says.