Planning a road trip? Here’s everything you might need to plot a cross-country journey, a family vacation, or a solo trek.
Instead of cycling through the same old tunes, download one of these epic audiobooks for hours of road trip entertainment. Really, we mean a long time — like 90 hours, if you need it.
The best audiobooks for road trips don’t include stale, PBS-style classical literature, but rather, enthralling stories about American pop culture, scenery, its history, and the weirdness, beauty, and even darkness buried beneath it all. Our picks for the best road trip audiobooks are sure to keep you energized and give the trip greater meaning.
Now, let’s burn rubber.
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
Read by David Carradine
A good book does not a good audiobook make. Essential to the success of an audiobook is the voice, and we love David Carradine’s reading of the beat classic On the Road, an obvious road trip go-to since the story is about a young man hitchhiking across America. The voice is reminiscent of the twang and spirit of the 1950s: emotive without verging on sappy. Just remember, every hitchhiker you see isn’t going to be Sal Paradise, so maybe keep truckin’.
Hell’s Angels by Hunter S. Thompson
Read by Scott Sowers
You can practically smell the smoking cigarette in the hand of reader Scott Sowers, who does a tremendous job giving a voice to Hunter S. Thompson’s “strange and terrible saga,” Hell’s Angels. At a time when the biker gang was most feared by America, Gonzo took to the sidecar for an up-close and personal look at their rides, parties, and violence. It’ll make you look at motorcyclists passing by in a new light, not necessarily good or bad.
The Wangs vs. The World by Jade Chang
Read by Nancy Wu
This debut novel from author Jade Chang tells the story of the Wangs, a Chinese immigrant family who finds their previously bursting coffers emptied by the United States financial crisis of 2007. Narrator Nancy Wu pulls out every drop of humor and heart in the story as the listener follows the journey of recently bankrupt patriarch Charles Wang and his family across America. A story of devastating endings and unexpected new beginnings, The Wangs vs. The World offers a new perspective on the complexities of life, family, culture, and success in America.
Less by Andrew Sean Greer
Read by Robert Petkoff
What begins with a familiar plot device (the painful receipt of an ex’s wedding invitation) quickly blossoms into a gorgeous rumination on the human heart in Andrew Sean Greer’s Pulitzer-winning novel Less. In this reading, narrator Robert Petkoff captures every quirk, smirk, smile and heartbeat of Greer’s storytelling. Listeners follow the story of nearly-50 Arthur Less, who after receiving an invitation to the wedding of his ex-boyfriend of nine years, embarks on a global pilgrimage of avoidance that will take him from Paris to the Arabian Sea.
Carsick by John Waters
Read by John Waters
Wild, wacky, raunchy, and risqué, this hitchhiking manifesto does not disappoint for anyone who is a fan of John Waters in all his weird, wonderful glory. In this audiobook, read by the author himself, Waters regales listeners with three stories of thumbing rides across America. First are his two fantasy adventures as he imagines all the amazing and awful things that could happen to him on his fool’s errand of bumming rides from one coast to the other. Once the listener has been treated, in classic Waters style, to the deepest recesses of his imagination, Waters finally shares the story of what really happened to him out on the open road.
The Devil’s Highway by Luis Alberto Urrea
Read by Luis Alberto Urrea
Given the state of U.S.-Mexico border politics, this is a gruesome but masterful must-read (or must-listen). Narrated by author Luis Alberto Urrea, The Devil’s Highway pieces together the true facts from a border crossing case gone terribly wrong A group of 26 men attempted to cross the Mexican border into the Southern Arizona desert and 14 never made it out. Fascinated by true crime? This is your audiobook.
The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
Read by Cherry Jones
If your road trip dips into the American South, press play on The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. The undercurrent of humanity in this story, based around moral isolation in a small southern mill town in the 1930s, will have you nodding to each passerby and seeking a real conversation at the roadside diner. After all, road tripping is all about hearing stories you’d never hear if you hadn’t ventured out.
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
Read by Derek Perkins
What better way to while away the miles than by pondering questions like “How did we get here?”, “What are we doing?”, and “Why is humanity?” Pass the time by having your mind blown by Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. Read by Derek Perkins, the book takes a deep dive into the history of Homo sapiens, looking not only at how we have evolved as a species but also what our constant evolution means for the future. What can our history tell us about who we’ll be in the future? And perhaps most poignantly, will we like who we are becoming?
My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgaard
Read by Edoardo Ballerini
How many miles do you have left? Because we’ve got you a fix for roughly 90 hours of drive time. Karl Ove Knausgaard’s six-book literary autobiographical series, My Struggle, at its most basic level, talks about the life of a 45-year-old Norwegian writer from childhood to school to sex to marriage to children, etc. The sensation of these books has been described as opening someone else’s diary and finding your own secrets inside. Knausgaard’s bare honesty makes you feel less alone, especially perfect if you’ve got a solo drive ahead. We’ll find extra loops to drive just to keep from stopping the tape.
Under the Skin by Michael Faber
Read by Fiona Hardingham
The inherent freedom and escapism of a road trip make it a perfect pairing for sci-fi, and Michael Faber’s Under the Skin is a thrilling, unsettling, and unstoppable road trip story itself. It follows Isserley, an extraterrestrial on a mission to gather up as many Earth hitchhikers as she can find and deliver them back to her home planet for consumption. Narrator Fiona Hardingham’s calm narration of the novel’s more gruesome bits makes for a chilling experience, while Isserley’s transformation as the story unfolds brings about unexpected moments of tenderness.
Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs by Chuck Klosterman
Read by Chuck Klosterman
Just shy of six hours long, this 2003 pop-culture manifesto looks at everything from movies, sports, television, music, books, video games, and even kittens, but most of all, it’s about American culture. Klosterman deconstructs Saved by the Bell episodes, the symbolic importance of The Empire Strikes Back, the Celtics-Lakers rivalry of the 1980s, and so, so much more. Hilarious and smart, this audiobook will keep you awake on long night drives.
No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
Read by Tom Stechschulte
Our all-time favorite audiobook is No Country for Old Men read by Tom Stechschulte. Why? The voice is spot-on with the story (about a serial killer in the American West) and pulls out every drop of blood in McCarthy’s language. Listen for two minutes and, if you’re not convinced, we owe you a beer. You’ll also feel a bit more like a cowboy badass arriving toward your destination.
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