9 Best Audio Books for your Next Road Trip | On a Personal Note

It was my friend Kalee’s dad who first suggested audio books when undertaking a long road trip. How do you stay alert when your view is a perpetual ribbon of highway with patches of red tail lights?  It can look the same for miles on miles, and this can eventually have a hypnotic effect.

Having recently completed an almost 1,000 mile road trip in the span of a weekend, as well as thinking about past road trips, I have learned a thing or two about staying alert while driving numerous miles in a day.  The research hasn’t fully confirmed if listening to an audio book helps or hinders drivers, but if you find yourself in heavy traffic or feeling overstimulated with everything going on, it’s the perfect time to hit pause and wait until traffic (or your mind) clears a bit before pursuing the storyline further.

Here are nine audio books (which I still want to call a ‘book on tape’ #backintheday) we have enjoyed on some of our road trips.  At first, I could only remember a handful, but talking with my sweet pea, we recalled more about the trips we took, the highlights along the way, as well as the story lines and tidbits of the audio books that kept us alert over the miles.  In no particular order:

Dirk Gentley’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams

Douglas Adams’ Dirk Gentley’s Holistic Detective Agency brought us from the peninsula to Yosemite one Easter weekend to go camping.  This brilliantly written romp for the mind will entertain with a completely unbelievable story of ghosts, time travel, eccentric computer geniuses, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the end of the world, and—of course—missing cats.


Twisted by Jeffrey Deaver

Jeffrey Deaver’s Twisted, selected unabridged short stories, accompanied us while driving from the San Francisco Bay Area to Los Angeles for a Thanksgiving weekend. As we made our way to Pacheco Pass and then onto I-5 South, we settled in for the miles – as well as the traffic – that would lie ahead.  Deaver is a master storyteller, and it was fun to stop the recording mid-story to quiz each other on outcomes. Who do you think did it?  What motive would they have?  The short story format suited us as we preferred to start, stop, and then resume as needed.

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

On another trip even further south, San Diego this time to meet up with family, we listened to Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants.  This tale of life and love in a Depression-era traveling circus kept us intrigued as to where the story was going and how it would tie up loose ends. Gruen wove a tale of mystery, and the title itself was a chance to see our main character, Jacob, react to the truth (or lack thereof). Who he meets, what he learns, and where he goes is all beautifully written and will keep your imagination spinning with this tale.


The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

Although I had previously read Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees, when I was ready to re-read it, I decided it would be fun to try this out as an audiobook, and it accompanied us north on Highway 101 up to Mount Shasta one Labor Day weekend.  Fun Fact: Mt. Shasta had been on our list of places we wanted to visit, but it was their blackberry festival that got us to commit to this over a Labor Day weekend.  While it may be cancelled for 2020, keep it on your radar for future trips to Northern California.  It’s well worth it to visit the town of Dunsmuir, as well as fill your water bottle from Big Springs, better known as The Headwaters, where hand-numbingly cold water rushes from the ground, through moss-covered rocks into a clear pool below.


The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams

Carol Lynch Williams’ The Chosen One: A Novel didn’t accompany me on a road trip. Instead, I received a copy to listen and review when I was still writing a YA Lit book review column.  I would listen to the CDs that held this middle-grade novel, commuting to and from work, and when the rising conflict got really intense, I found myself driving around on my lunch break because I couldn’t bear to wait to hear what happened. This story was fascinating, as it was powerful.  Its ending was compelling in its heroics, and a reminder to do the right thing no matter how difficult.


Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O’Nan

Stewart O’Nan’s Last Night at the Lobster snuck up on me.  We were looking for an audiobook at the San Carlos Library, and my husband had read this book previously and wanted to check out the audiobook version.  This story traveled with us to visit family in Massachusetts one holiday season.  O’Nan is a master storyteller who takes an ordinary occurrence – managing a shift at a restaurant – and weaves a tale about redemption.  What does a man do when he discovers that his best may not be good enough?  O’Nan tells this story with grace and delivers in a way that allows readers to feel the impact long after they have reached the end.


Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun, and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes

When we were both settled in North Carolina, my sweet pea had a work trip come up for two weeks in Asia and over the Easter Holiday.  I thought it was the perfect opportunity to try out a solo (+dog) road trip and head to my mom’s.  While Whitby was only about 9 months old at the time, he was a champ for this ride.  Shonda Rhimes and her Year of Yes accompanied us.  Rhimes took up a challenge: for one year, she would say YES to everything that scared her.  It’s a great reminder to do something every day that scares us.  It’s about feeling the fear and doing the hard things anyway – no matter what that hard thing looks like for each of us. The full title of her book is: Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun, and Be Your Own Person.  Who doesn’t need to hit the reset button every now and again?  I loved the way Rhimes talked about her inspo and the behind-the-scenes for creating hit shows like Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal.


Ten Tiny Breaths by K.A. Tucker

K.A. Tucker’s Ten Tiny Breaths accompanied me on this latest road trip, and while this may not be a family friendly read, it was a compelling (and heartbreaking) tale about loss, redemption, new beginnings, and old wounds.  The main character has a darkness to her that is not fully revealed until later in the read.  When you learn about her PTSD, as well as the work she does to heal from it, you understand that we can all be made whole again if we are willing to look at what haunts our dreams and ask the hard questions.


Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech

Finally, a very family friendly read that takes place while on a road trip is Sharon Creech’s Walk Two Moons. Once you finish the book, it won’t surprise you why this was awarded a Newbery Medal.  This is a moving story of love, loss, and the complexity of human emotion.

Thirteen-year-old Salamanca Tree Hiddle travels from Ohio to Idaho with her eccentric grandparents. Along the way, she tells them of the story of Phoebe Winterbottom, who received mysterious messages, who met a “potential lunatic,” and whose mother disappeared. As Sal entertains her grandparents with Phoebe’s outrageous story, her own story begins to unfold—the story of a thirteen-year-old girl whose only wish is to be reunited with her missing mother.  Creech’s story entertains, her writing entices, and the plot will keep you guessing until the very end.


As you can see from this list, we have pretty eclectic reading taste.  Above all, we love a story that entertains and informs.  I can’t recall who said that a good story must have heartbreak and drama, but we found that to be true, as well.  For your next road trip, consider downloading an audio book for the drive. (Safety first, of course!)

How do you stay alert while driving long distances?




Barbara Bell Photography creates heirloom photographs to inspire families to share their memories near Chapel Hill, NC.