updated 11/30/2010 9:19:18 AM ET 2010-11-30T14:19:18

Whether your loved ones are armchair travelers or real-world travelers, consider one of the new travel books out this fall as a gift. They range from big lush coffee-table books to travel-themed tales about marathons and food.

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First, the big guys. Lugging these tomes on an airplane may put your luggage over the weight limit. But if you're tucking gifts under your tree or shipping from an online retailer, these beautifully illustrated hardcovers are ideal for folks who like to dream about faraway places — as well as for those looking for real-world ideas.

—Lonely Planet's "The Travel Book: A Journey Through Every Country in the World," $50. The folks at Lonely Planet started with a list of the United Nation's 192 member countries, then added nearly 40 places that don't get their own seats at the U.N., like Caribbean islands, Antarctica, Tibet and Taiwan. Each destination gets photos, description, map, lists of top things to do and see, plus recommendations for ways to experience the place through books, film, food and music.

—"Where to Go When: Italy," from DK Eyewitness Travel, $40. Italy remains the fifth most popular international destination for American travelers (according to 2009 statistics from the U.S. Commerce Department), but when is the best time to go? "January through December," according to Frances Mayes, author of "Under the Tuscan Sun," who wrote the foreword for this book, which offers recommendations for every month of the year. February travelers might choose between the Calabrian town of Scylla or the lagoon islands and basilica mosaics in Aquileia, while July visitors might consider the Umbria jazz festival or the hilltop spa town of Sarnano.

—National Geographic's "Drives of a Lifetime: 500 of the World's Most Spectacular Trips," $40. For the wordly road-tripper, this book offers itineraries from U.S. 1 on the coast of Maine or Big Sur in California, to the Silk Road in Central Asia and the outback in Australia. The book is divided into eight chapters by type of trip (such as mountains, coasts, cities, history), each offering a detailed selection of itineraries and top 10 lists. For foodies on the road, the top 10 include Hermann Wine Trail in Missouri, pumpkins and chocolate in Pennsylvania and pick-your-own fruit in Idaho. For European lakeside drives, the top 10 range from England's Lake District to Italy's Lake Garda and Sweden's Lake Vanern.

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—Travel + Leisure's "Unexpected USA," $25 (paperback, $15). This book offers great inspiration for those of us who'd just as soon ferret out unexplored corners and surprising places in the U.S. than fill up the pages of our passport book. A road trip through the Midwest is recommended as a way to see great architecture and design by Zaha Hadid, Santiago Calatrava and Mies van der Rohe on a route that includes Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa. Other chapters look at an into-the-wild trip in Alaska, a barbecue quest from Kansas to North Carolina, and why Walla Walla, Wash., is the "next great wine destination."

Next up, the big picture in paperback:

—Rough Guides' hefty second edition of "Make the Most of Your Time on Earth: 1,000 Ultimate Travel Experiences," $30. This book adds 200 suggestions to the original edition. Organized by region, it's a load of fun. Try laughter yoga in Mumbai, platypus-watching in Australia, whitewater-rafting on the Nile, lassoing reindeer in Lapland, a tapas crawl in Madrid, and right here in the U.S., eating bagels in New York, hang-gliding the Outer Banks in North Carolina, and cruising the Inside Passage in Alaska.

—Lonely Planet's "The Traveller's Guide to Planet Earth," $23. This book looks at 50 destinations from a BBC documentary of the same name. with chapters on mountains, fresh water, caves, deserts, ice worlds, great plains, jungles, shallow seas, seasonal forests and ocean deep. Destinations range from Ethiopia's Simien Mountains to Lechuguilla Cave in New Mexico to Madagascar, home of the lemur.

And finally, a couple of travel-themed books small enough to tuck in a carry-on bag, telling tales worthy of Odysseus.

—"Second Wind: One Woman's Midlife Quest to Run Seven Marathons on Seven Continents," by Cami Ostman, from Seal Press, $17. Traveling to another city or country to run a marathon is increasingly common. The author of this book is ending a marriage, questioning religion, and hoping to find solace in running when she decides to tackle a race on every continent. But she's not out to set records; she dedicates the book to "back-of-the-packers everywhere."

—"Adventures in Eating: Anthropological Experiences in Dining From Around the World," edited by Helen Haines and Clare Sammells, from the University Press of Colorado, $30. "Have you tried cuy? Did you like it?" Cuy is guinea pig, and those are questions typically asked of visitors to Peru, according to a chapter in this book, which is a collection of essays by anthropologists. (The writer says guinea pig tastes like — you guessed it — chicken.) Durian fruit, eaten on a visit to Malaysia, has "the texture of ripe avocado and the flavor of onion ice cream." A sojourn in the Philippines leads to a contemplation of food taboos as the author politely declines dog, but finds lizard delicious. Although the text is peppered with academic explanations of concepts like "commensality" (sharing a common gustatory and social experience), "Adventures in Eating" is readable and entertaining. Each story explores foods that might sound repulsive to Westerners but are beloved by locals somewhere.

—Lonely Planet's "A Moveable Feast: Life-Changing Food Adventures Around the World," edited by Don George, $15. This is a collection of 38 stories from chefs, food writers and travel writers, including Anthony Bourdain, Jan Morris, Andrew Zimmern and Simon Winchester. They range from cooking a lamb-and-eggplant dish as a prelude to an Arabic-language lesson in Jerusalem, to the tale of a chicken shared with travelers on a train to Moscow, to bowls of fermented yak milk consumed in Mongolia.

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