Books like “McCarthy’s Bar” by Peter McCarthy, “Eat. Pray. Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert, and “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall have been popular this year with armchair travelers.

Staycations are in, and expensive overseas travel is out in these tough economic times. But that doesn’t mean people aren’t getting away – meeting people, seeing sights and feeling the thrill of travel – at least vicariously.


Travel books are as popular as ever, letting readers escape while snug in their pajamas at home, and many hot sellers nowadays aren’t your father’s travel guides, but rather creative and personal forays set in foreign lands.


They are novels like “McCarthy’s Bar,” in which the author details his adventures visiting pubs in Ireland that bear his family name. Books like this help readers get to know a faraway place, taking an approach far different from a list of hotels or restaurant recommendations.


“I’ve sold more books that have stories about a place rather than the travel guides,” said Peg Patton, owner of the Front Street Book Shop in Scituate, Mass.


Beyond looking simply to experience a different place, readers are searching for stories that are inspirational, funny, interesting, strange or tragic, said Marilyn Haraden, owner of Westwinds Bookshop in Duxbury, Mass.


“They seem to be less traditional, and people are stepping out of the box,” Haraden said.


Sarah Turnbull’s “Almost French,” about a woman adjusting to living in Paris with her French boyfriend, and John Berendt’s “The City of Fallen Angels,” about the author’s time in Venice, are two such examples – and, not coincidentally, the most popular travel books at the Front Street Book Shop.


Popular titles at Westwinds include “Eat. Pray. Love,” by Elizabeth Gilbert, who travels to three countries after her divorce, and “Whatever You Do, Don’t Run,” by Peter Allison, about a Botswana safari guide.


Something of an enigma among travel books this year is “Born to Run,” by Christopher McDougall, about a Mexican tribe of long-distance runners. While Amazon.com classifies it as a travel book – it is a top seller on the Web site – bookshops say it tends to appeal more to athletes and sports aficionados than vicarious travelers.


Still, while anecdotal travel books are popular, straightforward travel books certainly haven’t disappeared, said Eric Markiewicz, store manager at B. Dalton Bookseller in Braintree, Mass.


“Fodor’s Walt Disney World with Kids” and “Lonely Planet’s New England” have been popular at the Braintree bookshop, Markiewicz said.


Brad Kane may be reached at bkane@ledger.com.