When I’m not traveling, I love to spend my time reading. Wait. Come to think of it, I always have a book with me even when I’m traveling! In fact, I had worked in a bookstore just so I could be surrounded by books. And surprise, surprise, my favorite genre is travel memoir. Or basically, any book that inspires travel.
Although there are many travel memoirs out there, these are the ones that I have read and loved. Whether you’re a seasoned traveler looking for new inspiration, or an aspiring one looking for that extra push to get you out of your comfort zone, or even if you prefer living someone’s adventures in the comfort of your own armchair, these books are the perfect additions to your reading list, if you haven’t read them already. Enjoy!
#1 Eat, Pray, Love
Okay, okay I know, this one is so predictable. And I also know that many people criticize the author for acting spoiled and ungrateful in the story (some parts of the book are plain cringey, admittedly).
But the reason I’m putting it as the first book on this list is that it was the first travel memoir I read. I would even go as far as to say that it was the one that inspired me to travel solo.
At the time when I read it, I was really awed by her courage. But now that I have visited all the places she went to and more, and done all the things she did (except finding a Brazilian husband), I doubt I’d feel the same way if I read it a second time.
Anyhow, it’s still a good read for someone going through a similar situation or for those who are new to solo traveling.
#2 A Dip In The Ocean
Propelled by the grief of her father’s death and a realization that life is too short not to be lived to the fullest, 23-year-old Sarah Outen embarked on an ambitious solo voyage across the Indian Ocean (from Australia to Mauritius) in her rowing boat.
Just imagine rowing alone for months in a tiny boat across one of the roughest waters on the planet. In the process, she broke two oars, ate 500 chocolate bars, and lost 20 kilograms of body weight.
Not the kind of adventure I’d picture myself in, but that’s why we have books, isn’t it? They bring us into adventures that we would never have gotten ourselves into otherwise.
In the same spirit as the story above, Cheryl Strayed embarked on a long solo journey in the wake of her mother’s death and her own crumbling marriage.
But unlike Outen, Strayed’s journey was on foot — 1,100 miles across the west coast of America, from the Mojave Desert into the Washington state. And unlike Outen, Strayed was very ill-prepared. She had no experience whatsoever of long-distance hiking.
In this book, she wrote about how she managed to overcome the physical and mental challenges on this tough journey despite her amateurish blunders.
#4 Call of The White
This is a story of eight women from different countries who went on an all-woman skiing expedition to the South Pole.
The participants were selected out of 800+ applications from places as diverse as Jamaica, India, Brunei and Cyprus. Some of them had never even seen snow or heard of the word ‘ski’.
The project was spearheaded by the author who conducted the interview and selection process herself. She then led the women through one of the most hostile environments on Earth, enduring 80 mph winds, frostbite, injuries and deadly crevasses.
A truly empowering story of strong women.
In Tracks, author Robyn Davidson went on a journey across 1,700 miles of hostile Australian desert to the sea with only four camels and a dog for company.
To care for yourself on a solo journey is one thing; to care for five other living beings all relying on you for survival is quite another. Fortunately, Davidson had had extensive experience with camels. She knew what to do when they got skittish and when they got injured.
In contrast to Call of the White (see above), in this book we read about sweltering heat, poisonous snakes and lecherous men of the desert. There’s something about the desert that brings out the worst in men, I think.
#6 The Gringo Trail
The Gringo Trail is a story of the author’s backpacking expedition through Ecuador, Bolivia, and Colombia with two of his best friends.
In true backpacker’s fashion, the three travelers immersed themselves in Latin culture while on a budget and in a constant drug-induced haze.
Soon however, the drugs became an addiction that consumed their lives and changed them forever. Written in a darkly comical way, it’s a frank and highly-engaging travelogue set in the enchanting world of South America.
#7 Into The Wild
Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer examines the true life story of a young man named Chris McCandless who abandoned all his worldly possessions, burned all his money and walked deep into the Alaskan wilderness.
Four months later, his emaciated corpse was found along with an SOS note. While some people may think of McCandless as a crazy person who rightly got what he deserved, his decision to leave civilization behind in search of solitude and nature might strike a chord with some of us.
Don’t we sometimes wish we could walk away from our problems, relinquish our former selves, and start over as someone new in a place where nothing is familiar?
#8 A Walk in the Woods
Bill Bryson is no beginner in travel writing. In this book, he recalled the humorous tale of his hike on the Appalachian Trail — the longest continuous footpath in the world.
Accompanied by a fickle and physically unfit friend, he had to deal with bears, moose, bobcats, rattlesnakes, tics, poisonous plants, and annoying hikers. Despite all that, Bryson gamely faced the challenges to achieve a lifetime ambition — not to die outdoors.
This is one of the five books on this list that have been turned into movies.
#9 Snowing in Bali
Snowing in Bali is not a travel memoir. Rather, it is a true account of Kathryn Bonella’s investigation into Bali’s hidden drug world.
It is a sequel to ‘Hotel K’, named after Bali’s notorious prison that houses many foreigners convicted of drug-related offences.
Still, because I’ve visited Bali several times, it’s fascinating to read about all the familiar places and the gruesome stories that happened there that I had no idea about.
After reading this book, you’ll see the island with new eyes. And you can’t help but wonder if the people you meet there could be one of the big players in the drug cartel.
#10 What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding
Like myself and so many other female travelers I’ve had the privilege to meet, Kristin Newman spent much of her twenties and thirties attending friends’ weddings and baby showers.
Not ready to settle down herself, Newman traveled the world for several weeks each year.
During her travels, apart from falling in love with the places she visited, she also fell in love with the attractive locals — men who were able to satisfy her emotional (and sexual) needs with no strings attached. Among the men involved in this book are Israeli bartenders, Finnish poker players, sexy Bedouins, and Argentinian priests.
Not exactly my kind of ‘adventure’, but it’s still a funny and entertaining read.
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