Updated September 25, 2021
I like to consider myself a book lover, but I never manage to do as much reading as I want to (does anyone?). If there’s one kind of book that sucks me in every time, though (besides thrillers promising to be the next Gone Girl…), it’s travel memoirs – particularly female travel memoirs.
My “To Read” list in this genre is literally never-ending, but I wanted to share some of my favorites so far. Whether you’re looking for serious travel inspiration, a fun vacation read, or gifts for travelers who love to read, you can’t go wrong with any one of these picks.
- My Favorite Travel Memoirs
- 1. A Thousand New Beginnings – Kristin Addis
- 2. How Not to Travel the World – Lauren Juliff
- 3. Love with a Chance of Drowning – Torre DeRoche
- 4. Free Country: A Penniless Adventure the Length of Britain – George Mahood
- 5. Adventures of a Continental Drifter – Elliott Hester
- 6. It’s Only the Himalayas: And Other Tales of Miscalculation from an Overconfident Backpacker – Sue Bedford
- 7. Turn Right at Machu Picchu – Mark Adams
- 8. All Over the Map – Laura Fraser
- 9. Cruising Attitude: Tales of Crashpads, Crew Drama, and Crazy Passengers at 35,000 Feet – Heather Poole
- 10. Kinky Gazpacho: Life, Love & Spain – Lori Tharps
- 11. The Yellow Envelope: One Gift, Three Rules, and a Life-Changing Journey Around the World – Kim Dinan
- More Travel & Adventure Memoirs
My Favorite Travel Memoirs
1. A Thousand New Beginnings – Kristin Addis
Kristin is the writer behind one of my favorite travel blogs, so I was excited when her travel memoir came out. The book follows her initial solo travel journey, a 10-month backpacking trip through Southeast Asia.
Based largely on Kristin’s old journal entries, the book takes you on a day-by-day journey across Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, and the Philippines, often to places far from the tourist trail. Some of the stories I found most memorable covered a silent meditation retreat in Thailand, a wild motorcycle trip, and all kinds of scuba diving adventures. With short chapters, it’s a quick and easy read, but an inspirational one that makes long-term travel feel attainable.
Recommended for anyone who’s interested in solo travel or getting off the beaten path
2. How Not to Travel the World – Lauren Juliff
Another travel autobiography by a popular blogger, this one has a decidedly different bent. Lauren calls herself a walking disaster, and after reading her travel stories, it’s easy to see why. While she’s on the road, she gets scammed, attacked by sandflies, bitten by fish, caught up in a tsunami scare, and has a host of other problems.
In fairness, maybe some of Lauren’s disasters were the result of her naiveté or carelessness, but there are plenty of stories and reflections that anyone who’s felt unlucky or out of their element will relate to. And you can’t help but admire Lauren for the way she faces her fears, overcomes her anxiety, and challenges herself to grow and change.
Recommended for anyone who feels anxious or insecure about traveling
3. Love with a Chance of Drowning – Torre DeRoche
Another of the many female travel memoirs I’ve loved, this one takes place largely on the water. While living in California, Torre falls in love with an Argentinian whose dream is to sail around the world in his little boat named Gracie.
She’s prone to seasickness and terrified of deep water, but agrees to go on the journey anyway. They spend weeks at a time on the water with no land in sight, subsist on a diet mostly devoid of fresh fruits and vegetables, and brave storms that nearly capsize the sailboat.
While their time on the water is sometimes challenging, Torre and her boyfriend reap serious rewards, too. They make their way through the South Pacific, visiting idyllic islands that are pretty much only reachable by sailboat and far removed from globalization and mainstream tourism.
I also really enjoyed Torre’s follow-up, The Worrier’s Guide to the End of the World, which is a memoir about travel of a totally different kind. Instead of sailing, it’s mostly about walking – and instead of romance, there’s grief, heartbreak, and female friendship. I would recommend them both, but start with Love with a Chance of Drowning.
Recommended for anyone who dreams of sailing the world or just visiting a remote tropical paradise
4. Free Country: A Penniless Adventure the Length of Britain – George Mahood
If funny travel books are what you’re after, this is the one for you. I laughed out loud more than once while reading it, and really, I don’t see how you couldn’t. The premise? George somehow convinces his pal that it would be a fun adventure to cycle the 1,000 miles across the U.K., with the stipulation that they can’t spend any money.
Instead of letting the actual bike ride be enough of a challenge, they start in southern England with nothing – no bicycles, no food, not even any clothes (except their “pants,” as the British would say). The plan is to acquire those things along the way.
Throughout their journey, George and Ben make new friends, encounter all kinds of characters (or maybe they are the characters), receive help from strangers, and get into more unlikely and hilarious situations than I can count.
I also read George’s book about road tripping through the U.S., Not Tonight, Josephine, which was equally full of random mishaps, funny stories, and obscure places. It was also a great read, but I’d probably go with Free Country if I had to recommend just one. Travels with Rachel: In Search of South America, about his honeymoon spent backpacking all over South America, sounds similarly compelling.
Recommended for anyone who wants both entertainment and a reminder that people are good
5. Adventures of a Continental Drifter – Elliott Hester
Another funny travel memoir, this one is truly a round-the-world story. After Elliott leaves his job as a flight attendant in the wake of 9-11, he spends a year traveling solo and ends up visiting more than 20 countries. He seems to be one of those people who just keeps encountering unexpected things on the road, and he writes about it all with a self-deprecating sense of humor that you can’t help but enjoy.
The book is a series of short stories, with tales from places as diverse as Argentina, Ethiopia, and French Polynesia. It’s a quick and easily-digestible read, and each story will keep you guessing. His first book is a behind-the-scenes peek into air travel and the life of a flight attendant, and it looks like it’s just entertaining.
Recommended for anyone who’s thought of leaving everything behind to travel the world
6. It’s Only the Himalayas: And Other Tales of Miscalculation from an Overconfident Backpacker – Sue Bedford
Sue tells the story of a yearlong trip she takes with her friend Sara, which is partly an attempt to escape her waitressing job and try to figure out what she wants to do with her life. In one of the more memorable sections, the two are joined by their aging fathers to trek the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal, despite all four of them being utterly unprepared. They also tour Southern Africa, study meditation at an ashram in India, and unexpectedly take part in a death ritual on Borneo.
While I have to admit that parts of the second half of the book devolved into a blur of parties, drugs, and hook-ups with little attention to the actual countries Sue and Sara visit, the first half chronicles some seriously inspiring adventures.
Recommended for anyone planning to travel long-term with a friend
7. Turn Right at Machu Picchu – Mark Adams
This was the slowest read of the travel memoirs on this list, but that’s only because the travel narrative is accompanied by meticulously researched history about Peru. Travel writing that manages to simultaneously inspire a deep sense of adventure and provide a serious education is rare, but Mark pulled it off.
He sets out to recreate the first recorded expedition to Machu Picchu – which is a massive undertaking for someone who’d never even been camping before (!). As he travels the Sacred Valley, he relies on his guides, treks to areas rarely visited by foreigners, and learns enough history to write a book (literally). From what I’ve heard, his books on traveling Alaska and searching for Atlantis are a similar mix of historical research and adventure memoir.
Recommended for anyone who loves history or hopes to visit Machu Picchu
8. All Over the Map – Laura Fraser
This story of a solo female traveler breaks the mold of the 20-something globetrotter. When Laura turns 40 at the beginning of the book, she’s already found career success and is torn between searching for love and wanting to be independent. So, she travels, sometimes on writing assignments, sometimes for love, and sometimes simply for the adventure.
No stranger to female travel memoirs, Laura’s even better known for her first book, An Italian Affair, which tells the beginning of her story of post-divorce travel and romance. As you can probably guess, both are in the vein of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love (and I don’t say that as a bad thing!).
Recommended for anyone who dreams of travel and romance
9. Cruising Attitude: Tales of Crashpads, Crew Drama, and Crazy Passengers at 35,000 Feet – Heather Poole
Heather spent fifteen years working as a flight attendant, so she has plenty of fodder for this tell-all book about the job. From the strenuous training and hiring process to the high expectations and demanding schedules, being a flight attendant is not as glamorous as it might seem.
Packed with stories of drama involving passengers, pilots, flight attendants, and airlines (both on board and on the ground) this book is as funny as it is eye-opening. Plus, it’s a quick and easy read – perfect for your next flight!
Recommended for anyone who’s curious about what it’s actually like to be a flight attendant
10. Kinky Gazpacho: Life, Love & Spain – Lori Tharps
There are travel memoirs that relay the story of a trip, and then there are those that weave history, culture, and personal identity with adventure. This book is definitely the latter.
Lori’s story starts with her childhood in Milwaukee, where she’s (no surprise) the only Black student at school. She’s enamored with Spain from her first Spanish class, but her relationship to the country gets more complicated when she studies abroad there.
The book is a candid account of her experiences as an African-American in Spain, first as a student, then as part of a blended family over the years, and even as an investigative journalist uncovering the country’s hidden history of slavery. Reading this made me incredibly nostalgic for my year abroad in college, and as a white reader, it shed light on a perspective that’s totally different from my own.
Recommended for anyone who’s interested in Spain or the Black travel experience
11. The Yellow Envelope: One Gift, Three Rules, and a Life-Changing Journey Around the World – Kim Dinan
I read this book and related to it so much. Then I noticed an interesting polarization in the reviews: people either related deeply to it like I did, or they absolutely loathed both the story and the author. Interesting.
Like many of the other authors on this list, Kim wanted something different than the career, house, wealth, and other material things we’re told we’re supposed to work for. So, she and her husband left their jobs and home to explore around the world.
They travel from Ecuador to India and many countries in between, sometimes staying in places they love for weeks at a time. The book chronicles their adventures and missteps, the people they meet, and Kim’s reflections on everything from travel to body image to her sometimes-difficult relationship with her husband.
Recommended for anyone who’s thinking of traveling long-term with a partner
More Travel & Adventure Memoirs
I can’t guarantee that these are the best travel memoirs, because I haven’t read them yet! But they’re some of the next books on my list, so I wanted to at least mention them.
Catfish and Mandala: A Two-Wheeled Voyage Through the Landscape and Memory of Vietnam: About a Vietnamese-American cyclist who travels the world on two wheels and explores his cultural identity at the same time
The Not-Quite States of America: Dispatches from the Territories and Other Far-Flung Outposts of the USA: About traveling to all five U.S. territories, places most of us tend to forget about completely
Four Corners: A Journey into the Heart of Papua New Guinea: About one of the very least-visited countries in the world, by a woman who spent three months exploring it solo
Life On Foot: A Walk Across America: About a guy who decided to get to know his country the best way he could imagine – by walking from Delaware to California
Wild: One of the best-known female travel memoirs, obviously about obviously Cheryl Strayed’s experience on the Pacific Crest Trail
What are your favorite travel memoirs? Share your recommendations in the comments!
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