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10 Travel Authors Whose Steps You Can Follow

A dose of inspiration for your next trip.

Writers, with their vivid imagination, paint such a fine picture of a destination that readers aspire to walk the same paths. On one page, you’ll be breathing in the crisp air of a mountain town. Pick another book and you’ll be sitting down for a meal in the home of an Italian family. Someone else will take you deep into America’s small cities and you’ll have this yearning to discover your own backyard. 

For centuries, authors and poets have satiated the curiosity of their readers about the world and we’ve been better for it. This list of travel authors is another way to find direction for your next big trip—let them be your guide, compass, and inspiration. These stories are truly special, so even if you don’t take these journeys, you will taste a slice of this world unknown to you before.

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Cheryl Strayed in 'Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail Hike'

Cheryl Strayed is not your guide to the Pacific Crest Trail Hike. Quite the opposite, in fact, since she is ill-prepared to take on a hike that’s as challenging as it is beautiful. With no experience or prior training, she decides to go on a 1,100-mile hike alone from California to Washington, an outlandish idea if you think about the loneliness and difficulties of long hikes.

Backpackers have their own compelling reasons for going on difficult treks like this one. So does Cheryl. As much as this book is about travels, it’s also about grief and healing. She loses her mother, her family gets distant, her marriage fails, and her lover introduces her to heroin. So, she straps a heavy backpack on her back and goes on this journey alone to find herself—stumbling and hurting along the way—as she mourns her losses and forgives herself for her mistakes. 

Wild has found its audience all over the world because it’s an honest, heart-breaking memoir with many breakthrough moments. In this solo journey, with her iron-will and strength as her only companions, a 26-year-old woman inspires a generation of women to be wild.

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Bill Bryson in 'The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America'

In this famous book published in 1989, travel writer Bill Bryson goes on a 13,978-mile journey in the US and in his typical humorous fashion, details his experiences. The author was born and raised in Des Moines, Iowa, but moved to London. So, this homecoming trip begins in his hometown, in his mom’s car, with a touch of nostalgia as he recounts his childhood in the small town. He then proceeds to make new memories (and comes up with new insults) about towns across 38 states.

Reviewers and readers have gripes about Bryson’s descriptions of their towns, but that’s Bryson’s style of writing—grumbly, astute, and tart. Don’t pick up The Lost Continent to learn about the history of the nation. Read this to know a writer’s observations of America’s small towns three decades ago as he drives through a country he once called home.

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Kristin Newman in 'What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding'

Comedy and travel writer Kristin Newman has written for That ‘70s Show, How I Met Your Mother, and Chuck, so you know she has the talent to pack punchlines in the pages. In her memoir, What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding, she expresses her wit as she chronicles her travels to different countries. The theme? A single woman falling in love in Russia, Argentina, Israel, and many other destinations.

Kristin has no qualms about opening up about her away-from-home persona, Kristen-Adjacent, who she describes as “a slower, softer, and, yes, sluttier version of herself at home.” The book is brave, funny, candid, and memorable.

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Anthony Bourdain in 'A Cook’s Tour: Global Adventures in Extreme Cuisines'

Author, host, and chef Anthony Bourdain remains an influential figure in the culinary world. A master storyteller, he experienced world cuisines and took his audience on tours with him through his books and shows. In A Cook’s Tour, he sets out for the perfect meal: is it the poisonous blowfish in Japan, lamb testicles in Morocco, or a live heart of a cobra in Vietnam? 

But the book is more than an adventurous eater’s insights into new culinary experiences. Bourdain empathetically talks about the place, its history, its culture, and its people. You can see his passion for food and travels on the pages of this book, and his irreverent style makes for a refreshing read.

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Justin Skeesuck and Patrick Gray in 'I'll Push You: A Journey of 500 Miles, Two Best Friends, and One Wheelchair'

Justin and Patrick were born in the same hospital two days apart, grew up in the same town, and have been friends all their lives. Justin was diagnosed with Multifocal Acquired Motor Axonopathy—a progressive neuromuscular condition that has caused him to lose control of his arms and legs. In I’ll Push You, the two best friends accomplish something seemingly insurmountable: they traverse through mountains, rivers, and desert on a 500-mile trail with Patrick pushing Justin on the wheelchair. 

The Camino de Santiago in Spain is a network of pilgrimage routes to the city of Santiago de Compostela. It can take around 30 days to complete this trail—the two friends did it in 34 days with the former graphic designer being pushed in a three-wheel aluminum wheelchair. They were often helped by strangers, and the book is as much about community and kindness as it is about friendship, hope, and life. A real tear-jerker, this!

Justin was the first person to complete this trail in a wheelchair, and now he educates people on how to travel with disabilities. This TEDx Talk will serve as an appetizer before you read this book.

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Johny Pitts in 'Afropean: Notes From Black Europe'

Documenting the lives of Europeans of African descent, author Johny Pitts tries to understand what it means to be Afropean. His journey of several months through Paris, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Moscow, and Lisbon opens his mind to different cultural identities, opinions, racial discrimination, and prejudices. 

The author writes of the lives of Black people in Europe: their everyday realities and their history, much of which has been ignored or misrepresented. In this way, he attempts to find his own unhyphenated identity.

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Anatoli Boukreev in 'The Climb: Tragic Ambitions on Everest'

In 1996, three groups of climbers set out to climb Mount Everest on the Southeast Ridge route. There were expert climbers and clients who had paid top dollars to get to the summit. Twenty-three people were caught in a blizzard and eight of them died. It was one of the deadliest days in Everest’s history. 

There are many books and movies that imagine what happened that day in May. Overcrowding and commercialization of the world’s tallest mountain, the inexperience of the climbers, and natural conditions all played a part in the catastrophe. Into Thin Air, written by journalist Jon Krakauer, who was part of the expedition, questions the actions of one of the guides, Anatoli Boukreev, while recounting the journey in his book. Boukreev, in return, wrote The Climb to give his own account. 

The Climb is a narration of what it entails to go on such a dangerous climb, from permits to setting camps to acclimatization. The book has interviews from those who survived as well as investigative records of Sherpas and medics by co-author G. Weston DeWalt. And, it also presents the heroic actions of Anatoli that saved three lives: the guide left the safety of his tent to rescue three clients who were stranded in the mountain, disoriented and out of oxygen. Sadly, Anatoli died during an ascent of Annapurna in Nepal in 1997. 

Many people have lost their lives climbing Everest in recent years, some owing to overcrowding. If you’re thinking about ascending to glory on this indomitable mountain, know that hundreds attempt to reach the summit each year and a hazardous queue in the Death Zone (above 8,000 meters/5 miles) can be fatal to the body.

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Noo Saro-Wiwa in 'Looking for Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria'

Noo Saro-Wiwa is the daughter of Nigerian activist Ken Saro Wiwa, who was executed by the military regime in 1995. The author, who grew up in England, traveled to Nigeria every summer to visit her father—the country a sharp contrast from the life she was living. She was 19 when her father was hanged and she didn’t return to the country for years.

The travelogue Looking for Transwonderland takes readers to the gritty, noisy streets of Nigeria. There is corruption, poverty, and disorder, but there’s also resilience. There are poignant moments as a daughter tries to understand the land her father fought fiercely for, and there’s humor too. The author goes to the rundown Transwonderland amusement park, Nigeria’s answer to Disneyland. She climbs on motorcycles and visits Nollywood sets, and even answers advertisements of men looking for “sugar mummies.”

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Monisha Rajesh in 'Around India in 80 Trains'

Indian railways is the lifeline of the nation. There are luxury trains for tourists with a sophisticated palate. There are daily commuter trains in Mumbai where you have to fight for an inch of space. There are scenic toy trains that are timeless. The railway tracks reach far deep into the corners of the nation, connecting people with its route length of over 66,000 kilometers—it’s one of the largest networks in the world.

In 2010, British journalist Monisha Rajesh traveled 45,000 kilometers across the country on 80 trains, inspired by the famous Jules Verne novel. Her book takes you to places that are frequently on a tourist’s map, such as Taj Mahal and Golden Temple, but there will be destinations that you will discover with her. The most interesting bits, however, are the people she encounters. Train journeys are unexpectedly intimate in India, with strangers sharing stories and food, and her travels also show us this side of community (and sometimes, lack of boundaries). 

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William Least Heat-Moon in 'Blue Highways'

An American road trip classic, Blue Highways is the best-known work of travel writer William Least Heat-Moon. In 1978, the author lost his job and separated from his wife. So he decided to travel the backroads of America in a van for three months. The result? A tale that traverses through small towns, away from the cities and fast food, and narrates the stories of ordinary people he meets along the way.

It’s named Blue Highways for the old maps where main highways were drawn with red and secondary roads with blue.

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