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15 Epic Travel Reads for Armchair Adventurers

These thrilling travelogues will take you on a journey around the world.

The pandemic may have halted our travels for now, but it’s made us more determined than ever to plan that trip of a lifetime. With slower and more mindful travel set to be a big travel trend once the world opens up again, we’ve put together a collection of inspiring travelogues and memoirs brimming with adventure—beyond the usual contenders—to get your imaginations whirring and your feet itching with wanderlust.

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PHOTO: Courtesy of Bloomsbury Publishing
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"Around the World in 80 Trains" by Monisha Rajesh

Air travel may have opened up far-flung corners of the world and made travel more convenient and accessible, but there’s nothing quite like the romance of the rails. It’s this love of train travel that led travel journalist and author Monisha Rajesh to embark on her most ambitious journey yet: a 45,000-mile adventure around the world. No stranger to train travel, Monisha already journeyed around India in 80 trains, the subject of her first book, and this time around she brings her fiancé Jem along for the ride. The epic journey takes the pair through Europe, Russia and Mongolia, North Korea, Canada, Kazakhstan, and beyond, encountering a plethora of different cultures and characters along the way. It isn’t without challenges, and the book details some of the experiences the author faces as a woman of color, but ultimately the book is about the uniting spirit of adventure and the relationships you form when you travel local and take your time.

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PHOTO: Courtesy of Simon & Schuster
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"From Scratch: A Memoir of Love, Sicily, and Finding Home" by Tembi Locke

If you’re after a moving love story with a serious helping of Italian culinary deliciousness then this transporting New York Times bestselling memoir by American actress Tembi Locke is for you. Detailing the absorbing love story between Locke and Florentine chef, Saro, this memoir tackles their poignant experiences of family, loss, and the notion of home. With rich imagery of the Sicilian countryside and whole passages of recipes and Italian cooking, you’ll feel like you’ve taken a trip to Italy yourself.   

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PHOTO: Courtesy of Bloomsbury Publishing
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"Tracks: A Woman’s Solo Trek Across 1700 Miles of Australian Outback" by Robyn Davidson

Robyn Davidson’s utterly engrossing memoir is all about pursuing a dream and having the resolve and bravery to achieve it, whatever life throws at you. For Davidson, who was just 26 at the time, this was an ambitious, solo trek across the Australian Outback to the Indian Ocean with four self-trained camels and a dog in tow. Enduring oppressive heat, unruly camels, poisonous snakes, and lecherous men, Davidson emerges as an inspiring, and determined character, driven by a love of this unique landscape and the indigenous people that inhabit it.   

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PHOTO: Courtesy of Hodder & Stoughton
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"An Arabian Journey: One Man's Quest Through the Heart of the Middle East" by Levison Wood

One of Britain’s most prolific adventurers, Levison Wood is no stranger to a challenge. The best-selling author, documentary-maker, and photographer has already walked the length of the Nile from source to sea, hiked the entirety of the Himalayas, and walked 1,800 miles across Central America from Mexico to Colombia. His Arabian adventure, the subject of this memoir, is perhaps his most ambitious yet—a 5,000-mile circumnavigation of the Arabian Peninsula from Iraq to Lebanon, challenging our perceptions of this misunderstood region with every chapter.

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PHOTO: "Wanderland: A Search for Magic in the Landscape" by Jini Reddy (Bloomsbury Wildlife) is published in paperback on 1st April 2021.
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"Wanderland: A Search for Magic in the Landscape" by Jini Reddy

Seeking a closer, more spiritual, connection with the natural world—or in Reddy’s words, “roaming with a juicer intent”—Wanderland is part memoir, part nature writing, and part playful experimentation, touching on themes of cultural identity, belonging, and “otherness.” Whether following a “cult” map to a hidden well that refuses to reveal itself, attempting to persuade a labyrinth to spill its secrets, embarking on a coast-to-coast pilgrimage, or searching for a mystical land temple, Jini depicts a whimsical, natural Britain—and inspires you to think about what natural landscapes that are at your own doorstep, and the secrets that are just waiting to be discovered.

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PHOTO: Courtesy of Canongate
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"Hokkaido Highway Blues: Hitchhiking Japan" by Will Ferguson

If you’re a fan of Bill Bryson, you’ll love this witty and entertaining account of Canadian writer Will Ferguson’s hitch-hiking journey along the length of Japan. Not in 4,000 years of Japanese recorded history had anyone attempted this—or followed the Cherry Blossom Front from one end of the country to the other. Heady on sakura and sake, Will Ferguson bet he could do both. The resulting travelogue is laugh-out-loud funny and packed with stories of the people he encountered and Japanese culture beyond what you find in the usual guidebooks.

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PHOTO: Courtesy of Hodder & Stoughton, 2020
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"Beyond Possible: One Soldier, Fourteen Peaks. My Life in the Death Zone" by Nirmal Purja

Ex-Gurkha Nirmal ’Nims’ Purja recently joined an elite club of mountaineers who have climbed all of the highest peaks on Earth and if that’s not impressive enough, earlier this year he led the first-ever winter ascent of K2. The climber scaled the world’s second-highest peak in the depths of winter—an incredibly dangerous feat—alongside nine fellow Nepali mountaineers, without supplemental oxygen to boot. So, what makes this superstar climber so successful? Get the inside story in his jaw-dropping memoir Beyond Possible, and his pursuit of climbing all fourteen “death zone” mountains in seven months. He completed it in six, naturally. While Nirmal’s book will be the closest most of us will get to the world of high-altitude climbing, we can all be inspired by his fearlessness and tenacity.

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PHOTO: Courtesy of Faber & Faber
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"Nervous Conditions" by Tsitsi Dangarembga

A novel by Zimbabwean playwright, filmmaker, and Booker Prize-shortlisted novelist Tsitsi Dangarembga, Nervous Conditions is widely regarded as a classic of African literature and centers on the protagonist Tambudzai, who dreams of an education. On her shoulders rest the economic hopes of her parents, siblings, and extended family, and within her burns the desire for independence. A timeless coming-of-age tale, and a powerful exploration of cultural imperialism, Nervous Conditions charts Tambu’s journey to personhood in a nation that is also emerging.

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PHOTO: "Wild Women and Their Amazing Adventures Over Land, Sea and Air" by Mariella Frostrup (6 Feb 2020) by Head of Zeus, an Anima book, RRP £14.99
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"Wild Women and Their Amazing Adventures Over Land, Sea and Air" by Mariella Frostrup

Women have for too long been underrepresented by the world of adventure and exploration and in this curated volume of travel writing, journalist, author, and broadcaster Mariella Frostrup aims to redress that balance. If you’re looking for inspiration and a guide to some of the best travel writing by women out there, this is an excellent place to start. From Constantinople to Crimea and Antarctica to the Andes, the book—handily split up into geographical regions—includes excerpts and gripping travelogues from women adventurers, historic and current, who dared to roam and defy the stereotypes that society expected of them.

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PHOTO: Courtesy of Granta
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"Looking for Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria" by Noo Saro-Wiwa

Growing up in “leafy Surrey,” Saro-Wiwa’s only experiences of Nigeria were on annual family trips to her “unglamorous, godforsaken motherland with its penchant for noise and disorder,” until she decided to return to the country to explore her roots and “re-engage” with the country. The resulting travelogue details her exploration from the exuberant chaos of Lagos to the calm beauty of the eastern mountains; from the eccentricity of a Nigerian dog show to the empty Transwonderland Amusement Park. Along the way, she explores themes such as corruption, identity, and religion—and her own difficult memories.

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PHOTO: Courtesy of Dey Street Books
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"Lands of Lost Borders: A Journey on the Silk Road" by Kate Harris

Named one of Canada’s top modern-day explorers, writer Kate Harris’s debut memoir Lands of Lost Borders follows her journey biking the Silk Road from beginning to end. Growing up yearning for exploration of lands undiscovered, but coming to the realization that this was near-impossible in the modern world, she instead vowed to become a scientist and head to Mars. Along this path, Harris set off by bicycle down a short section of the fabled Silk Road with her childhood friend Mel Yule—a little adventure to pass the time. But somewhere along the way, she realized that an explorer, in any day and age, is by definition the kind of person who refuses to live between the lines. And so, her great venture began: biking the entirety of the Silk Road.  

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"Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle" by Dervla Murphy

Dervla Murphy is no stranger to the travel writing world and has written over 20 books, leading her to become known as a fully-fledged travel legend and “the first lady of Irish cycling.” Her 1965 debut Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle remains her best-known work, and tells the account of an astonishing solo bicycle expedition to Delhi riding through Persia, Afghanistan, and over the Himalayas to Pakistan and India (with a revolver in her pocket for protection!).  

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PHOTO: Courtesy of Penguin Random House UK
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"Pocket Atlas of Remote Islands: Fifty Islands I Have Not Visited and Never Will" by Judith Schalansky

The world is full of places we will never visit but that still spark our imagination and lust for adventure. The Atlas of Remote Islands, Judith Schalansky’s beautifully-presented account of the islands that have held a place in her heart throughout her lifelong love of cartography, has captured the imaginations of readers everywhere. The perfect book for the armchair adventurer, the book pairs pristine maps with stories of rare animals, castaways, and lost explorers.

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"Blue Highways: A Journey into America" by William Least Heat-Moon

Hailed as a masterpiece of American travel writing, Blue Highways is William Least Heat-Moon’s account of his three-month road trip along America’s backroads and the “little towns that get on the map—if they get on at all—only because some cartographer has a blank space to fill inhabit them”. His adventures, his discoveries, and his recollections of the extraordinary people he encountered along the way amount to a revelation of the true American experience.

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"An African in Greenland" by Tété-Michel Kpomassie

In the 1960s, Tété-Michel Kpomassie journeyed from Togo in West Africa to spend several months in Greenland, inspired by a book on the country he had picked up as a teenager. Kpomassie’s page-turning chronicle of life among the Inuit people is “a testament both to the wonderful strangeness of the human species and to the surprising sympathies that bind us all.”

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