These books will take you places.
Travel represents many things to different types of people. For some, it’s the opportunity to experience a bit of freedom by hitting the open road and feeling the surge of adrenaline that inevitably follows. For others, it’s a way of expressing oneself, as the journey is as much internal as it is external. Whether your trips take you across the country or to unchartered territories around the world, one thing remains true: for better or worse, travel changes you. So until it is once again a comfortable possibility, here are 15 travel memoirs that will ignite your post-COVID wanderlust.
Top Picks for You
For the Road Tripper
Originally published in 1962, Travels With Charley is an American classic. With his French poodle as co-pilot and a small camper serving as their home on wheels, Steinbeck sets out on a road trip through the United States. His goal: to rediscover the country that he has been writing about, and to experience, as he puts it, this “new America.” Along the way, he meets many interesting characters, revealing the idiosyncrasies and charm of the places he visits. Navigating the interstates and highways, Steinbeck sheds light on a country that is in a moment of great upheaval and change–a travelogue that feels both familiar and timely.
For the Spiritual Wanderer
In Meeting Faith we’re introduced to Faith Adiele, the daughter of a Nordic-American mother and a Nigerian father. Raised in the Pacific Northwest, she was on academic probation at Harvard when she traveled to Thailand with a desire to immerse herself in the lives of Buddhist nuns. In a quest for her own identity, she decided to become ordained. She shaved her head, took a vow of silence, and moved into a forest temple, documenting the entire experience. Part memoir, part exploration of Buddhism, and part anthropological study, this is a fascinating account of one woman’s personal growth.
For the Adrenaline Junkie
Inspired by the British explorer Percy Fawcett’s 1925 quest for a fabled civilization in the Amazon Jungle, The Lost City of Z reads more like an action-adventure novel akin to the Indiana Jones variety than a detailed account of David Grann’s attempts to duplicate this treacherous journey. It should come as no surprise that the book was adapted as a film, filled with the type of heart-racing scenes that provide an immediate adrenaline rush. After stumbling across Fawcett’s journals, Grann was haunted by the mystery of this explorer who disappeared without a trace, so he set out to uncover the truth.
For Women Traveling Solo
Boland took her first solo trip to Australia in her early twenties, and she never looked back. From there she took her battered rucksack around the world–to Pakistan, Japan, Peru, Antarctica, and, as the title proclaims, Elsewhere. This collection of nine essays chronicles Boland’s last 30 years of travel, and she examines how these experiences and the people she met along the way have effectively changed the course of her life. Whether it’s through her descriptions of the Amazonian rainforest or the glaciers of the South Pole, this book will fuel your desire to travel to faraway places.
For the Armchair Philosopher
What is happiness, really? In The Geography of Bliss, Eric Weiner, a self-identified grump and former correspondent for NPR attempts to answer this question. With a look at 10 different countries and what defines happiness for each, Weiner will make you laugh out loud with his clever take on how happiness is measured in various countries. Whether it’s a “policy” in Bhutan, a “work in progress” in Great Britain, or “boredom” in Switzerland, this is an interesting glimpse at an elusive topic. Peppered with quotes from philosophers, scholars, and spiritual leaders, Weiner will make you ponder your own idea of happiness.
For the Curious Gourmet
Married to a diplomat, Mah was overjoyed when her husband was assigned to three years in France until he was abruptly called away to Iraq on a year-long post. A longtime foodie and Francophile, she takes the opportunity to journey through ten of the country’s regions. She seeks out locals who are hands-on experts on a particular dish and uncovers its history and cultural significance. In Mastering the Art of French Eating, Mah features a few of France’s most famous delicacies–from pain au chocolat to boeuf Bourguignon to soupe au pistou–and ends each chapter with her own accessible take on a recipe for that dish.
For the Truth Seeker
In To Shake the Sleeping Self, Jedidiah Jenkins has just turned 30, a milestone year. Yet to him, it was also an indication that he needed to explore his identity, so he pedals his bike from the coast of Oregon to the tip of Patagonia, knowing instinctively that this was a necessary journey. Along the way, he meets like-minded souls and those who challenge his comfort zone, like his friend Weston, who accompanies him for part of the journey. Set against the backdrop of the open road, Jenkins examines previously-held notions about his sexuality and his religion and discovers answers in the unlikeliest of places.
For the Nature Lover
In Phenomenal, Henion’s prose is captivating, and she draws the readers in with stories of her discoveries that span five continents. With each adventure, she attempts to ignite her sense of wonder, and they draw her around the globe–from witnessing millions of butterflies on a mountaintop in Mexico to lightning storms in Venezuela. Along the way she also illuminates what it means to be human in this world, and beautifully recounts her personal challenges while also expressing her philosophies. With her descriptions of the bioluminescent bays of Puerto Rico’s Vieques Island or the Northern Lights, this is travel writing with soul.
For the History Buff
Interspersed with historic accounts of the Incas and filled with intriguing details, Turn Right at Machu Picchu is for the history lover in all of us. Mark Adams is an adventure travel expert, and he became obsessed with the story of Professor Hiram Bingham III, who in 1911 rediscovered the legendary mountain (locals were already well aware of Machu Picchu’s location). Not content to just stay at home and read about the explorer, Adams decides instead to retrace his footsteps, traveling to Peru and taking the reader on a hilarious romp. As you immerse yourself in his narrative, you’ll be right along with him as he treks through vine-choked jungles and admires Incan monuments.
For the Lusty Traveler
Imagine this: After fleeing a painful breakup, you find yourself on the Italian island of Ischia and fall immediately in lust with a sexy French professor. Such is the case with An Italian Affair. You can’t stop yourself, just this once you want to linger in your own sensuality, throw caution to the wind, and savor a naughty rendezvous with someone you barely know. The fact that this affair becomes a ritual, something you seek out over the years in beautiful locales around the world, is what surprises you. For who knew that this handsome stranger would also become a cherished friend.
For the Insatiable Explorer
There is no question that Anthony Bourdain was a cultural icon–a social chameleon who connected different cultures and parts of the world through its food, he simultaneously showcased what binds us together as humanity. Set to be released on April 20, World Travel reveals Bourdain at his best: recommending his favorite places with the candor that he has become known for. This is an inspirational guide to keep on your shelf when it’s safe to travel again, so you can walk in his footsteps and experience these places a little further and a little fuller, just as Bourdain did.
For the Mindful Wanderer
Penned by the late Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Alice Steinbach, Without Reservations recounts her journeys through Paris, Oxford, and Milan as a single woman who is unencumbered by expectations and open to new experiences. Best described as an introspective travelogue, each chapter begins with a postcard that she has sent to herself. Steinbach is the type of traveler that we should all aspire to be, and reading this book is like sharing a pot of tea with an old friend. Meant to be savored, her reflections perfectly encompass the internal and external observations that occur while traveling–a tale of self-discovery at its best.
For the Art Lover
Author Hisham Matar won the Pulitzer Prize for his autobiographical novel The Return, and longing for a respite, he decides to visit the Italian city of Siena. For years he had visited the National Gallery in London to visit the Sienese paintings, which provided comfort to him after his father’s tragic death. A Month in Siena is an account of his time there, visiting the tourist sites and museums, encountering strangers on the street. As much a reflection on Siena and its art as it is a meditation on grief, Matar seeks solace in these late-Gothic paintings as he grieves for his father.
For the Adventure Enthusiast
Wild Horses of the Summer Sun is a journey that reveals both the rugged Icelandic countryside and the freedom of doing what you love. Every year Tory Bilski had one thing on her calendar that she could count on: an annual trip to a remote horse farm in northern Iceland with a group of fellow women travelers. Initially strangers, over the years these women formed a bond that emerged with their love of horses and was sealed with the shared thrill of adventure. Riding their horses through the midnight sun, Bilski describes how they were finally free from the bonds and expectations of their day-to-day lives.
For the Politically-Minded Traveler
Setting off in their single-engine prop airplane, husband and wife team James and Deborah Fallows had one intention: to take the temperature of the United States and to evaluate its ability to revitalize itself, whether the struggle was with the opioid epidemic or issues related to immigration. They accomplished this by visiting several diverse mid-size towns and interviewing community representatives such as politicians, business leaders, health care providers, and students. Combining their journalistic experience–James is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and Deborah is a linguist and journalist–they uncovered the strength and character of the renaissance that is going on across small-town America.