So you’re itching to go somewhere new but don’t know where to start. Sometimes inspiration can come from Pinterest boards and from looking through friends’ facebook vacation albums, but sometimes the best inspiration comes from outside of your extended or immediate circle, or even your own generation. Sometimes, you need to hear about an adventure so absurd or wild, it pushes you to get out of your comfort zone and expand your horizons.
Travel memoirs are perfect for this. They transport you to another place and time through the eyes of someone else while serving as inspiration, allowing you to picture yourself there, too.
The following is a listing of books that were written by women from all over the world and from all walks of life, some of them were written a long time ago and some were released in the past few years, but they all have one thing in common: they were written by a female traveler who had an incredible story to tell.
1. West with the Night
by Beryl Markham
Beryl is pretty much the epitome of a badass female traveler. She was born right after the turn of the 20th century in the United Kingdom and brought to Kenya by her father shortly thereafter. She started out as an apprentice to her father, who bred horses, before becoming a bush pilot. At the age of 34, she became the first person to cross the Atlantic from East to West.
Why we love it: The poetic writing
Beryl led an amazingly adventurous life, no doubt, but it’s her writing style that really stands out in this memoir, earning praise from Ernest Hemingway himself!
Inspiring excerpt: “I have learned that if you must leave a place that you have lived in and loved and where all your yesteryears are buried deep, leave it any way except a slow way, leave it the fastest way you can. Never turn back and never believe that an hour you remember is a better hour because it is dead. Passed years seem safe ones, vanquished ones, while the future lives in a cloud, formidable from a distance.”
2. Wanderlust: A Love Affair with Five Continents
by Elizabeth Eaves
This memoir spans a decade and a half of traveling, working, studying, and having lovers all over the world. Elizabeth doesn’t sugarcoat her encounters and experiences, and while her book is polarizing (just read the reviews!) she’s a gifted writer who tells it like it is.
Why we love it: It’s raw and honest
While some authors might leave the sex and negative parts of themselves off the pages, Elizabeth shares the good and the bad about herself and her partners in her travels. Let’s be honest, that’s part of almost everyone’s travel story!
Inspiring excerpt: “The paradox of love is that to have it is to want to preserve it because it’s perfect in the moment but that preservation is impossible because the perfection is only ever an instant passed through. Love like travel is a series of moments that we immediately leave behind.”
3. How Not to Travel the World: Adventures of a Disaster-Prone Backpacker
by Lauren Juliff
Lauren’s memoir is refreshing because it’s so relatable. She starts out as a scared girl who has no solo travel experience and no support from her familiars, either. Yet she’s determined to travel the world on her own. Everyone is sure she’ll run into disaster, and she does, but that doesn’t stop her from continuing her journey that she’s still on today.
Why we love it: It proves travel is for everyone
Lauren managed to get out there and travel even though she battles with anxiety and had to learn to be open to foods and experiences that had previously terrified her. If you feel like you might not be brave enough for traveling, read this book!
Inspiring excerpt: “When I’d announced I was going to travel the world the initial support from friends had lasted only until they’d realized I was serious. Then it had transformed into snide jokes and comments about how I’d be home in a week.”
4. The Lover
by Margeurite Duras
Margeurite was born French and grew up in prewar Indochina (Saigon). Typically that would mean her family had means, but they lost it all and what they had left, her brother squandered while her mother sank into depression. In the wake of her family’s turmoil, she met and fell for a much older and much richer Chinese man. The two became lovers who, due to societal norms, could only be together behind closed doors.
Why we love it: It’s a different kind of peek into the past
I remember discovering this book back in 2007 when I had first moved to Asia, blown away by the story as it unfolded of such a young girl and the twisted romance she ended up in. It’s a short read, but an interesting and gripping one.
Inspirational passage: “Suddenly, all at once, she knows, knows that he doesn’t understand her, that he never will, that he lacks the power to understand such perverseness. And that he can never move fast enough to catch her.”
5. The Valleys of the Assassins: and Other Persian Travels
by Freya Stark
Google famous travel quotes and you’re sure to see one from Freya Stark pop up. She’s one of the original vagabonding female travelers, moving to Baghdad at the age of 37 from the UK, learning Arabic, and setting off on adventures in the surroundings on a shoestring budget. With just a local guide and visiting areas by camel and foot, she made it to Luristan, a place that was otherwise uncharted territory and rumored to be full of thieves and murderers.
Why we love it: If she can be that badass in the 1930s, we can be badass now
Freya shocked her friends and family when she moved to the Middle East, but that didn’t stop her from fearlessly exploring that part of the world, immersing herself in the culture, and charming those she met.
Inspiring excerpt: “If I were asked to enumerate the pleasures of travel, this would be one of the greatest among them – that so often and so unexpectedly you meet the best in human nature, and seeing it so by surprise and often with a most improbable background, you come, with a sense of pleasant thankfulness, to realize how widely scattered in the world are goodness and courtesy and the love of immaterial things, fair blossoms found in every climate, on every soil.”
6. What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding: A Memoir
by Kristin Newman
The book, as the title suggests, was written by a woman who wanted to escape the norm of settling down, getting married, and having babies. She left her job as a sitcom writer in her thirties to travel the world solo. It’s a good mix of funny anecdotes, encounters with men of all backgrounds and some naughty bits thrown in.
Why we love it: This is the single girl’s travel manifesto
Sometimes it feels like everyone else is getting married and announcing a new pregnancy, so what’s a single girl to do? Embrace her freedom and take off!
Inspiring excerpt: “When you travel, you’re forced to have new thoughts. “Is this alley safe?” “Is this the right bus?” “Was this meat ever a house pet?” It doesn’t even matter what the new thoughts are, it feels so good to just have some variety. And it’s a reboot for your brain. I can feel the neurons making new connections again with new problems to solve, clawing their way back to their nimbler, younger days.”
7. Tracks: A Woman’s Solo Trek Across 1700 Miles of Australian Outback
by Robyn Davidson
At age 27, Robyn decided that, along with her dog and four camels, she would walk through Australia’s red center all the way to the Indian Ocean, a journey totaling 1700 miles! It’s a gritty story full of humor and realizations about what it really takes to trek solo across a desert.
Why we love it: Her guts are admirable
The story is gripping not only because of the subject matter, but her determination to make it happen and all of the learning, sacrifices, and planning that went into making this voyage happen.
Inspiring excerpt: “I experienced that sinking feeling you get when you know you have conned yourself into doing something difficult and there’s no going back.”
8. Love with a Chance of Drowning
by Torre DeRoche
Torre was working in San Francisco, uninterested in a relationship when she met a handsome Argentinian stranger with the offer of the adventure of a lifetime. He was sailing around the world and invited her to come along, but there was a catch, she was terrified of the water.
Why we love it: It’s a page-turner
I’m normally not a love story person, but Torre’s writing is so gripping, and hilarious. Plus, I’ve got to hand it to the girl for stepping out of her comfort zone and getting on a boat despite her fears.
Inspiring excerpt: “When I was a kid, afraid of the Boogieman, I would hide motionlessly under my bed covers for hours on end. Not much has changed since then.”
9. No Baggage: A Minimalist Tale of Love and Wandering
by Clara Benson
Post-quarter life crisis, Clara meets a quirky professor on an online dating site and decides to accept his offer to travel the world with him for three weeks with, you guessed it, no baggage. They also had no plans, no reservations, and no real idea of who the other person was prior to the trip. The idea was to let go of baggage, both literally and figuratively.
Why we love it: It’s the kind of date we’d sort of love to experience
This story actually started as a salon.com article that went viral and was adapted to a book, and then optioned by New Line Cinema. It’s one of those crazy stories that’s fun to read, humorous at times, and gets you thinking.
Inspiring excerpt: “Magic happens when you head out into the unknown with wonder in your right hand and terror in your left.”
10. A Thousand New Beginnings: Tales of Solo Female Travel Through Southeast Asia
By Kristin Addis
Reading books by fearless female travelers naturally makes you want to get out there and do it too, right? The thought of it feels awesome, until the reality creeps in that hey, this is all going to go down solo! This is my story of leaving my job, ex boyfriend, and life behind in California to travel solo through Southeast Asia on a shoestring, becoming a Buddhist monk for 10 days, getting a magic tattoo, sleeping in hundreds of different beds and through 7 different countries on a journey that I’m still on today.
Why we love it: Because solo traveling isn’t just for the boys!
If you’re considering a solo trip around the world but are too afraid to pull the trigger, this memoir of an ordinary girl who traveled in Asia by herself will inspire you.
Inspiring excerpt: “I couldn’t shake the feeling that something just wasn’t right with my life at that point. I had felt it for far too long […] I didn’t want to stay in a situation where my dreams weren’t supported and to oscillate between contentedness and frustration just because I was too scared to take a leap of faith, suck in a pattern of desiring to go but never pulling the trigger.”
Next time you find yourself on a bus, train, or with some time on your hands on a rainy Sunday afternoon, pick up one of these and give it a read, and you never know where it might take you – to another place in your mind, or to the computer to buy a plane ticket.
If all of these women can do it – some of whom seem brave, some of whom overcame a crisis in their lives, and some of whom were afraid but went anyways – then you can find a way to get out there too!