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12 Best Travel Memoirs of All Time

There are several life-changing books that have shook my being and made me question everything I have known to be true. Written words that have pushed me to keep going, travel solo and be the woman I am today. I think it’s important to surround yourself with people who motivate and inspire you. At first, those people might be authors.

I hope you find a book on the list to get lost in and befriend whether you’re at home or on an adventure.

Note: I will update this list with every new book I fall in love with. Cheers!

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My Best Travel Memoirs List

A list of my personal favorite travel memoirs that I love and cherish. The first couple are classics, I’m sure most of you have read these BUT if you haven’t, here’s your sign!

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Wild is about a woman’s 1,100-mile solo journey across the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). Cheryl Strayed’s journey is beyond physical; it’s a journey of self-discovery, addiction recovery, and mourning the loss of her mother. The book is relatable, inspirational, and warning: may cause you to start planning a long-ass hike. Her words are comforting and hilarious, you feel as though you are with her on her solo journey.

I am a Cheryl Strayed super-fan. I had the privilege of seeing her on stage at Travel Con. Spoiler alert: she’s even more inspirational in person!!! She also has a podcast called Dear Sugar that I love and recommend checking out!

Click here to purchase Wild on Amazon

“I knew that if I allowed fear to overtake me, my journey was doomed. Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me.”

cheryl strayed

Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

Gilbert is struck with a feeling that her perfect life isn’t so perfect. She yearns for more, more adventure, more purpose, more meaning in her life. When she can’t run away from the feeling any longer, she quits everything; her job, her marriage, and her “normal” life. She books a trip to Italy (eat), India (pray), and Bali (love) to leap out of her comfort zone and rediscover herself.

I’ve read Eat Pray twice in English, once in Spanish (language learning tip: read a familiar novel for practice!), and watched the movie about 7 times. Some say it’s a cheesy travel novel but it completely changed my life. I bought Eat Pray Love just before my first solo backpacking trip and read it during my first weeks in Lima, Peru. This book is like an old friend, a book I reread from time to time when I need the company.

Tip: I recommend reading the book before watching the movie!!! (although, this is a good rule of thumb and applies to all the books I mention!)

Click here to purchase Eat Pray Love on Amazon

“When I get lonely these days, I think: So BE lonely, Liz. Learn your way around loneliness. Make a map of it. Sit with it, for once in your life. Welcome to the human experience. But never again use another person’s body or emotions as a scratching post for your own unfulfilled yearnings.”

Elizabeth gilbert

Under The Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes

Under the Tuscan Sun is a classic (a travel memoir OG). The story is about Frances Mayes who discovers her husband is cheating on her. To bring herself out of a deep depression, her best friend encourages her to take a trip to Tuscany. In Tuscany, Frances ends up impulsively buying and restoring a villa in the Tuscany countryside. *sounds like a good idea right about NOW*

If you feel like visiting Italy this summer, read Under The Tuscan Sun to escape into the warm Italian culture of delicious food, delightful people, and neighborhood markets.

Click here to purchase Under the Tuscan Sun on Amazon

“Life offers you a thousand chances… all you have to do is take one.”

frances mayes

Ten Years A Nomad by Matthew Kepnes

Matt took a short vacation from his 9-5 to Thailand that changed the course of his life. On this trip, he realized that living life was more than buying a car, paying mortgage, and moving up the corporate ladder. His Thailand trip inspired him to embark on a year-long trip around the world. Over 500,000 miles, 1,000 hostels, and 90 different countries later, TEN YEARS had passed.

Ten Years a Nomad is about his 10-year journey as a nomad – stories and life philosophies he has learned along the way.

Nomadic Matt is one of my idols in the travel blogging space. I bought his Business of Travel Blogging Course (highly recommend!!!) and shortly after bought his book. I think Matt’s story is worth reading especially those who want to be a nomad or travel blogger. I think it’s always a good idea to read books written by the most successful in your industry. Although it’s not my favorite on the list, I think it’s worth the read.

Click here to purchase Tens Years a Nomad on Amazon

Vagabonding by Rolf Potts

Vagabonding is LOADED with everything you would ever need to be a budget, long-term traveler. It is an information goldmine. If you are apprehensive at all about being a nomad, this book will make you buy your plane ticket, sell your shit and fly one-way to Guatemala.

Click here to purchase Vagabonding on Amazon

“And let me tell you something. That first morning, when you are in your country of choice, away from all of the conventions of atypical, everyday lifestyle, looking around at your totally new surroundings, hearing strange languages, smelling strange, new smells, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. You’ll feel like the luckiest person in the world.”

rolf potts

Into The Wild by Jon Krakauer

The synopsis is literally on the cover of the book which makes my life too easy. Anyways, this guy sells everything, gives up his entire life to live simply. By live simply, I mean he quite literally moved “Into The Wild.” *lol*

This one is a classic. The moral of the story (much like other travel memoirs) is to value experience over materialism and do whatever the hell makes you happy. Read it. It’s amazing.

Click here to purchase Into The Wild on Amazon

“Make a radical change in your lifestyle and begin to boldly do things which you may previously never have thought of doing, or been too hesitant to attempt. So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservation, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality, nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun. If you want to get more out of life, you must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life that will at first appear to you to be crazy. But once you become accustomed to such a life you will see its full meaning and its incredible beauty.”

jon krakaur

The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost by Rachel Friedman

Rachel, just like many college graduates, has no idea what to do next. All her life she’s been “the good girl.” On a whim, she buys a ticket to Ireland and it changes the course of her life. She meets a free-spirited Aussie and they become fast friends. Three continents and many adventures later, Rachel finds a passion for travel, but more importantly, the ability to live in the moment.

Click here to go on an adventure with Rachel

“Before, some places just seemed too far, too difficult to reach, but once you start traveling, you never want to stop. You want to hear other people’s stories, see where they live, eat their food. You realize–and of course, it’s a cliche, but like many cliches, it’s true–the way we are all interconnected.”

rachel friedman

Without Reservations by Alice Steinbach

Alice Steinbach decides she needs a change (don’t we all?). She quits her job as a journalist and buys a plane ticket to France. Her children are grown, she’s divorced, and she yearns for something different. Without Reservations details Steinbach’s yearlong adventure through Europe.

Click here to be inspired by Alice

“Women would be better off when they no longer needed men more than they needed their own independent identities…How long a time it took me after my divorce to understand that being alone is not the same as being lonely.”

alice steinbach

What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding by Kristin Newman

Kristin Newman spent much of her twenties and thirties watching her best friends get married and produce babies. Not ready to settle down and in much need from an escape from her job (fun fact: she was a writer for That 70s Show!), Kristin chooses to travel the world for several weeks each year. Kristin falls in love with cultures, countries, and attractive local men. She shares the good, bad, and ugly of her adventures and sex-capades.

This was one of those books that you can’t put down. It will “ruin” your Saturday, you will cancel all your plans to finish this damn book. It takes a special author to be able to speak to you. I felt like I was Kristin’s best friend observing her life.

Warning: it may lead to sudden bursts of laughter, crying, and/or breaking up with your partner to travel the world.

Read this book if you: are almost 30 or in your 30s. You’re welcome.

Click here to buy my favorite book in the world on Amazon

“The experience also illuminated another fact: regardless of how you travel, as you get deeper into your thirties you might be the only person your age out on the road at all, whether it’s in the hostels with the twentysomethings, or on the fancy cruises with the sixtysomethings. In your fourth decade, your compatriots are mostly at home, working, raising humans, getting husbands through rehab, living for someone besides themselves. 

Suckers.”

Kristin newman

Bonus: Favorite Travel Memoirs Recommended By Female Travelers

Submissions from you guys. You’re the best. Thanks to everyone who contributed!!!

Thru-Hiking Will Break Your Heart by Carrot Quinn

Like so many people, Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild” introduced me to the idea of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. Since then, I’ve read numerous memoirs about adventurers who’ve walked from Mexico to Canada. However, no book—nope, not even “Wild” itself—has captured my imagination and allowed me to so fully picture myself on the trail like Carrot Quinn’s “Thru-Hiking Will Break Your Heart.”

Anyone who has ever said “I want more for my life” will appreciate and admire Carrot’s last-minute decision to walk the PCT. Her stream of consciousness narration makes you feel like you’re contemplating a chilly dip in a glacial lake, summiting snow-covered mountains and crossing the storied Bridge of the Gods right alongside her. From periods and hiker hookups to getting sick and running out of supplies, Carrot doesn’t hold back while providing an honest and raw account of life on the trail.

To say Carrot is a likable narrator is an understatement. In some sections of the book, Carrot waxes philosophical about the beauty of nature and the meaning of life. Then, just a few pages later, she’s back to being a person doing her best to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Carrot’s relatability keeps me rereading and recommending this memoir. 

If you’re anything like me, the final pages will have you in tears and wishing for another 2,600 miles with Carrot Quinn.

Submitted by: Alex Wittman, Backpacking Brunette

Click here to check out Thru-Hiking Will Break Your Heart

It’s Only The Himalayas by S. Bedford

“It’s Only the Himalayas” by S. Bedford is a hilarious tale of two Canadian twenty-somethings traveling around southern Africa and East Asia for a year.  The subtitle says it all: “And other tales of miscalculation from an overconfident backpacker”.  Bedford dives into all the mishaps and shenanigans they got into because of the belief that they had already overcome the impossible: leaving their jobs to travel the world. Everything else should be easy, right?  Like hiking in the Himalayas in Converse… nothing could possibly go wrong. 

This memoir resonated with me when I read it on the heels of my first big backpacking trip around Europe in 2015.  I arrived home feeling like I should visit Machu Picchu next, or tackle Kilimanjaro.  Why couldn’t I trek the Annapurna circuit without any training or fancy equipment?  I picked up this book and was delighted that someone else shared my excitement, but I quickly reigned it in as reality hit me.  I appreciated Bedford’s candor; it helped me reflect on whether there is a ‘right way to travel’.  In the end, no matter what misfortunes we as travelers bring upon ourselves, learning through travel is the best education there is.  

Submitted by: Alexandra, The Adventure Classroom

Click here to check out It’s Only The Himalayas

It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War by Lynsey Addario

It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War by Lynsey Addario is a fascinating memoir recounting Lynsey’s life as a photojournalist traveling to some of the most war-torn countries in the world. Lynsey’s courageous travels immediately drew me in – she doesn’t shy away from trying new things, being willing to fail, and walking straight into danger to pursue honest and moving journalism. She takes readers on her journey to shine a light on the lives of others – particularly women – in countries many will never get to visit.

As a young photographer, traveler, and feminist, every reread finds me more inspired by Lynsey’s ability to show how travel and photography can be hugely impactful in the world.

Submitted by: Jen, Glasses and Boarding Passes

Click here to check out It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War


Another big thank you to those who contributed! Do you love travel memoirs? Have you read any of the books listed above? Have a favorite that’s not on the list? Comment below to share! <3

Need some new podcast recommendations? 18 Podcasts for Female Travelers (Updated 2020)

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12 Comments

  • The Traveling Tay
    July 20, 2020 at 7:24 pm

    I loved reading this list! So many of my personal favorites & also some new reads that I can’t wait to check out. A personal recommendation is Love with a Chance of Drowning by Torre DeRoche. Torre’s story of leaving behind normal life to sail around the world with her new boyfriend continuously inspires me to take risks!

    Reply
  • Abby Way
    July 21, 2020 at 5:20 pm

    Chills! I want to read them all!!

    Reply
  • Val
    July 25, 2020 at 11:21 am

    Thanks a lot for sharing all these interesting titles, there are a few I haven’t read yet, perfect for my summer reading shopping list 🙂

    Reply
  • Patri
    July 25, 2020 at 12:22 pm

    What an inspiring post, I love it! I have read “into the wild” and I have to tell you that story still shakes me today. I recently watched Eat Pray Love on TV and the wanderlust came back.

    Reply
    • Courtney
      July 25, 2020 at 8:49 pm

      Yesss love that movie!!! 💛💛💛

      Reply
  • Jill Robbins
    July 25, 2020 at 4:25 pm

    I’ve heard of some of these but there are lots of new ones for me to check out. Thanks for the recommendations.

    Reply
  • Emma
    July 25, 2020 at 6:56 pm

    Great list. I’d better get reading, I’ve only read two (Wild, and Into the Wild). If you’re looking for recommendations I’d say: We’ll Always Have Paris by Emma Beddington, and for a classic try A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway. Both great books, both very different but both loosely based around Paris.

    Reply
  • […] are recommendations from Amazon, Smarter Traveler, Passion and Places, Courtney the Explorer, Matador Network, and CN […]

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  • […] in love with the world and has a slew of romances.  I’m excited to read this book because all reviews say it is an incredibly funny and frank book that is impossible to put […]

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