I love how a good book takes me places I have never been and may never see with my own eyes—whether that place is close to home or halfway around the world.
Readers have long enjoyed vicarious travel and prepared for their trips by turning to the written word. These days I, like many readers, am especially grateful for armchair travel.
When a reader recently asked for travel memoir recommendations on on our What Should I Read Next Instagram account as a WSIRNReaderRecs request, we received piles of great book suggestions. We’ve gone through them all and curated this reader-generated book list for you. As so often happens, my TBR grew as a result.
Today I’m sharing some books I love and some I’m eager to read because of your enthusiastic recommendations. This list of 20 travel memoirs will hopefully provide some vicarious experiences while you dream about your next trip. This is by no means an exhaustive list so I’d love to hear about your favorite travel memoirs in the comments.
Renowned travel writer Bryson takes to the Appalachian Trail in this laugh-out-loud travel memoir. After returning to America after 20 years in England, Bryson reconnects with his home country by walking 800 of the AT’s 2100 miles, many of them with his cranky companion Katz, who serves as a brilliant foil to Bryson’s scholarly wit. A superb hiking memoir that skillfully combines laugh-out-loud anecdotes with serious discussions about history, ecology, and wilderness trivia. Droll, witty, entertaining. This is one of those rare occasions where I'd recommend listening to the abridged version, because Bryson himself narrates it. More info →
This 1960 chronicle is perfect for anyone who's dreamed of taking an epic road trip across America. With his French poodle Charley as companion, Steinbeck looped the country to visit forty states: from Long Island to Maine; then west all the way to Seattle; south to San Francisco and his birthplace, Salinas; then east through the Mojave to Texas, and then New Orleans, and finally north through Alabama, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey to New York. WHAT A TRIP. More info →
As a homebody with a healthy dose of wanderlust, I've been fascinated by Tsh's around-the-world adventure since the moment I first heard about it. With her husband and three kids under ten, Tsh leaves the States behind to travel to China and Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe, Croatia and Germany and England and everywhere in between, for nine solid months. I so enjoyed getting to tag along on her family's global adventures, which were nothing at all like I expected—both more strange and more familiar than I had imagined. More info →
In desperate need of a fresh start after the death of her mother and divorce, Cheryl Strayed decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail by herself, even though she had little hiking experience. What follows is a journey of ups and downs, hope and despair, as she moves toward healing and making sense of her past. More info →
This is a wonderful guide for anyone contemplating solo travel. Journalist Alice Steinbach took a four-month sabbatical from work to travel to London, Oxford, Paris, and Milan when she was in her 50s. Her memoir is as much about the places she goes as it is about the people she befriends. More info →
Andrew X. Pham was born in Vietnam and raised in California, after his family came to the US as "boat people." After his sister died by suicide, he set off on a year-long exploration by bicycle, taking off for Mexico, Japan, and Vietnam, hoping to make sense of his cultural identity along the way. More info →
Frances Mayes is best known for her memoirs exploring life as an expat in Tuscany but here she shares about travels to Spain, Portugal, France, the British Isles, Turkey, Greece, the South of Italy, and North Africa. As much as possible, she rented a house and did her best to shop and eat like a local, thinking all the while about what it would be like to call that place home. More info →
In 1963, Dervla Murphy biked her way across Europe, through Persia and Afghanistan, over the Himalayas to Pakistan and finally India. All that on a bicycle and during a horrible winter, no less. More info →
Author Zukiswa Wanner celebrated 10 years since her debut novel The Madams was published by having a reading in as many countries in Africa and Europe as possible. WIth her partner and son along for the ride, she documents their road trip with humor and passion. More info →
A lapsed Catholic, Rosemary Mahoney invites readers along as she undergoes a pilgrimage of six revered sites, including an Anglican shrine to Saint Mary in Walsingham, England, the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain, and India’s holiest city Varanasi. More info →
In 1991, Monisha Rejesh’s family left England for Madras but returned to England after only two years after a lackluster experience. Twenty years later, Rajesh returned, hoping to connect with her country of origin. Inspired by Jules Verne, she experienced over 40,000 km of India by 80 different trains. More info →
If you enjoyed Anthony Bourdain's show No Reservations, you’ll love following him on his quest for the culinary holy grail from California to Cambodia. No one writes about food or adventure quite like Bourdain. More info →
The co-host of the podcast Mom and Dad Are Fighting, Dan Kois and his wife decide to travel with their two pre-teen daughters for a year in order to reconnect and get out of the cycle of busyness and distraction. They spend four months each in New Zealand, the Netherlands, Costa Rica, and small-town Kansas. But of course, changing locations doesn’t make all your problems disappear and Kois offers reflections about what they learned along the way. More info →
For her 40th birthday, Irene Skyriver undertook a 700+ mile solo kayak trip from Alaska to her home in Washington’s San Juan Islands. She also shares stories about her Native heritage (Makkah and Tlingit), from her great-grandparents on down. More info →
For New York Times travel writer Stephanie Rosenbloom, traveling alone helps us become more aware of the world around us. Divided into four parts and set in Paris, Istanbul, Florence, and New York, she highlights the benefits of alone time and the ways it can enrich our lives. More info →
This isn't technically a travel memoir but Jones’s remarkable book about being a Black gay man from the South includes a chapter about traveling to Europe, where he befriends an old white woman and shares the unexpected ways they connect and change each other’s lives. That travel story was too good not to include here. More info →
Relationships require adaptation and for chronic worrier Mary K. Jensen, her marriage to her spontaneous, frugal husband Rudy involved learning his rules of travel. No matter what they faced, he had a rule for it all. They might be opposites but their travels brought them together, leading to good lessons for us all. More info →
After coming home from a tour in Iraq, Nate Hankes and his recent college grad brother set off to hike the entire Appalachian trail. As their journey unfolds, Nate reckons with his identity now that he’s no longer in the Army, makes sense of his military career, and figures out where life will take him next. More info →
After weathering a broken engagement, CBS Sunday Morning correspondent Conor Knighton decided to spend the year visiting every single National Park. Read his account and then watch the On the Trail news segments that followed. More info →
Award-winning travel writer and photographer Lola Akinmade Åkerström put together this collection of essays from her two decades of travel. The stories bring her photos alive in a whole new way. More info →
What are YOUR favorite travel memoirs? Tell us all about them in comments!