Books can unlock the world to us. They can put us exactly in a time and place and explore surroundings along with the characters. We can almost taste what our characters are eating. Smell the flowers around them. Feel the pain of loss when they leave.
I don’t know about you but after reading a great travel book, I’m ready to pack my bags! These are a few that have made me add some destinations to my already expansive Living List.
What You Can Find in This Post:
Having walked more than 3,000 miles from Trafalgar Square to Morocco, Paula Constant finds herself at the westernmost edge of the Sahara Desert—and the brink of sanity
Sahara is the story of Paula’s struggle to overcome her innermost demons and take control of her journey, her camels, and the men she hires to guide her through one of planet’s most extreme regions. Illness, landmines, and political red tape stand between Paula and the realization of a life’s dream. Though the wheels have fallen off her marriage on the course of her journey and her funds are quickly drying up, she is determined to complete the walk through the romantic Big Empty of Northern Africa to Cairo. Both a thrilling adventure and a story of joy, heartache, inspiration, and despair, Sahara is—above all—a celebration of the greatness of human spirit in all its guises.
Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time.
When Paula Constant and her husband, Gary, attempt to break away from the conventional 9-to-5 routine, a few weeks lazing in a resort or packed in a tour bus is not what they have in mind. What starts out as an idle daydream to embark on ‘a travel to end all travels’ turns into something far greater: an epic year-long 5000-kilometre walk from Trafalgar Square in London to Morocco and the threshold of the Sahara Desert.
Quite an ambition for an unfit woman who favours sharing cigarettes and a few bottles of wine with friends over logging time on the treadmill. But if the sheer arduousness of walking over 25 kilometres a day through the landscapes and cultural labyrinths of France, Spain, Portugal and Morocco – without a support vehicle – is overlooked in her excitement, then so too is the unexpected journey of self discovery and awakening that lies beyond every bend.
Both the companions she meets on the road and the road itself provide what no university can offer: a chance to experience life’s simple truths face to face. Paula’s transformation from an urban primary school teacher into a successful expeditioner is a true tale of an ordinary woman achieving something extraordinary. It is a journey that begins with one footstep.
After more than a decade of planning, John Higham and his wife September bid their high-tech jobs and suburban lives good-bye, packed up their home and set out with two children, ages eight and eleven, to travel around the world. In the course of the next 52 weeks they crossed 24 time zones, visited 28 countries and experienced a lifetime of adventures.
Making their way across the world, the Highams discovered more than just different foods and cultures; they also learned such diverse things as a Chilean mall isn’t the best place to get your ears pierced, and that elephants appreciate flowers just as much as the next person. But most importantly, they learned about each other, and just how much a family can weather if they do it together.
NOTE FROM TARA: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read this book. It’s one of my favourites and has inspired me to add places to my bucket list that weren’t on there already. Definitely a great read for anyone considering long term travel (and certainly if you are contemplating it with kids!) The Higham family spirit is strong and comes through with each and every page. I did not want this book to end…so I read it again.
What Would You Do with a Yellow Envelope?
After Kim and her husband decide to quit their jobs to travel around the world, they’re given a yellow envelope containing a check and instructions to give the money away. The only three rules for the envelope: Don’t overthink it; share your experiences; don’t feel pressured to give it all away.
Through Ecuador, Peru, Nepal, and beyond, Kim and Brian face obstacles, including major challenges to their relationship. As she distributes the gift to people she encounters along the way she learns that money does not have a thing to do with the capacity to give, but that giving—of ourselves—is transformational.
“I move throughout the world without a plan, guided by instinct, connecting through trust, and constantly watching for serendipitous opportunities.” —From the Preface
Tales of a Female Nomad is the story of Rita Golden Gelman, an ordinary woman who is living an extraordinary existence. At the age of forty-eight, on the verge of a divorce, Rita left an elegant life in L.A. to follow her dream of connecting with people in cultures all over the world. In 1986 she sold her possessions and became a nomad, living in a Zapotec village in Mexico, sleeping with sea lions on the Galapagos Islands, and residing everywhere from thatched huts to regal palaces. She has observed orangutans in the rain forest of Borneo, visited trance healers and dens of black magic, and cooked with women on fires all over the world.
Rita’s example encourages us all to dust off our dreams and rediscover the joy, the exuberance, and the hidden spirit that so many of us bury when we become adults.
NOTE FROM TARA: Another book I’ve read a couple of times now. I love this woman’s desire to dig in and be with the community versus just being a tourist. The latter is so easy to do, but to be a true traveller, you have to be in the community.
Robyn Davidson’s opens the memoir of her perilous journey across 1,700 miles of hostile Australian desert to the sea with only four camels and a dog for company with the following words: “I experienced that sinking feeling you get when you know you have conned yourself into doing something difficult and there’s no going back.”
Enduring sweltering heat, fending off poisonous snakes and lecherous men, chasing her camels when they get skittish and nursing them when they are injured, Davidson emerges as an extraordinarily courageous heroine driven by a love of Australia’s landscape, an empathy for its indigenous people, and a willingness to cast away the trappings of her former identity. Tracks is the compelling, candid story of her odyssey of discovery and transformation.
“An unforgettably powerful book.”—Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild
NOTE FROM TARA: I first read this book in high school. I had been to the outback only a few years earlier. When I read this book at 18, I could not believe what this woman had undertaken – alone. I think this was one book that I’ve read in my life that truly inspired me to get off my ass and do something with my life. Something that included travel.
Yes, I know it’s a major movie now, but like most book-to-movie adaptations, the book is so much better.
At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother’s death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life. With no experience or training, driven only by blind will, she would hike more than a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State—and she would do it alone. Told with suspense and style, sparkling with warmth and humor, Wildpowerfully captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her.
NOTE FROM TARA: What can I say? Cheryl Strayed is a rock star. I am a total groupie of this woman now. I read the book, saw the movie and then read the book again. Then I started following Cheryl Strayed on Instagram and Facebook. Yeah, I was that inspired and walking (part) of the PCT is now on my bucket list.
This beautifully written, heartfelt memoir touched a nerve among both readers and reviewers. Elizabeth Gilbert tells how she made the difficult choice to leave behind all the trappings of modern American success (marriage, house in the country, career) and find, instead, what she truly wanted from life. Setting out for a year to study three different aspects of her nature amid three different cultures, Gilbert explored the art of pleasure in Italy and the art of devotion in India, and then a balance between the two on the Indonesian island of Bali. By turns rapturous and rueful, this wise and funny author (whom Booklist calls “Anne Lamott’s hip, yoga- practicing, footloose younger sister”) is poised to garner yet more adoring fans.
NOTE FROM TARA: The same can be said for Eat Pray Love as I said for Wild. I read the book, saw the movie, read the book and then I saw the movie again. I get both hungry AND health conscious when I get involved with this book/movie. It makes me crave Italy like you wouldn’t believe, and be curious enough to visit both Bali and India… although neither have ever been on my bucket list. That’s what a good book can do.
While not memoirs, will still inspire you to pack your bags…
For Katherine Givens and the four women about to become her best friends, the adventure begins with a UPS package. Inside is a pair of red sneakers filled with ashes and a note that will forever change their lives. Katherine’s oldest and dearest friend, the irrepressible Annie Freeman, left one final request–a traveling funeral–and she wants the most important women in her life as “pallbearers.”
From Sonoma to Manhattan, Katherine, Laura, Rebecca, Jill, and Marie will carry Annie’s ashes to the special places in her life. At every stop there’s a surprise encounter and a small miracle waiting, and as they whoop it up across the country, attracting interest wherever they go, they share their deepest secrets–tales of broken hearts and second chances, missed opportunities and new beginnings. And as they grieve over what they’ve lost, they discover how much is still possible if only they can unravel the secret Annie left them….
NOTE FROM TARA: So this isn’t a travel book, per se, but it’s about a road trip. Every time I think of Santa Fe, I think of this book. Over dinner, we met some women on their own road trip of sorts. I love this book. You’ll laugh more than you’ll cry, but it is a great example of the power of connecting through travel.
From a master of the historical novel, Empress Orchid sweeps readers into the heart of the Forbidden City to tell the fascinating story of a young concubine who becomes China’s last empress. Min introduces the beautiful Tzu Hsi, known as Orchid, and weaves an epic of a country girl who seized power through seduction, murder, and endless intrigue. When China is threatened by enemies, she alone seems capable of holding the country together.
In this “absorbing companion piece to her novel Becoming Madame Mao” (New York Times), readers and reading groups will once again be transported by Min’s lavish evocation of the Forbidden City in its last days of imperial glory and by her brilliant portrait of a flawed yet utterly compelling woman who survived, and ultimately dominated, a male world.
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