Inspiring female travel memoirs are having a bit of a heyday, dominating bestseller lists and being made into star-studded Hollywood films.
And they should. For years, men have been dominating the field of the travel memoir as well as the field of travel in general. That’s hardly fair, because for every adventurous man there is an equally curious and driven woman – we are just discouraged from letting those traits distract us from important things like keeping our noses powdered and popping out babies.
But many of us are finally saying no and doing our own thing. From feisty travel bloggers (oh, hi there!) to extreme sportswomen and globetrotting nomads, thousands of women are infiltrating this previously male-dominated realm. Better yet, we are refusing to stay silent and keep our stories to ourselves!
Starting with the most recent, here are twenty of the most inspiring female travel memoirs of the past two decades… Get comfortable, because we’ll be travelling around the world and back several times! Oh, and if you like the sound of any of these books, you can just click its name to get more info. Let’s go!
1. Gorge by Kara Richardson Whitely (2015)
Sometimes being a woman can feel like a big enough obstacle to keep you from travelling. The added dangers, the well-meant dissuasion, the judgment – even those of us who are healthy and relatively free can succumb to the pressure and give up on their dreams. And that’s not even taking into account the flurry of factors other than gender that can keep a person from a life of travel. In Gorge: My Journey Up Kilimanjaro at 300 Pounds, Kara Richardson Whitely describes her struggles in climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, not just as a woman but as a 300-pound woman with a food addiction. In her memoir she opens up about her shame, her feelings of failure and her journey to self-acceptance. Whoever said big women couldn’t do big things?
2. My Paris Dream by Kate Betts (2015)
Kate Betts – the former Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar editor – might seem like a polished creature who has it all figured out, but her memoir is a wonderful reminder that success must be won through hard work. Straight out of college with dreams of becoming a glamorous foreign correspondent, Kate hopped on a plane to Paris to make them come true. In My Paris Dream: An Education in Style, Slang, and Seduction in the Great City on the Seine she talks about life in France in the 1980s, menial jobs, front row seats, conversations with Yves Saint Laurent and the purple stretches of lavender in Provence – a great read for those who like their adventure served with a smattering of style.
3. What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding by Kristin Newman (2014)
There is but one thing you need to know about Kristin Newman’s What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding: A Memoir – it’s totally hilarious! While her friends are getting married and starting families, she spends her vacation days travelling the world and falling madly in love – with countries and sexy locals alike. Kristin is a sitcom writer who’s worked on shows like “How I Met Your Mother”, so it should come as no surprise that her debut novel will have you crying with laughter as she talks you through her international escapades.
4. A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout & Sara Corbett (2014)
A House in the Sky: A Memoir is very different from the previous two books. It’s not light-hearted and funny, and it’s definitely not glamorous – it’s the story of a kidnapping victim. After backpacking through countries like India, Syria and Pakistan, Amanda Lindhout began working as a television reporter in Afghanistan and Iraq. Feeling emboldened by her adventures, in August 2008 she travelled to Somalia and was abducted on the fourth day of her visit. Held hostage for 460 days, she survived by remembering details of her previous travels, visiting a metaphorical house in the sky full of happy memories. This inspiring female travel memoir is terrifying and strangely uplifting!
5. Graduates in Wonderland by Jessica Pan & Rachel Kapelke-Dale (2014)
The book’s title gave me no choice but to pick it up off the shelf – Graduates in Wonderland: The International Misadventures of Two (Almost) Adults pretty much sums up where I’m at in life at the moment. After leaving university, friends Jess and Rachel move to new parts of the world – Beijing and New York – where they try to make it as fully-fledged adults. Through it all, they stay in touch via email and this book allows you to eavesdrop on all their conversations, from funny anecdotes to life-changing accidents. Even if your graduation was decades ago (or never was) you are likely to find something of interest in this story!
6. Life is a Trip by Judith Fein (2012)
Life is a Trip: The Transformative Magic of Travel is not only insightful – it’s absolutely hilarious. Where other writers dismiss the in-betweens of travel as insignificant, Judith Fein revels in the most ordinary moments and shows that these often hold the most acute life lessons. The book is composed of short travel stories, which makes it perfect for those who don’t have the time or patience to read an entire book in one go.
7. Wild by Cheryl Strayed (2012)
I don’t think Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail needs much of an introduction now that it has been made into a Hollywood film with Reese Witherspoon. But I’ll provide one anyway, even though I’ve already written a whole post inspired by the film adaptation of this novel… At twenty-two, Cheryl hit rock bottom. After her beloved mother died of cancer, she fell into a deep pit of substance abuse and watched her marriage crumble. Feeling like she had noting left to lose, she then impulsively decided to hike more than a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail despite having no experience or training. Her subsequent journey to forgiveness shows us that the lower you fall the higher you can jump!
8. Sihpromatum by Savannah Grace (2012)
Canadian Savannah Grace had a pretty unique upbringing. At the age of 14, instead of going to the movies and whining about homework, she was pulled from school to travel the world with her family. In Sihpromatum – I Grew my Boobs in China she talks about the first few stops on her four-year backpacking adventure and what it was like growing up on the road. Savannah’s account is funny and insightful – and it doesn’t hurt that you can really get into the story by checking out her blog and various social media!
9. Wanderlust: A Love Affair with Five Continents by Elisabeth Eaves (2011)
The reviews for Wanderlust: A Love Affair with Five Continents are… mixed. Some feel the book is a little vapid, some find her delivery robotic and uninspired. But if you’re looking to read about one woman’s escapades with men all around the globe and her journey to finding herself, this one might be the right fit for you. A good read for women who want to define their own lives without the influence of traditional female roles of the past – and have a little fun doing so.
10. Love With a Chance of Drowning by Torre DeRoche (2011)
Because I’m obviously not the only person passionate about female travel memoirs, I’ve asked a few friends from my Girls vs Globe Facebook group for their recommendations – check out these next four books they suggested and what they have to say about them!
“Love with a Chance of Drowning stands out amongst all the travel books I have read because, as Torre DeRoche tells the story of how she took a leap of faith and overcame her fear of the ocean by sailing across the Pacific with the man she loves, she doesn’t spare us her deepest emotions. Dealing with seasickness, deathly fears, broken boats and heartbreak mixed with exploring the beautiful French Polynesian islands, tasting the most delicious fruit and meeting the most unique characters along the way makes for the most epic adventure. I was cheering Torre on the entire time. This is everything you could ask for in an adventure. Now I can’t help myself but want to learn how to sail and explore the world as Torre has.” –Lexie Willems
11. The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost by Rachel Freidman (2011)
“Who hasn’t thought of dropping everything and flying to Ireland for the adventure of a lifetime? That’s exactly what Rachel, a recent college grad, heads out to do – unhappy with her meager existence and prospects of the future, she heads out, wallowing in self-pity. The reason she chose Irealand? She thinks if she’s going to be miserable, she might as well have the weather match her mood. After meeting some inspiring people and making new friendships, Rachel finds a new sense of self and ventures of to Australia and South America. It really feels like you’re going along with Rachel as her friend, as her viewpoint is funny, inspiring and easy to connect with. The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost: A Memoir of Three Continents, Two Friends, and One Unexpected Adventure will make you want throw caution to the wind and head out on an adventure of a lifetime.” –Natalie Minniss
12. The Lost Girls by Jennifer Baggett, Holly Corbett & Amanda Pressner (2010)
“Because what adventurous girl doesn’t want to read about how three women kicked the ‘real world’ to the curb for a year of exploration through South America, Africa, Asia, and Oceania? If you are looking for a fun read to inspire your wanderlust, then The Lost Girls: Three Friends. Four Continents. One Unconventional Detour Around the World. is the perfect place to start. Warning: Will make you want to quit your job and book a ticket ASAP.” –Hannah Logan
13. Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert (2006)
“We’ve all dreamed of leaving our lives and intricate choices behind in pursuit of finding ourselves. After all, who wouldn’t want to spend a magical year deliciously exploring the culinary delicacies of Italy, slowly cultivating our Yoga practice in India and unexpectedly finding love in Bali? However, Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia is more than just a travelogue of these countries. It’s a manifesto of life, forgiveness, healing and love with three beautiful places serving as the backdrop for Elizabeth’s transformation.
The author compels readers to live and explore deeply; forgive others and self for past choices; and to relentlessly pursue happiness at all costs. She captures the impacts that travel has on so many of us: meeting of new cultures and peoples, challenging of our own comfort zones, testing our own ideas of what life means and how we fit into this great, big world of ours. This book will inspire you to not only find your happiness, but to continually make space for light to radiate through all areas of your life.” –Taylor Jolissaint
14. A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit (2006)
What did you think? Those were some brilliant suggestions, but I’m back with even more. You know, just to make sure you have enough books to see you through the next decade… Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost is anything but vapid. The book is abstract and not as easy to read as most of these memoirs, but it offers a challenging and original insight into a wanderer’s soul. If you enjoy beautiful prose and occasional aha moments, this is one you should definitely pick up.
15. Adventure Divas by Holly Morris (2006)
After leaving her cubicle publishing job, Holly Morris joined her broadcaster mother and set out to produce a PBS documentary series about the most inspiring women from around the world – adventure divas creating positive change in their respective communities. But Adventure Divas: Searching the Globe for Women Who Are Changing the World is a lot more than a list of fascinating subjects, even though there are many of them and one more interesting than the next. The book is made more relatable through the inclusion of Holly’s own story – her struggles with producing the series, her travel adventures and work mishaps – which is as inspiring as the stories of those she’s travelled to interview.
16. Holy Cow: An Indian Adventure by Sarah MacDonald (2004)
Sarah MacDonald’s backpacking trip around India in her early 20s left her adamant she’d ever return to what she saw as a sweltering pit of pollution and poverty. But when her boyfriend took a job there eleven years later, she decided to join him and make sense of this land of contradictions. In Holy Cow: An Indian Adventure the Australian radio correspondent documents everything from her double pneumonia to New Delhi nightclubs, detailing her spiritual journey to finding the meaning of life. A great reminder that you should never say never, especially when it comes to travel!
17. Without Reservations by Alice Steinbach (2002)
Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Alice Steinbach is no rookie when it comes to telling a good story and she certainly does not hold back when it comes to relaying her own. Faced with a seemingly simple question – “who am I?” – she travels the world searching for answers… and boy, does it make for a fascinating journey! In Without Reservations: The Travels of an Independent Woman she not only reveals all the steps to her self-discovery, but also provides gorgeous descriptions of each place she visited to get there.
18. Tales of a Female Nomad by Rita Golden Gelman (2001)
Rita Golden Gelman was on the verge of getting divorced and turning 50 when she decided to leave her upscale apartment in L.A. behind and explore the world. She sold her possessions and became a nomad, searching for extraordinary experiences in the rainforests of Borneo, villages of Mexico and skirted landmines in Nicaragua. Through Tales of a Female Nomad: Living at Large in the World she encourages us all to go out and fight for our dreams, no matter how old or set in our ways we might feel.
19. Canyon Solitude by Patricia McCairen (1998)
If you’re terrified of travelling solo, this is the book for you. In Canyon Solitude: A Woman’s Solo River Journey Through the Grand Canyon, Patricia McCairen writes about her 25-day rafting trip down the Colorado River river which eventually culminated in her decision to change the way she lives. Despite stepping into the boat a veteran rafter, she emerges from it a more confident woman after fully giving herself over to the solitude, and discovering it is very different to the solitude she knows from her city-dwelling life.
20. Tracks by Robyn Davidson (1995)
Solo travel seems like a great note to finish on, because it represents the pinnacle of frowned-upon female travel experiences. “I experienced that sinking feeling you get when you know you have conned yourself into doing something difficult and there’s no going back,” Robyn Davidson writes at the beginning of her travel memoir. But despite being surrounded by the inhospitable Australian desert throughout her trip, she manages to discover great oases of love and empathy both in her environment and within herself. Tracks: A Woman’s Solo Trek Across 1700 Miles of Australian Outback provides a candid account of her courageous journey to self-discovery and will have you feeling equally invincible in a few chapters’ time.
Have you read any of these? Who is the most inspiring female traveller you know?
What is the number one piece of advice that encouraged you to overcome
your fears and travel? Let me know – I’d love to hear from you!
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