At times when you can’t travel, the best travel memoirs can transport you to far-away places, helping to feed your wanderlust even if you’re currently confined to your couch. The travel memoirs below capture destinations as far-flung as India, Australia, and Antarctica, and are all worth adding to your to-read list.
Travels with Charley in Search of America, John Steinbeck
This classic travel memoir follows John Steinbeck and his French poodle Charley across the U.S. from New York to Maine to California and back again. Travels with Charley offers a striking portrait of early 1960s America, from dramatic natural landscapes and simmering racial tensions to quirky characters he meets along the way.
The Singular Pilgrim: Travels on Sacred Ground, Rosemary Mahoney
From Spain’s 500-mile Camino de Santiago to the Ganges River in Varanasi, India, Rosemary Mahoney follows in the footsteps of religious believers on some of the world’s holiest journeys. The Singular Pilgrim blends humor, curiosity, and keen insight as Mahoney confronts her own Irish Catholic heritage and finds grace in unexpected places.
From Scratch: A Memoir of Love, Sicily, and Finding Home, Tembi Locke
“In Sicily, every story begins with a marriage or a death. In my case, it’s both,” writes Tembi Locke on the first page of this moving memoir. Locke, an African-American actress, falls in love with a Sicilian chef whose family disapproves of their union. But after her husband’s untimely death, Locke brings their daughter to Sicily and slowly forges a relationship with his family that helps them all heal.
In a Sunburned Country, Bill Bryson
There’s a reason Bill Bryson is one of the most popular travel writers in the English language, and his signature wit and insight are on full display throughout In a Sunburned Country. As Bryson travels across Australia, he peppers fun facts with wry observations and conversations with cheery locals, bringing the country to life in his own inimitable style.
All the Way to the Tigers, Mary Morris
The newest travel memoir in this list, All the Way to the Tigers is well worth a preorder. It covers two journeys in one: Morris’ recovery from a devastating injury and her subsequent trip to India in search of tigers. Morris offers both inspiration and insight in this beautifully written book.
Comfort Me with Apples: A Journey Through Life, Love and Truffles, Ruth Reichl
In Comfort Me with Apples, readers can eat their way around the world with food writer Ruth Reichl, sampling dry-fried shrimp in China and truffles in France. Reichl’s conversational writing style makes it feel like she’s talking to a friend—and her food descriptions will leave you hungry.
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, Cheryl Strayed
You might not expect a story of a woman hiking alone to be a page turner, but this international bestseller proves that wrong. Strayed writes about a period of crisis in her 20s, following the death of her mother and the dissolution of her marriage, when she made the brash decision to hike more than 1,000 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail from California to Washington. Her journey was as much emotional as physical, and Strayed writes about it in raw, visceral prose.
Ice Diaries, Jean McNeil
In Ice Diaries, Jean McNeil combines personal stories from her childhood in the Canadian Maritimes with vivid descriptions of her four months in Antarctica, as well as journeys to other icy destinations such as Svalbard and Greenland. Whether you’ve traveled to Antarctica or it’s still on your bucket list, McNeil’s book offers fascinating insight into the continent’s history and landscape.
Looking for Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria, Noo Saro-Wiwa
Though she grew up mostly in London, Noo Saro-Wiwa made frequent visits to Nigeria to visit her father, an activist who was later executed by the government. As an adult, she returns to the country for a deeper exploration of its corruption, culture, and unexpected charms. Looking for Transwonderland uses insight and humor to paint a multifaceted portrait of Nigeria.
The Lady and the Monk: Four Seasons in Kyoto, Pico Iyer
Pico Iyer intended to spend his year in Kyoto studying Zen Buddhism at a monastery and learning about Japan’s traditional culture—but his plans are upended when he meets a woman named Sachiko. The Lady and the Monk details their relationship, marked by cross-cultural misunderstandings and Iyer’s deepening appreciation for Japan in all its complexity.
All Over the Place: Adventures in Travel, True Love, and Petty Theft, Geraldine DeRuiter
Geraldine DeRuiter leads off the aptly titled All Over the Place with a wry disclaimer, noting that her book is not particularly informative and confessing, “If you follow my lead, you will get hopelessly, miserably lost.” But that only makes this book even more fun to read, as DeRuiter and her husband careen around the world, getting sick, getting lost, and falling even more deeply in love.
Wild Coast: Travels on South America’s Untamed Edge, John Gimlette
If you’re drawn to the unfamiliar, Wild Coast is well worth a read. Gimlette takes readers to three rarely visited countries in South America—Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana—to reveal their colorful history, rare wildlife, and remote jungles.
The Snow Leopard, Peter Matthiessen
A masterwork of nature writing, The Snow Leopard details the author’s trek into the Himalayas in search of one of the Earth’s rarest and most elusive creatures. Matthiessen was a Zen Buddhist, and his memoir also includes his own internal journey toward a deeper understanding of the world around him.
Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle, Dervla Murphy
The ultimate adventure story, Full Tilt follows an Irish woman in the early 1960s on a solo bicycle expedition across Europe and through Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India, accompanied only by her .25 revolver. Murphy encounters snow, sunstroke, stomach trouble, and other discomforts, but her struggles are offset by the fascinating people she meets and the magnificent landscapes through which she rides.
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Follow Sarah Schlichter on Twitter @TravelEditor for more travel tips and inspiration.
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