The best fish out of water travel books to inspire your own adventures

Autumn Cornwell Author Of Carpe Diem
By Autumn Cornwell

Who am I?

Squat toilets, profuse sweating, jumbo centipedes, ear nibbling—these are just some of the delights I’ve encountered in my global travels, which inspired my YA comedic adventure novels, Never Sorry Ever Jolly and Carpe Diem, which was published in the U.S., Germany, the Netherlands, and China. Carpe Diem was also nominated for numerous YA awards, chosen as a Book Sense/Indie Bound Pick, received a starred review from the School Library Journal, and according to The Washington Post: “This is self-confessed travel junkie Autumn Cornwell's first novel—and she's hit one out of the park.” Basically, I live my life as an adventure then write about it!

I wrote...

Carpe Diem

By Autumn Cornwell,

Book cover of Carpe Diem

What is my book about?

"I've got my entire life planned out for the next ten years -- including my PhD and Pulitzer Prize," claims overachiever teen Vassar Spore, whose overachiever parents named her after an elite women's college. Vassar’s summer plans include AP and AAP (Advanced Advanced Placement) classes — that is, until her long-lost bohemian grandmother suddenly resurfaces and blackmails her parents into allowing Vassar to backpack through Southeast Asia with her.

What starts out as “family bonding” turns into a series of misadventures from Malaysia to Cambodia to the remote jungles of Laos. Tensions mount as Grandma Gerd’s fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants mode of travel drives control freak Vassar absolutely bonkers. She sweats, falls in love, hones her outdoor survival skills -- and uncovers a family secret that turns her whole world upside-down. Vassar Spore can plan on one thing: she'll never be the same again.

The Books I Picked & Why

Shepherd is readers supported. When you buy through links on our website, we may earn an affiliate commission. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

Nobody Said Not to Go

By Ken Cuthbertson,

Book cover of Nobody Said Not to Go: The Life, Loves, and Adventures of Emily Hahn

Why this book?

If Emily Hahn’s real-life adventures were in a novel, you’d say they were completely implausible. I discovered this unorthodox travel journalist when I was in my twenties, longing for my own travel experiences. Born in 1905 when women’s options were limited, Emily simply saw life as an adventure and didn’t let her gender or youth stop her from traveling the world solo. She voyaged to Africa on a steamer; worked for the Red Cross in the Belgian Congo; became a concubine and got hooked on opium in Shanghai; moved to Hong Kong where she helped with underground relief work — all the while writing books and articles for publications like The New Yorker. She inspired me to live life as an adventure and then write about it. (But obviously, without all the affairs and opium!)

They Came to Baghdad

By Agatha Christie,

Book cover of They Came to Baghdad

Why this book?

I read and reread this suspense novel as a teen, wanting to live vicariously through Victoria Jones — a bored twenty-something working as a temp in 1950’s London, yearning for adventure. After being fired for the umpteenth time, Victoria impulsively takes a job as a travel companion for an invalid heading to Baghdad, where political intrigue bubbles beneath the surface of the city. When a spy unexpectedly dies in her bedroom, Victoria finds herself on the run, and must hide out in an archaeological dig in the middle of the desert. Plot twists and unlikely romance culminate in a rather clever ending. Agatha Christie’s own experiences on digs in the Middle East lend this book the distinct flavor of that time period. If only the role of “travel companion” still existed today — sign me up!

Travels with My Aunt

By Graham Greene,

Book cover of Travels with My Aunt

Why this book?

Introverted Henry Pulling is (ahem) pulled out of dull retirement in England and catapulted into a series of unpredictable and awkward travel experiences thanks to his larger-than-life Aunt Augusta. It’s soon evident that her idea is not simply seeing the sights, but rather embarking on a voyage of self-discovery — it’s the 1960’s, after all. This novel has its share of over-the-top humor, quirky love interests, exotic locals (Paris, Istanbul, and Paraguay), morally ambiguous situations (that seem slightly unsettling today), and even a “mystery” of sorts that forever changes how Henry views his life. The contrast between Henry’s and Aunt Augusta’s modes of travel actually inspired the grandmother-granddaughter tension in my own novel — some travelers attempt to control everything, while others just fly by the seat of their pants!

The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax

By Dorothy Gilman,

Book cover of The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax

Why this book?

What happens when a widow from New Jersey decides she’s had enough of the safe, yet predictable life of a retirement community? She offers her services to the CIA, of course! As a teenager, I had no idea just how much this courageous senior citizen would capture my interest. Mrs. Pollifax sucked me right into her crazy adventures as a secret agent in Mexico City and the mountains of Albania during the Cold War of the 1960s. Mrs. Pollifax’s enthusiasm for new experiences rarely flagged, despite unsavory characters, awkward sleeping arrangements — and lice. She gave me hope that I’d still be zipping around the globe in my seventies. Mrs. Pollifax’s voice comes alive in the audiobook narrated by the always superb Barbara Rosenblat.

Flight 714 (The Adventures of Tintin)

By Hergé,

Book cover of Flight 714 (The Adventures of Tintin)

Why this book?

I couldn’t resist adding a Tintin graphic novel to my list since Herge’s adventure series is widely beloved — and this one is a particular favorite. The story opens when the miserly millionaire, Laszlo Carreidas, "the millionaire who never laughs," invites Tintin, Captain Haddock, and Professor Calculus to accompany him on his private jet to Sydney instead of taking commercial Flight 714. It all seems rather jolly — until the millionaire’s jet is hijacked and diverted to a volcanic island in Java. As always, Herge nails the geographical details, plot twists, cheeky humor — and the idiosyncrasies of human nature, like grizzled Captain Haddock’s constant frustration with absentminded Professor Calculus. As a kid, these books opened entire worlds to me — I couldn’t wait to grow up and embark on my own adventures!

Closely Related Book Lists

Distantly Related Book Lists