The best travel memoirs to inspire you to leap out of your comfort zone and make a difference in the world

Why am I passionate about this?

Currently a journalist, author, and adventure traveller, I am a former inner-city educator from Vancouver, BC, Canada with a Masters of Environmental Education degree, a Wilderness Leadership certificate, and a post-graduate certificate in Journalism. Solo and with my husband I have completed several major treks in Europe, Tibet, and Nepal including Mount Kailash kora, Everest Base Camp north (Tibet), The Annapurna Circuit and Base Camp, Everest Base Camp south (Nepal), Upper Mustang, the Manaslu Circuit and Tsum Valley for a total of about 800 km. I am currently training to complete Nepal’s Great Himalayan Trail (low route), 1,500 km from one end of Nepal to the other.


I wrote...

Nepal One Day at a Time: One woman's quest to teach, trek and build a school in the remote Himalaya

By Patti Shales Lefkos,

Book cover of Nepal One Day at a Time: One woman's quest to teach, trek and build a school in the remote Himalaya

What is my book about?

A Himalayan adventure travel memoir with a humanitarian twist. About to turn sixty-eight, Patti's life was disintegrating. Leaving behind her injured husband she packs her bags and heads to Nepal. Solo travel forces her to surmount daunting hurdles-both physical and emotional. While trekking in the forbidden kingdom of Upper Mustang she realizes her strength and determination when she suffers a frightening fall in an isolated cave monastery.

Volunteering in a remote Ratmate village presents unforeseen challenges, and a visit to nearby Aprik village offers a life-changing opportunity. Along the way, conversations with fascinating monks, teachers, and entrepreneurs provide insight into how best to serve the children of Nepal.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Tibetan Foothold

Patti Shales Lefkos Why did I love this book?

Dervla Murphy truly showed up as a voluntourist before the term even existed. Her 1966 account of volunteering in an orphanage in a Tibetan refugee camp in India inspired me to look for an opportunity to help children in need in a developing country. Her bravery in the face of incredible discomfort and profound sadness at the plight of children suffering from not only a lack of education but more urgently from hunger and disease influenced my future travel decisions. Dervla’s perseverance and tenacity against all odds in this desolate camp and support of Tibetan refugees warmed my heart and strengthened my resolve to make a difference in the lives of others. Her courage helped me overcome my fears of solo travel to remote areas.

By Dervla Murphy,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Tibetan Foothold as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The moving tale of Dervla Murphy's experiences working in the Tibetan refugee camps of Northern India in the sixties.


Book cover of My Journey to Lhasa

Patti Shales Lefkos Why did I love this book?

I was enthralled by the emotional and physical strength of Alexandra David-Neel as she journeyed across the extreme wilds of the Tibetan Plateau in 1923 to reach the forbidden city of Lhasa. Her brilliance as a scholar of many Eastern languages and dialects influenced me to study the Nepalese language as part of my own volunteer work. After reading this book I longed to see Lhasa and places like Shigatse and Gyantse myself so in 2009 I travelled to Lhasa before heading to Western Tibet to trek the pilgrimage kora (circumambulation) of sacred Mount Kailash. I silently thanked her when I reached 5,630 metres at Drolma La, the high pass on the three-day circuit.

By Madame Alexandra David-Neel,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked My Journey to Lhasa as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Originally published in 1927 by Harper and Brothers, this book is the culmination of more than twenty years of Madame Alexandra David-Neel's intensive study and daring adventure in mysterious territories of the East. In order to penetrate Tibet and reach Lhasa, she used her fluency of Tibetan dialects and culture, disguised herself as a beggar with yak hair extensions and inked skin and tackled some of the roughest terrain and climate in the World. With the help of her young companion, Yongden, she willingly suffered the primitive travel conditions, frequent outbreaks of disease, the ever-present danger of border control and…


Book cover of South Away: The Pacific Coast on Two Wheels

Patti Shales Lefkos Why did I love this book?

Meaghan’s travel memoir recounted her first long cycling journey from Terrace, British Columbia to (almost) the tip of the Baja Peninsula, a feat that reawakened my passion for endurance events. Her struggles and challenges took me back to training for a half Ironman Triathlon in my 40s and cross-country ski skate races in my 50s. Her tenacity helped me to realize how an endurance goal is great motivation to keep training, to say nothing of the fascinating people you meet along the way. So thanks to Meaghan’s South away I am now training to complete The Great Himalayan Trail in 2023, the 1,500 km trek that leads from one end of Nepal to the other.

By Meaghan Marie Hackinen,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked South Away as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

South Away follows Meaghan Marie Hackinen and her sister in the adventure of a lifetime: bicycling from Terrace, BC down the West Coast to (almost) the tip of the Baja Peninsula. Along the way Hackinen battles with the elements in Vancouver Island’s dense northern forests and frigid Mexican deserts; encounters strange men, suicidal highways and monster trucks; and makes some emergency repairs as tires and spokes succumb to the ravages of the journey. Luckily, the pair meet some good people along the way and glean some insight about the kindness of strangers.

A rare road-trip story with two female leads,…


Book cover of Blue Sky Kingdom: An Epic Family Journey to the Heart of the Himalaya

Patti Shales Lefkos Why did I love this book?

Bruce’s story tells of travelling with his wife and two young sons from their home in British Columbia to the Himalayas where they ultimately spend several months in a remote Buddhist monastery in the Zanskar Valley. Privileged to meet the family mid-journey in Lhasa, I devoured the book when it came out. Epic courage and resilience are an understatement when speaking about this family. Their family connection, devotion to their sons and each other, and spirit of adventure amazed me. I learned a great deal about immersion in an extremely different culture and the mutual respect developed between the family and the resident monks of all ages.

By Bruce Kirkby,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Blue Sky Kingdom as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A warm and unforgettable portrait of a family letting go of the known world to encounter an unfamiliar one filled with rich possibilities and new understandings.

Bruce Kirkby had fallen into a pattern of looking mindlessly at his phone for hours, flipping between emails and social media, ignoring his children and wife and everything alive in his world, when a thought struck him. This wasn't living; this wasn't him. This moment of clarity started a chain reaction which ended with a grand plan: he was going to take his wife and two young sons, jump on a freighter and head…


Book cover of Little Princes: One Man's Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal

Patti Shales Lefkos Why did I love this book?

When Conor Grennan embarked on a journey around the globe, beginning with a three-month stint volunteering at an orphanage in civil war-torn Nepal, he never imagined the children were not actually orphans but had been taken from their families by child traffickers. He became attached to the rambunctious children and decided to reunite them with their parents. Little Princes illustrates how one person can make a huge difference in the lives of others. I noticed a percentage of book profits goes to Next Generation Nepal, the non-profit he founded to assist the children. I was hooked. That cemented my resolve to tell my story of solo travel and the village that asked for my help. I founded the non-profit Nepal One Day at a Time Society, wrote my first book (noted above), dedicated profits back to the children, and created a partnership with Kathmandu-based NGO Sambhav Nepal. Thanks, Connor!

By Conor Grennan,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Little Princes as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The riveting story of Conor Grennan's year in Nepal reads like a cross between Into Thin Air and Three Cups of Tea. While volunteering at an orphanage, Conor discovers that the children are not orphans: they are trafficked. Despite the danger, Conor treks up dirt paths with photographs of the children, miraculously reuniting dozens of families.

It's 2006 and Nepal is a country torn apart by war, greed and corruption. Caught in the middle are the Nepalese children, snatched and sold into slavery, the kidnappers promising their families that they will be taken to a safe haven from where they…


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Who Is a Worthy Mother?: An Intimate History of Adoption

By Rebecca Wellington,

Book cover of Who Is a Worthy Mother?: An Intimate History of Adoption

Rebecca Wellington Author Of Who Is a Worthy Mother?: An Intimate History of Adoption

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I am adopted. For most of my life, I didn’t identify as adopted. I shoved that away because of the shame I felt about being adopted and not truly fitting into my family. But then two things happened: I had my own biological children, the only two people I know to date to whom I am biologically related, and then shortly after my second daughter was born, my older sister, also an adoptee, died of a drug overdose. These sequential births and death put my life on a new trajectory, and I started writing, out of grief, the history of adoption and motherhood in America. 

Rebecca's book list on straight up, real memoirs on motherhood and adoption

What is my book about?

I grew up thinking that being adopted didn’t matter. I was wrong. This book is my journey uncovering the significance and true history of adoption practices in America. Now, in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, the renewed debate over women’s reproductive rights places an even greater emphasis on adoption. As a mother, historian, and adoptee, I am uniquely qualified to uncover the policies and practices of adoption.

The history of adoption, reframed through the voices of adoptees like me, and mothers who have been forced to relinquish their babies, blows apart old narratives about adoption, exposing the fallacy that adoption is always good.

In this story, I reckon with the pain and unanswered questions of my own experience and explore broader issues surrounding adoption in the United States, including changing legal policies, sterilization, and compulsory relinquishment programs, forced assimilation of babies of color and Indigenous babies adopted into white families, and other liabilities affecting women, mothers, and children. Now is the moment we must all hear these stories.

Who Is a Worthy Mother?: An Intimate History of Adoption

By Rebecca Wellington,

What is this book about?

Nearly every person in the United States is affected by adoption. Adoption practices are woven into the fabric of American society and reflect how our nation values human beings, particularly mothers. In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade, the renewed debate over women's reproductive rights places an even greater emphasis on adoption. As a mother, historian, and adoptee, Rebecca C. Wellington is uniquely qualified to uncover the policies and practices of adoption. Wellington's timely-and deeply researched-account amplifies previously marginalized voices and exposes the social and racial biases embedded in the United States' adoption industry.…


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