The best books about leaving home, travel, and self-discovery

Who am I?

Having been an unrestrained traveler myself, I’m fascinated by how being immersed in other cultures forced me to reconcile with my own basic beliefs about myself and about what it means to be a good person. The farther afield and more untethered I got, the more I had to really dig into myself to find common humanity with people of completely different backgrounds, beliefs, and opinions. Like the main character in Sylvie Denied, each of the young women in the books on my list leaves home seeking truth, inner strength, and spiritual connection as well as the means to be able to hold onto it once they find it.

I wrote...

Sylvie Denied

By Deborah Clark Vance,

Book cover of Sylvie Denied

What is my book about?

Disturbed by the life that’s presented to her, Sylvie leaves a wealthy comfortable home in search of a more authentic life, yearning to find a truth she thinks is out there but that eludes her. Though she doesn't realize it, a traumatic early childhood event churns in the back of her mind, leading her to fall for men with a dark side -- including her husband Enzo. It's the 1970s, with few supports or encouragement for women, so Sylvie relies on her wits to forge her path. As Enzo's behavior turns volatile, Sylvie must find a way to escape with her daughter and claim her place in the world.

The books I picked & why

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Eat Pray Love

By Elizabeth Gilbert,

Book cover of Eat Pray Love

Why this book?

Plagued by loneliness and on medication for depression, Elizabeth Gilbert set off to find balance in her inner nature between devotion and pleasure. She had the talent, the drive and the resources to be able to devote a year to a journey into herself to find the kinds of things her nature craved – sensory pleasure in Italy, spiritual devotion in India, and to Indonesia to find balance. Her book is a combination guide to the outer places she went to physically, and the inner places she visited emotionally and spiritually.

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

By Cheryl Strayed,

Book cover of Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

Why this book?

Torn up by the loss of her mother, Cheryl Strayed decided to hike hundreds of miles along the Pacific Coast Trail, marginally prepared for what faced her. Into the narrative of her journey, she interweaves stories of her life and her mother’s death with the day-to-day physical agony of walking the trail in ill-fitting boots and weighed down by an overly heavy pack. Her solitary meditations and the camaraderie of people she meets along the way lead her to focus on something other than grief, as she gradually digs inside to pull out a better version of herself.

The Secret Life of Bees

By Sue Monk Kidd,

Book cover of The Secret Life of Bees

Why this book?

Grieving over the loss of her mother and the relentless abuse of her father, Lily goes in search of clues about her mother, hoping to find answers in a place she thinks her mother may have been connected with. During this quest, she finds herself having to examine her attitudes about interracial relationships. Kidd includes information about beekeeping and the black Madonna, both bodies of knowledge that symbolically contribute to the theme about roles that females play in the social order.

Jane Eyre

By Charlotte Brontë,

Book cover of Jane Eyre

Why this book?

Jane Eyre’s story unfolds through her train of thought as she assesses in detail the qualities of the people surrounding her. Having survived a stifling upbringing within a brutal hierarchal culture that fosters barbaric child-rearing beliefs, she leaves her foster home to take a position as a governess and falls in love with her employer. When her values and beliefs are challenged, she leaves her post and wanders, by chance encountering people who can help her. Despite the implausibility of some of the coincidences in the plot, I admire the depth of Bronte’s intelligent critique of English society of that time, as well as her portrayal of Jane’s emotional complexity.

A Room with a View

By E.M. Forster,

Book cover of A Room with a View

Why this book?

Young Englishwoman Lucy Honeychurch visits Italy only to find herself among others of her class, all of whom have brought along their prejudices. When a father and son of a lower social class offer her a room with a better view, Lucy’s chaperone is suspicious of possible lurid expectations attached to the offer. The Edwardian moral code, outrageous to a present-day American, presents obstacles Lucy struggles to overcome so she can comfortably befriend the men. Although Forster’s style sometimes left me confused as to who was speaking during dialogues, and the Grecian myth references aren’t in my lexicon, the story is emotionally compelling and the theme of assessing one’s basic cultural beliefs resonates today.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in travel, Italy, and mental disorders?

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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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