The best solo adventure books

The Books I Picked & Why

Behind the Wall: A Journey Through China

By Colin Thubron

Behind the Wall: A Journey Through China

Why this book?

I must have read dozens of books on China but Colin Thubron’s elegiac account comfortably takes the crown. Behind the Wall captures a unique moment in China’s history when foreigners were first allowed to travel around the country but the nation was yet to be influenced by the outside world. Having learnt to speak Mandarin in advance of travelling, the author probes deep into the rural areas and distant desert outposts of a closed communist empire still recovering from the ravages of the Cultural Revolution.


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Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle

By Dervla Murphy

Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle

Why this book?

Utterly mad yet totally mesmerising, Murphy’s journey was an early inspiration to me in my bicycle-bound adventures. Packing a pistol and little else, she set off in 1963 and pedalled through a brutal European winter, over the Iron Curtain and across the Middle East and Afghanistan where she often disguised herself as a man to get by. In the mountains of northern Pakistan and India she traverses incredibly remote regions on broken trails and occasionally finds herself the guest of regal relics from bygone eras. Murphy’s no-nonsence prose and unembellished style should be a benchmark to all travel writers.


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Mad White Giant

By Benedict Allen

Mad White Giant

Why this book?

This journey is simultaneously a descent into fear and chaos and an ascent into manhood. An excitable young man on his first solo journey deliberately throwing himself way out of his depth in the Orinoco basin. Allen’s aim to learn how to survive in the jungle from the indigenous peoples who’ve thrived there for centuries is a pattern he came to repeat throughout his career and one that many explorers should learn from. Things take a turn when he overhears a plot on his life and he makes a solo one-month escape from the jungle with only the clothes on his back.


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Travels in West Africa

By Mary H. Kingsley

Travels in West Africa

Why this book?

The Victorian era had no shortage of European men marching into Africa to plant flags and stake claims. However, there were extremely few women exploring the ‘dark continent’ at the same time, and none who related their experiences with the understated humour of Mary Kingsley. Her writing is frank, funny, and without self-interest. Alone and utterly indomitable, she pursues her anthropological and botanical interests and even makes the first female ascent of West Africa’s highest mountain.


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Throwim Way Leg: Tree-Kangaroos, Possums, and Penis Gourds

By Tim Flannery

Throwim Way Leg: Tree-Kangaroos, Possums, and Penis Gourds

Why this book?

Throwim Way Leg is an otherworldly account of a country I’ve come to know well in recent years. Biologist Tim Flannery travelled far and wide in this land of mountains and jungle throughout the 80s, when ancient and unsavoury practices were still widespread, or at least existed in very recent memory. The book is a hilarious, non-judgemental, and open-minded account of New Guinean tribal life. Everything from cannibalism to courtship is related alongside a fascinating look at the mammalian life inhabiting some of the world’s deepest recesses of jungle.


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