The best memoirs about the healing power of travel

Why am I passionate about this?

I love travelogues and wrote a dual POV travel memoir with my husband. Travel writing allows us to see the world through others’ eyes, and my favorites are by those who used travel as a way to escape or heal. I’m more invested when I know this person not just wants, but needs this journey. I understand this feeling. I empathize with them, I root for them, and I am happy for them when they reach their destination. I adore Eat, Pray, Love and Wild, and want to recommend five other memoirs that have stayed with me as examples of brave people who left home behind in search of something better.

I wrote...

The Backpack Years: Two Memoirs, One Story

By Stefanie Wilson, James Wilson,

Book cover of The Backpack Years: Two Memoirs, One Story

What is my book about?

Part travel, part romance, part failing at life, The Backpack Years intertwines two memoirs, charting Stef and James’s six-year journey from happily wandering to miserably settled and back again.

Stef left America to study abroad in Spain, letting loose and falling for a handsome local and travel. Travel won out. Fueled by debt and a deteriorating relationship with his father, James fled to Australia and found a better life. When Stef and James eventually meet at an Irish pub in Sydney, they ditch the single life to forge a path together. Spanning thirteen countries and four continents, The Backpack Years is a story about how far we’re willing to go to be with the one we love.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Driving Miss Norma: An Inspirational Story about What Really Matters at the End of Life

Stefanie Wilson Why did I love this book?

Recently widowed and diagnosed with cancer, Norma the nonagenarian skipped the chemo and hit the road with her son and daughter-in-law, who penned this account of taking Norma across the USA in an RV. 

Formerly seen as a quiet wife and mother, her travels restored the adventurous, fearless woman she had been in her younger days. She reminded me that loss and fear can be part of your life, but don’t have to define it. That life is about more moments, not more minutes. And that it is never too late to have an adventure. Miss Norma is not just an inspiration for who I want to be when I’m 90, Miss Norma is an inspiration for who I want to be right now.

By Tim Bauerschmidt, Ramie Liddle,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Driving Miss Norma as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When Miss Norma was diagnosed with uterine cancer, she was advised to undergo surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. But instead of confining herself to a hospital bed for what could be her last stay, Norma-newly widowed after nearly seven decades of marriage-rose to her full height of five feet and told her doctor, "I'm ninety years old. I'm hitting the road." Packing what she needed, Norma took off on an unforgettable cross-country journey with three professional nomads-her retired son Tim, his wife Ramie, and their Standard Poodle Ringo-in a thirty-six-foot RV. Driving Miss Norma is the charming, infectiously joyous chronicle of…

Book cover of Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted

Stefanie Wilson Why did I love this book?

At age 22, Suleika’s life was turned upside-down by a leukemia diagnosis. She’s thrown into a strange new world, fighting a disease that destroyed many aspects of her life, not just her health.

Once recovered, Suleika struggled to regain a sense of normalcy and set out on a cross-country trip. After being dependent on people, she learned to be on her own. After constant fear, she challenged herself to be fearless. And after years of being simply a cancer patient, she set out to discover herself again. I’ve found this is the beauty of travel. It’s not only about what you see and do. The real journey is about being brave, being independent, and finding out who you truly are.

By Suleika Jaouad,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked Between Two Kingdoms as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • A searing, deeply moving memoir of illness and recovery that traces one young woman’s journey from diagnosis to remission to re-entry into “normal” life—from the author of the Life, Interrupted column in The New York Times

ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: The New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post, Bloomberg, The Rumpus, She Reads, Library Journal, Booklist • “I was immersed for the whole ride and would follow Jaouad anywhere. . . . Her writing restores the moon, lights the way as we learn to endure the unknown.”—Chanel Miller, The New…

Book cover of Time Was Soft There: A Paris Sojourn at Shakespeare & Co.

Stefanie Wilson Why did I love this book?

Jeremy had a career as a crime reporter that had recently turned from exciting to dangerous. He flew to Paris with little money and nowhere to go. Serendipity led him to Shakespeare and Company, a bookstore along the Seine with a perfect view of Notre Dame. 

The owner, George, allowed authors to reside for free at the store, resulting in a continuous rotation of vagabonds searching for purpose, inspiration, or just a bed among the bookshelves. 

I loved meeting this cast of eccentric writers from around the world, finding camaraderie at this literary haven. It reminded me how quickly travelers can bond over a shared experience, and how sometimes a place can be the most interesting and vivid character of them all.

By Jeremy Mercer,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Time Was Soft There as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Some bookstores are filled with stories both inside and outside the bindings. These are places of sanctuary, even redemption---and Jeremy Mercer has found both amid the stacks of Shakespeare & Co."
---Paul Collins, author of Sixpence House: Lost in a Town of Books

In a small square on the left bank of the Seine, the door to a green-fronted bookshop beckoned. . . .

With gangsters on his tail and his meager savings in hand, crime reporter Jeremy Mercer fled Canada in 1999 and ended up in Paris. Broke and almost homeless, he found himself invited to a tea party…

Book cover of The Crossway

Stefanie Wilson Why did I love this book?

Guy left his demons in England and set out on a pilgrimage. After mental health issues and a year of being afraid to leave his home, Guy re-entered the world by trekking through 10 countries in 10 months, hoping the journey would heal him. He traveled down ancient paths through changing landscapes, and the charity of everyday strangers kept him and his hope alive.

He finally arrived in Jerusalem, and though neither his physical nor emotional journey ended in the climax he’d hoped, he’d gained understanding. I’ve experienced the clarity that can come with putting physical distance between you and your issues, and though they say not to run away from your problems, sometimes a really long walk can actually help.

By Guy Stagg,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Winner - Edward Stanford Travel Memoir of the Year 2019.
Shortlisted - Rathbones Folio Prize, Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize, and Somerset Maugham Award 2019.

'An extraordinary travelogue, strange and brilliant' - i

In 2013 Guy Stagg walked from Canterbury to Jerusalem. Though a non-believer, he began the pilgrimage after suffering several years of mental illness, hoping the ritual would heal him. For ten months he hiked alone on ancient paths, crossing ten countries and more than 5,500 kilometres. Travelling without support, he had to rely each night on the charity of strangers.

The Crossway is an account of…

Book cover of Tales of a Female Nomad: Living at Large in the World

Stefanie Wilson Why did I love this book?

Rita knew her marriage was struggling, but was shocked and hurt when her husband asked for a two-month break to see other people. But she agreed, and saw as many people as she could. She saw shoppers bustling through outdoor markets, past vendors hawking tropical fruits and mountains of spices. She saw children playing in hillside villages. She saw kindred spirits, traveling with no plan other than to experience the world.

Rita became a nomad with few possessions, but countless experiences. As I read Rita’s memoir, I found myself nodding in understanding as she described her infinite curiosity, and her fascination with beautiful places, and myriad ways of life. As Rita’s marriage ended, she discovered there’s more than one way to have passion in your life.

By Rita Golden Gelman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Tales of a Female Nomad as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The true story of an ordinary woman living an extraordinary existence all over the world.

“Gelman doesn’t just observe the cultures she visits, she participates in them, becoming emotionally involved in the people’s lives. This is an amazing travelogue.” —Booklist

At the age of forty-eight, on the verge of a divorce, Rita Golden Gelman left an elegant life in L.A. to follow her dream of travelling the world, connecting with people in cultures all over the globe.

In 1986, Rita sold her possessions and became a nomad, living in a Zapotec village in Mexico, sleeping with sea lions on the…

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A School for Unusual Girls

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Book cover of A School for Unusual Girls

Kathleen Baldwin Author Of Sanctuary for Seers: A Stranje House Novel

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Loves God Mother to Many Wilderness Adventurer History Enthusiast

Kathleen's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

A spy school for girls amidst Jane Austen’s high society.

Daughters of the Beau Monde who don’t fit London society’s strict mold are banished to Stranje House, where the headmistress trains these unusually gifted girls to enter the dangerous world of spies in the Napoleonic wars. #1 NYT bestselling author Meg Cabot calls this exciting historical series "completely original and totally engrossing."

A School for Unusual Girls

By Kathleen Baldwin,

What is this book about?

A School for Unusual Girls is the first captivating installment in the Stranje House series for young adults by award-winning author Kathleen Baldwin. #1 New York Times bestselling author Meg Cabot calls this romantic Regency adventure "completely original and totally engrossing."

It's 1814. Napoleon is exiled on Elba. Europe is in shambles. Britain is at war on four fronts. And Stranje House, a School for Unusual Girls, has become one of Regency England's dark little secrets. The daughters of the beau monde who don't fit high society's constrictive mold are banished to Stranje House to be reformed into marriageable young…

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